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PMO Genius: Top 10 Ways To Deliver Influential Presentations
By Chris Niccolls

If you run a PMO, you need to know more than just project management. You need to be able to influence the top decision makers in your organization, and drive change. Some of this influencing is informal, and achieve in one on one meetings and discussions. Formal influencing usually happens in a meeting where you provide some sort of documents and or a presentation. Even if this are just routine meetings,” you cannot treat a PowerPoint Presentation as if you were reading an email to a group. These presentations have a lot of information, and can just as easily create resistance as they can create agreement. If your presentation is for more than just a routine meeting, you need to be sure that your influencing skills are working at their peak. Consider the following presentation: annual budget meetings, a meeting with senior management over a failing project, winning over a mandate to create a PMO. High stake meetings need to do more than just present data, they need to influence people with the ability to authorize your requests and move the agenda of your PMO forward. Let’s dive into this issue.

First of all, if you never had the opportunity to develop your presentation skills, or if you’ve seen effective presentations and you know that your presentations don’t look like that, you should read some of the books by Edward Tufte. Tufte has been writing about what to do and what not to do in presentations for decades. He’s a brilliant statistician from Yale and also a graphics editor for the New York Times. The titles of this books sound like an academic snooze fest, but they are very readable and often funny books on how to create compelling graphics. Tufte explains how information needs to be presented graphically to be understood. Furthermore, using his years of experience at the New York Times, Tufte shows you how to present distorted and self-serving data while making it appear to be unbiased. Not that you would ever do anything like that; of course not… Project Managers are above such base chicanery! However, once you understand how these distortions work, you will develop super-vision that allows you to see through clever deceptions in management reports, and spot distortions that can impact projects. Neat, huh? Read, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” and “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.”

OK. Now that we’re all up to speed, let’s look at some simple tips that will help you to develop presentations that will help support the development of your PMO!

  1. Call To Action: What is the purpose of your presentation? Generally, it is to: inform (the following has happened), instruct (this is how to enter data in the new CRM), order (going forward, you must use the new Travel Request form) or influence (I want to do “X,” will you let me?). While meetings may combine elements of each meeting type, your meeting needs a primary goal. If you want to influence an individual or group to provide approval for a project, make sure your presentation clearly states this. Don’t be afraid to have a slide that expressly says, “On January 1st the PMO intends to do the following. We need the written approval of department X by December 10th in order to proceed.” A clear “call to action” is more effective than approvers guessing what needs to be done.
  2. Follow Templates: Critical approvers may receive information from your PMO from various projects. If the general style, elements… even color scheme… of your presentations are consistent, approvers will be able to read and comprehend them more easily. It will also speed up the creation of presentations made by your entire team.

  3. Bullets, Not Sentences: Don’t take long memos or reports and merely convert the sentences into bullet points. A few words on a line are more effective and more memorable than a sentence. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have one or two full, grammatically correct sentences in a presentation… just don’t make a habit of it.

  4. 15 Minute Limit: Research tells us that after 20 minutes of a learning task, the human brain tends to drift off. Add the temptation to check your Blackberry for emails and voice mails and you have a small window of attention from a senior manager. Time your presentation to take no more than 15 minutes, preferably less. That also leaves time for Q&A, before the senior managers leave your presentation.

  5. The “End” Deck: We all overbuild our presentations because we think someone MIGHT ask a question. We are especially tempted to add these pages if we have a clever graphic that makes a point. That adds up to a lot of extra pages or a lot of clutter on key pages. Simply take all of this info and… place it AFTER the last page in the presentation. If anyone asks a question that one of these pages answers, you simply jump to that page. However, don’t show the page unless it is needed.

  6. Presenters Role: It is tempting to create a presentation with every last item on it, and then just read it in the meeting. That puts your audience to sleep. Presentations need presenters, and the presenter has a role. The presenter links together what is on the screen and adds emphasis to key points. The presenter’s script can be stored in the “Notes” section of a Power Point presentation, which does not appear on the screen, but is linked to each page of the presentation.

  7. Independent Review: Have someone who has not seen the presentation look at each screen… for three seconds… and ask what they saw? If they see something that’s not on the page, CHANGE the page. If they don’t know what they saw, then the page is too crowded… SIMPLIFY the page. Only if they see and comprehend what you want to communicate do you have a good presentation page.

  8. Target Approvers: This is a really important one! Take your key slides, print them as index card size (4″ x” 6″) and put the print out on the floor. Then stand on a chair and read the slide. Can’t read it? Neither can the top decision maker in the room. That decision maker is probably 50 years old, or older, and wears bifocals. Make sure your key approval can read what you are presenting!

  9. Pre-Approval: For a critical or controversial project, schedule one-on-one meetings to review a draft of the presentation with the approvers. Ask them if they agree with the presentation. For key approvers who do not approve, ask them what changes are required. You need to decide if you can live with these changes (and if they will create resistance from other approvers). It is much better to know where you stand on a critical presentation before the meeting.

  10. END Page: After the last page in your presentation, put up a page that says “Thank You” or “End of Presentation.” Don’t let the audience guess if the presentation is over. This also gives you a chance to ask for questions, or (if your “read” of the room calls for it) inform the room that there are other detailed pages that you can review or email to them, if they want them.

Any two presentation experts will focus on different issues to prepare you for your next presentation. My “top 10” focuses on influencing decision makers. The more you know about presentation, and how they are interpreted by senior managers, the greater your ability to influence critical decisions by your firm. Read a few books from Edward Tufte, practice a few rules from this list and watch our influence expand! At least, that’s my Niccolls worth for today!

Chris Niccolls is a Project Manager with process improvement expertise, who can drive change by driving communication. He has managed large, global operations; built Project Improvement Offices (PMOs) and been a hands-on project manager. He can identify why operations don’t work, and turn around poorly performing services. You can read more from Chris on his blog.

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