At some point, there always comes a new Big Cheese. Could be a new senior manager, a potential client… or even a new set of ministers. If you’re in the lucky position of having a slot in their diary to win them over to the joys of government 2.0, you want to make the most of the opportunity.
I’ve frequently failed to do this successfully, so, in the spirit of sharing – and quite possibly, therapy – I thought I’d share some of my many failures with you here. This is a guide not so much to the content of what might say, but some tips on getting the most from the format in which you could say it:
- Don’t count on your slot: expect to get squeezed to half the allotted time, or bumped altogether. You might even get more time if they’re interested or the next meeting is canceled. On one occasion, I remember waiting for a minister to arrive, late, and hiding one slide for every minute he was delayed – I think half the presentation disappeared. Make sure you have a bunch of material from which you can tell stories selectively, rather than needing to build a grand argument slide by slide. In Powerpoint, you could have a structure which lets you jump to slides from a master page using hyperlinks. But a tool like Prezi might work better, letting you lay out your evidence and examples on a big canvas, and zoom around between them as the time allows, as Con Morris’ lovely example demonstrates.
- Plan the space. Recce the room if you can; get there a bit early if you can’t. Think about seating positions and views, and what the dynamics of the conversation will be. Will you be dangling at the other end of a long table with people in between, or sitting sideways-on next to the Big Cheese? (better, IMHO)
- Check where they’re at. Two minutes in, I’m making the case for social media and how the world is changing. The minister looks coldly at me and goes: “Do I look like the kind of person who need to be convinced about this stuff?”. I gulp. He’d set up Google Alerts the moment he started the job, had more than one personal website, and was a devotee of his iPhone. Somehow, I’d missed these points by failing to ask, up front, (or better still, of his office beforehand or from a bit of prior Googling) what he already knew about these issues. It’s easier to talk than ask, but the best presentations are always conversations.
- Quick quick, slow slow: don’t force the pace. Presenting to an audience of one is a tough job: rush through and you’ll lose them; spend too long on the build up and they’ll get fidgety. Fidgety is Bad. Though opinions differ, it’s an argument for handing out paper copies at the start – they know how much there is to come, they can flick through quickly to get an overview of what you’ll show them, and by turning a page they can give you a gentle nudge to move on. But be prepared to bin your material and just have a chat if that’s what they want to do. You can always come back to a particular slide if you need to illustrate an example, but the bottom line is that this is a meeting, not a technology demo, so above all be passionate, interesting and human.
- Stories, Strategies, Screenshots. People take in information in different ways and it’s unlikely you’ll know which best fits your Big Cheese before you sit down with them. So mix up your materials a bit to punctuate strategies with stories, bullet points with screenshots. See which ones seem to seize the attention, and emphasise those.
- They’re human (honestly). Big Cheeses have nasty diaries out of their control, often work through lunch and have to sit through an awful lot of bad Powerpoint, day after day. They get hungry, tired, bored and, even, titilated on occasion, as do we all. Within the constraints of the room you’re in and the slot you have (and good professional manners, of course), try and empathise.
- Watch the eyes and fingers. In the same way that it’s hard to ask questions when you’re in talking mode, it’s hard to observe when you’re in presenting mode. But if you take the time to watch your Big Cheese’s reactions and follow their attention, you’ll stand a better chance of spotting what’s interesting or bothering them, knowing when to move on when they’re bored.
- Never trust technology. If you work with com-poo-ters you’ll know never to trust one, especially for a big presentation. Have your presentation in three places at least (on the laptop, on email/web, on a memory stick). Check out the room for wifi/sockets, and take an extension if you need it. Make sure you’ve got screenshot backups if you’re planning to demo a live internet tool. Plug the projector in and make sure it works before you need it. And for the love of God, take enough usable paper copies with you.
- Take something for the homeboys. Big Cheeses don’t travel alone; there’s usually a note-taking, clock-watching PA, Private Secretary or three with them, and they’ll be useful to you in the future. Take some spare colour copies of the presentation to give them a break from scribbling notes, and to help them quote you accurately in the write up.
- Tell them how they can help. An easy one to miss while you’re telling your stories and setting out your strategy – ultimately, you’re not there for a pat on the head. Near the end of the discussion, make it blindingly obvious what seemingly trivial actions your Big Cheese can take to help you turn the glorious vision you have set out into a reality.
Photo credit: Juliebee