Jun 18, 2018

3 Questions that will dramatically improve your next presentation

When I was in IIM (MBA institute) lots of companies used to arrive on campus and make presentations to students. It was an opportunity for them to talk about their companies and the roles they wanted to offer. It was also a chance to create a good impression among the students so that more candidates applied for these companies. These presentations mattered more for the new recruiters on the campus.

If a company came on campus you would expect lots of students to attend its presentation. But it was never the case. Left on their own, students were just too lazy and would never attend more than a few presentations. That’s why the placement committee members would tip the company folks. “Offer pizzas because the students like it” they would say.

This trick always worked. Hungry folks like me would attend any placement presentation from any god-forsaken company as long as there was free pizza. As our happiness with normal-crust pizzas started fading, the companies started ordering thin-crust pizzas too. They sure were changing with changing market realities.

Marico Limited was one such new recruiter which arrived for a presentation before the final placement season began in late 2005. I had never heard of Marico before and so did many of my batch mates. So, when they came on campus there was not much enthusiasm. All the students interested in marketing wanted jobs in top names like HLL (the name changed to HUL much later) and P&G. These companies were the regular ones.

Imagine you are the HR manager of Marico. You have hired MBAs from many institutes but never from IIM Ahmedabad. You arrive on campus. WHAT will you say to these students? How do you decide on your message?

You will talk about the company, its history and milestones. It’s vision and mission may be. And the roles you offer. But is that enough? What makes this situation different? Would you have given the same presentation to another institute where you have been hiring for the last 7 years? What are the external influences on your message?

There are three things to think about while deciding on WHAT to say:

  1. How much time do you have?
  2. Who are you presenting to, what do they know about you and what do they expect from you?
  3. What is the objective of your presentation?

I call these three aspects the CONTEXT of your presentation.

  • Time
  • Audience
  • Objective

Let us answer these contextual questions for Marico.

How much TIME do you have?

Companies were usually allotted 30 minutes and they used to present for 20 minutes keeping 10 minutes for questions and answers. What if the time allotted was 5 minutes? It would force you to cut down on your message. You would say the more important things and leave out the less important ones. So, knowing what is more important and what is less important is crucial when you plan a presentation. While planning your message, you will always want to say more. One good way to know how to cut it down is to mark messages as more and less important. If you cannot fit your presentation within the allotted time, you know what to chop off – the less important stuff.

Who are you presenting to, what do they know about you and what do they expect from your presentation? [Audience]

Who are you presenting to? You are presenting to second year students.
How much do they know about your company? Not much. How do you know? You will need to do some research. Guessing never works. You could ask the placement committee members. They are students too. While doing research you company also discover that students have some negative biases about your organization or your culture. Maybe there was some bad news in the press few months back. This could be addressed during your session.

What do the students expect from your presentation? Pizza! While that is true what is also true is that students expect to be educated about your company, your operations and the roles you have to offer along with the salary package. Above all, why consider applying to your company? Why you?

In the example we just discussed a recruiter (Marico) was presenting to students. Let us take a very different example. Let us say you work in a company and you have to propose a new strategy for the company. Your company sells milk and you propose to launch ice creams and yogurts. WHAT you say (message) will change depending on whether you present to your peers (other managers) versus whether you present to your CEO.

  • With your CEO, you will start with the executive summary and make all the recommendations right on slide one. That’s because you have very less time and even less attention of the CEO.
  • With your peers, you will actually deep dive and talk about every nitty-gritty. You have more time and you are expected to spell out all the details of the strategy.

What is the OBJECTIVE of your presentation?

Let us come back to the campus. You are the HR manager at Marico. Your objective is to recruit students! What else?

But can you do that right after the presentation? No. You are presenting in October and the actual interviews will happen only next month. Then recruitment is NOT the objective of your campus placement presentation.

What is the objective of your presentation? The answer is some variant of this: To generate enough interest among the student community so that suitable candidates apply for a job when you visit next month.

While we are at the topic of objective of a presentation let me ask you this. Assume your company makes software for banks. You go on a sales call and you are sitting in front of the Chief Technology Officer of Goliath National Bank. What is your objective?

To sell! No. No B2B sale closes after the first call. You will meet them many times and the process might drag for months. The only objective you have in the first call is to get a second call. Communicate just enough so that you make a favourable first impression, project that you are a suitable vendor and get called again. You will go into more depth in the second meeting.

The one question that will reveal the real answer is: What do you want your audience to do at the end of your presentation? This will tell you what the real objective of your presentation is.

So, what? So, what if the purpose of the presentation is not to hire students or close the sale. How does it impact your message? It has a huge impact on what you say and how much you say. If your sales presentation had to make a sale, then you had to tell the client EVERYTHING about your company and its services. But if your objective is only to get the next meeting, you will not worry about saying everything. You will only talk about the important stuff and not dive too deep (something you will surely do later).

Do you want to know how did Marico present to us? The HR manager of Marico delivered the best campus placement presentation I saw that year. They had done their homework. They knew that students do not know much about the company so they started out by comparing their revenues with that of the more-known names on campus (Colgate, Dabur, etc.). The moment we found out that they were a big company (revenues) and as big as Colgate and some other big FMCG names we were hooked on. They had got our attention right from the start.

Next, they talked about career paths, something I have never seen in a campus placement presentation. They showed us real examples of managers who had grown extremely fast within the company. They also talked about giving great responsibility right from the start of our careers. This was the second six of the over!

These two slides were enough for us to take this company seriously. I went back to my dorm room and looked up Marico on Google. I really wanted to join them and finally I did so in 2006.


  • While preparing your message, analyse the context of your presentation.
  • Time: How much time do you have? The lesser the time the crisper you need to be.
  • Audience: Spend enough time analysing your audience. Who are these people? What do they know about your topic and about yourself? Why are they listening to you? What do they expect to hear?
  • Objective: What is the real objective of your presentation? What do you want your audience to do at the end of your presentation?

A successful presentation is one that meets its objectives. Nothing else matters.

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