Introvert In Product Presentation
How to prepare well and deliver confidently
Presentation is one of the core tasks of a product manager. We present to leadership to get buy in or approval, to cross functional teams to get alignment and invite feedback, to customers about our product offerings and future roadmap, or to a large group of audience in a conference, and you name it. In fact, presentation can even be a part of the interview process.
That’s why as product managers, we all want to be great at it.
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If you’re like me, however, it’s challenging and intimidating. It’s definitely so for introverts. But in fact, according to many studies, most people have public speaking as their #1 fear (even ahead of death!).
“There are two types of speakers in the world - the nervous and the liars”
- Mark Twain
So there we have it. Presentation is both important and hard. That’s why it’s worth discussing! As a fellow great-presenter-wannabe who have gone through trial and errors and still are working to improve my presentation skills everyday, I’d like to share my thoughts and tips I learned. Hopefully they’re helpful to you.
I’ll start with some key principles, discuss the before, during, and after a presentation, and then wrap with some introvert specific tips.
The following serve as helpful reminders every time I’m preparing for and going into a presentation:
It’s a conversation: Not as much of a “performance”. Your goal is to accomplish a goal - be it to deliver a key message, to get approval, to provoke debate, to drive actions. It’s not about “putting on a show” and getting a standing ovation at the end. Thinking of it this way also helps you focus less on yourself, which relieves anxiety from “how am I performing?”, and instead focus more on your audience and engage with them more. Which leads to the next point.
Focus on your audience: Not on yourself. Nobody cares more about you than yourself. The audience come to the presentation to accomplish their goals too. To learn something, to see how your thing impacts their projects, to see how your work helps them accomplish a higher level business goal, etc. So think about your audience. Who are they, what are their goals, and how you will help them accomplish them with this presentation.
Prepare structure, not word by word: Rarely is a presentation a monologue. And because it’s not, memorizing scripts would only sets you up for getting lost when the conversation goes a different direction than you anticipated, which it will. You should still prepare and prepare hard, but prepare the structure instead. The goals, the key messages, the frameworks, the call to actions. Structure sets you free in the moment of the presentation.
Be present and flexible: As in any type of conversation, once you’re in it, be fully present. Pay attention to your audience reactions when you speak, listen attentively when your audience speaks and asks questions. Then adjust your responses, flows, and pace accordingly.
Have fun: business presentation ain’t no casual chitchats. I know. You have serious goals to accomplish, it’s often high stake, and you badly want it to go well. But taking it too seriously is counter productive and can hinder your performance. You get more easily trapped in “oh shit, what did I just say, what do I do now” moments. Remember, rarely does the outcome from a single presentation determine your entire career, if ever. You may also think of it as another opportunity for you to get good experience, learn something new, and connect with people. When you go into a presentation to have fun, you’d usually do better.
Before The Presentation
There are 3 phases: Planning, Preparation, and Right-Before.
You will have to plan for your content and your delivery.
For content, planning like how you plan to write an article or document. Start from your goals and your audience. Create a structure accordingly which guides your agenda. Then fill in the content in writing, before crafting your slides.
For delivery, there’s how you visualize your content in your presentation slides, and how you voice over them. Always goes back to your goal and your audience’s and see what works best in accomplishing these goals. The common practice is to keep it brief, and highly readable while listening to your speech. Plan your voice over with key messages not with scripts. You can still prepare scripts as long as you don’t aim to blindly memorize and read them word by word.
Once you have your content and delivery planned for, now is to get yourself ready leading up to the presentation.
You need to familiarize with your own content. That’s why you never want to ask someone else to put it together for you, or to clone it from someone else’s deck without fully understanding it. One of the worst ways to do presentation is to talk about something you’re not even familiar with.
You will want to anticipate questions. Think about what your audience might be interested in learning more. You might opt to include some of them in the slides, while leaving others out but be ready to pull them up when they ask. How to anticipate? Always go back to who they are and their goals.
You practice. You should still rehearse flow of the presentation even if you don’t go word by word. If you’re presenting physically in a venue, it’s not a bad idea to go there to rehearse if possible. But don’t over practice to the point where you find yourself memorizing a script.
Right before the presentation (the day of, the hour or 15 minutes prior), it’s about getting into the right mode, physically and mentally.
Bring yourself to the present. Let go of what happened prior, what troubles you today, or other errands after the presentation. You may do a brief meditation or walk if it helps. You may feel the nervousness and anxiety, and that’s ok. Tell yourself that it’s normal, and just let it be (vs falling into worrying about it).
Warm up if you’d like. You may speak out loud or even some other techniques to relax your body and facial muscle.
Remind yourself of the goals, not the details. You’re prepared enough leading up to this moment. Just refresh your cache with the key goals, and prepare a clean slate into the real presentation.
During The Presentation
Now that you’ve started and now you ARE in the presentation. Just like any other conversation - 1:1, group meeting, casual chat with friends, dating, even with the clerk in DMV, the best way is to stay present, be flexible, and be your best self. Specifically:
Don’t get stuck in the past or the future. Sometimes you worry that you might have just misspoke, stuttered, or forgot to mention an important point. Or you already start thinking about your next slide, when the audience still is asking questions or making comments about the current one. Bring yourself back to the present moment as soon as you catch yourself doing it. Resume paying attention what’s currently happening in the room. Because only the present is what you currently have in control, and is your best and only chance to better the process and the potential outcome.
Read the room and listen to questions attentively. Don’t just do your speech with your eyes closed. Pause once in a while to see how your audience respond to what you said so far. Check in and see how they’re doing and whether they have questions from time to time. When questions come up, focus 100% on listening (vs thinking about your next slide), before you target your response. Address the question head on but concisely if you can.
Be flexible and adapt to the situation. Don’t be rigid about how the flow of the presentation “is supposed to be”. Evaluate where the discussion is headed, the sentiment of the room, the time elapsed on the discussed topics vs time and topics remaining. Adjust your pace, what to talk about, and how you talk about them accordingly. This is the exact reason why you don’t want to use a script word by word. When you have your goals, structure, and key messages in mind plus the flexible mindset, you can always change course on the fly while managing to accomplish your goals.
Try to bring it to a landing at the end. Chances are presentations go overtime because of the longer than expected discussions and Q&A, or simply because time wasn’t managed perfectly. It’s common, but make sure you wrap the presentation with clear next steps. If you’re fortunate the complete all the agenda as planned, great, summarize with your call to actions as designed. If the presentation is only half way through, conclude with a next step anyway - e.g. we’ll schedule a follow up session to go through the rest, we’ve learned XYZ so far and here’s what we can already do, or we’ll bring the rest of the discussion in breakout sessions with A, B, and C. You get the idea. Don’t just let it end abruptly without any wrap up remarks.
After The Presentation
You did it, the presentation is over, and is your job done? Probably not. Remember, presentation is a mean to accomplish specific goals. Maybe you did accomplish the immediate goals at the end of the presentation - e.g. getting the leadership sign off on a proposal. Maybe they’re not fully accomplished because there are some open questions to address. Maybe you didn’t even finish the presentation in time and you need a follow up.
In any scenario, there’s often actions for you to follow up on. Even if you get the sign off you wanted, for example, you might still want to put it down in writing as a plan of record, thank your audience for the time and discussion, and jump right into execution.
So follow through is important step number 1.
Reflection is number 2. Whatever is the outcome, you’ve gone through the process and it’s more often than not a valuable lesson for you to take some learning away, and improve your future presentations. So take a moment, reflect, put improvement actions on notes, and then move right on!
I don’t think it’s necessarily harder or easier for an introvert to be a good presenter. As introverts, we just have to know ourselves well and manage strategically. We know that interactions with people (including presentation) drain our energies faster than extroverts. We know that we might not be naturally comfortable with being exposed to a large group of people and being the center of attention. We proud ourselves in having deep and calm conversations even though we might not appear as gregarious. So here’s what I find helpful for me:
Reserve some space before and after: If you have control, you might not want to have several intense discussions before your presentation, because you know it would already drain your much needed energy. Likewise for after, because you might have run out of all your energy in the presentation and you might not have much left in the tank to manage the next high stake conversations well.
Progressive exposure: Expose yourself in circumstances that you are not perfectly comfortable with yet can train you to be more comfortable over time. So rather than avoiding opportunities to present or speak up, embrace or proactively seek opportunities to talk. You can intentionally start from easier settings like small group presentation or even just 1:1, and gradually move up the ladder. In addition, the exposure can also feed signals to your subconscious brain that it’s not that scary after all, and triggers a virtuous cycle to get you to do it more and do it better over time.
Find your own style: There’s not only one style of good presentations. There are thousands, tens of thousands, or more. Going back to what I said earlier, presentation is a conversation, a mean to accomplish some goals, not as much of a true “performance”. As long as you accomplish the goals, it’s a good presentation. So find your own style as an introvert and deliver in a way you’re comfortable.
This is a over abbreviated version of what I’ve learned about presentation. Each of the bullet above can easily be an article of it’s own (if not a whole book!) And like I said, I’m still learning and striving to get better everyday, on and off the job.
So I would really love to hear from you. What are your challenges? What are your personal tips and best practices? Let’s share with the community and grow together.