Corporate PresentationsI hear a common complaint about internal company presentations. Internal presentations are apt to be less formal, and therefore audience members commonly to interrupt with questions, tangents, challenges and typing out emails on their Blackberries. Most times its the higher-ranked employees who do this, even though you’d think more senior people would want to set a respectful example.

The reason why is obvious if you understand the Status Transaction: more senior employees carry more status, and therefore feel entitled to distract from your show.

It’s the same reason that people heckle comedians. You’ve gone to all the trouble of creating a “spotlight” of attention in the room, and someone in your audience wants to grab it and put it on them for a while. It’s more than an annoyance; in terms of what’s going on in the room it actually diminishes you and makes you seem smaller than you are.

In fairness, the reason most employees – and high level employees in particular – feel so disposed is that ninety-nine out of every hundred presenters they see waste their time in some way. They plod through slide after tedious slide, dragging their audience through their minutiae without succinct points, message flow, or word efficiency. Therefore most corporate audiences feel no duty to presentation etiquette, and instead prefer to assert themselves over you or tune out.

Next time you have to give an internal presentation to an audience you fear might not stay with you, do this:

Our Little PresenterFirst, make your presentation five or six minutes in length. This is crucial, and easier then you think. Most presentations are built by assembling as many relevant PowerPoint slides into a deck as possible, and therefore the average presenter could cut out half to three quarters of the material and actually improve their presentation.

Next, ad the following preamble just after you’re introduced, and before you dive in to your material:

“Thank you. I’d like to go over some points with you and it only takes about five or six minutes from beginning to end. So I’d like to ask a favor that if any questions or thoughts come up, we do those all at the end in order to save time. Also, if you have a Blackberry or a Smartphone, if you could do me the kindness of setting it aside for the next couple minutes, I will be as respectful of your time as I possibly can.”

You must say this preamble assertively and politely, without either being snarky or seeming like you’re begging. This message politely but firmly sets the ground rules and expectations for the next few minutes. You volunteer that you will only take a few minutes of their time, and in return you’re asking for basic courtesy.

You will be shocked at the response. This might sound a little intimidating to say to more senior audience members, but they will actually comply most readily. It takes a lot of balls to go off emailing on your Blackberry if you have been kindly asked not to do so for five minutes.

But more important than removing the annoyance of interruption, you have demanded the status to which you are entitled. When you are presenting, you need to be the tallest in the room; part of your persuasive power is based on that. By clearing away the potential for interruptions beforehand, people will be less likely to use your podium for their own self promotion.

Sometimes people may still interrupt and challenge or question. Because you set the ground rules, you must remain consistent with them. When someone speaks up, politely respond, “Let me jot a note about that because that’s a point I want to be sure and come back to at the end.” In violating your ground rules, they are actually trying to assert dominance over you: “I know you told us not to interrupt, but we’re playing by my rules and not yours.” Think of it as a test.

By politely saying, “I’m not going to address your comment now, I’m going to address it later like I originally said,” you pass the test. You reassert dominance over the person who tried to take it away.

You will earn more respect as a presenter if you establish rules and stick to them (just so long as you stay short, to the point, and respectful of their time). Whether by interrupting or by tuning out, every challenge to your spotlight deflates your performance.

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