How to NOT suck at product roadmap presentations
November 11, 2014

How to NOT suck at product roadmap presentations

by Brian de Haaff

Buying a used car or delivering a presentation to a large group — what irks you more? Presentations are a necessity for product managers, but they usually aren’t something that folks look forward to giving (or attending). But if you want to be successful in product management, you are going to need to get good at them. Really good.

After working for about 15 years and being the CEO of three companies, including now at Aha!, I can sadly report that most product roadmap presentations are not very good. This is especially true at larger companies where managing perceptions is often as important as managing the product. The presenter will drone on and on, flipping through a boring, often irrelevant slideshow.

I know about lousy product presentations, because sometimes I’m that guy at the front of the room giving one. Bad presentations are unfortunate when they happen, because every time you have an audience it’s a prime opportunity to showcase what you’ve got. Dead-fish presentations stink for everyone.

You can have brilliant ideas, but if they are stuck inside or wrapped in too much junk, they serve you no good.

Presentations die a thousand painful deaths, but these are the most common reasons I see them go down in flames:

Presentations fail when they are not focused
I wrote recently about the dangers of meetings going down rat holes. Presentations can follow a similarly undesirable path if they’re not focused. As with meetings, having a plan is essential for a good presentation. No focus = failure.

Presentations fail when they are irrelevant
Presentations can be irrelevant in two ways: you can fail to deliver necessary material, or, you can have the wrong audience in the room. Either one = failure.

Presentations fail when they are boring
Just because you add a picture of a cute cat or an animated gif of a baby dancing in your PPT does not mean that your presentation will entertain. If you are going to spend an hour with me, I hope that you learn something and have a reasonably good time. Boring = failure.

So, how do you ensure that your presentation will not suck? Here are five recommendations based on what has worked well for me:

1) Know what the end looks like before you start
Having a plan for the beginning, middle, and end of your presentation helps to focus it. Think your presentation through beyond the last slide. Do you want your audience to come away from their time with you engaged? Informed? Motivated to act? Be able to answer the question: “what next?” for all attendees. This will help with content, focus, and delivery.

2) Start with the “why”
The first thing you should state during your presentation is why you are on stage delivering information to people in the first place. If you’re an expert, own it. If you are hoping to convince your audience of something, say it. There’s a reason you’re in the room, and there’s a reason your audience is in the room. Name those reasons. Your presentation immediately becomes more relevant and connected.

3) Share what’s essential
Give information during your presentation. Wondering how much? Give enough so that folks understand your material yet not so much that they feel overwhelmed or bored. Share what’s needed — no more, no less.

4) Make it real; stories first, facts second
Presentations aren’t just charts and graphs and statistics. They are stories that connect people to data points. Especially if your product roadmap isn’t immediately accessible to your audience because it is complex, chances are, it will be more accessible to them through a connecting story. Successful presenters adopt a casual, conversational style that can still convey facts and expertise while showing a human face.

5.) Be you; allow your product passion and expertise to shine through
Relax. You aren’t asked to give presentations “in character.” You’re asked to show up for a reason. Be yourself and allow your passion for and expertise about your subject matter to take front and center stage with you.

Succeed in giving a good product presentation by following these tips, and everyone wins. Not only will your presentation not suck; it may be quite informative and even enjoyable!

How do you make your product presentations great?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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