The best way to start that process is to go first to the end of your report. That’s where your conclusions and recommendations are to be found—and where you’re likely to find the most salient parts of your report. Work to pare down the report’s most essential findings. Keep these to as few points as possible.
You should now be ready to build the presentation that will lead you to the conclusion you’ve already established. That means a return to some fundamentals.
Start by being clear about your goals. Was your report designed primarily to pass along information-perhaps to bring your audience up-to-date or make them aware of some business issues? Or was it intended as a call to action? What specific response do you want from your audience? The answers to those questions will help shape your presentation. Write down your objective. Make it as clear and concise as you can. Keep it to a few sentences, at most.
Know your audience thoroughly. Check for anything that can affect how they’re likely to respond. Find out also what they may be expecting from your report. You’ll have to address in your presentation whatever expectations or preconceived notions your audience may have. (Learn more about audience analysis.)
Your road map
Your best bet is to begin by mapping out the logic underlying the presentation, especially when dealing with extensive and detailed material. Think of this as your road map. It’ll help you stay focused on the key elements of your report—the main ideas and messages, the conclusions, and recommendations. List those points from your report that best support your key messages. You don’t want to get bogged down in more detail than you’ll need in your presentation, so be ruthless in cutting out what you don’t need. Remember: you are not presenting the report; you’re creating a presentation based on the report.
Structure your talk
When you’re dealing with a lengthy report that later will become an oral presentation, it helps to break the material into several distinct parts, based on the structure you’ve defined in your road map. That way, you can address each main idea as an entity, before moving on to the next idea. That’ll help your listeners better comprehend and remember each key idea. Pay attention here to transitions; these should provide a natural link from one idea or section to another. Your transitions can also serve both as a summary of each section and a glimpse of what’s coming next. (More information on transitions here.) With a well-thought-out outline, building the body of your presentation should not pose a great challenge. You should now be able to move on logically, step-by-step, to your conclusion.
Create a strong opener
It’s essential that you begin any presentation with a strong opener. It’s even more essential when your audience thinks it’s about to sit through what could be a long, tedious exposition. You can quickly dispel any such notion with an opener that immediately grabs everyone’s attention. So plan your opening comments carefully. Find something in the report—a statement, a claim, a conclusion—that’s likely to have a particular impact on this audience. That may require no more than going straight to the report’s key conclusion, and stating it as concisely as you can. You may want to think of an elevator speech. Imagine you’ve got 10 seconds to make your pitch. What would you say? Once you’ve got the opener down cold, you can move on smoothly to the body of your presentation. (Read our article on great openings.)
Keep those visuals lean and mean
Chances are your report contains lots of detailed data. Be on the alert to include only the most essential data in your visuals. As you create your visuals, keep in mind the fundamental rules. Use only at-a-glance visuals that support your key messages. As much as possible, avoid visuals crowded with lots of data, charts, and graphs that add nothing of real value. Here again, you’ll need to be somewhat ruthless in cutting out all but the must essential material. (Read more about creating effective visuals.)
- Be clear about the time allotted for your presentation.
- At the end of your presentation, summarize clearly and emphatically the key conclusions and recommendations of your report.
- Be prepared for questions. Will you be addressing questions as they come up or will questions be held for a Q&A period at the end?
- Have back-up material in reserve in case you’re questioned or challenged about parts of the report you did not include in your presentation.
- Have handouts ready to pass around after your presentation. You may decide to hand out the entire report or just portions of it, as appropriate.
- Rehearse in the room and with the equipment you’ll be using.
Remember, your report was compiled as a report. Your job now is to create a successful presentation. That means you’ll be needing everything in the presenter’s toolkit, including practicing your non-verbal communication skills as well like maintaining eye focus and using your voice and gestures to good effect.