Presentations are a part of product management, and for some product managers (PM), they’re the hardest part. Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, is a common human experience. In fact, 75% of people suffer from some degree of presentation fear, which makes it the most prevalent form of anxiety.
For every presentation-related fear, there is a library of advice about preparation and practice and little about what to avoid. But successfully managing glossophobia is also about knowing what not to do. When preparing for a product presentation, relieve some of the stress by knowing — and avoiding — these three common mistakes.
The preparation loop
Preparation is critical to a compelling presentation. It eases anxiety and helps presenters identify gaps and mistakes in their presentation plan. With sufficient preparation and practice, a presenting PM achieves a comfortable familiarity with their material, but too much of a good thing may have the opposite effect.
Overpreparation is a symptom of presentation anxiety, but too much practice can affect the quality of a product presentation. Robotic or rushed delivery is a sure sign of excessive preparation, and when an anxious presenter recognizes such signs, they may be driven to practice even more. Now, despite thorough research, intellectual rigor, and the best of intentions, the presenter is caught in a preparation loop.
The difference between enough preparation and too much is comparable to the difference between carving a presentation in stone and sculpting it out of clay. The stone is irrevocably committed, but the clay remains malleable. Its form can be tweaked and reshaped. With presentation material, enough practice ensures knowledge and preserves adaptivity. A professional PM is sufficiently prepared and ready to improvise and adjust to their audience. An overprepared presenter is rigid, primed to overreact, and disengaged from the audience, and all the preparation in the world is nothing absent audience engagement.
How much is too much? It varies from one presenter to the next, but if the PM knows the product, memorizing the main points of the presentation will suffice. It’s also useful to hold one or two practice sessions on-location. Use this time to ensure technology is compatible, and account for potential technical difficulties.
The first rule of presentation decks, often neglected if not entirely ignored, is this: Do not read from the slides.
A slide is a visual aid and, at most, a reference to help presenters stay on point. Slide decks give product presentations a throughline and create space for illustrating data points, clarifying abstract concepts, and emphasizing critical details.
A professional PM’s slide deck supports a product presentation, but it cannot contain it. To create a solid deck, start with Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 model as follows:
- Ten slides
- Twenty minutes
- Thirty-point font
With the 10/20/30 framework, a product presentation deck is relevant, readable, and best of all, brief. The product is the star of the show. Overloaded slides distract from the critical details the PM is there to provide. A professional PM captures audience attention with an informative speech and a compelling delivery. The slide deck is an accessory. Avoid the temptation to over accessorize.
The tedium trap
A presentation is neither lecture nor performance. It’s not a herculean task to be endured or a chance for the presenter to let their star shine. A professional presentation is a happy medium. It educates and engages, inspires enthusiasm without overselling, and emphasizes relevant elements without dwelling on dull technical details.
The audience wants to hear about their own experience of the product. Customers do not care how a product works. They aren’t even interested in what it does beyond the answer to one critical question, “What will it do for me?” The audience wants to know how a given product will make their personal or professional lives easier, better, faster, more successful, more interesting, more fun, and/or more aesthetically pleasing.
The product presenter’s task is to deliver a polished, informative, and engaging presentation without sounding robotic or going over the top. Turn the presentation into an exercise in storytelling. Use verbal and nonverbal communication methods. Move around if the space allows it, let your voice convey some emotion, and tell the audience how the product will affect their lived experience.
Even seasoned public speakers experience presentation anxiety. It’s a common human experience, so finally, when it’s time to give your next product presentation, begin and end by allowing yourself to be human.