Presenting at work
November 26, 2020

Tips from an experienced analytics leader for when you’re presenting at work

By Andy Sutton

Building on the advice I’ve shared from books & my own experience, here’s an analytics leader’s experience of presenting at work.

I’m delighted to welcome back (from Australia) guest blogger Andy Sutton. Regular readers may recall that Andy is Head of Data & Personalisation for Endeavour Drinks. He has also shared before on why non-data-scientists can lead Data Science teams.

I’m delighted to welcome back Andy to share his personal experience of presenting at work. Having worked with Andy for many years I know that he’s created a warm & effective style, so is well worth hearing…

Don’t you hate presenting at work?

Let’s start with a bold statement – I hate presenting.  I hate the nerves in advance. I hate the butterflies in the stomach. For big presentations, I hate the sleepless night beforehand and the inevitable crash once the presentation is done. 

I’m not a big fan of words, I’m much more comfortable, as a maths and stats geek, with numbers and shapes. If I could get on stage flash up a few cards for people to read, not speak and then leave that would be great for me – but probably not for the audience!

I also don’t like being the centre of attention.  I’m the guy in the corner at a party (until I’ve had a few beers) and I even hate playing charades at Christmas.

How I learnt to love presentations

But I’ve also learnt to love presentations. I love the buzz when I’m actually presenting and I love the Q&A from teams/audiences. Plus I love it when it’s done. The messages land and you change someone’s view or give them new information as a result of the talk. 

So, how have I managed to develop my love-hate relationship with presenting? By focusing more on the parts I like and less on the bits I don’t. Here is what I mean…

Focus on the parts you love

Part 1) I love creating slides.

I learnt from a previous colleague that the content of slides isn’t the important part, the fontent is. How you design the slides, the images you use, the text size, the “on brandness” of the messages are all crucial in drawing the listener in.  Plus, if you give people pretty enough slides to look at, they spend less time looking at you (especially if you’re less easy on the eye like I am). Whereas other people plan massively what they’re going to say in words – I plan what I’m going to say in pictures and content on a slide.

Part 2) I also love talking.

So I’ve learnt to turn a presentation more into a 2-way conversation with the audience. Rather than a 1-way flow of information. This way I convince my brain that I’m not ‘presenting‘ but just chatting with a group of people. That’s a far more normal environment for me to operate in.  It also means I can adjust the speed, tone and even narrative of the slides as I go, based on the points which land with people and the points which raise the most debate. 

This is why I still struggle when an audience isn’t engaged or I’m not getting verbal or physical cues along the way. I then have to actually present, which brings on the dry mouth and shakes I’ve had previously.  One of the other things that has worked for me is the evolution in how presentations are done. 

When I started out, presenting always involved standing at the front of a room or the end of a table and presenting whilst everyone else took a seat.  The move towards sit down presentations (or even virtual these days) again speaks to a true conversation rather than a 1-way monologue.

Part 3) I love not practising (too much)

The final thing I’ve found works for me is not to overly practice in advance.  I’ve tried scripting things, I’ve tried memory cards and I’ve tried autocues but they all send me into a bigger tizz than making it up as I go.

I scripted my wedding speech and practised it around 10 times in advance and still managed to forget to tell my wife how beautiful she looked! So, why would I remember the right words when talking about data!  When I have an autocue, I spend the whole time looking at the screen talking like a robot.

So I’ve learnt to think on my feet and adapt as I go.  Obviously, there’s a degree of prep, understanding roughly the message for each slide. But having this and then giving myself permission to go wherever the conversation takes me, means I can be more natural.

Presenting at work can be funny, sometimes

So those are the things that work for me.  I add in humour where I can (but I’m prepared to accept that people won’t always laugh). But generally, I try to turn it into the type of conversation you have every day with one of your team.  My final piece of advice – don’t do accents. I’ve heard do a Welsh accent which sounded broadly Jamaican on multiple occasions…

What’s your experience of presenting at work?

Many thanks to Andy for being so candid & sharing how he has learnt to ‘lean in‘ to what works for him as a leader. For those who don’t know me from my time working with Andy at Lloyds Banking Group, his last comment is a jokey pop at me. I must confess a terrible habit of doing awful impersonations with terrible accents. Be glad you haven’t had to suffer them!

But what about you dear reader? What have you learnt about presenting at work as a leader? Have you managed to overcome a fear of public speaking through your own tips? If so, please consider sharing with us.