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Applying Lean Principles to Presentation Skills: Optimize the Whole

Gilda Bonanno

Applying Lean Principles to Presentation Skills: Optimize the Whole

Lean manufacturing is a management philosophy which has its roots in the Toyota Production System and focuses on creating customer value while eliminating waste.

These principles have been applied to many industries and services. And as a presentation skills coach with work experience as a project manager using Lean principles to run process improvement projects and do value stream mapping, I believe they have a valuable application to presentation skills.

A key Lean element is "optimize the whole." According to Mary and Tom Poppendieck whose book, 7 Principles of Lean Software Development, explains how to apply Lean manufacturing principles to software development, "Optimizing a part of a system will always, over time, sub-optimize the overall system."

So if you try to fix one part of the process or presentation, you could end up breaking something else thus making the overall presentation worse.

For example, when you prepare a presentation, you often work on the content separate from the delivery. However, unless you practice combining your content with your delivery BEFORE you actually have to give the presentation, you could end up with a problem: you have well-organized and clear content, but it takes longer to deliver than your allotted time limit. So focusing on just the content can sub-optimize the whole presentation.

Likewise, I've seen speakers who are trying to speak louder also end up speaking faster. They've optimized one element of their body language - volume - while sub-optimizing another - speed. The overall presentation is sub-optimized because it's more difficult for the audience to follow even if they can hear the speaker better.

While it's fine to break a presentation into different components and sub-processes to work on, such as content, non-verbal elements, slides, room logistics, etc., it's crucial to put it all back together into a coherent whole and practice it before you have to give it live.

Or as the software developers would say, try the presentation in a test environment before you move it into production.

For more about the Poppendiecks, visit "" target="_blank">

Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.

Copyright (c) 2012

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