One thing all presenters have in common, regardless of content, is the need to provide rapid responses based on the ever-changing situations that come up during a presentation. While it is possible to memorize certain facts, figures and specific details, it is impossible for any one person or team of staff members to have all the answers.
When federal agency officials testify in front of Congress, numerous presenters show up with heavy binders full of talking points and supporting facts. Yet with all their preparation, many are unable to easily access information to respond to the deluge of questions. The problem these leaders face is not having the proper preparation, tactics and tools in place to quickly access specific information and answers to unforeseen questions.
An appropriations hearing can have a significant impact on an agency’s budgets and plans for the upcoming fiscal year. If asked an unexpected budget question by a member of Congress, often an agency leader will respond: “I’ll get back to you on that.” This failure to respond in the moment is often perceived as lack of preparation and can jeopardize the success of an agency’s appropriations hearing.
Anyone in a similar situation can benefit from a few simple tips to minimize the chance of being caught off guard:
- Practice the presentation in front of a live audience before the real thing. A dry run can help a presenter be prepared to answer unexpected questions. Any practice session should be as similar to the real setting as possible, and the audience members should ask the presenter blind questions.
- Do your homework ahead of time by extensively researching your audience to determine the types of questions that you might be asked. When testifying on the Hill, it’s important to identify the nature of the hearing and the members of Congress who will be attending. Research the issues important to the sitting panel and reach out to legislative affairs liaisons to see if they have any insights on particular topics that may come up during the hearing. Above all, make sure you are familiar with the meeting’s agenda, purpose and expected outcomes.
- Use a presentation tool that provides immediate access to the information you need. One tool that has proved to be effective is a web-based software application called Antys. This program allows a presenter to seamlessly access a database of vetted information and utilize real-time chat capabilities to receive talking points, facts and visuals from support staffers who are wirelessly connected to the presenter. Having observed a high-ranking government official use Antys during a congressional hearing, I saw his ability to easily answer unexpected questions by immediately providing relevant visuals and statistics, thereby reinforcing his credibility.
Whether it’s practicing your presentation in a real-time setting, conducting research on your audience, or using an innovative presentation tool like Antys, a presenter must be ready to respond to the unforeseen. Next time you are leading a presentation, try one or all of the above tips so that you never have to say, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
What are some simple or creative ways you have prepared for a presentation?
Kris Pettie is a senior consultant at Corner Alliance, specializing in project management, stakeholder outreach, policy analysis, emergency management and facilitation.