Hi there! If you’ve been a project manager for some time, you’ll know that presentation skills are a key component of a PM’s skill set.
For me, I used to get a lot of stress when stepping into Project Steering Committee meetings and updated senior management on project progress (or non-progress).
I remember losing my voice, getting sweaty palms and all that jazz - but over time, I learnt some tips for presenting that I’d like to share with you here.
In this article, I’ll run through 6 tips for speaking clearing as a project manager. Why the focus on speaking? Well, I find that voice projection and articulation is one of the key components of a good presentation.
Even if you have fabulous slides, a great story and so forth - if you have a poor voice - your presentation is going to be ruined.
Let’s start by understanding a bit more about speaking from a project manager point of view. You know, speaking happens to be a problem for many PMs.
In fact, there are a lot of IT project managers that I know who come from a programmer or system architect background. In those lines of work, you may not need to speak much.
However, once they transition into project management and speak to stakeholders day in and out - I find that many of them get a culture shock.
I’m not saying all PMs can’t speak well. But it is a problem for many and they certainly can’t compare to, say, the likes of sales people. You may have read articles out there about sales versus project management as a career - the truth is, sales folks DO speak better than PMs in general.
So how do we go about improving the speaking skills of PMs? Well, read on and find out more ...
The first and most important tip for speaking clearly is to project your voice. It sounds simple enough - but you’d be amazed at the number of PM presentations I’ve gone to where the PM is speaking in a tiny, squeaky voice to an audience of thirty.
That won’t do! Don't leave your voice in your throat. Make sure you have a drink of warm water before the presentation, them practice speaking out loud so that the person furthest from you can hear you.
A loud voice comes is projected from the stomach. If you have need of voice training, do check out some of your local voice classes (acting or singing classes may also help).
Voice projection is one of the easiest things to do once you know how. So get working on it immediately!
The second tip is for speaking clearly as a PM is to rehearse. Myself, I try to rehearse one or two days before a major presentation. Stand in front of a mirror and speak out loud. Do it two or three times before a presentation and not only will you ingest the presentation material a lot better, you will also subconsciously know what you say.
For some super major presentations, you may also want to rehearse in front of others too - but that’s a bit extreme in my opinion.
I once had a manager who was so worried about presentations (rather, about MY presentations) - that he insisted I presented to HIM two or three times beforehand. I thought that was maniacal and crazy. You certainly don’t have to go to that kind of extent.
Ok, point number three. Make sure you prepare good presentation materials. The best presentations have summary bullet points of what you’re saying, or even better - graphical representations.
The key thing is this - DON’T ever read off your slides.
What I like to do is to write up some speaking notes which are categorized by slide numbers. So, on Slide 1, I’ll put down three points of what I’m going to say. I usually list down some examples or insights that you DON’T find in the slides.
For my clients, this usually consists of what is being done in the industry or other clients, so it keeps things interesting. If you simply read off the slides, you don’t even need to make the presentation, the audience can read the slides themselves!
Ok, next up ... the meeting room. Make sure you visit the meeting room beforehand and check out the location. In particular, try out the projector first.
I find that projectors ALWAYS have a way of going wrong or not working RIGHT at the start of a important presentation. Usually it has to do with the slide not coming on, or someone doesn’t know how to “switch” over to the laptop screen, and so forth.
Personally, I find it immensely frustrating to have these things cropping up when I have senior stakeholders in my presentation. So always, always visit the room and check the projector out first.
For teleconferences, get all the phone numbers you need before the presentation and try dialing the numbers before hand.
For video conferences, it’s even worse - I find that video conferences have TWICE the likelihood of having something go wrong as compared to teleconferences. So I’d prepare for video conferences even more, e.g. by asking for an IT staff to stand by with me throughout the meeting in case something goes wrong.
The fifth tip I have to share is that you need to drink water before the meeting (like I mentioned above). This is not to just quench your thirst - it’s more to clear your throat.
And please drink WARM water. There was once I drank a bit of cold water before a major Steering Committee presentation and you know what happened? My voice just disappeared! Instead of my normal voice, what came out was a squeaky little voice - I guess it was also coupled with nerves.
And no citrus or lemon juice please. Those are guaranteed to make you lose your voice. Particularly if you have a presentation after lunch - please remember NOT to drink lemon juice during the lunch.
The final point about speaking clearly? It’s simply to be natural. Speak to your audience like you’re talking to one person one on one. Often, we get so caught up in the presentation to the group, that we simply spew out what we think and ignore the audience.
I mean, why are you doing the presentation? Well, usually, it’s to give the audience information they need. Or to help them solve a problem. You should speak to them that way. Get into their mind, and help them obtain the information they want, or explain the solution they need.
You shouldn’t perform the presentation like a robot, as though you’ve rehearsed it many times. Yes, rehearsal is important, but when it comes to the actual presentation - speak naturally.
If you’ve rehearsed enough, the key talking points will already be in your head. Just speak naturally as though you’re talking to a friend. You’ll then be able to deliver the presentation content much better.
Sometimes, when I make a presentation as a PM, the CEO in the room may ask me a question or two. When that happens, I don’t freeze up. I just focus on the CEO, mentally “block out” the rest of the room, and just talk to him or her as normal.
As though we were sitting in a cafe and having a one on one conversation. Get into his or her frame of reference and try to help.
Often, CEOs appear more nasty and are feared more than they should be. In my opinion, most of them just want to be heard and understand how to solve problems. Give them that and you’ll be fine.
I hope the above has helped you understand 6 tips for speaking clearly as a project manager. Speaking is indeed one of the most important aspects of communication for a PM (and I’ve elaborated on how important communication is over here).
Get your speaking right and you’ll be on your way to better presentations to your stakeholders and increased project success!
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