To Become a Better CAD Manager, Hone Your Presentation Skills
9 Mar, 2016
By: Robert Green
CAD Manager Column: You can improve your user trainings, budget negotiations, and customer interactions — all by becoming a better public speaker.
I can already hear the comments: “Why should a CAD manager worry about presentation skills?” and “I’m too busy solving technical problems to worry about being a better presenter.” But before you dismiss the concept entirely, ask yourself how better presentation skills could help you conduct training, talk to customers, speak up in meetings, or make a pitch to your boss for new budget items. When you look at it that way, you’ll soon see that presentation and speaking skills are crucial for getting your job done.
Here, I’ll provide you with a checklist I use to prepare for every presentation I do, along with some tips that have helped me. Ask yourself the following questions, and they’ll help you prepare as well. Here goes.
Who’s the Audience?
Whether you’re speaking to two people or two hundred, it pays to know your audience. As much as possible, learn their names, titles, job functions, branch office locations, etc. as part of your preparation for the presentation. By knowing more about your audience, you can connect with them more personally and speak to their needs from a more informed point of reference. When an audience senses that you understand them, they’ll like you better, which will make you more relaxed and natural when giving your presentation. Simply put: Win the audience over by knowing them before you ever start.
What are the Expectations?
Don’t call your presentation “BIM,” “3D,” or “Best Tips.” Titles like that are so vague that your audience has no way to know precisely what you’ll talk about — raising the chance that their expectations won’t be met. Do give your presentation a clear and specific title, such as “3D Building Modeling Basics for AutoCAD Users” — it defines that you’ll talk about (modeling buildings), how advanced the discussion will be (basic), and what prerequisite skills the user needs (AutoCAD) to have a positive experience in the class.
When you begin your presentation, set audience expectations before you do anything else. When your audience knows what you’ll discuss, your worst-case outcome is that someone may excuse themselves at the beginning of your presentation. That’s much better than that same person walking out halfway through, or staying till the end and never receiving what they expected. State what you’ll talk about in the presentation title, then reiterate those expectations first thing when you speak, and you’ll never misrepresent the class to your audience.
How Do I Sound?
Now that you know your audience and have settled on your presentation title, it’s time to create your materials. I find the best preparation is to imagine myself giving the presentation and recording my verbal ramblings using my iPhone’s voice memo feature, or by using a full-blown recording tool (such as Camtasia) on my computer. I then play back my imaginary presentation and decide which parts to keep, finalize topic order, and establish a timeline. Using this methodology, I program my brain to speak through the presentation as I develop it, which is the most effective means of rehearsal.
And once you begin recording, it is time to be brutally honest with yourself about your speech patterns, your rate of speech, etc. Are you speaking slowly and clearly enough that your audience can focus on understanding your content, instead of your voice? When I started recording myself, I immediately realized I would need to moderate my regional accent, reduce “ums” and “ahs,” and to improve the tonal quality of my speaking voice. Bottom line: Nothing I’ve done has improved my presentations and speaking skills more than listening to myself speak!
What’s the Appropriate Language?
Have you ever been in a presentation that was way over your head because you didn’t understand all the acronyms and industry jargon being used? If so, you experienced a “non–language appropriate” presentation. Be sure you don’t fall into the trap of using language that’s not well suited to your own audience.
As an example: If you’re presenting the features of an updated software package to experienced users, feel free to use software-specific terms that the audience will understand. On the other hand, if you’re giving an executive summary on the software’s capabilities to project management staff you’ll want to emphasize cost savings and productivity enhancements made possible by new software features. The key thing to realize is that as the presenter it is your responsibility to use examples and language that makes sense to the audience you’re speaking too.
How Can I Connect?
Whenever possible, reference actual problems your audience has experienced to illustrate the key concepts in your presentations. Rather than telling a group of CAD users, “Here’s how you create complex hatch objects,” you can say, “Have you ever had troubles creating hatch objects inside a really cluttered reflected ceiling plan? Well, here’s how we can solve that problem.” Or when speaking to senior management, don’t say, “The new version of XYZ CAD employs an enhanced vector optimization algorithm in its plotting engine”; instead, opt for, “The new version of XYZ CAD plots 50% faster and will eliminate the backlog we see in the reprographic room during deadlines.”
By presenting a new concept in the context of solving an existing problem, your audience will see that you’re trying to make their job easier — that will get their attention! And as CAD managers, aren’t we supposed to be solving problems for those around us?
How Can We Have Fun with This?
I don’t advocate telling jokes, but if you have any brief funny stories that your audience can relate to, why not integrate them into your presentation? Anything you can do to lighten the tone of your presentation and make it upbeat and positive will make your audience more likely to engage, so smile and act like you’re enjoying yourself — even if you’re scared to death. I’ve also found that challenging the audience to participate by asking them questions helps make things lively. Ultimately, if you enjoy giving your presentation and get the audience involved, it’ll go much better.
I encourage all CAD managers to view themselves as professional communicators who can benefit from improving their presentation skills. I hope you can use these diagnostic questions to craft better presentations, build better training classes, and interact with your management teams more effectively. Until next time.