Presenting with other speakers comes with inherent challenges that can be tough to navigate. In the end, the presentation is only as good as its weakest speaker, so the pressure is on to make sure that everyone participating brings their A-game to help the presentation shine. We’ve found ourselves in hundreds of group presentation settings for conference speeches, sales proposals, pitch decks, and product demos. This article shares our key learnings and provides best practices to help you deliver an excellent co-presentation.
The best first step to take for a group presentation is identifying roles for the participants. The most important role to identify is the lead role or team captain. Whoever is leading the presentation will ultimately be responsible for a number of tasks that are critical to the success of the presentation.
The team lead/captain is responsible for starting the presentation. This means they need to ensure there is an attention grab early in the presentation to captivate the audience. They’ll also be responsible for setting the context and introducing the team. The team lead should be highly personable, charismatic, and trustworthy to set the presentation off on the right foot.
After starting the presentation, the audience will naturally understand the individual’s leadership role and it will make the most sense to them for the leader to also finish the presentation. So we recommend for the best natural flow, that the team lead also finish the presentation. This means they’ll be responsible for wrapping up the key points discussed and to ensure the audience walks away with clear takeaways.
If the presentation allows for questions, the team lead should also be designated as the key spokesperson to field the questions and either answer them or route them to the appropriate members on the team.
It’s also important to identify other roles on the team if applicable. In some presentations it may make sense to split up speakers by core topic or their area of expertise. In other cases, it may be most appropriate to have a single speaker outside of the team lead and then have a few supporting members for the Q&A session. Or perhaps you’re delivering a data-heavy presentation and it’s best to bring in an analyst to speak over the data insights.
Another key point to remember is that the more speakers you include, typically the longer the presentation will take. So be sure to factor in the time allowed for the presentation into how you structure your team dynamics.
The real point is that there is no exact template for who should speak when. Our simple recommendation is to always identify a team leader for every group presentation, and then from there, build a presentation team that best fits your subject matter, audience, format, and time allowed.
The importance of preparing and practicing for the upcoming presentation cannot be understated. Preparation is critical to make sure that everyone knows their role, understands transitions, knows who is speaking before and after them, understands the flow of the narrative, and is comfortable with how they’ll handle the room layout plus technology.
As discussed in the team dynamics section above, everyone must first understand their role so that they understand what content they will be speaking about and if they have to assume any other duties such as introductions, answering questions, opening and closing the presentation, speaking about data, etc.
Once everyone is clear about their roles, the next step in preparation is understanding the flow of the narrative. Each team member may have a different idea in mind on what message they want to deliver with the presentation. Needless to say, if you have four speakers all communicating a different message, the presentation will flop and the key points will be mute. Co-presenters should discuss the narrative end-to-end and align on how their speaking points tie into that core message. Getting everyone on the same page can help to deliver a seamless and powerful narrative.
Once you have roles defined and a consistent narrative established, co-speakers should work on their transitions. Speakers cannot simply rehearse their own material and forget about the handoffs. This is a sure-fire way to lose the audience’s trust and attention. There are many ways to prepare for transitions, but we have two favorite best practices.
The first is the review preview method. This approach means the speaker takes 1-2 sentences to recap what they just discussed and then another 1-2 sentences to preview the material that the next speaker will cover. As a team, presenters should run through this method together to make sure that their speaking points flow together and team members do their best to set the next speaker up for success.
The second best practice to prepare for transitions is to use speaker notes. Speaker notes can be an effective tool to include directions for the presentation directly on the slides. You can prepare by leaving clues for yourself on how to transition between slides, what is coming next, and who you are handing off the speaking floor to.
The last step to preparing for a joint presentation is making sure everyone understands how the room layout and technology will affect the presentation. For example, if a large screen is centered behind the stage, it will make the most sense to group speakers together on both sides based on who is speaking in what sequence. Also, if there is only going to be one handheld microphone that will need to be planned for vs. everyone having their own clip on microphone. Almost every setting we’ve presented in has had a different room and technology layout, so this one is difficult to prepare for. Our recommendation is to at least reach out and ask for specific details so that your team can do their best to prepare accordingly.
After you’ve aligned on team dynamics and prepared thoroughly, it’s time to execute. We’ve learned a few lessons that are important to keep in mind.
When you present with other speakers, the audience will want to understand how you connect with each other. They’ll be wondering how you know each other, what your current relationship is, if you get along, how your personalities differ, and more. To engage the audience, don’t be afraid to put your relationships on display and use storytelling to help them better understand how all the speakers are connected. This will help the audience to better emphasize with your presentation.
This tip should go without saying, but it’s harder to follow than you’d think. You may start thinking ahead about what you’re going to say and end up looking like you’re dozing off and uninterested in what your co-presenters have to say. The audience will pick up on these visual cues. If you don’t appear to be interested, then why should they be? So remember to focus when others are speaking and look interested in what they have to say. Head nods, laughs, verbal reinforcement… you get the gist.
Co-presentations really thrive when each speaker shows off their skills and knowledge in their own way. So it’s important that every speaker is confident in their speaking abilities and establishes their own voice. However, this combined with passion about the presentation topic can lead an individual to hog the microphone. There’s nothing worse than having to rush through your section in two minutes because the speaker before you went 15 minutes over their allotted time. So be considerate of your co-speakers and let your voice shine within the time that you’re allowed.
As you and your co-speakers gear up for your next big speech or proposal, remember these simple guidelines. Establish team dynamics, practice the speech end-to-end as if it were live, and be conscious of your effect on the presentation both when you’re speaking and listening. Best of luck!