What Do They Want to Hear, Anyway?

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What Do They Want To Hear, Anyway?

Martha Legare. MBA, PMP Atlanta, Georgia

Project communication takes many forms – from “management by walking around” to formal presentations. I consider communication the most critical set of activities in a project.

The hardest, yet the most common way to convey software project information from one person to the next is a formal presentation. Some polls find public speaking is more frightening than death, or the dentist!

Most presentations are too long, boring, and riddled with too much detail. Look at your last presentation and see if it could accurately be described as “death by PowerPoint.”

If your answer is, “Yes”, you can redesign your next one so it truly communicates to your audience. Ask yourself, “What is the best mode of presentation for what I want to accomplish?” If you have a small group and want give-and-take discussions, a flip chart, or white board, to capture areas of concern or agreement is a useful technique.

However, if you want executives to approve a particular project or agree to a new project tact, a multi-media slide show could work. The trick is to realize that regardless of the technology you employ, YOU are what sells the idea to your audience; not your slides, posters, or laser light shows.

We must engage both left brain logic and right brain creativity in order to effectively sell our ideas. Use the statistical proof, but showcase it in a memorable format. Use color, easy-to-understand charts and graphs, and just a few bullet points. Explain the story behind each bullet point rather than using too much text and reading it aloud a beat after participants have already read it for themselves.

Plan your presentation ahead of time using a whiteboard and sticky notes rather than starting directly with PowerPoint. Brainstorming on sticky notes allows you to see the big picture, and easily rearrange ideas without feeling you are destroying hours of work.

Place your sticky notes in “affinity” groups, combining similar concepts; then think about how to craft those ideas into a meaningful and memorable story. Always come back to the questions, “What’s my central point?” and “Why does it matter to this specific audience?”

Capture interest by creating curiosity or showing the unexpected, then use concrete illustrations to support your numbers with something your audience can visualize. For example, a Wall Street Journal article described an executive who lost enough of his company’s money that if you took crisp $100 bills and stacked them on top of one another, they would reach the 92nd floor of his Madison Avenue office. That’s a memorable image.

When in doubt, delete all but the essentials. You can prepare a handout for people to read later if they want more detailed information, and a take-away document will insure your facts won’t get distorted. This approach will insure you will present your essentials succinctly. And when you find out that the President has cut your presentation from 30 minutes to 5 minutes in order to make his golf tee-time, you’ll be prepared to summarize on the spot.

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