Presentations with Multiple Presenters – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
By Paul Grabowski
Recently, I attended two separate presentations for my daughter’s schools. As one is entering middle school and the other entering the uncharted waters of high school, both meetings were of particular importance to me.
Sitting through these two presentations gave me pause to think about what it takes to put together a program using multiple presenters. It also allowed me to relate these to the “business world” (well, running a school is now just like running a business, so there was a great deal of correlation) and how drastically different these presentations affected the audience.
What time are we presenting? Does everyone know?
Outside of the two presentations providing valuable information, this was where the correlation ended. One meeting at one school had been given three separate starting times. One time was provided by the calendar on the website, another time by email to all parents, and finally a third through an announcement earlier in the day at yet another parent meeting. The other presentation was set by email, on the parent portal and posted on the message board in the school driveway – all with the same starting time.
Knowing that everyone’s time is taken during the day and we live by our Outlook calendars, the changes in times caused great consternation and juggling of schedules. Just like the business world, it is important that if you plan to have a presentation or meeting, it is equally as important to schedule a time and stick to it. Moreover, communication and delivery of the message should be checked and controlled by one individual so that those attending know who is leading the meeting. There is nothing worse than having people attend a presentation or program who come in with a negative feeling about the presenters before the information is even disseminated.
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice
When a presentation is given by multiple people, it is imperative that you practice as a group. Practice does not just include making sure the slides are correct but also making sure that those presenting keep to the time allotted. If a program is scheduled for one hour and there are four presenters, each should be given a maximum of 15 minutes if you plan for no question and answer period. However, if a program is one that will inevitably invite questions, the presenters should prepare for this in advance and adjust their timing accordingly.
It is equally important to discuss amongst the presenters in advance the order of speaking and include this in the opening remarks along with each presenter’s topic. For example, in one of the presentations, the overall topic was information for parents of freshman regarding their roles and expectations as well as the academic requirements placed upon the students by the school. The order of the presentation began with a discussion about the parent council but was followed by the head of school on various topics. While we were told in our email, school calendar and announcement earlier in the day that the program would last one hour, when we were beyond that time frame with only the second speaker, the audience began to lose interest. By the time the academic dean began to speak, many in the audience were reading the materials and many had left.
Another note on practice is to check out the room in advance. Just as the PowerPoint needs to be accurate and working, it is equally important to know the condition of the room in advance. Are the microphones working and is there a back-up, is there someone from IT available to assist with technical issues, and (if you happen to be in the South in August) is someone from maintenance available in the event that the air conditioning is not working or similar issues.
Don’t Assume that having a title means that everyone knows you
With both presentations, there were multiple speakers. Never assume that everyone in the room knows who you are before you begin speaking. As a teacher once told me, “when you come back for reunion, always re-introduce yourself. I have had hundreds of students since the last time I yelled at you to turn in your homework!” The same goes for giving a presentation to any audience.
In one of the presentations, the first speaker got up, introduced herself and then ran through the list of names and titles of the others who would be speaking and a brief description of their topic. This is the best way to get a presentation started as the audience knows what to expect and who will be speaking on that topic. In the other presentation, two of the speakers started without ever introducing themselves. For those who were new in the audience you could see them leaning over and asking others who was speaking. This inevitably leads to further questions and comments among the audience and a lack of attention on the subject matter.
Always take the time to re-introduce yourself to the audience. If nothing else, it makes it easier for them to follow-up with specific questions on topics presented. For presentations with multiple presenters, having someone take the lead in providing an overview of speakers names, titles and topics, allows the audience to follow along and know what to expect.
Knowing your audience is only half the battle when putting together a presentation. Particularly when there are multiple presenters, it is always best to take the approach of putting yourself in the shoes of those who will be listening. Have we communicated the important information correctly in advance? What should we expect from a technical and room set-up perspective? How can we frame our presentation so that it is effective, on time and provides accurate information? Did we miss anything? Answering all these questions can help make for a better, more effective presentation and leave the audience with a good impression.