Presentation Skills for Business Analysts and Project Managers
I am currently teaching a Business Analysis class at the University of Delaware. The semester is nearly over, and the participants in the class are finalizing their capstone presentation. Each team in the class has been working on a Business Analysis case study throughout the semester. They have had to elicit the business need; create a business case; prepare a comprehensive requirements package (with functional, non-functional, and transition requirements); and draw use case diagrams, class diagrams, and activity diagrams. At the end of the semester-long project, the teams now need to give a presentation about the work they have done all semester.
Some of my colleagues question the need for the presentation as part of the course. After all, the participants have done the work all semester long. In my opinion, the presentation is necessary for two reasons: First, it gives the semester-long project a sense of closure. The participants have worked hard, and they get to show off their work to their peers. Second, and more importantly, presentation skills are extremely important to Business Analysts (as well as to Project Managers!), so giving a presentation should be part of the class. Throughout the semester, the participants had the opportunity to present at various times—and they have received feedback from me on not only the content, but also on their presentation skills. Now, at the end of the semester, they get to put all that feedback to good use in their capstone presentation.
There are several skills I teach to both Business Analysts and Project Managers that relate to giving presentations. In the Business Analysis class, these are the skills that they are scored on during their capstone presentation. Here are a few of the things that I look for from individuals and teams when they are giving a presentation:
1. Content – It does not matter how great the presenters are or how great their PowerPoint slides are if the content is not appropriate for the audience. In my Business Analysis class, the participants are told to imagine that they are presenting to the steering committee of the company in their case study. This provides them with context regarding the type and amount of content to include in their presentation’s slides.
2. Preparation – I have seen many presenters “wing it.” Unfortunately, these presentations look “winged” even by good presenters. It is important for speakers to show a strong amount of preparation and rehearsal in order for their presentations to be successful.
3. Organization – A good presentation should tell a story. It should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For many years, I have heard the adage that a good presentation should “tell them what you are going to tell them,” “tell them,” and “tell them what you told them.” The spirit of this adage should not be underestimated because it makes the presentation easier for the audience to follow.
4. Collaboration – When presenting as a team, the participants should not come across as individuals who are each giving one part of the presentation. On the contrary, they should show that the presentation was a collaborative effort. They can do this by making good use of transitions from one presenter to another and by referencing their teammates’ sections of the presentation when appropriate.
5. Creativity – Although I love the fields of Business Analysis and Project Management, I know that not everyone shares my passion. Many people can quickly become bored during a presentation, so presenters need to find creative ways to present their content and tell their story. This could be in the form of their delivery, their slides, their examples, their graphics, etc.
6. Visual Aids – Speaking of graphics, the visual aids used in a presentation are very important. They should be meaningful to the content being presented. Ideally, good visual aids should be attractive and enhance the presentation. Presenters can use strong visual aids to illustrate key points in their presentation.
7. Speaking Skills/Voice – Unlike a written document (like a Business Case or a Project Charter), a presentation relies heavily on the presenter’s voice. The presenter should be poised and demonstrate clear articulation. It is also important for the presenter to have a good volume for the size of the venue and the audience. To increase success, a presenter should vary his or her speaking rate and make good use of pauses. Finally—and this is a pet peeve of mine—presenters need to show some enthusiasm while speaking. That enthusiasm can become infectious, so the audience will share in the enthusiasm.
8. Vocabulary – Good presenters use vocabulary that is easily understood by everyone in the audience. In my job, I have worked on a lot of IT projects (both as a business analyst and as a project manager). There are a lot of context-specific terms in the IT field. When presenting, it is important to use simple terms. If context-specific terms are necessary, they should be explained.
9. Verbal Skills – This is similar to speaking skills/voice and vocabulary. In some ways, I think of this as a fusion of the two previous points. Good verbal skills mean that presenters always speak in complete sentences. In addition, presenters should summarize or paraphrase source material. This shows their confidence with the material instead of just reading source material verbatim.
10. Physical Expression – During a presentation, the presenter should be confident enough to interact with the audience. Presenters must maintain good eye contact with the entire audience (instead of with just one key stakeholder). In addition, presenters should use facial expressions and gestures effectively. These physical expressions can greatly enhance a presentation when done well. Unfortunately, they can also derail a presentation if done poorly.
11. Appearance – A presenter’s posture and appearance must convey confidence and credibility. For my Business Analysis course, I require my students to dress professionally for their presentations. (They can wear pajamas for the rest of the semester for all I care.) To give them a point of reference, I tell them to think about what they would wear to a professional job interview—and I share examples with them. I emphasize this during their presentations because it is real life. As a consultant, I frequently meet with clients and potential clients, and I need to always ensure that I dress my best.
12. Mechanics – There is little as embarrassing as being in the middle of a presentation and noticing a spelling mistake on your own slides. If you noticed it, I assure you that your audience has noticed it, too. Double-check and triple-check your presentations for both spelling and grammar. It can also be helpful to ask someone else to review your presentation for you.
13. Formatting – In addition to checking for both spelling and grammar, good presenters need to be careful about how the presentation is formatted. The slide background, font formats (e.g., colors, size, and type), and graphics should enhance the presentation not detract from it.
14. Time Management – Usually, a business analysis or a project management presentation is given a time limit. The presenter will not typically have an unlimited amount of time to present. Because of this, the presenter needs to ensure that the presentation can stay within that time limit. Rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse to ensure that the presentation does not run over.
15. Questions and Answers – Whether questions can be asked throughout a presentation or during a question and answer session at the end of the presentation, presenters need to be prepared to answer them. Here are a few pieces of advice for handling questions: First, know your material completely—even the content that did not make it into the presentation. It is not uncommon that the questions will be about things that were NOT in the presentation. Second, remember that it is fine to take a moment to reflect on the questions. You do not need to immediately respond, so take a bit of time to compose your answer. Then, restate the question and give your response. Third, practice answering questions with a colleague or with a teammate to ensure that your answers sound cohesive. This will also help you anticipate questions and ensure that you do not carry on for too much time. Finally, do not be afraid to admit that you do not know the answer to a question. Do not make up an answer! Instead, inform the audience that you will find the answer and get back to them.
I would like to think that this is a pretty good list of presentation skills. Even so, I would love to know what you think. Do you have any suggestions to add to my list of skills? Do you agree or disagree with any of them? Feel free to share your thoughts here!