Why does preparing presentations in general – and business presentations in particular – become “red tasks”, or ones that we keep postponing until there is no way to avoid it any longer? How many times have you found yourself in front of the computer, two or three days before you have to present, with a late-night cup of coffee?
The story of George, CEO of a company of about 60 employees, ended differently.
“Remember the company that invested in us, that you prepared the investor presentation for two years ago?
Well, in 10 days the senior international management from the company is coming to visit, and suddenly I realized that I have to give an hour-and-a-half presentation. I know it’s quite last minute – I’ve been postponing this task day by day for a while now, and I just can’t get to it.
I have a lot of materials – previous presentations and lots of other data scattered around the company – but I don’t have the time nor the general idea of what I want to present.”
That’s what George told me over the phone.
For George, it’s a visit by senior managers from abroad – for other clients of mine it’s a conference, a tender, a visit by a potential client to the company, a meeting with an investor, or a report to a board of directors. But this is how many of the calls usually start.
A lot of times, you will think of me when the important presentation has become a matter of urgency. By then, everything is done in a rush, everybody is stressed and the outcome – while good – is not optimal.
Why are people waiting until the last minute?
In a recent book, “The Productivity Project” by Chris Bailey, he raises the issue of repression and brings a number of reasons for the procrastination:
In George’s case, like many others when they need to prepare a business presentation, the reasons for the procrastination are the last two.
On the one hand, they remember that in the past they’ve made good presentations – even easily. However, no matter how many presentations they have prepared in the past, when they have been in other positions, for my clients who have advanced to senior positions, it is much more difficult to find the time required.
The topics they are supposed to present also have a higher business and personal significance than in the past: the stakes are higher.
Usually, they can’t make time for thought to decide exactly what they want to put into the presentation. They do not always manage to formulate the task clearly enough to transfer it to another party in the organization, or it is not immediately clear who the appropriate party in the organization is.
Of course, when you need to build a business presentation in 7 or even 10 days – it is very difficult (!) to build a quality presentation.
When I say a “quality presentation,” what do I mean?
For a well-designed presentation:
A presentation that will meet clear goals that were set before we even started preparing it.
A presentation to suit the audience who are going to watch it.
A presentation that elicits the action you want your audience to take at the end of the presentation.
A presentation that will match not only the form in which it is to be delivered, but also the presenter who will deliver it.
I told George that when I start working on a presentation, we’re actually starting a project.
There are clear steps, we have schedules and there is a clear and defined work plan. The biggest relief for him was the realization that the only time he would need to invest is in two meetings. The first would be to define with me the goals we want to achieve during the board members’ visit, to decide which parties in the company that need to be involved, and to approve the schedules – these are all tasks that he is used to doing and likes to perform. Our next meeting would be at the end, when a presentation is ready – to go through it and make necessary change so that it will be comfortable for him to present.
It is true that he had to commit to being available for questions – but that does not require him to do anything proactively.
After defining the project, we went to work.
The first meeting took about an hour and a half, during which we went through the processes that the company has undergone since the investors entered, what commitments we have given, which ones we met and –no less important – what future processes we wish to have approved. We saw what the important points and highlights were, we thought about which of the company’s previous projects we could bring as examples, who were the people we wanted to present, and who in the organization could pass on the material to me.
Business presentations rely on data transfer and data analysis.
A few phone calls by George with four department managers, during which I made appointments with them, and that was that. We parted ways.
Geroge said I took 100 pounds of weight off of him. I never thought of myself as a dietitian…
After meeting with the department managers and understanding what could be obtained from them in the required period of time – I sent George a “white draft” – the material that I plan to upload to the presentation, and who was responsible for the contents of each of the slides (the department managers with whom I worked and a number of external factors).
We sharpened the messages in a phone call, I sent him examples of slides to confirm the design, and finally, after 8 days, we met for a long meeting. During that final meeting we went through the presentation, adjusted the animations for actual presentation and changed the order of some slides.
Watch this short video to see my process when working with CEOs like George
The next phone call from George was:
“What a beauty, Jude. The presentation was excellent. We got a free hand from headquarters where we asked for it, and the extra funding we wanted for the project.”
Thank you, George – see you again for the next presentation! But call me sooner for the next one.