Presentations and Communication

Reframing a Position Can Make All the Difference

As an executive coach (with Vistage Worldwide), I work with CEOs who are struggling with the “Great Resignation”. They feel like victims; they’re committed to helping employees grow personally and professionally by increasing sales and profits for all to share, but now have to deal with another challenge – hiring new people to get the work done. 

After many conversations, and an analysis of their workforce changes, we discover that they actually are losing fewer employees proportionally than many other companies. It led to a reframing, we call the “Great Exploration”. Many workers who left are new to the workforce or near retirement; unsure that they are in the right job, they are exploring options. 

Supporting this reframe is a recent study that found 20% already have remorse! And, some are discovering it even before they start, as noted by a Wall Street Journal article on “ghosting” by recruits who don’t show up on their first day!

As a recent Forbes article notes, using the exploration re-frame, allows companies and individuals to find the “gift and opportunity” in this pattern. It’s giving workers a chance to grow professionally by developing soft and hard skills to make more meaningful contributions in their companies and/or communities, now and even more in the future.

We know that using automation, digital transformation, RPA, etc. means we can significantly reduce the extent to which people do routine, data-related jobs that computers can do faster, 24/7, and without human fatigue errors. Estimates are 25-40%!  Engaging them in more strategic activities (e.g., client-facing, creative and/or collaborative), with a team-of-teams structure makes people more efficient and effective.

Now, imagine having high-potential recent recruits enrolled in a 2-years leader development program in to acquire the skills to be fast-tracked for future leadership positions.  Such employees stay and grow with the company; with faster and smarter growth, both company and employee experience the “Great Elevation”.

Indeed, Vistage’s new Emerging Leadership program does! When workers learn that you’re investing time and money over two years in their career development using expert workshops, mentoring with managers and accountability-pods, you’ve launched an “antidote” to the “Great Resignation! (See the Emerging Leader Program and the 12 Leadership Competencies for details.)

As a Vistage Chair, I’m launching one such group in NY; other Chairs are launching them in other states. Most are physical; some are virtual. Let’s help individuals elevate themselves and companies elevate their workforce’s ability to grow smarter and faster in the future! 

Effective Meetings: Are You Unleashing Conversational Capacity?

Running efficient and effective meetings has always been a challenge. Meetings may be needed for group decision-making, but much of the time spent in the meetings is wasted. How do we prevent that?

Craig Weber has been studying the process for years. He notes that poor workplace communication has costly consequences such as:

  • Lower engagement and trust from staff
  • Frustrated employees and friction among team members
  • Reduced profitability and slower growth
  • Low job satisfaction and high turnover.

He then developed a model, called Conversational Capacity, which is “the ability to engage in constructive learning-focused dialogue about difficult subjects, in challenging circumstances, and across tough boundaries.”  

Imagine a meeting in which the leader has made it clear to others in the meeting that she/he is not open to hearing certain things that attack the company and/or the leader.  This stifles candor; it also limits an openness to explore options. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for many organizations. What’s worse, is that this may not always be conscious: senior executives stay away from certain topics when the leader is present, yet will address them when the leader isn’t present.

Conversational capacity takes place between two extremes: curiosity and candor. You want people to be curious and pose questions in an open atmosphere to explore topics. On the other hand, you want to deliver “radical” candor – which may offend some of the players. The job of the meeting leader is to facilitate the conversation so you get both exploration and candor. 

Sometimes the way to do that is to observe the different culture of meetings when the leader (or another meeting member) is not present. This can be done by rating the meetings with and without key members and uncovering the extent to which conversational capacity was used in some versus others. 

How are you fostering good workplace communication?  Are you monitoring the extent to which everyone at the meeting is sharing their full talents versus holding some back?  Find a way to do so; the most effective meetings have access to the openness to share candor and curiosity.

6 Presentation Excellence Strategies

When the stakes for effective leaders are high, smart leaders know that they need to elevate their standards for effective communication. They are operating in an environment where media channels are full of confusing and conflicting information, and lots of counterproductive noise. Already stressed by the need to adapt to the covid pandemic and the future possibilities of hybrid/virtual office options, people’s attention spans are stretched to the limits. Since the goal of a presentation is to influence the audience to take key actions well, leaders need to pay greater attention to their presentation’s level of excellence. (It’s the main  reason that we resumed face-to-face coaching at Presentation Excellence.)

Alain Hunkins, in Cracking the Leadership Code, identifies communication as one of the critical areas effective  leaders must master.  He identifies 6 key strategies you should adopt – and we’d like to elaborate on them to help you make more effective presentations.

  1. Communicate with the end in mind.  Presentations are NOT data-dumps that have to look good. Relying on analysts to develop the presentation or graphics department with little experience actually working with your audience, risks producing an ineffective presentation. Very few people make a final decision immediately after hearing the presentation; instead they have to present a filtered view of it to their partners, bosses, investors, etc. to get their buy-in. So the goal is to deliver a compelling message they can relay to their partners with almost the same enthusiasm as you had!
  2. Have a central message. What’s the point? If the goal is to have the person invest in your company, sharing generic industry facts will fail. They need to know your Competitive Advantage – why choose you over the other options that exist,and why now? You need to know the territory and why your option is unique; that makes you the ideal presenter because you are the expert and authentic. 
  3. Create checks for understanding. A great presentation is a dialogue, even if you’re the only one public speaking. You can ask questions to make sure they understand complex issues; if not, you can watch your audience’s body language and “feel” how they are processing the information. Do they shake their heads in approval and smile, or does the brow of their heads show that they don’t?
  4. Own and fix the communication breakdowns. When the audience isn’t jumping to take the action you want, face the reality that you are not delivering a powerful message that’s landing correctly. Ask questions to eliminate confusion; use analogies and tell stories that increase comprehension. Extreme ownership leads to powerful persuasion.
  5. Make the “implicit” explicit. Our technical side uses acronyms and short-cut phrases to communicate with others. Too often we forget that the audience we’re now addressing (e.g., an investor from a different industry) may not understand something we take for granted. If the presentation includes concepts that you assume people understand, practice it with someone who lacks the background. Then, you can make changes so the “implicit” is “explicitly” understood.
  6. Master the medium. The use of Zoom, Teams and other virtual delivery systems, has heightened our awareness of the need to adapt the way we deliver messages powerfully to our audiences. But this was always the case. Once a client pitched a $100M deal to investors standing at a bar table for 10-15 minutes max per investor! Today, presenters use modular presentations that can be used with a variety of live and virtual media, with different time, audience and interest level interests.

How are you adjusting to the greater challenges of designing and delivering effective presentations, especially when you’re selling mission-critical ideas, services and products? If you’re not having the impact you wanted, it may be time to get feedback on how you’re handling these strategies and improve your skills.  Contact us for one-on-one coaching and group training. 

What’s Your Purpose Statement?

One of the initial tasks of every company is to articulate the corporate identify so management, employees and investors are all on the same page, and then articulate the band that the company wants to project to its customers. Over time, things may change, and it’s important to revisit the corporate identify.  When was the last time your team revisited the accuracy and engagement-value of your company’s corporate identity?

Over the past few years, corporate leaders who previously may have declared that their company’s purpose was to “increase shareholder value” have expanded their purpose to include other stakeholders, including employees, communities and society in general. Concerns about climate change, sustainability, diversity and inclusion are all fueling this change.

Today, as a result of the pandemic, between 20 and 33% of adults, especially emerging and early stage adults, are beginning to rethink their lifestyle and career steps. Why continue to spent a lot of time commuting to work and away from raising a family and forging a wholesome lifestyle, when remote and hybrid work options let you integrate work and family into a lifestyle? “The great resignation”, as this trend has been called, reflects the re-evaluation of people’s values and prior life decisions. Many are taking GROWTHH sabbaticals to reflect and decide what they want to do and then seek out news skills, jobs, cities, etc.

Against this backdrop, an article by PwC, Why Corporate Purpose Statements Often Miss Their Mark, caught my attention. Are your company’s Corporate Identity components, which may have been developed years ago, still appropriate and accurate (1) for the current and future business and (2) for your stakeholders now and in the immediate future? 

The article focuses on the fact that many purpose statements lack and meaningful sense of purpose – which may explain why so many people no longer feel drawn to their former employers and the new ones desperate to find new employees.  For instance, when an environmental organization says its purpose is to “create daylight, fresh air and a better environment for people’s every day lives”, it tells you the reason the company exists, identifies the beneficiary and inspires people concerned with our climate challenges. Contrast that to another company’s  purpose to “produce goods of as high a quality as possible with as low as possible production costs”; practical, but not inspiring.

So it may be time for you to review your set of corporate identity statements:

  • Purpose: Why does the company exist? It should describe what the company does, who they do it for and how they do it.  The PwC study found that the overwhelming majority neglected to mention the core problem they intend to solve or refer to its history illustrate its actual purpose.
  • Vision:  What will you ultimate product as a result? Think of the headline you’d like to see in a major newspaper about the achievements accomplished in the distant future. (e.g., “ WHO announces that XYZ disease is now eliminated worldwide.”)
  • Mission: How are you contributing daily to the service that will solve the beneficiary’s problems?
  • Strategy. What resources will you mobilize and tradeoffs will you make to achieve the solution?
  • Culture: What values and behaviors should your team practice in order to actualize the purpose?

Once you’ve identified your corporate identify statements, then you can develop just descriptions for individuals and teams which incorporate them and build accountability systems and improvement systems to help people grow professionally and personally. (See Accountable4Success.com)

Most important, your statement of Corporate Identity is a living document. Over times, people and circumstances will change. What worked yesterday may not be appropriate for tomorrow. On an annual basis, at the least, your executive team should review and edit as needed. And the best time to evaluate your purpose and other statements is NOW!

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.

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