More presentations are conducted internally than externally, such as in meetings on decisions, projects, reviews, and sales. In fact, internal presentations are often the most important and influential presentations you will ever make. The stakes are often higher – these presentations can have a bigger direct impact on financial performance, share price and operational results of your organization or business unit. Therefore, internal presentations are vital to your career.
This article discusses in-person presentations. You can read helpful insights on virtual presentations in my article, “Ten tips for delivering an effective virtual presentation.”
Internal presentations are vital to your career
Two levels of internal presentations
To audiences of middle managers
You know what works in team meetings at your peer level: stories, PowerPoint slides, one-way communication with minimal Q&A, and no interruptions.
To audiences of C-Suite executives
For effective presentations to top executives, know the people and the big picture, go very early to bottom line impact, deliver with confidence, and be prepared to answer questions. You must gain approval from the people at the top to get things done. Resources are limited, and managers from other departments, eg finance, IT, and marketing, are competing for the same resources. Refer to my article, “Make persuasive presentations to senior executives” for more tips on persuading top management to support your case. Here’s the formula:
Know the people and big picture
- Who will be in the meeting?
- What are their titles?
- What are their agendas, and how do they feel about each other?
- Who will support you and who will oppose you?
- Ideally you will have a sponsor, a senior executive. They can tell you what to expect, and can get the meeting back on track if it derails.
My own experience (sad to say) is that the unspoken intent of many senior executives is to preserve and extend their own power base and territory as their highest priority. Therefore, you need to consider your proposal in that light and try not to cause any perceived threat to their sources of power. You could use the fear and self-interest approach: suggest subtly that if they don’t act they will cause problems for the organization – and for their own areas.
Summarize to start
Top executives are under great time-pressure. They don’t want to sit through a neat and carefully-ordered presentation. So go straight to the important stuff up front, especially the data and financial implications. Give them high-level conclusions, recommendations and a call to action. Briefly cover important supporting information after that, and then seek discussion and questions. Start the presentation by letting them know this. Structuring in this way will ensure internal presentations are vital to your career prospects.
Go to the bottom line at the top
A key rule of content development for a C-suite presentation is to focus as a priority on budget impact. If you want money, include ROI calculations so the executives will know what they’ll get for their investment.
Skip the storytelling that works so well at your peer-level team meetings. Executives simply don’t have time for it. Get right to the point using data.
Be careful with PowerPoint. The C-suite wants a discussion, not a slide-driven lecture, so to increase your credibility with them, cut the number of slides to a minimum. When you are finished with the slides, ensure the screen is blank. This will refocus the attention back on you.
One option for good PowerPoint slides is to go to Slidehunter, who offer more than 4,000 free ppt templates with pre-designed slide themes within the categories of business, strategy, process, timelines, roadmap and funnel. Worth a look.
Familiarity means internal presentations are too often taken for granted
For several reasons, internal presentations are not treated as important as external ones. Familiarity and frequency mean they are often taken for granted. If the people in your intended presentation audience are casual about internal presentations, you can consider sending them an email or report as an alternative. But if there are significant issues at stake, then it is worth the time and effort to get face-to-face with the decision makers.
Similarly, as some meetings are regular and compulsory for employees, presenters might take the attitude of having a ‘captive audience.’ the attendees may switch off and be mentally somewhere else, even though they may be physically present. So the onus is on you to be professional in preparing your presentation.
To attend your internal presentation, the attendees have to sacrifice some of their working day, which can be difficult. Recognize this and seek to maintain their attention. Keep in the front of your mind that internal presentations are vital to your career.
To keep your internal audience engaged, think carefully about what both you and the audience want to achieve from the presentation and build it around this core thinking. Use a strong message to convey the theme you have decided on.
Ask them questions, and encourage their questions. You should expect and prepare to answer probing questions, not because managers think your idea is bad, but because this is how they will arrive at a decision quickly— such as whether your proposal fits within the current business strategy and budget, and whether it has the potential for an acceptable return on investment.
Reinforce your brand internally
If your organization takes your brand seriously, make the brand essential to internal presentations:
- Ask yourself how the key attributes of your brand impact on internal actions and behaviors. How can you convey these attributes in internal presentations? How do you get colleagues to feel that?
- If you have a slogan, how does it run through the presentation? Is it implied? Can it be included in wording and stories? How does it become tangible?
- If you have a communication role, what can you do to make presentations easier for fellow employees to project the brand? You can provide slide templates, narratives or storylines, graphics, adaptation of corporate identity requirements.
How to overcome these problems
Few internal presentations are exciting. But they don’t need to be boring.
You can lift interest by involving the audience. For example:
- Tell a story that supports or illustrates your main message.
- Use metaphors and similarities to make numbers more meaningful.
- Engage the audience – interaction with questions or role-playing.
Put conviction and even passion into your words. After all, if you’re not convinced the subject is important, how do you expect them to care?
Concepts aren’t visual
You may not think your concepts are suited to exciting visuals.
Use a little imagination to lift visual attractiveness. For instance, experts quote Seth Godin, who wrote:
Talking about pollution in Houston? Instead of giving me four bullet points of EPA data, why not read the stats but show me a picture of a bunch of dead birds, some smog, and even a diseased lung?
Get creative. Decide the emotional core of your message and find metaphorical images that support them. For instance, a food retailer talking about wasted food could show the stats with a background of starving children, a truck at the rubbish dump or a shot of a rat, etc. You could access free stock photos at sites like freeimages.com. You could even take your own good photos. But don’t overdo the visuals. If your audience is not used to strong visuals in internal presentations, be prudent about the extent you use them.
No time to prepare
I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks.
Allow enough time for proper preparation
No excuses! The experts believe that saying ‘I don’t have time’ is virtually the same as saying, ‘I don’t want to.’ This reflects the low priority you place on internal presentations. If you think it is important, you will make time for it. Remember that internal presentations are vital to your career.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.