PMO Leaders – Public Speaking Tips
PMO leaders spend a lot of time talking to the rest of the organization. They meet people at all levels and have to interact confidently with everyone from the C-suite executive team to project team members. Sometimes it’s facilitating large groups; sometimes it’s presenting to one person. But it’s all about confident communication and presentation skills.
Fear of public speaking is a top worry for a lot of professionals. As a PMO leader, you’ll be in a lot of situations where you will need to speak honestly and share difficult messages. You’ll have to influence and negotiate; persuade and encourage.
Here are five tips to help you make the best impression when speaking in front of a group at work.
1. Plan your presentation
You know those people who present so effortlessly on TED talks? There’s a reason why they are fluent, articulate and concise, and it’s not because they are natural born public speakers. They practice. For hours and hours.
Whether you are sitting in a meeting with a group and simply have to give an update, or if you are on stage in front of the whole company at a Town Hall style meeting, planning and practicing will give you confidence and help you get your message across.
The key thing to prepare when planning your presentation is to know your subject matter. If you are presenting a status update, have confidence in the numbers you are sharing. Be able to answer questions on the data. Know where it comes from and how it was created. If you know you know what you are talking about, the people in the room can’t ask you anything you’ll find difficult, and that’s a huge confidence boost.
Of course, there are always questions we don’t know the answer to. The trick is to know your subject matter as well as you can and confidently answer, “I don’t know that but I’ll find out and get back to you,” when you are put on the spot. Just try to avoid answering that for every question!
2. Allow for different learning styles
People respond to information in different ways. Be prepared to talk through any slides you’ve created, but also know that someone in the room will already have read them before you even come off mute to speak.
When you present to a group, expect there to be a range of different learning styles in the room. Some people take in information that they hear, others prefer to read it, and others need to take notes or see a worked example or prototype for their own ‘light-bulb’ moment.
Stories make your information easier to understand and easier to connect back to the company goals, so if you can, include customer testimonials, quotes or case studies that show what you are trying to achieve and why it’s a good idea.
It’s hard to hit every learning style when presenting to a group, but let’s say you are going into a board meeting to discuss a new project prioritization approach. You could:
- Create slides with key data points on, presented as graphs or graphics
- Talk through the slides (without reading them), adding in more detailed information
- Share a screenshot of the project prioritization model
- Share a quote from someone who has used it, saying how helpful it is
- Provide a link to the model for them to try it out themselves.
Aim to incorporate a range of different content styles to help your message be understood effectively. Make sure you’ve got electronic copies available to distribute, and if you are meeting in person, it’s always helpful to have one or two copies printed out for people who want to take them away.
Tip: Make your presentation as inclusive as possible, especially if you are talking online. For example, turn on real-time closed captioning if you have that option in Zoom, speak clearly and be in a well-lit location for people who lip read.
3. Be ready to tackle the hard questions
Think about what questions might come up as a result of your update or presentation. What is controversial about what you have to say? What part of your recommendation might feel uncomfortable to someone in the room?
Prepare for the hard questions so you have something to say when they come.
It’s also worth preparing some hard questions of your own. What is it exactly that the executives want from the PMO? How are they judging your performance and your team’s performance? Can they articulate the benefits of their pet project and are they prepared to buy into the prioritization approach, even if that means their project goes to the bottom of the list?
Practice your ‘challenges’ by saying them out loud so you sound confident, respectful and professional. You need to be able to debate and push back on ideas you know won’t work, while maintaining the relationships.
4. Listen to feedback…
…but don’t take it personally.
In our experience, expectations of the PMO change over time so you will get feedback about what you are doing. Often, that feedback is about something you are not doing, with a request to start doing it. And when you’re tired at the end of a long week after having put out many fires that didn’t even make your manager’s radar, that’s hard to hear.
The PMO is a partnership between you and the rest of the organization. Expect there to be changes and feedback, and try to listen with professional distance. Feedback on PMO performance is rarely a challenge about how you are personally doing things and more about tweaking the direction of travel to better suit what executives want from the function.
5. Be brave!
One of the things that holds PMO leaders back from being impactful is worry about public speaking. The more you do it, the easier it becomes, whether that’s talking in front of a room of five executives or presenting to a staff meeting of many hundreds of people.
Sometimes, the issue is mindset: stepping out of your comfort zone naturally feels uncomfortable, but take a deep breath… you can do it.
Public speaking doesn’t come naturally to many of us, but being able to find your voice, even when the conversations are difficult, will set you apart as a trusted and valued colleague. So much of PMO work is communication, and confident speaking skills really will pay off in terms of project and PMO success.