A few weeks ago, I shared a couple of posts on preparation with the promise of more to come. It’s taken me a few weeks to get back to it, but I wanted to honor that promise. Today, let’s think about how you prepare for a big meeting.
Let’s face it – many of the big decisions made in organizations are made in meetings. This is probably good; if managed well, you can make much better decisions in a group setting than operating solo. Have you ever thought about what precedes most of those big decisions? A presentation.
It seems like I’ve been called upon to make hundreds of these presentations over the years. For some, I was better prepared than others. And, the outcome almost always correlated with my preparedness. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned over the years…
Do your homework. I know this is a broad statement. Depending on the importance of your presentation, you preparation may need to be broad too. Be sure to answer, in advance, questions such as:
Who will attend the meeting?
How much does the group know about your topic?
Does the group have a preference regarding how they like to receive information?
How much time will you be allotted to present?
Who presents before and after you?
Who do you think will support your idea/proposal?
Who do you believe will dissent?
What similar ideas/proposals have prevailed in the past and why?
What A/V support is there, if any?
Simplify your presentation. Simple sells. Here’s a good rule of thumb: After you create your first presentation deck, cut the number of pages in half; and then cut it in half again. Then, do the same with the number of words on each page. Think of your deck as a series of highway billboards, designed to be read at 70 miles per hour. One idea per slide is a good goal. My friend Nancy Duarte has created over 250,000 presentations in her career so far. I highly recommend her book, Slide:ology. Or, she’ll be glad to make your slides.
Meet before the meeting. Depending on the topic, the history and the stakes, you may want to schedule one-on-one meetings with the individual players in advance of your presentation. Do a dry run of the presentation for him or her. Ask what questions your time together has surfaced. Ask them what suggestions they have to improve the presentation. You may even ask them if they can support what you’re recommending and if not, why not.
Anticipate questions. This is probably the single most important aspect of preparation for me. Depending on the presentation and the magnitude, I may identify up to a hundred questions people MIGHT ask. Then, I get the answers to those questions BEFORE the meeting. I don’t want to say, “Great question – I’ll have to get back to you on that.” I will literally invest days going through this exercise. Only a fraction of the questions are actually asked, but when they are, I know the answer. This simple act builds confidence in the presenter and the recommendation.
These steps don’t ensure success – they do ensure your best shot at success. You don’t want your great ideas to fail because you didn’t present them well. If you do these things and your ideas don’t fly, maybe they shouldn’t.
At the end of the day, we have to trust the process and the leaders for whom we work. All we can do is our best; and our best ALWAYS requires preparation.[GLS_Shield]