Presentations and Communication

The Key to All Communication is Listening

You’ve probably heard that since we have two ears and one mouth, our communications should follow the same proportion – spend twice as much time listening as speaking.

Presenters often ask if this applies to situations where information is delivered to an audience within a short time span, such as a 30 minute investor presentation or webinar.  The answer is yes, by using two time periods: one before and one after the presentation you actually deliver.

The first IS driven by the ADAP formula (i.e. Audience Driven, Authentic Presentations). Listening means understanding your audience’s interests before you even meet based on prior direct or indirect relationships. The more thoroughly you prepare to deliver the story with supportive facts and call to actions, the more effective you will be.

For instance: What does the audience want to know, how will they feel about it, and what resistances are there? How many other people have to be involved to make the decision? Etc.  Much of this can be gleaned from the context of the meeting and prior experiences. Today, most non-angel investors represent a group. Therefore she/he will not make a final decision based on that one presentation; instead she/he first has to present the information to others involved in the decision-process. (That means the presentation has to be one which she/he can communicate effectively on behalf of the original presenter! If there is too much jargon and not enough connections between the issues discussed, that might not be possible!)

Second, always leave time at the end for questions and comments – so you can listen to what’s really on the mind of the audience. For instance, at many investor and other conferences, speakers often are given 30 minute slots. Leave at least one-third of that time for questions and comments, with the goal of listening, learning and responding to the needs.

President Lincoln believed that we should spend more time sharpening our saw/hatchet before chopping trees; spend more time “listening” to the needs of your audience than delivering the content.

Power Your Presentations by Building Relationships

Today, many presentations are based on data – scientific, management, sales, marketing, etc. All too often, presenters focus on their “data dumps” and assume the audience will reach the conclusion that the presenter wants. Presenters properly take pride in identifying key data to make points. However, crafting a presentation that energizes the audience to take action is another matter.

For two decades, Presentation Excellence has taught thousands of presenters to use the ADAP formula: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. Almost a century ago, Judge Jerome Frank noted that his decisions are not based solely on the “facts” of the case. It’s the emotional connections to the story that sets up the foundation for the decisions, and facts provide support to rationalize the judgment. 

Similarly, Ron Friedman, a psychologist, observed that every conversation operates on two levels: the task channel and the relationship channel.  The task channel is where data is presented; the relationship channel is where emotions are evoked. The best communication weaves the two together.

The story you craft evokes emotional responses that lead the buyer to act. Does it seem like a good business opportunity? Are the leaders trustworthy, experienced, and capable of leading an enterprise? Does the BizDev plan have a marketing component that gains customer attention, interest, and desire so she/he will buy? Will the sales component close the customer by evoking benefits with acceptable risk?

In sum, the presentation has to build an emotional relationship for the customer to feel comfortable with taking the desired action, and have the facts to back up the decision.

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. 

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September 2022