One of the key learnings and takeaway from the MBA journey, was undoubtedly around improving my presentation skills. I watched my skills improve and change over the course of the MBA – in fact, the more I presented, the better I got. So, my first piece of advice to you… is this:
From the impromptu ‘small presentations during class’, to the bigger ‘final group presentations’ – volunteer to do all of it. It might feel completely daunting and scary in the beginning, getting in front of your classmates, hundreds of faces staring down at you (possibly, judging you), but still do it. Take a deep breath, shrug off the anxiety (believe me, I know it’s not that easy) and just push yourself to get out of your comfort zone. It will pay off in the long run, whether that is in interviews, assessment centres or pitching a case. The best way to start this off, is with the whole group presenting, where each person takes about 2 minutes worth of slides. Short, but important, exposure and practice.
In this blog, I’m going to share clips of two of my presentations during the MBA – one in person presentation, and one online presentation. I am only going to share my own clips, so as to do an analysis on them.
Strategic Thinking Module – Final Group Presentation on BHP
With BHP (a mining company), our syndicate team wanted to create an impact from the very first slide. Depending on the presentation, sometimes a build-up to the big idea works better, but in other cases , like this – we wanted to engage the audience’s emotional response, set the mood and tone of the presentation. One of the key things to remember here is that often, there is a limitation on the number of slides or the allocated time, therefore, each slide is precious – and its use must be maximised to create the right impact.
Each slide should tell its own story, whilst remaining true to the larger narrative.
For the ‘look’ of the presentation, our group went for the classic ‘white background’, predominately using a black colour, neutral font for the heading and majority of the content. Now, the classic advice for presentations is to leave out large chunks of text, and whilst that is good advice, it is often misinterpreted as inputting no text at all. For some presentations and presenters – this absolutely works! I have seen some brilliant photo and graphic slides, which really capture the essence of the speech. Personally, for me – I prefer to keep some text.
The first reason for this is that when text is inputted effectively, whether it is sectioned and boxed into different areas of the slide, or just simple bullet points, it provides the speaker with ‘quick cues’ and essentially guides them through the presentation. For me, the text decides everything. What I say, how I say it… and even, where I stand in the room. An example of this can be found at 2:27-3:40 mins in the video below. With the help of my syndicate team, I worked out how I could use the text to move across the room, creating an impact. It also helped me get over some of my ‘bad presenting habits’, like hovering on the spot, and using unnecessary filler words, like ‘umm’ and ‘err’.
The second reason for keeping the essential text in the slides is that it also offers cues to the grader or assessor, when they are reviewing the slides later on. Simply having pictures and illustrations can do the job, especially if you’ve got some fantastic, eye-capturing graphics. However, to play it safe – ensure that the grader also has those ‘natural cues’, and can easily recall and refer back to your presentation. I find that usually a nice mix of clean text and clear graphics works the best.
Reading Off The Slides
Looking back (no puns intended), one of my areas of improvement is to not ‘turn around’ to refer to the slides as much. So for example, the ideal presentation would have the main cues standing out so vividly and clearly that the speaker only needs to glance at each slide once, and has enough prompt to not keep turning around during the presentation. With every turn, we lose the audience a little bit, and then some more, as we try to navigate through our own points of reference and thought.
Of course, this means that in order to not read off the slides, especially the very extreme case of ‘reading out the slide line by line’, there needs to be a script. This has proved helpful for me in the past for two reasons. Firstly, it helps me stay on time because more often than not, free-flowing speech results in overrunning the allocated time. And secondly, it gives me speech confidence, without having to rely on notecards or the slide text. Yes, sometimes it is useful to have note-card prompts, especially for data and nitty gritty facts, but if you can memorise those or have those numbers big and bold on the presentation, then that is all the cue you need.
Setting the right vocal tone and pitch is also very important. This is ultimately what engages the audience. Who are the people that normally catch our attention, and then manage to keep it? The bold and the assertive. Confidence and conviction is key in capturing audience attention. This takes time, and a lot of practice – which brings me back to my very first point. Do as many presentations as you possible can.
In the ‘in-person’ presentation, I was conscious to position myself in the front centre of the room, speak out loud and to the audience. However, I did notice that my speech modulation was a little ‘choppy’ at times – and I think this came from trying to recall the exact words in the script, because I was so conscious of the time. I was also very nervous! Going forwards, this perhaps needs to be a little more organic and run more naturally. So, you’ll notice in the second (online) presentation, we tried to tell it like a story – and I found that the speech came more naturally.
Finally, all of this is only possible with one thing. PRACTICE. Presenting is not easy (maybe for some people), but for most of us it is a daunting process. So make sure, you “practice, practice, practice” in front of the mirror, in front of your team mates, or even in the space you will be presenting. You need to be a 100% ready and a 100% comfortable before the main day. REMEMBER: To check the formatting of your presentation on the specific computer/device that you will be presenting with – Microsoft Powerpoint tends to change its formatting and style depending on the version on each PC/Macbook. If you don’t intend on using any transitions, it is possibly even better to present in PDF view, in order to preserve your original formatting.
How does an online presentation differ from the above?
(with ref to Strategic Marketing Module – Final Group Presentation)
One of the benefits of the ‘in-person’ presentation is the audience – and their reactions. In the online presentation, you are trying to engage an ‘invisible audience’, so it’s not possible to simply look around the room, make eye contact and almost draw the audience in. So, in my opinion, online presentations need to be even snappier and more engaging, simply by default.
For this reason, our team implemented a couple of tactics for the final Strategic Marketing group presentation. Firstly, we wanted to grasp the audience’s attention immediately, and maintain it throughout the presentation, so we used two mediums, a ‘newscast style’ presentation and the Iron-Man theme – to add an element of fun (pictured top left)! We also agreed to use a colour-scheme for the background, that matched with the theme and style of the presentation (pictured top right). In contrast to the white BHP presentation slides, the formatting proved to be much trickier on a coloured background – and for that reason, it needs to be exercised with caution.
Similar to the in-person presentations, if you are not presenting from your own computer and someone else is uploading it, then be-aware of the formatting drastically changing. Again, if you don’t plan to use any transitions (and I advice against many transitions in online presentations to keep the file size small), then a PDF format is ideal to preserve your slide design, fonts and graphics. For example, one of the mistakes I made was to use ‘live’ graphics and transitions. On the left, in this slide, the globe was meant to rotate, but in the end I had to send through a PDF format of the presentation because of file size and formatting issues, and even then, I experienced a little lag when presenting. Thankfully, Professor Scott Dacko was understanding about it! 🙂
The second part of the video, shares snippets of my part of the online presentation. I cut out the lags as much as I could, to give a picture of the presentation without the many technical difficulties faced that day! One of things I immediately noticed compared to the first presentation was the fluidity in my speech, and part of it is because the slides were right in front of me (perks of online presentation), but I also noticed a natural flow in my voice. And despite the technical issues, I felt much more confident this time round, and I think that’s why I was also able to have some fun with it!
Check out the video here!