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Formatting Your Presentation

Your presentation up the management chain will most likely have one or more of the following purposes: to exchange information, suggest action to be taken based on the information, or to get approval. The viewpoint format will help you organize your presentation to work best for the listener. Your goal, no matter what the subject, should be to ask for action.

Knowledge is not power until it is turned into action.

—Aristotle

It’s not the knowledge but the action that creates the power. Let’s look at an example most of us can relate to. Ask a group of twenty people, “By a show of hands, how many of you are heavier than you want to be and would like to lose weight?” The statistics say 85 percent of those people (sixteen or seventeen of the twenty) will raise their hands. Yes, they would like to lose weight.

Now ask, “How many of you feel you have the knowledge—you know what you must do to lose weight?” Of that group, nine out of ten will say that they know what to do.

Only Action Has Value

Then ask the clincher question. “How many of you are doing it—doing what it takes to lose weight?” You’ll see only a few hands raised. So we can kick ourselves all we want for being human, but the facts are all around us. Knowledge doesn’t do much good until action takes place.

How does this relate to a presentation up the management chain? Often we will be presenting the latest findings, as well as a viewpoint on a project, called a talk to inform. Theoretically, only the information is important. But is that so? Is our job over when we lay out the information? Or is it incumbent on us to suggest an action, a next step?

If we put ourselves in management’s shoes the answer is easy. We are the experts or we wouldn’t be presenting to this august body. And if we are the experts, we should have a suggestion or recommendation as to what action is required. In reality, that is the conclusion to the presentation. If we leave it out we haven’t given them their money’s worth.

Information alone does nothing for you and it does nothing for them. Senior management will be waiting to hear what that information means to the organization and what action needs to be taken as a result. So bring it full circle. Suggest action or recommend the next steps that should be taken.

The Viewpoint Presentation Format

  1. Subject/Background

  2. Viewpoint

  3. Importance

  4. Evidence

  5. Summary of Viewpoint and Importance

  6. Action or Next Steps

  7. Questions and Discussion

Here is how to structure a viewpoint presentation. The format is organized on a logical basis and is consistent with how people listen best.

1. Subject/Background

This is what you are going to be talking about. State it clearly and succinctly so that everyone is on the same page. Your subject could be an issue or a concern that surrounds a policy, practice, or belief that is disputed or challenged. It should take less than a minute of your presentation time to present your subject. If you are using visual aids, the subject should have its own visual. By way of example, let’s say the subject is: “A report about the declining service level this past month in our phone service unit, and our plans for improving it.”

The Background is past information that helps put what you are saying into perspective. If last month you changed the scheduling of your phone service reps to better accommodate call volume changes, you might also remind your audience why you did that, what the existing service levels were, and what the call volume was. The background provides context that will help your listener interpret the new information you are about to give them. This would also have a separate visual.

2. Viewpoint

The Viewpoint is a one-sentence statement of your point-of-view on the subject. In the phone center example, the viewpoint might be that, “I believe we can reduce turnover and therefore increase service levels by hiring additional workers for the hours between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., which is our high volume time period.”

3. Importance

The Importance supports your Viewpoint and relates directly to timing. State how your Viewpoint improves the audience’s understanding of the issue, as it exists now. Also state how that understanding can enable the company to act in a beneficial way. In our phone center example, this might be projections for reduced staff turnover, increased service levels, and money saved as a result of the reduction in turnover.

4. Evidence

Evidence builds credibility. Your Evidence should show that your Viewpoint is based on a solid understanding of the issue. You demonstrate that your Viewpoint is fair, takes into account the facts, is beneficial to society, and so on. Here is where we might use statistics or an analogy that supports our Viewpoint, or give examples of what success might look like. Use graphs, analogies, even photographs. The purpose of all Evidence is to help dramatize the correctness of your Viewpoint.

5. Summary of Viewpoint and Importance

The Summary should be simple and short. You are not repleading your case. You are merely restating your premise so that the picture is clear. It reinforces the essential story line of the presentation just before you introduce the action step.

6. Action or Next Steps

Here is where you ask for the commitment you need from the senior managers or state the Next Steps that you feel are indicated. In some cases it might simply be gaining concurrence or consensus. But usually what you will be asking for is formal approval authorizing you to move forward.

In the call center example, you would want agreement by the senior managers that the company could, indeed, reduce turnover and increase service levels by hiring additional people for the high volume 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. period. You would then ask for authorization to set that plan in motion.

7. Questions and Discussion

Be sure to include discussion time. You want reactions. You want questions. You need your senior managers’ involvement. Obviously, you need authorization to go further, too, and it will never happen as a result of the presentation alone. The question-and-answer (Q&A) session is where senior managers get their arms around the subject. They test you with questions—some easy, some challenging. Here’s where preparation pays dividends. Spend some time with your cohorts beforehand, predicting what questions might be raised and how you might handle them. Bring supporting material if indicated. You are the expert, so have your facts available.

Ultimately they will agree to go forward because of these factors:

  • They buy your presentation and the case you make for proceeding in the new direction.

  • They are impressed with you. They value your expertise and feel you are in control of the project.

  • They have an overall sense of confidence that the project will succeed.


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