Five tips on presenting to stakeholders

presenting to stakeholders
By Gary Atkinson

There comes a time (in fact, countless times) when a project manager must to stand up in front of an audience of powerful and knowledgeable stakeholders to deliver a presentation.

Clearly the stakes are higher when you deliver presentations for high-value projects, but that doesn't mean you should give any less care and attention to smaller ones.

You should spend a reasonable amount of time preparing when it comes to the presentation. We're not talking about investing hours to design lavish slides. The important thing is spending time on the content to make sure your thinking is clear and your decisions are sound.

1. Lead with your key messages

You'll likely have heard the phrase "cut to the chase". This is particularly appropriate when presenting to busy, time-poor stakeholders. Start your presentation with your key messages right at the start.

If you are presenting a scope, you may want to frame the problem that the projects aims to solve and outline the main objectives. You can turn to your start-up documentation (project initiation document or project charter) for this (find out how to create a simple start-up document in the The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management).

The rest of the presentation should focus on how the project will meet these objectives and solve the problem.

2. Use stories to illustrate your key points

Stories are one of the most engaging ways to grab an audience. Look at the most-watched TED Talks and one of the common elements in each is that the speakers tell stories.
Let's say you're explaining the reason for a requirement being left out of scope. Perhaps the requirement isn't really of great importance to the user. Or perhaps you need to explain why you had to choose between two conflicting requirements. Put your audience in the shoes of the user. Talk them through the experience from the user's perspective.

3. Practice, practice and practice again

Rehearsing a presentation is something we all know we should do, but often it's the last thing we actually want to do, or actually end up doing. One reason we put off rehearsing is that you may feel silly doing it. To counter this feeling (which is often perceived only by you) consider the risk you run of being embarrassed in front of your stakeholders because you failed to practice properly. For example, poorly chosen words in the moment can send a presentation off in the wrong direction - if someone in your audience takes a different meaning from it. Practising gives you the chance to refine your wording.

Rehearsals can take many forms. Try talking to a voice recorder, or practising in front of a colleague. You could even talk through the presentation at the dinner table. Practicing also involves trying out any audio-visual equipment. There is another very important benefit of practising. It gives you confidence and allows you to focus on fine tuning your delivery when you know your material inside out.

4. Encourage feedback, and be prepared for questions

The best presentations are a two-way street. Clearly, the focus is on you communicating information to an audience not only to inform, but also to get agreement. It's also a valuable opportunity to gather more information and feedback from your stakeholders.

Inviting your audience to ask questions and feed back their expert views is crucial. Depending on what you are presenting, you may want to invite questions throughout, or leave them to the end. It's worth brainstorming what questions you are likely to receive from your audience, either by yourself, or with colleagues who've presented to your audience in the past.

5. Critique your own performance

When you walk out of the presentation and your memories are still fresh don't squander the small window you have to record everything you can about your performance. Leave it too long and you may forget observations that prove to be vital. Undertaking a post-presentation debrief follows the same principles as undertaking a retrospective at the end of a project. It's all about continuous improvement and asking yourself the right questions (find useful retrospective questions which you can apply to a post-presentation analysis in the 'learn lessons' section of The Six Step Guide to Practical Project Management).

The presentation may be just one part of what goes into making stakeholder management a success, but it's an important one. It's also an important skill to develop for your overall career development, not just for your next stakeholder engagement.


Gary Atkinson is managing editor of the company behind MindGenius a visual project management app.

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