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Are you preparing for a meeting? Or just a presentation?

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Dumb ways to ruin a meeting
Dumb ways to ruin a meeting
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Are you preparing for a meeting? Or just a presentation?

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How do you avoid the infamous "death by PowerPoint" syndrome? Here is a simple, yet powerful action plan to make your meetings more effective - based on the concept that when you prepare for a meeting, you need to focus on the desirable outcome of the meeting rather than just on the presentation.

How do you avoid the infamous "death by PowerPoint" syndrome? Here is a simple, yet powerful action plan to make your meetings more effective - based on the concept that when you prepare for a meeting, you need to focus on the desirable outcome of the meeting rather than just on the presentation.

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Are you preparing for a meeting? Or just a presentation?

  1. 1. 1 Are you preparing for a meeting? Or just a presentation? Achal Raghavan We have all gone through this experience many times – slogging for hours (and sometimes, days) over a PowerPoint presentation for an important meeting. You could be pitching a proposal to a key customer, presenting a project to your top management, advocating a new strategy to your boss, or whatever. There is always too much ground to cover, too little time to prepare, and then suddenly, it is showtime. You have rehearsed the presentation, practised the handoffs with your team, timed the slides; in short, you have done everything the “how to” manuals tell you to do. And yet, at the end of the presentation, the other party looks rather unimpressed, says something polite like, “That was great stuff. Thanks for all the hard work. Let me get back to you as soon as I can”, and walks away. You are left wondering what had just happened. Let me tell you what probably happened. You thought you had prepared well for a meeting, but what you had actually ended up doing was preparing for a presentation. Is there a difference? Yes, there is (see Fig. 1 above). A presentation What is a “presentation”? It is exactly what it says – you are presenting your point of view (POV) on that particular situation or subject, and buttressing your POV with as many arguments as you can think of and fit into the given time. The “how to” manuals do tell you that you need to pause from time to time, ask if the other party has any questions, clarify those points, and then proceed with the rest of the slides.
  2. 2. 2 But your head is bursting with the stuff that you still have not covered, the clock is ticking, and all that pressure makes you a poor listener. Also, you probably did not allocate any time specifically for discussions anyway, because you were busy squeezing too many slides into a 30-minute meeting. The result? Your “presentation” was mostly a one-way street, a data dump at best. You were trying to get the other party to “drink from a firehose”, and that is just not possible. A meeting A “meeting”, on the other hand, is different. It is, ideally, a “meeting of the minds” - and not just a gathering of people in a real or a virtual room. At the end of a good meeting, both sides leave the room with a common understanding or agreement on what has been discussed and what needs to be done next. A meeting, therefore, is a two-way street which enables people to move towards each other’s point of view. For example, if you were pitching your proposal to a customer, this common understanding (or meeting of the minds) would be that this pitch is the best value proposition on view, compared to all the other alternatives. How do you prepare for a successful meeting? Here is a simple action plan that can maximise the chances of your conducting a successful meeting. Do this the next time you open your laptop to start on that important presentation: 1. Get a clear grip on the specific outcome that you want from the meeting. This is crucial. What exactly do you want to achieve? Trust me, many a time we don’t even know this clearly. Reflect on it, consult your team, run it past your boss if needed, and reduce this desirable outcome to a couple of sentences. Write this down, for clarity. 2. Recognise that the presentation that you are starting to prepare is but a tool or a means to achieve that desirable outcome. The presentation is a sub-set of the meeting. It gets the conversation going, and nudges the other party to see it your way. It is not just a package of information; it is a persuasive tool. It is also a means to keep you disciplined on what to say. Don’t put everything on the slide; if you did, the audience does not need you – they can just read the slide. 3. Work back from the desirable outcome that you want, to where you think the other party is at this time. Are they undecided? Against your point of view? Sitting on the fence, needing a gentle push? Completely unaware of the merits of your POV? You need to know their current position to a reasonable extent. Otherwise, you are shooting in the dark. Tailor the presentation to move them - from where they are now, to where you want them to be (see Fig.2 below).
  3. 3. 3 4. Remember that a meeting of the minds can happen only when there is conversation. Provide time for such a dialogue to take place. A journey needs way-stops and pauses to make it less tiring. A rough rule of thumb would be to set aside 25% of the total time for dialogue, clarifications and persuasion. Yes, this cuts into the precious time that is available for your slides. But that is actually a good thing, because it will force you to focus, and crystallize your pitch to its very essence. It is a process of distillation. 5. Lastly, subject your presentation to a “stress test”. Make sure that the slides are consistent with each other, and that the numbers add up. If you were to give the presentation a vigorous shake, it should still remain intact. Nothing should shake loose. Remember, your credibility is at stake. Love them or hate them, meetings are here to stay. When conducted well, meetings can be extraordinarily productive. Do your bit. Prepare for a meeting of the minds, not just a presentation. Achal Raghavan 24 May 2022

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