One thing all presenters have in common, regardless of presentation 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 a team of staff to have all of the answers. In observing federal departments and agencies testify in front of Congress, I have seen numerous presenters show up with heavy binders full of talking points and supporting facts, yet with all their preparation, many of these individuals are unable to easily access information in order to respond to the deluge of questions they face. The problem these leaders faced was not having the proper preparation, tactics, and tools in place to quickly access specific information and answers to unforeseen questions. For federal departments and agencies, 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, an agency leader will often respond: “I’ll get back to you on that.” This failure to respond in the moment is often perceived as lack of preparation and it can have a direct impact on the success of an agency’s appropriations hearing.
Anyone finding him or herself in a 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 of a presentation can significantly help a presenter be prepared to answer unexpected questions. Any practice session should be as similar to the real setting as possible and the practice audience members should ask the presenter blind questions.
- Do your homework ahead of time by extensively researching your audience in an effort 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. One should 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, one should always make sure they are familiar with the meeting’s agenda, purpose, and expected outcomes.
- Use a presentation tool that enables you to have immediate access to the information you need. One tool that has proven to be very effective in supporting presenters is a web-based software application called Insite. 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 staff, who are wirelessly connected to the presenter. Having observed a high-ranking government official utilize Insite in a Congressional hearing, I witnessed his ability to easily answer unexpected questions by immediately providing relevant visuals and statistics. As a result of his increased access to information, he was able to effectively and easily respond to any questions placed before him thereby reinforcing his credibility to the panel.
Whether it’s practicing your presentation in a real-time setting, conducting research on your audience, or using an innovative presentation tool like Insite, 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?