Guidelines for Using Supporting Materials - Fast Forward MBA in Business communication

The following guidelines pertain to the accuracy of your materials, giving credit for ideas and sources, using a variety of materials, and being creative. Be sure your supporting material is accurate. People in your audience who are be familiar with your topic will find any errors in data, procedure, process, or sources. Check your document and presentation visuals for typos and accurate figures. Simply spell checking is not enough. You should proofread your material and ask a colleague to proof it also.

Give credit where it is due. You help your own credibility as a speaker and avoid the appearance of plagiarism when you cite your sources for information. Whether your source is a Stanford research study or a colleague who supplied figures on inventory, letting your audience know where you got your material will go a long way toward improving the impact of your message.

In a formal report, you might do this by using footnotes. In a presentation, often a passing mention will suffice ("According to figures from the government's General Accounting Office . . ."). If the information is important and has been supplied by a team member or a member of another group who made a special effort to obtain it for you, make certain that you clearly acknowledge your source. It is the right thing to do, and it will help build teamwork and your image as a team player.

If you do not give a source (a publication or data set) during your presentation, make sure you know where you got the information in case the issue comes up in the question-and-answer session.

Try to use variety in your supporting materials. As we mentioned earlier, many managers tend to rely too much on graphs and data and not enough on other aspects of organization and support. Your listeners will be more responsive and will find it easier to pay attention if you use a variety of ways to support your ideas.

For example, after you have shown a numerical table or graph, give an example of what it might mean: "We plan to have every high school student in Los Angeles familiar with our new software package by the year 2000." Or you might make a comparison with a familiar reference: "Finding this information was a task even Sherlock Holmes would find daunting."

Don't be afraid to try some creativity in your supporting materials. Think of ways that you can make the facts, data, and ideas come alive for your audience. Find an example that supports your point or make one up yourself. Find experts who agree with your viewpoint and quote them directly or in paraphrase.

We recently saw the creative use of supporting materials by the chairperson of a Parents Athletic Advisory Committee, who went before the local board of education to discuss the need for a new pool for the district. First, the presenter used color photographs of deteriorating masonry and corroded pipes to dramatize the problems with the old pool.

Second, rather than simply saying, "The pool is used constantly during the day," the speaker used a slide to present a detailed list of the school and community groups using the pool from 6:30 A.M. through 9:30 P.M. This simple tactic served to show board members the faces of real people who are affected by their decisions.

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