Presenting – A Big Crisis in Leadership Today

August 28, 2015

ducks being led

Would you market your business today the same way you were marketing it 30 years ago?

Would you use exactly the same technology today that you were using in your business 30 years ago?

Would you lead your team exactly the same way today you were 30 years ago?

I’m guessing that as leaders we’ve all learned quite a few lessons in the last 30 years and so  for most of us the answer to each of these questions is likely to be a resounding no.

If that’s the case, why has the business culture surrounding presenting remained static for decades? 

Every week we are called in by HR Business Partners of some of the world’s biggest brands to help their people ‘improve their presentation skills’.On further discussion we are often told:

‘It’s not joined up thinking’

‘Their message isn’t clear’

‘They are boring’

Then the phenomenon is exposed.

We go along to see some of these people presenting and the synopsis we were given seems to be spot on.

However, when we get them in the training room and offer a little encouragement, guidance and support we witness an incredible transformation.

They suddenly become imaginative, creative and very engaging speakers.Yet, as much as they accept and are excited about our ideas and the future of high impact presenting, we often hear of stumbling blocks that prevent its practical use:

‘Our VP and Directors just want the data and the facts. They would hate the idea of headlines and images’

‘We have these awful corporate templates which no one can deviate from’

‘It’s pretty scary here. We have to know the answer to everything’

Comments like these aren’t isolated; we hear these and much worse every week.

If that’s not a crisis then I don’t know what is.

It’s a phenomenon as well as a challenge as we’ve learned that leaders desperately want their people to present more effectively but paradoxically in the same way they’ve always done.Or at least that’s what their people say.

There is a bigger issue at play though that may well answer the question.Leaders tell us they want more creativity and engagement but that’s not how they present themselves.Many want their teams to do as they say rather than as they do and they aren’t open to changing themselves.

That creates uncertainty, animosity and distrust. You can’t send people on a course to be different and exceptional when you continue to do as you always do.

Leadership is about leading by example, even when it comes to presenting

We believe that when it comes to your team presenting their ideas to you, there are a few things that you need to do to help:

1. Ditch the templates

You really don’t need them. Ask yourself what useful purpose they serve in enabling and encouraging your team to express their creativity, responsibility and talent.

Do you really need your logo and Corporate colours on every slide?By all means give them some clarity and guidelines but don’t stifle their creativity.

2. Tell them It’s fine to say ‘I don’t know’

In so many organisations people tell us that culturally it’s unacceptable to be honest and say ‘I don’t know’ to a question they just don’t know the answer to.Working in an environment where people not only feel they have to know the answer to everything but are fearful of simply saying ‘ I don’t know’  just can’t be a great place to work.

Encourage them to express a view or opinion and have the courage to simply say ‘I’ don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you’.

3. Encourage a conversation – not a ‘data dump’

Let’s be honest, data is one of the easiest things to get in any business. I don’t know any business that isn’t overwhelmed with data. If that’s really all you want ask them to just send it to you with the headlines and call if you have any queries.

Don’t make them stand there and read it out from a slide line after line.Tell them you’d like to have a conversation about the data instead.

4. Tell them how to keep you engaged

Despite what you think you know, believe or have been told, it is humanly impossible for people to read a long list of bullet points and listen to you at the same time. In meeting rooms across the world eyes are glazing over every day.

Audiences desperately try to focus their attention on simultaneously reading complex data whilst listening to the speaker’s interpretation of that data which is often different.You have the power to challenge the status quo.

5. Ask for the story

Numbers are important. I get it, and I’ve been there myself.There is however a time and a place; the time is before the presentation and the place is not on a slide, it’s on your desk. Get the numbers up front and use the time of the presentation to hear the story behind the numbers and the way forward.

The only numbers that should be on a slide are the really important ones.

Let’s face it you don’t want to be surprised by numbers in a presentation anyway.

6. Help them prepare

Don’t let them spend an inordinate amount of time preparing a detailed presentation when all you are interested in is the bottom line.Tell them in advance and make it clear exactly what it is you want and expect from them. Don’t leave them guessing.

7. Let them be themselves

In other words don’t put the fear of god into them by making them think they have to be polished, slick, all-knowing oracles.  Help them to be who they are and tell it as it is.

Being professional doesn’t mean you have to be deadly serious all of the time, help them to relax, use humour and enjoy rather than worry about the experience.

The future of presenting

We live in a world today where the vast majority of people dread going to presentations because they live in the certainty that:

– Much of it will be boring

– A fair part of it will be irrelevant to them

– It could have been done in half the time

– They could have read it for themselves in a document or email

As much as we love coming in to work with your teams you can be certain that the future of presenting is far more than a training issue.

It’s a cultural one too

Nothing will change until leaders change.Give them the knowledge, understanding and tools and then set them free to be who they are. Help them to value their own voices  and to do it their way not yours.

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