Learn how to present like a district attorney when presenting onlineWhen it comes to presenting complicated, technical information to other departmental team members in easy-to-understand terms, it can be one of the most frustrating, challenging aspects for project managers and leaders.

Yet, in over 20 years of teaching communication skills, I’ve never found a better model of effectively (and successfully) presenting than the TV show, Law and Order, specifically the second half…when you see how to present like a district attorney.

This classic television show always followed the same format: the first half of each episode includes the discovery of a body, followed by the NYPD investigating to find evidence (some relevant, some not), and ultimately, resulting in an arrest. During the second half of the show, (the trial of said suspect), evidence is presented differently by the prosecution, including the district attorney. Starting with a premise that the suspect is guilty, the district attorney presents the evidence to back up the prosecution’s theory.

So, what’s the relevancy here in terms of presenting to your co-workers, especially when working remotely?

When people research, analyze and reach conclusions, they generally follow the evidence. As with detectives, sometimes it’s relevant, sometimes it’s not (and you need to separate the wheat from the chaff), but it eventually leads to the conclusion — your recommendation or call to action. The problem is that audiences don’t have the patience or expertise to take that journey with you.

This can create problems for you when it comes to your audience, such as:

  • Often bored with too much detail, what’s the right amount of data to share with the audience?
  • They often get hung up on irrelevant data points or information, leading to stress and frustration (on both sides).
  • They don’t share your level of expertise, and often get overwhelmed, meaning they either tune out or make poor decisions (in other words, different than what you are presenting and suggesting).

So, unless you are presenting to people who share your level of knowledge or work the way you do, this is often an ineffective way to make your case.

Instead, present like a district attorney:

  • Start with your recommendation or main point. The longer the audience asks themselves, “Where’s she going with this?”, the more likely they are to tune out.
  • Present only the strongest evidence that will appeal to your “jury”, a.k.a., the decision-makers. You always have time to answer questions or offer further evidence if they need it, but you don’t want to confuse them or offer room for objections that can derail your efforts.
  • The sooner you get to the point, the more it’s appreciated (especially by senior executives), generating more goodwill for you, the presenter.

While this applies to all presentations when people are forced to pay attention (or at leasts act like they are), it’s even more critical when presenting online. It doesn’t take much to send people scurrying to their email inbox or favorite app to pass the time (Candy Crush, anyone?).

You want to get their attention early, give them what they need, and finally, let everyone (including you) get back to business.

So, even though you may reach your conclusions like a detective, present them like a district attorney. Trust me, you’ll see your “conviction rate” (the number of successful presentations) increase substantially.

The people rest, your honor.

Wayne 02


Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.

Marshall Goldsmith calls him “one of the unique voices to listen to in the virtual workplace”. He works with organizations around the world to help people use technology to lead people and projects and build productive human connections in an increasingly remote and virtual work environment.

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