Knock knock, who's th-INTERRUPTING BOSS
May 24, 2017 9:57 AM   Subscribe

My new manager has a communication quirk that is driving me a little nuts when I give presentations. Please help me deal.

tl;dr version: My boss keeps interrupting me in the middle of my weekly reports to offer ideas and opinions that I would have directly addressed later on in my report. Ignoring his interjections is a non-starter; engaging with them throws off the rhythm of my presentation (e.g. because my response requires information that I hadn't gotten to yet but would have gotten to later on) and results in general chaos and disorder, culminating in our meetings being cut off due to time constraints, and me walking out both a) without having gotten any useful input from my boss (since we spent so much time talking around in circles) and b) vaguely annoyed that I didn't get to the end of my five goddamn powerpoint slides, again. Help!

Extended vent-y version:

In my job I am trying to solve Problem X, an ongoing project. Every week or so I have a meeting with my boss to discuss my progress in solving X. The nature of X is such that from week to week I might be doing wildly different things without my boss' awareness, so a big chunk of what I do in these meetings is contextualization - I can't just present an executive summary of the results without explaining what I was doing in the first place (and why). So, every week I put together a small presentation (just a few slides) in advance of my meeting - I find that the exercise of doing this helps me clarify my thinking around Problem X, and I put quite a bit of thought and care into how to organize my ideas into a coherent presentation every week.

The trouble arises when I am actually in the meeting with my boss, and I've got my presentation going. Within the first few minutes he will stop me and ask for clarification on a point - which is fine, I try my best but my communication isn't perfect, and there is also bit of a language barrier in play. The problem is that immediately after I'm finished clarifying, he treats that momentary break in the presentation as an opening for feedback - usually these are things that I was directly planning on addressing later on in my presentation but not immediately, so things will go like this:

Me: So, as you can see, changing the doohickey will increase output on the left side of the thingamajig..
Boss: Wait. [request for clarification on setup of thingamajig]
Me: [Explains setup of thingamajig]. Does that answer your question?
Boss: Yes, thanks. I think that [speculation about nature of the doohickey]
Me: Yes, actually I was going to address that later on - um, [flips ahead 2 slides to the relevant figure and starts explaining]
Him: Hang on, I'm confused. [because he's missing a detail that was mentioned in one of the skipped slides]
Me: Okay, let me backtrack. [flips back and starts explaining context]
Him: Wait. [request for clarification on etc etc...]

Repeat until time is up and the meeting is cut off, leaving me with a half-explained problem, little in terms of actual productive discussion, and, I admit, some mild annoyance at having carefully put together yet another presentation that was ultimately futile.

In the past I have tried trying to redirect/ask him to wait by explaining that I'll get to his question in a second, but that doesn't seem to be very effective (it works momentarily, but 2 seconds later he'll have another burning thought). In the moment, I find it hard to deal with because I too am easily lured into non-linear, all-over-the-place intellectual conversations (why yes, we are in academia!). In fact, in the moment the discussion is usually perfectly enjoyable - it's just the fact that we always have a very limited amount of time, and I usually miss getting some desperately needed input on 1 or 2 things that can't easily be front-loaded in my report, causing some aggravation further down the line.

Assuming that "hold longer meetings" and "do less work" are both off the table for now, what kind of strategies can I use to try and keep myself/both of us on track?
posted by btfreek to Work & Money (39 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Can you print out the slides and give them to him before the meeting? I had professors in university who used PowerPoint a lot and there was a 'lecture notes' option where they could print out a quick summary which didn't include everything but sort of served as an outline. If you did something like this, it could serve as a sort of meeting agenda and give him a roadmap of your presentation to refer to.
posted by ficbot at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2017 [39 favorites]

Before you begin, can you say: "Hey, since we have a time constraint and we keep running up against that, could we try something this week to see how it goes? I'll give my presentation, you take notes during it, and we have a discussion period afterward? I know it might be difficult, but I think it could help keep things on track." And if he forgets and talks, hold up a hand, smile apologetically, keep going?

If that works, reinforce it post-meeting with a conversation or email: "I thought that really helped! Can we make it what we do going forward?"
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2017 [26 favorites]

Is there any chance you can deliver him a written document before the meeting and then base your discussion on that, with any powerpoint slides as a supplement to the discussion rather than the primary mode by which you convey what you've been up to?

Amazon--which I realize is not known as a model of a well-managed company--apparently starts their meetings with a period of silent report-reading followed by discussion in lieu of powerpointing.

Even if you don't go that route, having the handout might give your boss something more concrete to stick to instead of peppering you with questions and forcing you to flip around in your slides.
posted by col_pogo at 10:05 AM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Alternately, you can still make the powerpoint for the value it has for you, but not use it as a presentation tool. I can see how having slides up could make people want to comment, but not have the same issue if you just report.
posted by Stewriffic at 10:06 AM on May 24, 2017

Me: Yes, actually I was going to address that later on - um, [flips ahead 2 slides to the relevant figure and starts explaining]

I think this is where you're going astray. If your presentation will indeed address his question in short order, it's fine to just state that and keep forging ahead rather than altering your presentation to someone else's whims and/or impatience. You're the one holding the floor, after all. "That's a great question, boss, and we'll get to that in just a minute. Now, as I was saying..."

Agree with others upthread that mentioning the time constraint before you being and requesting that everyone hold questions until the end is a good tactic, and one I personally employ all the time. If people keep butting in with questions, repeatedly acknowledge that you'll answer momentarily and continue wrapping up your current stream of thought. People are generally not fussed about this as long as they know they'll get their answer eventually.
posted by anderjen at 10:08 AM on May 24, 2017 [73 favorites]

If he also has a problem with this, I'd structure the slides differently. If you have 1 or 2 things you need feedback on, put them on the first slide. "By the end of the meeting, I need to know 1) whether the malfunctioning doohickey should be fixed in-house or not, and 2) if we should start monthly testing of the thingamajig." If he always asks about the theory first, put that in earlier. If he asks about something 2 slides ahead, say you'll get there.

If he likes things the way they are, keep doing what you're doing and follow up with an email. "I enjoyed talking about thingamajig exports this afternoon. Do you think we should start testing them monthly?"
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:14 AM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I like the suggestions above to give your boss either a printout of your slides or a printed summary of what you plan to cover in your presentation before the meeting. But in case your boss is the sort of person who does not read handouts before meetings, could you make your first slide or first couple of slides be a summary of the things you plan to cover in the presentation? And could you explicitly say that this is a summary of the things you plan to cover (so that hopefully your boss will not interrupt your summary)? As in, "Just as a summary before we start, today I'll be going over our planned doohickey change and how it will affect the production of thingamajigs, including details on how the new doohickey will be set up, which areas of thingamajig production will be affected, and how soon we expect thingamajig production to increase." It seems to be that your boss is impatient to get to the details that matter most to your boss, and may be able to be more patient if he knows ahead of time that you will be covering those details in your presentation.

I would also try saying, as anderjen suggests, "Yes, that information is on the next slide, which I'll get to in a moment," and then NOT skipping to the next slide, but finishing what you were saying before you were interrupted.
posted by BlueJae at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Do you and your boss share the same assumptions about the goal of this weekly meeting? Is the goal of the meeting for you to get his feedback on your week, or for the boss to get information he needs from you?

Asking because its far more important for you to have a shared goal in mind then it is to make sure to follow a specific model of information sharing. There's a million ways to hold a meeting - and the way your boss is doing it is a fine way to do so, IF that model serves its purpose for both of you.

If it turns out that a) you agree upon the goal of the weekly report and b) the powerpoint presentation provided in a linear fashion is the appropriate way to achieve that goal then c) he needs to stop interrupting you.

But start with the goal in mind, not the vehicle.
posted by RajahKing at 10:16 AM on May 24, 2017 [16 favorites]

Sorry, in rereading your question, I see that you said you've tried that already, but I think the trick here is to NOT to give in and start skipping around in your slides, and repeatedly state that you'll come back to X question in a minute. People do generally get the hint after you say this a few times, but by always altering your presentation to answer his questions as they come up, you're reinforcing his constant question-asking habit.
posted by anderjen at 10:17 AM on May 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Ok, I have another perspective - yes this is annoying, but this is a new manager to you, so adapting to that is your problem. The presentation style that works for *you* clearly doesn't work for your boss, and the advice here on how to force your presentation style to forge ahead is missing the point, I think. It sounds like he is the kind of person who likes a skim read of an over head view, and then dive into the detail. Or some other method of seeing what you're trying to get across. Maybe you're too linear, maybe he is, or somewhere in between.

I think you need to modify your presentation style, because the relevant aim here is *not* for you to get your presentation done the way you want it done, it is to get the information to your boss in an efficient manner. For your boss. Not for you. Yes, making the presentation helps you, but you need some translation method for how he wants to see it in addition to that. You may be able to get the same benefits from the restructured presentation as you do now, but - again - the aim is to get the information to him in a way he can grasp, not that makes it easy for you.

Once you get the detail across to him effectively, then you can get into the 'how do I get my feedback' issue. I'd sit down with him (with a presentation he has already seen) and discuss what way he needs to see the information so he doesn't feel like he is missing crucial (to him) parts while you are trying to explain something else.
posted by Brockles at 10:17 AM on May 24, 2017 [19 favorites]

Start with the conclusion or bottom line or desired action and then justify why or give the reasoning and details rather than lead up to the conclusion with the reasoning.

Because of these two issues, we are going to be making the widget first. Then explain the two issues.
posted by AugustWest at 10:18 AM on May 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Start with more of an overview, including what you want to get out of the conversation.

"Today, I'll be talking about X, Y, and Z. What I need to know is whether to use method A or B to complete the work, and whether you can authorize people to do that. Let me start by giving you some background..." or whatever. You need to give him more of a map of what you'll be talking about, in what order, and what you need from him, so that he can know whether to ask questions now or if you'll get to that in a minute.
posted by lazuli at 10:18 AM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

There's a classic saying about giving presentations which goes something like, "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them". Maybe you could include a slide -- or even a sheet of paper, or half-sheet -- at the beginning listing what was going to be covered.

Also, you are now able to play a kind of interesting game of anticipating boss' questions. If you can put those in your presentation and indicate they will be answered later, you could end up being super smart.

I know this is obnoxious, though. I'm guilty of it, unfortunately, but I can say that a lot of it is me not trusting that the person talking is aware that the things I'm focused on are important. If you can indicate ahead of time that you know X, Y, Z are issues that need to be addressed, then I'll be able to relax a little.
posted by amtho at 10:23 AM on May 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

You need to give him more of a map of what you'll be talking about, in what order, and what you need from him, so that he can know whether to ask questions now or if you'll get to that in a minute.

And also so that he can know what to be listening for while you're talking. I sometimes get into panicky-anxious mode when employees come into my office and start giving long detailed stories about a work issue, because I have no idea why they're telling me all this. Do they need advice? If so, on what aspect of it? Are they just giving me an update? And when I don't know, I sometimes jump in with questions because I'm trying to make sure I'm getting enough detail to give advice about A, and then it turns out they've already figured out A and really wanted advice about Z, but I wasn't listening for Z, so I have to ask a bunch more questions... I'm getting better at trying to force employees to tell me what they want first, and it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of the interaction.
posted by lazuli at 10:24 AM on May 24, 2017 [7 favorites]

Thanks for the everyone's responses so far - lots to think about. For clarity, I would like to reinforce the following two things from my original post:

1. Starting with the action items/bottom line is tricky because a big chunk of what I do in these meetings is contextualization - if my end goal is "By the end of this meeting I need to know if we can fix the widget," usually I start from the position of my boss not actually knowing what the widget is or why it's important we fix it. The outline/printout thing is something I will definitely be trying.

2. I have tried the "hang on, I'll address that in a second" strategy, but it isn't very effective on its own (it works momentarily, but 2 seconds later he'll have another burning thought, or it's clear he's still thinking about the first thing and only half paying attention while I continue my presentation).
posted by btfreek at 10:34 AM on May 24, 2017

Is this meeting just the two of you? Can you recruit a sidekick to keep track of his questions with a promise to revisit at the end if he'll just hang in there a minute and see if they get answered?
posted by Lyn Never at 10:38 AM on May 24, 2017

if my end goal is "By the end of this meeting I need to know if we can fix the widget," usually I start from the position of my boss not actually knowing what the widget is or why it's important we fix it.

That's cool, though! Successful novels can start with first lines like this. It focuses the listener and adds, if you'll forgive the phrase, and element of mystery that immediately gets them sifting through new information and comparing it with what they already know -- although that could immediately lead to questions unless you anticipate it. Maybe say something like,

"I'm going to tell you about widgets, define them, explain why they're important and why exactly we make them as we do. I'm hoping you'll help decide if we can fix the process. To help that, I've gone to some trouble to try to anticipate what you'll need to know about our tools, constraints, and markets, all of which are covered here as you can see in this outline. Shall we get started?"
posted by amtho at 10:40 AM on May 24, 2017 [8 favorites]

Is this a one-on-one meeting? I have to say that I personally would find it odd for someone to give me a powerpoint presentation in a one-on-one, there is an assumption that presentations are more formal, and for a large audience. One-on-one meetings are usually informal, and that may be why he is interrupting you, because he is not following the politeness rules for presentations.

I totally get that the presentations are helpful for you to organise your thoughts, but you have to decide whether the answer to this is to continue making formal presentations (no interruptions!) and get your boss to agree to let you finish; or to write the presentation for yourself, but then use it as reference material for an informal conversation, which is what your boss seems to want. Either is a perfectly valid way to go, but you need to have a conversation with your boss first about your shared expectations for the meeting. I think its totally reasonable to ask him to let you do the formal presentation, you just have to explain why its the right choice for the meeting a) it helps you organise your thoughts and information better because of the linear format b)something about how it guarantees that all the info is disseminated within the timeframe. That second point is important, but you need to flesh it out and explain it in a way that seems beneficial to him, not you. He needs to buy in to the idea that all *your* points are essential for *him* to understand by the end of the meeting.

If he doesn't want the formal presentation, but prefers an informal conversation, then you two have to decide whether that can meet the goals of the meeting. You are concerned that you won't be able to communicate everything that is needed. Is he concerned about that too? What are his needs from the meeting?

Are you trying to persuade him of something (importance of your project for funding reasons?) and those things are not in his interests, but they are in your interests? Are you worried about whether you have communicated everything, because you feel that you need to justify your project? Was your previous boss more of a micromanager who wanted to hear justifications for everything, but perhaps this new boss is more hands off and trusts you, just wants an interesting conversation and the idea that you are genuinely getting things done? Only you know the answers to these questions, but you need to figure out what his goals are.
posted by Joh at 10:48 AM on May 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

I've used this in large groups but maybe it will work one on one. The idea of a "parking lot"? Where if a question comes up that's off topic or will be addressed late, you write it on the white board, or a piece of paper or something like that. At the end of the presentation you go through and make sure all the parking lot questions got answered or go on the agenda for the next meeting. That way it gets out of your bosses brain so he can focus on what you're talking about without feeling like he's losing track of his question.

Anything that's not a simple few words answer, goes in the parking lot.
posted by DarthDuckie at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I recognize this may be a completely personal, idiosyncratic, and irrational reaction, but if somebody came to a *one-on-one* meeting expecting me to suffer in silence through a powerpoint demonstration (no matter how good), I'd be screaming inside.

I hate most presentations even on a good day, and to me the entire point of in-person meeting time is back-and-forth conversation, and every minute of precious face-to-face time spent on one-way transfer is an infuriating waste of time. My reaction would be just the same as your boss's--lots of questions and interruptions.

I recognize that other people seem to enjoy and learn well from presentations, but personally my mind just shuts off if I go to long without participating actively.

So, take that how you'd like. I don't have any solution, but possibly your boss shares my feelings, and possibly that gives some useful insight.
posted by floppyroofing at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Oops - trying not to threadsit, but realized I deleted a couple details when initially editing my post: 1) these meetings are one-on-one, and 2) it was my boss who requested I make the slides. (OldBoss was older, much more hands-off and content to let me ramble on and get to the end before asking his questions, which is maybe why this transition is rough for me)
posted by btfreek at 10:56 AM on May 24, 2017

Maybe start with a slide that outlines the entire contents of your material, and ask Boss where he wants to start.

Have your asks (the questions you need their input on) highlighted in red; ready to go action items/recommendations in green; conclusions/important takeaways in blue.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:00 AM on May 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I think you put the (contextless) decisions-needed or blessing-needed items on the very first slide. And not just list them, but explicitly identify them as boss actions (Action Required or ARs, if you will. Yes, I work in a corporate paradise). Your first slide can lay out the most high-level status items and any ARs for your boss. Maybe your own top priority single item for the upcoming week/other interval, even if that's an oversimplification, and only if there isn't a long list of ARs for Boss.

The entire rest of your presentation needs to get you back to those items. Give the context needed for those items, not the general goals of the project. If this is a recurring 1:1, your boss should be able to fill in the most basic outlines of what her (sorry, his) reports are doing.
posted by janell at 11:08 AM on May 24, 2017

Talking to your boss is like talking to a judge. Though you may have your own agenda, the judge will want to run some of the show. I agree with the "summary" suggestions - start out with a bite-sized summary of what you're going to cover today. Hopefully that gets out in front of some of his questions. But then, consider reframing this as less of a presentation and more of a conversation. If I'm meeting with someone one-on-one, I expect it to be a dialogue rather than one-way communication.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:27 AM on May 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

a big chunk of what I do in these meetings is contextualization

I think you need to figure out how to reduce the amount of contextualization your boss sits through. He's clearly not interested in it, and he wants to move ahead. If your contextualization is more than just a few points, it's too long. I honestly wouldn't want to sit through the story of why you're doing your work the way you are. Just get to the point.

Perhaps your old boss didn't mind your "rambles," but new boss doesn't communicate that way, so you've got to pare down your style. Otherwise, you'll risk appearing scatterbrained because you can't get to resolution in a one-on-one meeting.
posted by gladly at 11:57 AM on May 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

Agree with craven_morhead. When it's your boss, it's not an interruption. You're presenting for their benefit, not to show a perfect presentation, but to communicate to them the items they want in the way they can hear it. Your presentation is successful not if you get to all your slides in the order you imagined, but if your boss is satisfied. Bonus points if your boss feels smarter afterward and you come in under time.

(I make it sound so breezy but I know it's not easy to detach from your work like that, but you must sometimes.)
posted by kapers at 12:03 PM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I want to nth the idea of putting your "asks" or needs first in whatever format you are using. It is totally fine that Boss doesn't know what a widget is at the outset - knowing that you're going to need a specific kind of feedback or decision on widgets will help him know why you are talking about widgets for several slides.
posted by jeoc at 12:41 PM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

1. Starting with the action items/bottom line is tricky because a big chunk of what I do in these meetings is contextualization - if my end goal is "By the end of this meeting I need to know if we can fix the widget," usually I start from the position of my boss not actually knowing what the widget is or why it's important we fix it. The outline/printout thing is something I will definitely be trying.

People have different, diamtetrically opposed learning styles on this, though. Some people need details to create the big picture. Me, if I don't know what the big picture is first, all the details fall into a jumble at my feet, because I have no structure to hang them on. Your boss may be like me.

Also, with adult learners (moreso when they're your boss), you generally don't have to start at Point A and methodically plod through to Point Z, because your audience is coming in already having some context. You may be giving way too much context and boring him.
posted by lazuli at 1:16 PM on May 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

You sound very invested in the method and less in the results. As a result, you've figured out a method of preparing and presenting information that you like, but it's not effective in helping you achieve your goals and it may not be working for your boss. Flexibility in the method may help you get better results. I propose you honor and appreciate the parts of your process that work, and release and change the ones that don't.

... me walking out both a) without having gotten any useful input from my boss (since we spent so much time talking around in circles) and b) vaguely annoyed that I didn't get to the end of my five goddamn powerpoint slides, again.

Here you're assuming PPT is the way to go, that the format of PPT slides can't change, that the universe, when working correctly, supports the presentation of your five slides. But... who cares about PPT? Why is that the inviolate structure in this process? Is your goal to share info and get input, or is it to get through five slides at any cost?

So I would start from the goals.

The goal I can discern from your post is that you need "input on 1 or 2 things." Everything else is about the method, and should be flexible. Like these things -- these are things that can shift: Providing all the context. Giving the context in the form of a PPT. Giving all the context at the meeting itself. Having a meeting at all.

I mean, who requested this meeting to happen? Is it a requirement that your boss put in place? Did you decide it should happen?

If your boss requested it, then I would clarify with Boss what they want the meeting to be and what should happen. Are they frustrated that you are not making progress, because you don't have the info you need? Or are you the only one who is frustrated? If you are frustrated and they aren't, is there a disconnect on what each of you thinks should be happening? Is it worth looking into that? Do you understand why they thought slides were a good format, and what they hoped the slides would bring to the conversation?

If you put the meeting into place, then you have the flexibility and also responsibility to figure out a way to communicate that will help you reach your goals. You may also be finding the boss doesn't care about the meeting in the same way you do.

In most settings the task is to make your boss' life easier. But I don't hear you being at all sensitive to the needs of your boss, i.e., the person you need to understand things.

Definitely keep the PPT creation process if it really helps you figure out your thoughts. BUT once you know your thoughts, ditch the PPT. That is just one step in your preparation. The next step is to synthesize and communicate the information in the way that will best meet your boss' needs and yours.

Your main job in communicating is to convey information in a useful way and the only one who can tell you what's useful is the audience. And you're disregarding the helpful feedback your audience is giving you. I am picking up on some scorn and it's just not going to help you. Assume your boss is not deficient. They have a different way of thinking, or they want something different, or they enjoy chatting with you in this way. That's not wrong.

Like, if you were to do research on nutrition, and it had findings that families should integrate into their decision-making, would you just drop that research paper off at peoples' houses and walk away expecting them to read it? No--you would figure out a way to release a brief, a summary, a social media campaign, an interview on TV. If you wanted to get it into legislation, you'd chat with congressional staff or a think tank or lobbyists. And so on.

Some things you could try: Email your boss during the week with updates about what you're doing. Try to make the meeting obsolete by communicating in advance. Make a slide show or blog post full of GIFs showing your accomplishments and updates. Ask your boss to review information prior to the meeting in a handout or email (keep it short!). Let your boss know what your questions will be before the meeting starts, at the beginning, and again when you get to them. Clarify what they want from you, this project, and the meeting. See whether they are also frustrated. Talk to your boss to know what they prefer. Talk with other people who meet with your boss, to see what they do. (Admins are helpful here, if the boss has one.) Engage with the boss about how the meetings work, and mutually (not unilaterally) decide on how much time will be spent doing what -- maybe 5 minutes to decide what you will cover and the decisions that must be made, 15 minutes for free-form discussion, then 5 minutes where you tackle the questions/decisions. Challenge yourself to present your information verbally without the use of a PPT.
posted by ramenopres at 1:52 PM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

You've already gotten a lot of good advice. I'll just offer a perspective as a manager-- I usually don't want context when people present to me. Or rather, I'd rather decide how much context I get. Yet I would often ask for slides if I was having a 1-on-1 with a specialist direct report to help focus the conversation if needed.

My dream catch up meeting--

slides sent ahead of time for reading
coworker-- "here's the takeaway message I want you to get from these slides. I have them here as backup, but my main message is this."
(main message should be structured around what I need to know and what support the coworker needs going forward from me)
discussion and q&a about main message

You said language is an issue and I think some of this could be cultural. I'm working in Hong Kong now and oh my god do Hong Kong coworkers love complicated detailed powerpoint slides. I constantly have to balance the desire not to offend with the desire to throw myself out of a window to make the presentation stop. If you reported to me, I would probably behave in exactly the same manner as you describe your manager. And while YMMV, if you were doing that and ignored my questions to keep plowing through a powerpoint, then you would find me very irritated indeed.

But every boss is different. Why not just say: "Look, I'm really grateful for these chances to catch up, but I have the feeling I might be preparing the wrong level of detail. What would you ideally like to discuss in these meetings?"
posted by frumiousb at 3:10 PM on May 24, 2017 [13 favorites]

I feel like you may not be going far enough in your own analysis of what you've done and what you need. From what you say, as a communications consultant — but not your communications consultant — I'd categorize the information like this:

* Overall Project Goal: 1 sentence
* Weekly Goal: 1 sentence
* My Reasoning: 3-5 sentences max
* My Results: 3 sentences
* My Questions for You: Number these, and express them as quickly and clearly as possible.

Type this out on a single page. Hand it to your boss at the beginning of the presentation. Then use the slides to show before and afters. Don't put any text on the slides. Don't read the slides to your boss. Just refer to the hand-out you've given him, and let him do the same. If he interrupts, just point to the section where you address the issue. The entire process should be quick.

The reason why Powerpoint is so unsuccessful (and it nearly always is, though its use is ubiquitous) is it's rarely used to complement a presentation, but instead becomes the script with the entire content of the presentation in it, which the presenter reads to the audience. It's **very** hard to take in information from more than one sense at a time: Your speech is verbal, your slides are visual; it's sort of like trying to talk to your friend and glance at the muted television at the same time, and doing neither successfully. Moreover, nobody likes being read to, and if your boss is easily distracted, it makes things far worse.

Anyway, your goal in the meetings is to communicate all of the information above as quickly and cogently as possible, so you can then spend the rest of the time exploring your questions, and his opinions and expectations, so that you can get what you need.

TLDR: What I'm saying is you need to adapt his request for Powerpoint to serve your needs while also abiding by his wishes. I think you can do that, you just need to structure the presentation differently, and force him to listen to you because the slides themselves don't — and shouldn't — tell the whole story.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:27 PM on May 24, 2017 [3 favorites]

Honestly, if these meetings are one-on-one, I think you should be engaging with his questions as much as you can, since that seems to be the learning style he is most attuned to.

If there were a bunch of other people in the meeting I would have different advice, but since it's one-on-one you should be approaching this more from a "how can I modify my presentation style to suit him" tack than a "how can I modify him to suit my presentation style" one.
posted by 256 at 3:44 PM on May 24, 2017

So maybe on your cover slide, you show the critical questions you need answered. Under each question, you have a list of the information which is to follow, on which slide. The final slide under each question is a Questions? slide. This way he can see if you are going to address the areas he has questions about, and he can also see that you expect to answer any remaining questions at the end.

Issue 1: Should we use process X or process Y on Widget-D?
Slide 1: What is Widget-D?
Slide 2: Background on the Widget-D project
Slide 3: Critical issues and impact factors
Slide 4: Questions?

Issue 2: Approval of additional resources for Project JKL.
Slide 1: Background on Project JKL
Slide 2: Specific areas Project JKL is being hampered by lack of resources
Slide 3: Resources needed to expedite completion of Project JKL
Slide 4: Estimated cost of additional resources
Slide 5: Questions?
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:31 PM on May 24, 2017

For a one on one meeting I'd aim for a single slide that you talk through. If you need detailed information to back up something you can have that to hand but it really doesn't need to be part of the presentation/single slide.

Also, agree on the format if the meeting including a standing agenda, if that makes sense. But really, this needs to be a dialog, not you standing there talking at your boss.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2017

Could you both create PowerPoint slides and send a brief memo first? Maybe that way your manager can skim the background and have more informed questions out the gate.
posted by salvia at 6:30 PM on May 24, 2017

Get your ideas up front.

Let's pretend you manufacture widgets. You are the chief widgeteer.

Scenario #1

You: We produced nine thousand widgets last week using the thing. One efficiency we cou-

Boss: If we made the thing better we could produce ten thousand widgets!


Scenario #2

You: One thousand extra widgets - up from the nine thousand widgets we made last week - could be produced by bettering the thing.

Boss: ...I have some concerns about your timesheets.

posted by turbid dahlia at 6:40 PM on May 24, 2017

I agree with all the suggestions about providing a road map at the beginning and saying "yup, I'm getting to that."

If you try that, though, and find you're still getting a lot of interruptions, I'd do these things.

1. Plan an audience-led, non-linear kind of presentation. Meaning you have overview and slides that anticipate your boss having these questions. An answer slide might not have the full answer either - instead it might have an overview of the answer and link to information for any subquestions. (It's been a long, long time since I've used PowerPoint; I'm assuming it lets you link to individual slides?) The way the presentation then goes is your boss asks a question, you nod and flip to the relevant slide and look on top of things.

If possible, try to have some kind of header or fixed part on all these slides where the main overarching issue you're presenting on is briefly described ("Should we go with A or B?") to help get out of circular conversations or meanderings.

2. Phrase more things as a question yourself. So if what you'd normally say is "I've been working on this problem X, and I tried to solve it by doing obvious solution A but ran into constraint Q, which also means I can't use preferred solution B. What I'm currently doing is a mixture of C and D, where D takes care of X and C gives us the added functionality, but I'd like your input on X...," you'd instead present it like this: "I want your input on X. I've been using C and D as a solution for this problem. Why not A or B? Because... Why not C alone? Because..."
This might get your boss used to seeing you as a poser of questions and might help him ease up on that role.

3. Ask other co-workers if they feel their meetings and presentations are effective. Take a look at how they lay things out?

4. "Hey our time is almost up. I wanted your input on X - what do you think?"

5. Never let it show you're annoyed with these meetings or protective of your finely-wrought slides. The slides are a tool for communicating with your boss, and that's the part that's ultimately important. If laying them out the way you've been doing has also been clarifying your own thinking that's really good - but that's a separate use, and maybe the best solution isn't the same tool for both uses.
posted by trig at 10:34 PM on May 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have had this issue over time and have come to realize that the problem was mine, and not my audiences'.

Two solutions:

1. Send out a pre-read. Full stop. Send these slides to your boss 24 hours before your meeting so s/he has a chance to read through the full story and absorb BEFORE you start presenting them. I get that this may be a weekly meeting and this seems like too much of a headache, but you should do it anyway. Even if that makes it a 6 days update instead of a 7 days update. It'll lead to more productive conversation.

2. Think through if you're actually laying out your points in the most logical order. If your boss doesn't know about the background of doohickey and you're already using it to explain the impact on widgets, of COURSE that is going to lead to questions. When you write a slide think to yourself "Am I assuming my audience has specific knowledge, background, or information? What are the questions this slide is going to lead to?" and then either address those issues before this slide, or immediately after (not two slides later). Your audience is not going to be able to patiently wait for two slides if they don't understand some of the basic underlying assumptions you are making.
posted by CharlieSue at 12:04 PM on May 25, 2017

As an executive manager, I agree that context is far less important to me than my reportees think it is. I want to start with the decisions needed, and ask for the context as I need it. I do not need a 5-minute discussion of all the surrounding context. Read Brockles' comment - you need to manage up, and it's about matching your presentation style to your boss' information consumption style - focusing less on what you think makes a coherent presentation than on giving them what they need to give you the marching orders you need. Try something like sending slides in advance that boil down to something like this, all on one slide
Slide 1: Decision Required: A or B
Relevant context:
bullet 1
bullet 2
bullet 3
Recommendation: A
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on May 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older Bitten by a tick in Georgia. See a doctor now or...   |   Very Specific Task Management Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.