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Honest Questions. Good Presentation

In my years I’ve seen a lot of presentations that were great and some that were not-so-great. This post is about avoiding a not-so-great presentation with some simple questions. But hey, we’re not looking to avoid something here. We’ll actively looking to do something and something that could be great for us and our clients.

Presenting content to people you don’t know can be difficult. When we don’t know our audience we can miss the mark on the content they want, we can over or underestimate their familiarity with the content, or we can irritate them (this last part is bad!). To avoid these problems, implement the KISS principle. This includes asking some simple questions. I’m not suggesting you spend your valuable time talking about the weather or the local sports team. I’m suggesting you ask them questions pertinent to the subject matter. 1

Here are some examples:

GRC Presentation: “Have any of you rolled out a GRC framework or supported one?”

Incident Response: “Who has been an incident responder before?” or “Is everyone familiar with the IR lifecycle?”

Ansible: “Have you used Puppet or Chef before?” “Is orchestration of production systems something you’re familiar with?”

Endpoint Security: “Is everyone familiar with terms like ‘EDR’ and ‘EPP’ and what they mean in an enterprise?”

Think about what the answers to these questions mean relative to you, your presentation, and the next 60 minutes you have to leave a positive impression on your audience.

Examples of what it could mean:

GRC Presentation: “Oh my. You deployed Archer in a Fortune 100 firm and actually did some development work? …and you were a voting member on your GRC steering committee? I see you’re pretty familiar with this topic. Let’s move right to the meat.”

Incident Response: “Ok. So you’re just getting you’re feet wet. Great. Welcome! During this presentation, we’ll be interspersing concepts like “Incident Lifecycle” and “Kill Chain” into the talk. Let’s take 10 minutes and clearly define what they are, I’ll write them on the board for our reference during the meeting, and we can refer back to them to see how this all relates.”

Ansible: “If you’re familiar with Puppet and Chef that’s great. Then I’ll be able to show you how we compare and contrast Ansible to Puppet and Chef. From there we can talk through use cases and you can determine which fits your needs.”

Endpoint Security: “You were working on the loading docks last week? Ah ha. Welcome to Information Security. Let’s talk about what you are hoping to accomplish and what you’re technical strengths and weaknesses are and then I can tell you where I can help. 4

One thing I would highly recommend avoiding is the ol’ “I don’t know if you’re familiar with topic X but…..” and then you talk for the rest of the time. This is a disservice to your audience and is a bit of a slight. You’re basically saying you don’t know and that you don’t care.

When we ask questions before and during our presentation it engages our audience but helps us refine our message to be clear and concise. Simple questions help make the content customized to the audience's needs. Remember that as presenters, we’re there for them and we’re driving to a goal. Achieving that goal is much harder if we don’t engage with our audience and ask basic questions.

  1. KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid

  2. If you’re presenting to an audience, making this interactive with actual questions may be difficult. This post is really more about that technical overview with a team of 2 to 20

  3. If you’re presenting to a larger group, a quick level-set like, “In this presentation, I’m assuming skillset x, y, z and familiarity with topics P, D, and Q.”

  4. This is partly intended to be humorous but has happened to me before.

  5. If you’re at all familiar with sales and account management, you may be familiar with the SPIN methodology. SPIN is consultative selling and for the record, I’m a big fan of it mainly because it’s about honest, open, consultative selling as opposed to pushing commodity products.

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