Clear expectations simply communicated. I like it.
I’ve sat through, as I’m sure not a few of you have, many maddening hours of reading PowerPoint presentations while ignoring the presenter. My own experience included walking a disinterested audience through a mandatory corporate template. This meant that my 0nce a month fifteen-minute opportunity in front of the company decision makers was limited to running through the required metrics and graphics before I got to the interesting stuff.
What’s Your Point?
This seems obvious, but too often presenters don’t actually talk to their audience. We turn our back on them and talk to the slides. We read them through our entire though process, justifications, side-trips, and dead-ends before getting t to our point. Some presenters don’t event get there. Instead they bury us in data but don’t give us any information.
If you’re in front of influencers and decision makers, make it easy for them. Give them the headline, tell them what you’re going to tell them. Don’t bury your recommendation / conclusion / call-to-action and expect them to figure it out. That’s why you’re presenting – to do the thinking for them, so they don’t have to. If they have to do all the thinking, then what do they need you for?
Talk to the Audience, Not the Slides
People can read. They don’t need you to do it for them. Reading from the slides gives the slides the focus. Maybe this is more comfortable than having a room full of strangers staring at you, but it betrays a lack of confidence, or sends the subtle message that you don’t care about them, or both.
PowerPoint has an outlining function, which is a great way to create a presentation. The trap many fall into is then putting it all the words up on the screen and then reading from it.
Move text to the ‘notes’ section and refer to your printed copy if you have to. Leave the main points of your persuasive arguments and conclusion. You should know the details well enough to only need to refer to it to get back on track.
Turn and face your audience. Speak directly to them. Pick a few people in the room and make eye contact with them in turn. If it’s a large audience, this is different people from different parts of the room. If there are decision makers or people you’ve chosen to build a relationship with are present, choose them.
Use Pictures and Stories
Human being are amazingly emotional and visual creatures. If your intent is to persuade and convince, use pictures. Then tell stories about those pictures. This isn’t always proper, but use it when you can. People don’t make decisions or get moved to action because of facts and figures. They do those things when you move them by your vision. The facts and figures will help support and rationalize that decision later.
For example, when working with a new client, they’ll tell me that they want to hit a certain revenue or profit target. Often stated in terms of percentage growth or EBITDA. Which is great. You need to have concrete, testable goals. The more interesting story, and the one that should come first, is “What is that money going to allow us to do?” Growth and profit is never an end to itself, it is a means to something else. Whether it’s security, or winning, or being the best at a particular thing – whatever that means for you – is the more inspirational vision.
Know what your point is and make it, talk to your audience no matter how big or small, and inspire to convince.
“Communication is what the listener does.” — Marc Hortsman
A boss once that told me “I dread reading your e-mails.” I asked him why. He told me that it took him too long to read them.
I thought I was providing the detail he needed to understand what I was thinking. Or why I was making a particular recommendation or decision. I was trying to communicate clearly. Instead I was confusing him by providing too much detail and burying the key points at the bottom or even the middle of the e-mail.
I’d forgotten it wasn’t about me. It was about getting my message to him in a way that was easiest for him. In this case putting the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) solved the problem.
For complicated issues I could still write out everything I needed to think through the problem. That’s the way I prefer to communicate and think. Then, when I was done, I’d take the last paragraph or sentance, and put it at the front of the email.
Then he could say “Got it, I don’t have to read the rest of this.” Or he could skim my supporting materials to figure out what I was trying to get across.
Usually, however, we would talk in his office. This was his preferred method of communication. He asked questions to get the clarity he needed, and go to the level of detail appropriate to him. Usually this was faster than me writing and him reading a long, drawn-out e-mail, and he was happier and better informed.
Try giving first. Be clear in you’re own mind what you can offer.
According to this Inc. article, your employees would rather watch paint dry, move to the Antarctic, or get a mullet haircut than got to another of your meetings. It’s an interesting infographic, and the alternatives to even having meetings are worth considering.
Before you consider throwing out the baby with the bathwater, consider first if there’s anything you could be doing better, including running a more effective meeting itself. Or maybe work on the underlying trust, conflict, and commitment issues, a lá Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
I believe that women need to learn to use three phrases, and I hope that my daughters have learned them as well:
- Please don’t interrupt me / I’m not finished
- I already said that, and
- I don’t need you to explain that to me.
But women can’t do it all themselves. So this is a great rule for you, meeting chair-person, to enforce.
The Easiest Way to Promote Gender Equality at Your Company – Laura Montini
In 1995, Professor Iyengar set up a booth of samples of jams in a grocery store. Every few hours, he switched from offering 24 different jams to a group of six jams. More people stopped at the large display, but more people bought from the small display (12 an hour versus 2 an hour.) The original study concluded that too many choices leads to “decision paralysis“.
Having a clear outcome in mind when you’re starting a new project (business, plan, meeting, exercise program) is one of the things you can do to give it a better chance of success. Having too many “objectives” on your list is worse than having none.
Having a few clear and concrete desired outcomes, or even just one, is best. Otherwise you end up like a mosquito at a nudist colony. Too many choices and you end up buzzing around, never landing.
Keep it simple and inspiring. Getting yourself or a group of people – even dedicated, intelligent, hard-working people – is difficult. Adding unclear or many outcomes does not help. “Stretch goals” do not help, unless you / they have a history of consistently setting and executing goals successfully already.
Or you end up the bottle neck, making all the decisions, because nobody else knows what’s going on or what you want. You need a simple, inspiring vision that people can understand and buy into, and that you can communicate often and clearly.
Set Your Intent
Big or small, defining the outcome gives you a better chance of success. It makes it easier to plan, track, and execute, and burns far less time and energy. There is not point in climbing the ladder faster than anybody else if it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
This sounds overly simplistic, but it’s amazing how often there’s a vigorous debate amongst a client’s leadership team when I ask the question “What’s the definition of success?” or “What outcome are we looking for?”
This means you will also need to
Decide What You’re Not Going To Do
You can’t do everything. You certainly can’t do everything at once. So make a decision. What are you really good at? What do you (or your company) really love doing? Where is the biggest opportunity to apply that competency? Why do you really (no, really) want this?
Knowing this will help you say no, with a clear conscious and healthy personal and professional boundaries, to the things that detract from your main focus. Do first things first, and second things second (if at all).
If you haven’t made these kinds of choices before – if you haven’t had to choose what not to do – this can be exhausting and very uncomfortable, emotionally and physically. I promise it’s worth it.
Maybe a bit late for New Year’s Eve 2015, but you’ll get a chance to use this easy and inspirational template the next time you’re asked to give a toast.
…and what to do about it: First thing to learn, whether or not you agree with the feedback / criticism / attack, is to say “thank-you”. As a leader please set the example you want your team to follow.
Remember, you don’t have to take it all at face value, but you should listen. Really listen.
Once again, you can’t control other people. You can only control your own reaction to them.