In the summer of 2017 during my first internship at a major aerospace company I had the opportunity to attend a networking event for the new pool of interns. This event included a panel discussion with several amazing executives. During the Q&A portion of this discussion, I asked a question that had been on my mind ever since I began thinking anxiously about the final presentation in front of an executive audience at the end of my internship:
How can a young professional stand out when presenting or leading a meeting?
The executive’s answer was simple and unforgettable: Any time you are given an opportunity to present you need to “drive it like you mean it.” In the first stages of my career, I have learned that this simple adage extends far beyond neatly formatted presentation slides and prepared talking points. While we could easily dive into a deep guide on content and style, these seven steps are small ways in which I have found myself able to apply the right mindset and polish to my presentation skills and ensure that when I am in a big meeting, I truly “drive it like I mean it.”
Step 1: Begin Your Meeting Day with a Disciplined Routine
Whether you are fighting nerves or just trying to get “in the zone”, I have found the act of waking up early on the day of a big meeting or presentation to be an effective way of preparing myself mentally to walk into work and crush whatever big task lay ahead.
Don’t hit snooze, don’t set multiple alarms. When the time comes, get out of bed and start your morning with the calm confidence that comes from giving yourself plenty of time to prepare! I like to shower, get dressed, enjoy a cup of coffee and small breakfast, and ensure that I have all of my presentation materials prepared. Heading into work on-time allows me to focus on the meeting or presentation without having skipped breakfast and without worrying about traffic.
Step 2: Dress to Impress
Dressing to impress does not need to be synonymous with over-dressing. You should always use your judgment about the level of dress code expected in key meetings and presentations, and when in doubt you should ask. However, when you are preparing to nail a big meeting or presentation, putting extra care into how you dress has an important impact on your mindset and can do wonders to increase your focus.
Maybe it’s a shirt you feel especially good in, maybe it’s a nice watch that you don’t wear every day, or maybe it’s even a pair of dress socks that you pull out for these big events. For me, it’s a French cuff shirt that only leaves my closet on these important days. As long as how you are dressing on a big day has significance to you, that boost of confidence internally will in turn increase the presence and aura of confidence that you exude during your presentation.
Step 3: Accessorize For Your Meeting (Professionally)
In the same realm as “Dressing to impress”, accessorizing professionally is another way to polish your appearance and boost your confidence going into a big meeting or presentation by placing extra care in the steps you take to prepare. While I know that the specific professional accessories you may use will vary between industry, gender, and personal style, here are a few examples of items that are on me or with me when I walk into the conference room:
- Collar Stays – Either thin plastic ones that are sold with dress shirts or thick plastic and metal ones that can be found for less than $10 on Amazon, these are a small detail that help your shirt collar appear more crisp and defined
- Padfolio or Full-Size Notepad – You’ve probably seen these people walking around the office with one of these in-hand, and chances are you’ve probably thought to yourself that they really look like they are going somewhere with a purpose. Walk into your meeting looking prepared (and the secret is you don’t even have to use it, it serves its purpose as a prop alone!)
- Quality Pen – Okay, so this one is more based off of personal experience but I am convinced that everyone has had that moment where they need to jot down an important phone number or back of the napkin math and found that their cheap pen had suddenly stopped writing. Be sure to keep a reliable pen tucked in your padfolio or clipped to your notepad
You can grow your collection of these small accessories over time, and the professional polish of your meetings and presentations will increase with each new addition. Check out our article on preparing your own “Business Go-Bag” with these items here:
Step 4: Prepare Handouts for Key Slides and Charts
Story time: Early one Monday morning after a frustrating and unsuccessful supplier visit the week before, I received an email from our department executive concerned at the lack of progress made. A meeting was called for later that morning, and I frantically began compiling charts and key figures. Amazingly, I felt relatively confident in my slides walking into the meeting despite the short notice. As I sat down, my manager leaned over to me and whispered, “Did you bring your hard copies?” My stomach sank as I rushed to print my slide deck in time for the start of the meeting. I knew this was a lesson I would only need to learn once.
Even in today’s digital age, young professionals cannot forget the value of bringing hard copies of charts and slides to meetings and presentation. I have found this to be especially true for meetings involving executives and meetings involving financial performance or forecasts. It’s my hope that this tip will help you avoid my own mistakes.
Step 5: Arrive to the Meeting Early
While punctuality is a skill applicable to nearly every situation, it is especially important if you will be operating audio visual equipment during a meeting or presentation. Cables, projectors, and speakers have a reputation for malfunctioning for those individuals who arrive to the meeting late (or even on-time) and scramble to load up their slide deck. You are better than that!
Step 6: Lead with an Agenda
I promised that we would not delve deeply into discussions on presentation content in this guide, but I cannot leave out this important aspect of every meeting or presentation. There has been little more frustrating in my professional experience than a meeting that was called without a clear agenda, or a presentation that lasts for half an hour but does not seem to follow any particular format or flow. Including an agenda in the meeting notice or at the beginning of the slide deck is an excellent way to allow colleagues to prepare for a meeting, keep discussions on-track, and demonstrate the value of taking time out of one’s day to attend the meeting or presentation. Take this small step and leave a big impact on your managers and peers.
Step 7: End with a Call to Action
If you haven’t experienced this yet, trust me, you will: Walking out of a meeting after 90 minutes in a stuffy conference room wondering what the meeting was actually about? What actions came from this? Is there something that I need to follow up on? Will there be another meeting on this topic in the future?
You never want to be responsible for these thoughts going through your colleagues’ heads, and believe it or not there is a simple trick to help avoid this risk. End each meeting or presentation with a call to action! This call to action can take a number of different forms, from scheduling a recurring monthly touchpoint on a topic to asking attendees to follow up with an email or action item by the end of the week. On the teams that I have worked, the general rule of thumb has been that if nothing comes out of a meeting, then the meeting was ultimately ineffective.
By following at least several of the steps above, you will recognize an increase in the confidence and professionalism you feel as well as the confidence and professionalism you project. When you’re faced with your next big meeting or presentation, demonstrate preparedness and polish that is rarely seen or expected from young professionals. “Drive it like you mean it”.
Have you found ways of your own to improve your confidence and preparation before big meetings and presentations? Share in the comments below!