5 Steps to a Great Team Presentation
You work for an advertising agency. A national restaurant brand wants a fresh ad campaign, and your firm is one of three agencies invited to deliver a team presentation to the brand’s top executives.
As often happens, the brand gives the agency only a couple of weeks to prepare. The agency quickly spins into motion, assigning a presentation role to managers from key departments: strategy, creative, research, and accounts.
Each of the departmental leaders works on their talk. The day before the big presentation, they gather in the conference room to rehearse their pitch. A few things become clear almost instantly: there’s no unifying theme, each person’s slides look different, and there’s unnecessary repetition throughout the talk.
The presenters panic. They scramble to make last-minute changes, work late into the night, and head into the presentation lacking cohesion and confidence—and a good nights’ sleep.
That’s not a hypothetical scenario. We’ve seen that play out with a client when we were brought in to help the day before they were scheduled to present. It was heartbreaking, because these were brilliant people with great ideas, and they almost certainly would have delivered wonderful work.
They didn’t get the account.
A great team presentation, whether you are pitching an ad campaign, seeking to land a sale, or hoping to raise startup funds, gets its strength from the sum of its parts, and how those parts fit into one unifying theme.
If you follow the proper steps, your team members will be fully aware of their roles and how they relate to one other. That work translates into a presentation with a smooth and seamless flow. The reward is an effective and successful outcome for the team, and a powerful and compelling experience for the audience.
We offer five steps to bring your team members together, find that flow, and focus on the message you want to convey.
5 Steps to a Winning Team Presentation
Step No. 1 – Establish Your Key Message
There is an important question to ask whether you are a single presenter or part of a team: What is the brightest take-home message you’d like your audience to remember after your team finishes its presentation?
We call this your audience-focused bright shiny object, or ABSO. Your ABSO aligns your key point with your audience’s greatest concerns and needs. Here’s an example:
You are a company that provides technological and energy expertise to municipalities that are developing comprehensive initiatives to become more environmentally responsible. You and your team are pitching a panel of town officials.
Your key thought is this: “You should hire us because we not only have the scientific expertise but years of experience in translating that to real-life applications that save money and protect the environment.”
The town’s need is this: “We need a program that follows proven scientific principles and incorporates economic best practices. We also need to hit our goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent in the next five years.”
Here’s your ABSO: “We have a team of scientists, researchers, former municipal leaders, and economists who are as versed in the research as they are in the real-life applications that translate into compliance and economic savings.”
Those nearly three dozen words could be swapped out for just two – “Hire us!” – but that pitch won’t go anywhere if you don’t answer the question the audience is asking: “Why should we hire you?”
The audience will be more likely to hire you if every speaker’s mini presentation is guided by and reflects the central idea (or ABSO) that ties the entire presentation together.
Step No. 2 – Assign Roles
If you own a car, how many times do you think about the spark plugs in your engine? We guess that it’s not all that often. But you sure do think about them when the engine stalls. Faulty or worn, perhaps? There’s no spark to get that engine going.
We use this example in context with how you build your team presentation. Every presenter has an important role – no matter how small or big. You want your presentation to hum along, with nary a stall in sight. In other words, every presenter needs a clear understanding of their role and how they fit into the unified whole.
Here is how you build the engine:
- Determine the number of speakers – There is no magic number, but you should consider the impact on the audience. Cramming a dozen speakers into an hour might make it difficult for the speakers to build a rapport with the audience and may strain your audience’s ability to consume and consider the information you present.
- Create the content – What points and supporting evidence will each person cover (discuss this as a group), and what is each segment trying to achieve in connection to your ABSO? Answering those questions will also help to reduce repetition.
- Mind the micro and macro – Each speaker should have a “mini” presentation that conforms to the usual speech formula – open, main points with supporting detail, and close. To avoid appearing predictable, each speaker should vary their delivery (don’t all use opens that focus on statistics, for instance). Perhaps one team member uses PowerPoint, while another passes out a handout. Many team presentations begin with a “big picture” introduction, often presented by the most senior member of the team, followed by talks given by specialists in each topic area. The person who opens the talk may also close it and take on an emcee role to facilitate the Q&A period.
- Establish the lead – The person opening the team presentation should begin with a compelling statement that immediately gets the audience in the tent, establishes the session’s relevance and purpose, and reflects the audience-focused bright shiny object (ABSO). As a group, determine if the opener, who also is often the emcee, will either introduce the team following the open or open the floor for each presenter to briefly introduce themselves and the subject they will cover.
Step No. 3 – Practice, Practice, Practice
As a group, schedule several run-throughs – if you have the time. If the team is not under one roof, consider conference or video calls. Early rehearsals reduce the risk that befalls many talented firms – the practice run comes too late in the process. By the time the gaps and other issues are revealed, there’s no time to make the fundamental changes needed – only last-minute fixes that are less-than-ideal.
Here’s how to make your practice session an exercise in efficiency:
- Listen for the unified theme in every “mini” presentation.
- Identify and eliminate repetition. You can do this by ensuring the point is in the proper segment.
- Ditch the drag. As you time each person’s talk, pay attention to pacing.
How to reassess
After each rehearsal, go back and tinker. Consequently, that may mean you add more compelling material or chop irrelevant statistics. If this is an organic part of the creative process, you will have a more seamless and effective flow when the presentation goes “live.”
Step No. 4 – Your View on Visuals
Visual aids can have a powerful effect on helping your audience to remember your key message and main points. In a team presentation, your approach to the visuals must be cohesive. If every slide presentation follows a different template, and evidences a different style, the audience is likely to be distracted. Worse, as in the advertising agency example that started this post, they may pass on your firm altogether, concluding that the work you would have delivered would be as disjointed as the presentation itself.
Here are some guidelines to visualize:
- Each speaker should work off the same template.
- One person should be assigned to edit the final deck.
- Ensure there is continuity of colors, font sizes, and the overall look.
Step No. 5 – Final checks
Well before you arrive to that conference room to pitch your services, register a sale, or secure funds, make sure, as a group, you’ve paid attention to staging. How are you going to position yourselves? When it’s not your turn to present, how will you stay engaged? How are you transitioning from one segment to another?
Here are some things to consider before the presentation:
- Is the team standing or sitting during the talk?
- Is the team on stage? Are the presenters sitting in the audience or around the conference table?
- Are speakers expected to step forward to speak?
Here are some things to do before the presentation:
Practice all scenarios. With preparation, speakers may be less likely to be thrown off track if the actual presentation reveals a different set-up than had been discussed.
Rehearse the choreography. For instance, if you are sharing a single microphone, practice the handoff. If you’re sharing a PowerPoint clicker, practice the exchange. Make eye contact with your co-presenter during the transition and exchange a warm look before turning toward the audience.
Stay alert. When others are speaking, practice keeping your eyes on the speaker. You also can take notes if helpful, and imagine observing the audience to see if some points are landing better than others.
Plot your Q&A. Will the emcee assign questions to team members in real time or will certain team members field certain topics? Are group members encouraged to jump in? The real goal is to avoid the awkwardness of deciding in front of the audience who should answer which questions. A team that works gracefully with one another sends a powerful message about their ability to work cohesively and efficiently on whatever task is before them.
Be there for your teammate. Let’s say your colleague gets stuck in traffic on presentation day. You may be required to step up and fill the gap caused by your absent colleague. Or, you may have to shorten your part of the presentation when questions run long in the segment before you. Snags and challenges, while unfortunate, do happen. As a team, practice for the unexpected.
One player can consistently make great plays, but it takes a team to create a winning season. Or, as some recent research has revealed, a team doesn’t need to be a group of superstars to succeed, so much as a group of people who work well together. It’s a finding we can intuitively understand.
In approaching your team presentation, remember that it should reflect the experience, effort, and talent of each member as seen through the team’s collective expertise. With preparation and practice, that expertise will easily shine through.