Presentations and Communication

You’re Not Hearing What I Said

Communication – making sure that the recipient of your message heard what you intended to say – can be very challenging.  Getting it right can be critical to personal and business relationships. 

Deborah Tannen tried to help couples deal with that in her book You Just Don’t Understand – Women and Men in Conversation.  As a presentation advisor (for Presentation Excellence), we try to get presenters to understand that if the audience doesn’t get the value of the nuances of your presentation, you may not win the deal. The key is to understand that we don’t all think the same way; all too often we base the presentation on our mindset (Remember, it’s our data and facts, as well as our emotions that shape our mindset) rather than the other person’s. As a result, especially under stress, we tend to speak TO and not WITH each other. (That’s why we help clients deliver an Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentation (ADAP).)

The importance of this issue is demonstrated in an article by Dr. Marc Agronin, a geriatric psychiatrist, who observed miscommunications between people talking to their parents during the stressful 2020 pandemic (e.g., life and death as well as new norms for social distancing, lockdown, etc.). In his article, Why It’s So Hard to Talk to Your Parents About the Coronavirus (and vice versa), he shares conversations with children and parents at different ages which he calls 40ish, 60ish and 80ish, and shows how even “simple language” can be misinterpreted.

For instance, when a 40ish speaker says: “Why would you go to the grocery store?”, the speaker really means “I’m worried about your safety; I care about you and want you to live”. What the 60ish listener hears is “You’re much older and vulnerable than you think and this is an irresponsible act.” In other words, the goal of expressing caring-concern is interpreted as a negative comment to which he responds defensively.  Similarly, when the 80ish speaker says “I’m going to see some friends from my card group”, he really means “I need to enjoy the years that are left to me.” What a 60ish listener hears is “I’m oblivious to the dangers of this virus”

Dr. Agronin’s conclusion is that we need to better communicate our fears, needs and strengths to one another in a way that they will understand your real intention. Put aside your agenda, commit yourself to learning their mindset by asking questions. Then when you finally communicate your message, have the recipient share what they heard, so you can verify; and if it’s not what you meant, then take the time to restate it and get feedback until you both understand what the original message was intended to say.

When it comes to presentations, the same is true: understand the (stressful) context in which you’re speaking; learn about the audience’s mindset so you can address their fears and needs. Don’t lecture (talk at) the audience); engage in a conversation by asking questions and encouraging their questions. This two-way communication at a presentation allows you to verify that your intended message was the one received! 

Questions? Share them with us so we can help you communicate more effectively.

Audience-Driven or Self-Driven?

When you design and deliver your presentation, are you “self-driven” – focused on getting the facts out so you can move on with your life (which often produces “data-dumps”) – or audience-driven – focused on making sure the presentation will resonate with the audience’s ability to accept and be persuaded by the presentation?

Several years ago, Presentation Excellence created a simple acronym to help presenters design and deliver persuasive, winning presentations: ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. We observed that presentations increasingly were relying on data, but not on structuring them into useful bits of intelligence that would persuade an audience. 

Adam Galinsky, president of management and organizations at Columbia Business School, identified a key reason that so many presentations are not Audience-Driven: the asymmetric control over valued resources (information) in a social situation. Through a series of experiments, he discovered that people who focus on their own power in a social relationship were significantly less likely to take other people’s perspectives.  Al Pittampalli, author of Persuadable, uses this insight to explain why a football coach wasn’t being effective, nor liked, by his team: “Powerful people tend to anchor heavily to their own opinions, expecting that other people share their views. (He) may have assumed his players were on the same page with him, even when they weren’t.”

To be audience-driven, you need to take the audience’s perspective and then craft the presentation so it resonates with their way of thinking and facilitates the decision process.  Whether a leader who feels powerful most of the time, or a junior analyst who feels powerful about the data you collected and now use to design a presentation, you need to take into account other people’s needs and interests.  In the coach’s example, he discovered his weakness just before the last year of a contract, and changed his style, saving his job and enabling him to lead the team to future victories.  

You can do the same when you design a presentation:  first consider the perspective of your audience and what you need to present. If it’s a client that’s used you several times before, trust in your credentials exists; so the focus in on why this deal is better than others available.  If the person is a first time buyer, confidence is key to buying; burying your Competitive Advantage in a footnote on page 21 (as one company recently did) will leave a buyer without a compelling reason as to why to invest in your offering – and lose the deal.  Similarly, if you have a junior analyst designing the presentation, then helping him/her understand the client-context is just as important as mastering the data.

Finally, when you present, use the time prior to the presentation to confirm your expectations concerning the audience’s receptivity to your arguments. All too often, things change since the first time you committed to the presentation. Several of our clients won deals, because the last minute insights triggered a slight pivot that turned out to be critical to helping close the deal!

What’s your experience with designing and delivering presentations that take into account the audience’s perspective and readiness for persuasion. Share your experiences so we can all benefit. 

(For more training in this area, request  group training and/or individual coaching.)

Communicate for Change

Prospects come to Presentation Excellence because they want to communicate a message that will inspire, energize, engage and/or empower another party to CHANGE their behaviors. Whether  the focus is investing in a new venture, supporting the development of a new service/product, increasing the amount they allocate to retirement savings, becoming more engaged in a company’s new strategy, or the millions of other reasons for communicating, if the audience doesn’t ultimately act on the message, the presentation failed.  

Decision-making involves both logical and emotional components: I have to be comfortable with listening and accepting the message, based on the setting, trust-relationship with speaker, value of the message and how the message is delivered.  In other words, there is both an art and science to making the presentation compelling. Unfortunately, too many people make presentations, especially those using PowerPoint, focus almost exclusively on the logic –the facts and more facts to support; the result is that much of the data overwhelms the audience which detracts from the presentation’s value. 

For example, an investor relations person had a 42 page deck to convince people to buy into a fund. When asked whether there was a single competitive advantage that the fund and company presented, she said yes. It took 2 minutes to find it – in a footnote on pager 20.

Brent Gleeson, in TakingPoint: A Navy Seal’s 10 Fail-Safe Principles for Leading through Change, picks up on the art side, with his five T’s of Change communications:

  • Technique.  How a message is delivered, especially given the level of the audience’s initial alignment with it, is key to the extent that it will be compelling or not.  You need a well-defined communication strategy that takes into account emotional connections.
  • Timing.  Sometimes a message is complicated, and presenting all the information at one can be overwhelming. Time the components, staggering some of the details to ensure audience absorption. Also, repetition of key elements of a difficult-to-grasp message is critical.  Multiple opportunities to deliver a message increases reception exponentially.
  • Tools. Using multiple media, in a world where different generations “tune-in” differently will significantly improve acceptance of the message. Make sure the message has sharable components (e.g., buzzwords, catch-phrases) so people can share it with others and thereby create a viral loop.) 
  • Temperament. Since change is scary and stressful, maintain a positive mental attitude in the delivery. The goal is to invigorate and excite people if possible, or at least transfer a calmness to the audience.
  • Transparency. Trust underlies “buying-in” to your proposition. When things go wrong, address it in real-time, let your partners know about it. Share what you plan to do get things back on track, and engage the team in participating.

Achieve the first goal of gaining acceptance for change, then gain acceptance for the specific proposal. You usually can modify proposal details; you can’t go back and establish trust and credibility if you didn’t do it the first time!   Have you discovered additional ways of mastering the art-and –science of delivering compelling presentations? If so, share them with us.

Six Principles for Persuasive Communications

How do you get acceptance for an important message? Brent Gleeson, in TakingPoint,  identified six basic principles that apply to most of us. Heeding them will let to more persuasive communications.

  • Keep it short and simple. To accept your message, a person has to understand it and be able to share it in a variety of formats, with other people who are part of their decision-making “team”. If it’s complex, involves lots of jargon, etc. you’ve presented a major obstacle. Use success stories because people are used to sharing them! Keep it simple, direct, and flexible – so the person can expand on the parts that most resonate for her/him. 
  • Authentic.  Trust is the currency of communication. If you’re authentic in your presentation, that opens the person to deep listening; without it, there is shallow listening as the person simultaneously tries to figure out if she/can trust you.
  • Multi-channel.  A message may take on different levels of credibility, value and interest depending  how it is distributed. In a company, you can communicate the new vision in corporate newsletters emails, an intranet, staff meetings, posters, etc. The message can be delivered by one or more parties- senior leader, junior leaders or “chat”. Each carries with it a different ability to attract attention and gain recall.
  • Repetition.  The greater the number of credible and authoritative channels used to deliver the message, the more likely it will get attention and people will remember it. Advertisers have learned that today it can take seven times, before a person recognizes the presence of a new message!
  • Consistent. With a multi-channel approach, it’s possible that single message is not being delivered consistently. Each person, department may relate the message from her/his unique perspective. Therefore, crafting it to be simple increases its ability to also be delivered consistently.
  • Gathering Feedback.  To ensure that the message is being accepted as intend, gather feedback, relentlessly. It’s like the old telephone game. One person shares a message with a second. Who then passes it to third, etc.  Only by asking one of the new recipients what message they heard do you learn that it has morphed into something totally different.  Don’t be afraid to ask early and often. Too many website owners report that fundamental links that were supposed to be included somehow did not appear in the final version.

What other principles do you follow? Share them with us so we can all be more effective when communicating messages designed to help our audiences change behaviors!

How to Make Digital Transformations Successful

Technology, including artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing, has become central to how every business competes. Yet many initiatives fail. Why? Greg Satell, who leads Innovation Excellence, reports that McKinsey found that less than a third of organizational transformations succeed. A major reason is that  leaders often forget that digital transformation includes human transformation and that’s where you need to start. Organizations get blinded by the “gee-whiz” aspects of technology, don’t focus on clear business objectives, scale too fast and then declare victory too quickly.

He gives 4 pieces of advice to avoid failure:

  • Focus on people first, technology second
  • Establish clear business outcomes
  • Identify a keystone change
  • Treat transformation as a Journey, not a Destination.

For details, read the article.

Whether you’re pitching an investor opportunity, a powerful marketing plan, or internal digital transformation – the key is to create an ADAP presentation: be Audience-driven and make it an Authentic Presentation!  That’s what we’ve been telling you for over 20 years.  

If you’ve managed a digital transformation, share with us how you presentation facilitated or detracted from success!

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