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Decisions, Decisions: It’s the Presentation that Counts

A leader is responsible for making the best possible decisions for her/his team/company. Ideally, we have plenty of time to get the facts, weigh the options and then objectively make the best possible decision. That’s not today’s world, we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous).  As Greg Satell relates in 4 Things Every Leader Should Know About Making Decisions (But Most Don’t), we make decisions based on limited data and time, and because we’re human, lots of psychological processes related to which facts we analyze, how we weigh the “data”, and how we present it, allow subjectivity to enter. Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, Decisive, make similar points about unconscious biases and tendencies.

After doing the best we can to overcome the biases, collect the data and analyze, what can we do? Satell raises some good points that you should consider:

  • Your team’s willingness to follow your lead depends on how well you confidently you present your decision. He relates a story in which one of his people noted that “Well, you always seemed confident and that made us confident.” Even though he wasn’t always confident that he was making the right decision, he was confident that a decision had to be made at that time.  Over time, you learn to make the best decision under constraining circumstances, and so your confidence relates to the process:  the best possible decision you could make is offered as needed.
  • Learn how to use time to help you make the best decision.  If a decision is needed the next day and someone asks you for it at the end of a day, when you’re not able to necessarily make the best decision and review it, agree to provide the decision – tomorrow when it’s needed. That buys you the time to reflect on the tentative decision and all the factors that might affect it.
  • Buying time often buys you the ability to receive additional facts and perspectives that the “selective attention of your prepared mind” may identify. (Think about buying a “red car” and suddenly you “see” more of them around than ever.)
  • Use the time to reflect on many of the unconscious biases, such as availability bias,  priming, and framing, to see if they are affecting the decision. If time permits, consider using pre-mortems and red teams, to identify opposing perspectives and weigh them. Finally, keepin mind, as Kahneman notes in Noise,  that experts (e.g.,  radiologists and auditors)

In sum, work toward making the best possible decision by checking your premises, and then feel confident that you’ve done the best job. It’s often said that “sales is the transfer of enthusiasm”; when you’re presenting the decision to motivate and engage the team, your confidence in the decision will close the sale.

Why Do We Shout Sometimes

The majority of people who come to Presentation Excellence to help improve their “presentation effectiveness” tend to focus on two issues:

  • The extent to which their presentation is compelling – which means understanding its content, flow, design and ability to address any audience reactance and situational constraints which would impact significantly on how a message is absorbed.
  • Their own ability to present powerfully, since many experience speaker anxiety. (Remember fear of public speaking is the number one fear people have, and is the reason that, as jerry Seinfeld noted, at funerals “people would rather be in the box than giving the eulogy!”).

How we present ourselves has become even more important since the pandemic started, because so many presentations are done virtually, often showing only our heads, which means we can’t manage our body language as we do in a live-presentation. Many of our colleagues focus on helping people set up their “zoom rooms” to help demonstrate their professionalism, and train themselves to look straight “into the eyes” of the other Zoom attendants.

However, more important is our speech pattern –e.g., clarity, pacing, timber, modulating volume, keeping thoughts short and using breaths to allow people to absorb key points. This is especially the case when we’re giving presentations – such as webinars and podcasts – where our body and face and not present or prominent.   This point was brought home to me this summer, by two events.

I’ve known for years that when I’m excited to share something that I think will really help my audience, I unconsciously raise my volume to “make sure they heard” the point. Whether live or virtually, I generally manage it well.  But suddenly, people were telling me I was shouting. Surprised to hear it I reflected on whether I was exceptionally excited, and then realized that there probably was a change in the speaker system I was using. I just moved my office and changed my equipment and sure enough the settings were off.  Thanks for the feedback! Now that doesn’t happen again.

Also, I read the Wall Street Journal’s article, Why Do We Shout When We Argue, which highlighted a second factor: our lack of confidence. While we all “know” that shouting doesn’t actually persuade anyone, and often has the opposite effect, Vanessa Bohns noted that researchers have found that when people lack confidence, they tend to shout, “ While we often are over-confident in our beliefs, the tendency to shout…comes from under-confidence in our ability to convince others.”

This “shouting” can take several forms, in addition to just speaking louder and faster. Thinking this will help impress the audience, presenters often “raise their vocabulary” – using larger words and more jargon. In the design of their presentation, they compensate by using more text, and detailed charts and tables than are needed – often weakening the impact of their presentation.  And, from a speech standpoint they raise volume when they think their losing the audience’s attention thinking that by shouting they will get more attention.

As we note in our training programs, less is more, and that applies to the amount of slides, text per slide, and details per chart and table. The key is to provide the key information in a way that the audience wants to receive it – and not shout it out.  Indeed, when you dropping your volume on something important, audiences will give you more attention in order to make sure they heard it. And if you want them to totally absorb an idea, taking a pause gives them the break needed to do so – and is likely to help you persuade your audience.

So the next time you present, think through both the presentation you designed and the delivery. And ask for feedback so you can avoid “shouting” in both areas!

Make the Most of Teamwork and Collaboration Opportunities

As 2022 approaches, many companies are trying to bring people back into their offices at least part-time. The rationale is that it’s easier for us to engage in teamwork and collaborate when we’re together, since that’s how we’ve been doing it all our lives. Digital tools provide some support for these activities, but the thinking is that remote isn’t as effective as face-to face when it comes to teamwork.

Prior to the pandemic, Fierce Inc., surveyed more than 1400 executives and employees and reported that 86% said workplace failures were caused by a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication (See “3 important skills for teamwork and collaboration in the new normal”.)  The study identified 3 main skills and 4 supportive skills for teamwork and collaboration:

  • Trust – “the degree to which each party feels that they can depend on the other part to do what they say they will do” (APA definition). To develop it, people need to engage in team building activities and engage in spontaneous bonding activities. Obviously when physically together, it’s easier to do so. They also hold each other accountable – which creates trust-within-teams
  • Tolerance –“level of acceptance and appreciation for the unique styles, values and rules of each person including your own”.  To develop it, people need exposure to a diverse team for exposure to different ideas, values and perspectives. They also need to learn how to be tolerant, including the practices and skills, and how to be empathetic, taking other people’s perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Self-Awareness – “knowing your emotions, motivations and blind-spots and how they affect others on your team”.  This critical component of Emotional Intelligence affects who we communicate with others, since it requires that we recognize our own feelings as we discuss our feelings toward others.  How do we develop greater self-awareness?  Since we’re often poor judges of ourselves, we can ask for feedback from others, as well as use objective assessments. Also, we need to monitor own emotional reactions to actions by others and yourself.
  • Empathy – both the emotional component (who you feel) and the cognitive (taking someone else’s perspective)
  • Transparency – more than honesty, it’s telling the truth even when non-one asks for it with the goal of avoiding problems that might occur later.
  • Active Listening – Rather than listening to respond, this is listening to understand. By clearly paying attention to others, you enable them to express themselves to you and know they are being heard.
  • Handling Conflict Resolution. When conflicts appear, people need to know how to de-escalate and resolve them. This way they can work together to create a happy, healthy and productive team.

So, as you go back to work on a hybrid status or full-time, keep in mind the importance of working together to promote teamwork and collaboration by mastering these skills. Some of us may be rusty having been remote for a year. So be patient and tolerant, and as a team promote collaboration!

Persuasion Requires More than Storytelling

Telling someone about “Little Red Ridinghood” is into the same as telling someone to invest in your start-up or next venture. Some skills are the same – such as public speaking rules. Others are different: building drama, suspense and character development may be fundamental to telling the first story. Understanding the complexity of the venture (e.g., the scientific foundation, the competitive advantage, the strategic tradeoff, the expertise of your team and the implications of the financial model), and presenting it in simple terms, in a persuasive manner, and one that your audience recall and reconstruct with potential other investors, is fundamental to the second feat.

Recently, James Currier wrote “The 23 Rules of Storytelling for Fundraising.” He raises many of the common issues. I thought I build upon a few to help you with your next presentation.

  • Keep it succinct and concise. Focus on the key points five plus or minus two) and keep them brief because people’s attention spans keep declining. Note: it will take you longer to create a short presentation than a long one. Mark Twain said: “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” So leaving in unnecessary “stuffing” may save you time when developing the presentation, but that reduces the persuasiveness of the presentation, which now takes too long to hear and may lead people on unnecessary tangents.
  • Create various versions so each is compelling. Remember, one audience may have 45 minutes to listen while another has only 10 minutes. Use simple concepts, models and analogies to speed up comprehension.
  • Plan it so the audience can easily provide a summary to their partners.  Use the basic rule of 3: tell them what you’re going to present (to provide a framework); deliver your content; and provide a concise (5 +/-2) summary – which becomes their overview guide for sharing the presentation).
  • If there’s Competition: Counterpunch. Spending time on the full competitive advantages (or lack of them) is key to eliminating audience Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). This is expert power.
  • Provide clarity: Share case studies, personals and examples  so your audience understands who the ultimate customer will be; use clear graphs rather than tables to highlight points and demonstrate contrast. Both provide the drama that demonstrates your company’s superiority.

Follow these rules and you’re likely to feel more confident when you present – which adds to the persuasiveness!   Feel free to ask share your questions and suggestions.

What’s the Source of Your Presentation Power?

When you makes a product service or idea, you presentation goal is to influence the other party. The power of the presentation depends on understanding the source(s) of your power and constructing a compelling case for it. For instance, the powers you marshal for an audience that is receptive to your proposition may differ from those you use to a hostile audience.

There are seven bases of power, according to Situational Leadership, and you should be aware of which you’re using in the presentation to maximize its effectiveness. They are:

  • Coercive – based on the audience’s fear of you and/or your message
  • Connection – based on the your connections to others
  • Expert – based on knowledge and skills
  • Information  –  based on your access to valuable information
  • Legitimate – based on your position relative to the other party
  • Referent – based on your likeability
  • Reward – based on your ability to hand out rewards, in the form of money or other incentives

To deliver an ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation – requires you understand the relationship you have with your audience and which power will have what effect.  For instance, an audience that doesn’t view you as a legitimate source, is unlikely to be influenced by mere information; they also won’t trust you if you lack referent power.  All things being equal, providing compelling information, demonstrating your expertise, and highlighting the rewards that the audience will get for following on your advice, are likely to produce the desired actions.

So the next time you present, consider where you and your audience stand in relationship to each other and the topic at hand. Then draft a presentation that demonstrates the powers that will have influence.

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