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9 tips for giving better team presentations

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For those of you who are soccer/football fans, you'll no doubt sympathise with the fact here in the UK we have to endure crushing disappointment every couple of years when a major tournament takes place because although for the past 10 years England's 'golden generation' has had some of the world's best players - David Beckham, Steven Gerard, John Terry, et al - they've never really seemed to gel as a team. We've had 11 players who often seemed to play as individuals instead. And the result is that we - the fans - suffer the agony of defeat on a regular basis when other teams with less talented players do much better.

The same type of thing often happens with team presentations. A selection of competent presenters get on their feet one at a time to do their turn, but the result is somehow less than the sum of the parts. They don't present as a team. So here are 9 tips on how to do it better.

1. Team presentations are a great opportunity to demonstrate teamwork

If you're presenting to a potential customer and you've brought along the team who'll be working on their account, one of the things they'll be looking at is how well you work together as a team. Because that will affect their perception of how you'll handle them if they give you their business. So use it as a opportunity to show just how well you get on and work together.

2. Think carefully about who's going to speak.

Just because there are 4 people in the team, it doesn't mean that all of you have to speak. Multiple handovers to different speakers are distracting.

Likewise, the senior person in the team also doesn't have to be the main speaker. In fact, allowing those who report to you to do the lion's share of the presentation demonstrates you have confidence in their abilities. Think about who will present each section best, either because of their presenting skill or their technical knowledge.

3. Try to have multiple handovers

Having one person deliver half the presentation and then another deliver the second half isn't a team presentation; it's two people presenting in turn. A team presentation should be dynamic, and more like a dialogue that two (or three) monologues. Having two equal sections is predictable. Having multiple handovers keeps the audience's interest.

Now that doesn't mean presenter 1 says three sentences and then presenter 2 says three, after which presenter 1 says another three, and so on. After a couple of minutes that's just as predictable as splitting it down the middle, and it makes you sound like a comedy double act.

Make the handovers unpredictable, so the audience never know when they're going to happen. An alternative which I like is when presenter 1 talks for a few minutes and then presenter 2 seems almost to interrupt with something that further explains, or elaborates on, what's just been said. If this is rehearsed so it appears as an ad-lib or unscripted 'ad-on' it can be very powerful.

This also works well when one speaker is standing and another is seated. But for it to work, speaker 1 must look completely at ease and comfortable with the 'elaborations' and almost to welcome them. Any sign of impatience or irritation (e.g. raised eyebrows, pursed lips, looking at the floor instead of at your colleague) and speaker 2's comments will be interpreted as unwanted interruptions. And speaker 2 should only use agreed/planned/rehearsed 'interruptions'. Anything else (unless the speaker has forgotten a critically important point) is discourteous and disrespectful to the person who's speaking.

4. Rehearse the handovers as much as the content

Rehearsing a team presentation is even more important than rehearsing an individual one. But if rehearsals do take place, people will usually practice the delivery of their part and then say, "OK Jane, at this point I'll hand over to you and you can go through X, Y, Z. . ." Jane then nods and starts to rehearse her part of the presentation. But the handovers are as much a part of a team presentation as the content itself. You won't get them right unless you rehearse them as well.

5. Make the handovers seamless

Handing over to a colleague is a specific skill in itself. Most handovers are incredibly formal and go something like, "And now I'd like to hand over to Amy, who'll take you through X, Y, Z . . .", a bit like a news reader saying "And now let's go to Sherlock Holmes, our man at the scene of the crime . . ." The second presenter then says, "Thank you John . . ."

If you're going to have multiple handovers (see above), this becomes very repetitive, wooden and even annoying. The handovers shouldn't be telegraphed in advance. They should just happen, with one presenter taking over seamlessly from the next. Some people advocate signaling tonally to a colleague that one is about to take place by dropping your voice at the end of your final sentence with a downward inflection.

Personally, I don't like this. Firstly, if your presentational delivery is conversational (see How to sound less formal and more normal and Vocal delivery: sounding conversational) you're going to end some sentences with an upward inflection and some with a downward one . . . i.e. just like in a conversation. If you never use a downward inflection except for a handover, you'll end up sounding like a Californian valley girl turning every sentence into a question. Not only does this sound ridiculous in a business professional, it also makes you sound as if you lack confidence.

There's also the chance that your colleague will miss it unless it's really emphasized, and then it will just sound silly.

I prefer to use a key phrase or sentence. Even if you haven't rehearsed the presentation according to a script, simply agree that the cue for the handover is a specific set words, e.g. "And thirdly . . it will save money in the long run." Then simply make sure that you use the phrase exactly as you've agreed.

Finally, don't look look at your co-presenter until he/she has started speaking. This is harder than it sounds, so practice it.

6. Don't forget your body language

When you're speaking, look directly at your co-presenters occasionally, as if you were also talking to them. The smaller the audience, the more often you should do it.

When you're not speaking, look at the person who is, 95% of the time. You may usually look at the audience, trying to gauge their reaction to the speaker, but you looking at them is a distraction. You don't want to do anything that draws attention away from the speaker. When they're speaking, your job is to support them. You have not suddenly donned Harry Potter's 'cloak of invisibility', so don't look bored, shuffle your notes or mentally rehearse what you've got to say next, never mind surreptitiously check whether that important email's come through on your phone!

Use 'listening' body language . . . i.e. don't just listen, look as if you're listening. Turn your body 45 degrees towards the speaker, tilt your head slightly to one side and nod slowly. Smile at the appropriate moments if humor is used. Don't fold your arms, which signals discomfort, but also don't stand with them over your groin in what's known as a 'fig leaf' stance like a soccer player in a defensive wall (see The power of posture). In the photo below, President Obama's entire budget team to a man is adopting this stance. People who are in front of a room but not speaking often stand like this; they're in the spotlight, people are looking at them, but they have nothing to do/say, and they don't know what to do with their hands.

Obama's budget team all displaying 'figleaf' defensive body postures

You can stand with your hands behind your back, but this makes you look like a soldier. Personally, I stand with one hand just inside my trouser pocket and the other with my fingertips resting gently on the table in front of me. This prevents me from inadvertently displaying any 'barrier signals' (for more about barrier signals, see The power of posture).

7. Ensure continuity in your visuals

Have somebody responsible for taking an overview of the content. If 3 or 4 people have prepared their own presentations you may end up with a hotchpotch of backgrounds and colors/fonts, or the same visual used more than once. There should be a common template used throughout the entire thing. One individual should be charged with ensuring everyone has their visuals ready.

8. Don't waste time with multiple introductions

Because several people are involved, a lot of time can be wasted with each person introducing themselves and explaining their roles/credentials, etc. I think self-introductions are one of the most boring possible ways to open a presentation or section of one (see 8 ways NOT to open a presentation).

Get there early and you may have an opportunity to introduce yourselves over a cup of coffee. Failing that, do it before the presentation starts. Have one person briefly introduce everyone else (do it sitting down; if you're on your feet it counts as part of the presentation, and you want the first minute of the presentation to be impactful and interesting, not boring and predictable (see How to grab 'em by the throat). This enable the 'introducer' to talk about everybody else's expertise and achievements in a flattering way that they couldn't do themselves.

9. Deal with Q&As as a team

After you've brainstormed the likely Q&As that will arise, identify which member of the team will deal with each of them. Don't just let someone say, "I'll deal with that one." Agree what the reply will be as a team. This will avoid someone butting in because they feel the question hasn't been answered properly.

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