Presenting Across the Table: Successful Informal Presentations

Front view portrait of four business executives sitting in a linePresentations don’t have to be formal, stand up affairs. Many times we make our case across the table from a client, a boss or a colleague. It may be tempting to consider these informal presentations as unimportant, but just think what is riding on them — a major sale or business relationship, a raise or promotion, the success or failure of a team initiative or project. Wow! I would say these presentations are every bit as important as the sit-down kind, and deserve our full attention in planning and execution.

To help you remember some of the keys to success across the table, here is a checklist in acronym form.

Tune in to your audience. Take time to think about WHO you are speaking with. WHY is this presentation important? WHAT do they expect to hear? HOW will you make your case compelling, especially if you are suggesting a change or presenting something new? Tune in to the rational as well as the emotional makeup of your audience as you plan what you are going to say.

Attend to your delivery skills. How are you sitting? Are you alert, calm, and facing the other person? Are your arms and legs uncrossed, your hands relaxed? Is your face pleasant and engaged? Are you enunciating clearly, and speaking with conviction? Be sure to breathe, open your mouth, and make steady but not overbearing eye contact as you speak.

Begin and end strong. As in all presentations, your audience will tend to remember what you say first and last. Plan ahead. Think it through. Create a one or two-sentence position statement that is clear and direct. After appropriate (but brief) social niceties, state your point of view, and then back it up with three or four supporting facts. As the discussion comes to a close, use your pre-planned closing comments to summarize your discussion, or to end with a call to action or next steps.

Learn your content. You may think these presentations require no rehearsal, since you don’t plan to be standing up in front of a crowd. But trust me; you can get just as tongue-tied in front of a client or boss. Take a few minutes in the days or hours before this conversation to rehearse your part of the conversation out loud. Record it on your smart phone, and then listen to it. Or have a friend or colleague role-play with you. The payoff will be increased confidence and credibility when you deliver the content to the intended audience.

Expect discussion. These informal presentations most often end up being discussions rather than monologs. Prepare yourself for several possibilities, so that whatever happens, you won’t be blind-sided. Will your listener agree wholeheartedly? Great! But you can’t always be sure how a listener will react. Maybe they will object strenuously. Become angry or defensive, or demand more information. Think about how you might handle each of these outcomes so you at least have a plan in mind. And stay flexible — you can’t always predict what will happen.

So as you see, presentations across the table, although more informal, require some of the same thought and planning that a formal presentation does. The good news is that each time you properly prepare and execute a successful informal presentation, you build and reinforce an important skillset you will use again and again.

How do you prepare for and execute informal presentations and critical discussions? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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