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The Greatest Fear: Step #1 – Organize Your Data

Welcome to the first step of my five step plan for cultivating effective presentation/communication skills. Admittedly this is the least “sexy” of the five steps and some of you may think what follows is intuitive to everyone, but in my experience it’s not. Creating an outline for a presentation can seem like a formidable task to some. There are people who have the knack for seeing the pattern in the reams of paper that lay on the desk in front of them, and others who do not. A solid outline is the backbone for an effective presentation and the roadmap for the direction that your talk needs to take. It helps organize your thoughts, and inevitably leads to a clear and concise message.

At times even those who consider themselves “professionals” at communication and beyond this Susan_LLNsort of thing  wind up regretting it in the end. Sitting in the audience when I was “on the job” at a telecommunications company (not so long ago), I had the opportunity to watch a woman VP “crash and burn” in front of 100 women engineers and executives because she neglected to follow the “simple” tips below.

Following are five easy tips to help you organize your data. These tips describe the technique that I’ve used since the first “dog & pony show” which I was required to present as an employee of Argonne National Labs.

Tip 1: Opening & Closing
Simply stated; compose an opening statement that introduces the audience to the reason why you are standing in front of them. Make sure that it catches their attention and boil it down to a few words to be used on your first slide.

Begin to compose a closing statement by asking yourself the question, “What is the ONE thing, even if they didn’t pay attention 100% of the time, I want the audience to take away with them when it’s all over?” The answer to this question is important because audiences easily get distracted and probably won’t hear 50%of what you say. So create one “kick a**” closing statement and summarize it for use on your last slide.

Tip 2: Outline for the Slides Between
Now that you have a beginning and an end, go to the pile of information on your desk/computer that is the basis for the topic of your talk and review it. As you examine the reports and charts evaluate them from the point of view of telling a story, smoothly bringing along those who are there to listen from first statement to last, building one subtopic after another and finding just the right place for each bit of data. And voila! Your outline is born.

Tip 3: Titles & Bullets
From the outline that has been generated in Tip 2 succinctly summarize each subtopic to be used as slide titles in the body of your talk, and then create bullets using the data listed under each subtopic.  Remember, the reason why the little bits of precise information are called bullets is because they should be short and to the point. Bullets will be the core of your slide presentation so take care when crafting them for they will be used as spring boards for your thoughts as you deliver your message.

Tip 4: Check for Understanding
Generate a revised outline with the titles and bullets from Tip 3. Before you begin to work on a slide show, place the revised outline on index cards. Review not only the sequencing of the proposed slides but also the bullets grouped under each subtopic title and make sure that everything flows logically and smoothly from one point to another, clearly bringing the audience to the final conclusion.

Tip 5: Delivery
The previous tips are based on the supposition that you intend to use slides in your presentation. You can choose not to use them but I always do whenever possible. Audiences love well-done slides. They help to keep both the audience and speaker on task and they ward off any temptation for the speaker to commit the worst presentation sin of all, to memorize!

If for some reason you’re not able to use slides in your presentation you can use the revised outline from Tip 4 much like a “cheat sheet”.  I prefer a “one pager” as opposed to index cards which tend COA2to distract the audience as the speaker moves through them. If you are in front of a podium the “cheat sheet” is invisible and is a great security blanket. Remember that eye contact is the most important thing and you need to deliver your talk with least of amount of “cheat sheet” checking that you can manage.

You may be saying “this all seems like much ado about nothing. It seems like a lot of work for just a short report to my boss or an update to my peers”.  Keep in mind that even a poor short presentation is a missed opportunity to connect, to network, or to further your career.

Now, there isn’t much more to say about Step #1 except the process is simple, so use it because it works!

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  • Gail Mooney

    Great tips Susan!

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