US Marines Five Paragraph Order and Presentations

Clint Eastwood as US Marine Gunny Highway

Situation and Mission

The US Marines use the Five Paragraph Order to communicate verbal battle orders with an acronym SMEAC.

  • Situation
  • Mission
  • Execution
  • Administration and Logistics
  • Command and Signal (Communications)

For more information see wikipedia

I’ve also used it a lot for non-military planning and I believe we can improve our presentations by using it as a guide. The last three points of the acronym are fairly straightforward and a lot has been written about them, but not so much on the first two.

Situation

The military analyses the enemy forces and our own. When you are giving a presentation to make a sale or to convince a person or a group to take a course of action, do you analyse those people? For instance:

  • Who will be there?
  • What are their names and positions?
  • Have you met them? Do you need to before the presentation?
  • What is their role in the organisation?
  • What is their role in the course of action or sale? Are they the final decision maker, or do they have user or technical roles that can say no?
  • How influential is each of them?
  • What is the personal win for each of them if your proposal is approved?
  • Is there a downside for them?
  • What message does each need to receive?
  • Can these messages be grouped?
  • What is each’s likely course of action?

So before you’ve even looked at the structure of your presentation, you need you analyse your audience in detail.

Mission (Aim)

The mission or aim is an short unambiguous statement of what you wish to achieve, and answers the questions “Who, What, Where, When, and Why”. For example:

“To convince the Board to allocate $5 million for development of new markets in Asia to increase profits by 4%”.

Before you commit to the aim, you need to test it as follows:

  • Is it the best I can do?
  • Does I have a reasonable chance of succeeding?
  • If it succeeds will the result be favourable?

If the answer is negative to any of these questions, review your aim.

Semper Fi

Presentations, Just Wing It (or not)

Henry V before St Crispin's Day

Henry V before St Crispin's Day (Agincourt)

What if you were selected for the part of Henry V and had to give the  monolgue before the battle of Agincourt – it’s only 273 words – you could wing it. Right?

Or what if the Parents and Citizens’ Association of your child’s school decided to put on a fund raising concert and asked you to sing “Over the Rainbow”. You could wing it. Right?

And finally, what if your boss said, “We need to do a sales presentation to Acme Widgets.” You could wing it. Right?

Most people would baulk at winging the first two, but probably feel comfortable with the last. Here’s my postulation.

If you performed badly in the first two, it would be very obvious to all in the audience. They could forgive you and empathise with you for nerves, but they would be scathing in their criticism if you got it very wrong and showed a complete lack of preparation, or if you read it out from a prepared sheet. (I have a recurring nightmare where I am called in for a stage play at the last minute and have to read the lines from a book). Most people wouldn’t want to embarrass themselves, so they would put the effort into being as well prepared as possible.

Yet the same doesn’t always hold true in PowerPoint presentations. A lot of people are happy to just get the slide deck out, make a few mods, add a few dot points, happily turn up to an unfamiliar environment and pitch away.

The current Australian election campaign shows that most people have a finely tuned BS meter, a finely tuned avoidance meter and a finely tuned sincerity meter. So if you turn up to a presentation unrehearsed, people will sense it quickly and you ought to be embarrassed if you’re relying on the comfort of your dot point doona to protect you. It won’t work.