Job descriptions are awash with bullet points. Somewhere in that scroll of bullets is a line that reads, “must have presenting skills”, or something similar. But what are presenting skills, and what skills do we need to be able to put presentations together?
I recently had the pleasure of talking to someone who knows a lot about presenting – Russell Anderson-Williams – who runs a design agency called The Prezenter, which focuses on presentation design. We talked about many of the common problems associated with getting your content, information and story across in a more visually engaging and digestible way. Unfortunately, in many businesses, the task of putting a presentation together is often left to the last minute, or is thrust upon some poor, unwilling and unskilled ‘creative’ with few tools at their disposal and a day to get it done.
What could you achieve with more budget? What could you achieve with a clearer vision of what you want to say? What could you achieve with more time, and a good story? And why are you putting the presentation together when you could leave it in the hands of people who know what they’re doing, and can take your story and create something captivating and memorable?
The art of storytelling is neglected in many business environments. It’s all about sales, metrics, the bottom line, and no amount of freebies in the kitchen can disguise the fact that even the youngest and hippest organisations sometimes run like old cars. This is why we often put presentations together as individuals rather than as a team. This is why we carry the burden of putting a presentation together with so little time to spend on what we want it to say, so pepper a tonne of slides with bullet points instead. But not everyone has the skills to do anything different.
One of my least favourite things to hear is when someone says, “I don’t have time, sorry”. Everyone seems to be busy with something, but what exactly are they busy with? Is it the right sort of busy? Look around the office and see if everyone is busy. Many of them probably are, but how many of them are busy working on something that’s connected to the business story? Every good business has a story, or a message, or a vision – it’s the lifeblood of why they exist. Being able to communicate that story/vision internally, so that the message can be delivered externally, is an invaluable skill, and the story/vision should be constantly and consistently delivered by good leaders. If you’re bogged down by individual admin, or you haven’t been given a clear brief about your role and the tasks involved, you end up working in a silo of individuality that’s only loosely connected, if at all, to the goals of the company you work for.
Before I become distracted by a separate article about leadership, let’s come back to that concept of shared vision. When you know the business story, it becomes easier to communicate what you want to say to your colleagues and your customers. And knowing what the business story is will help you tell your own stories within the organisation, and this is what your presentations need. Yet, what good is a presentation if you have limited skills with the likes of PowerPoint or Prezi? And have you been given ample time to develop your ideas and collect your thoughts around them?
When time and budget constraints work against you, it’s difficult to break the cycle of boring presentations. Russell says in our interview that time is so important, and investing in training is crucial in breaking old habits. You could also keep things incredibly simple by not overusing features. Keep it visual, use as few words as possible to tell your story, and perhaps work with a colleague in developing your presentation. They could bring something new to it that you would never have thought of yourself. Brainstorming is good for us!
When you see a job description and it asks for presenting skills, and if you’re fortunate to get to the job interview stage, ask them what they mean by “presenting skills”. Are they asking you to be a creative thinker, are they asking you to compile endless streams of data that they could look up themselves, or are they asking you to create stories that contribute to the company vision.
If we value the art of presenting and developing great presentations, we become much more efficient as a business, and we communicate better. By developing a suite of presentation tools and making it a part of our business skill set, we can take our storytelling to another level, and finally put to rest (or at least limit) those dreaded bullet points.