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Are You Ready for “Mission-Critical?

For over three decades, I’ve been helping leaders design, produce and deliver winning “mission-critical” presentations. It’s not easy to influence someone to win over the heart and mind of other people to make a decision you want. Yet, that’s the job of most leaders.

You need to appreciate your audience’s starting position and figure out what kinds of logical and emotional information/experiences may produce change. Then you need to understand the degree of receptivity to change based on the person’s existing perspectives and biases. The setting – place and time for the communication – also has an impact. Only then can you craft a message that’s powerful and persuasive. And when you deliver it your authenticity, humility, trust, and executive presence all play a role in whether the other party will take the desired action.

I organized all these elements into a simple framework called ADAP: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and mentoring leaders to produce winning presentations worth $100s of millions in business, advancing careers, and improving people’s lives.  

Over the past decade, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders succeed, in part, because they’re open to receiving input and feedback from others – and by doing so sharpen their ability to see the many perspectives that can impact on a situation. I invite you to polish these skills.

As a Board Chairman for Vistage Worldwide, which services 23,000 global CEOs, I’ve seen how relationships with other CEOs on their personal Peer Advisory Board, as well as interactions with others through the MyVistage online platform reinforces their ability to widen their perspectives and sharpen their decision-making. They introduce a significant challenge they face, and seek critiques and advice for a tentative course of action they are ready to take. Then, they hear from others different perspectives on the challenge and new complications; but they also get fresh ideas on how to solve the problem, and referrals to resources that can help them. The outcomes: better decisions, better results and closer relationships.

McKinsey & Co. uses its management consulting expertise to help leaders of Fortune 500, government agencies and NGOs handle mission-critical issues. As part of its effort to help them handle short-term and long-term consequences of the pandemic, they recommended that leaders “harness the real power of peer networks”.  In “The CEO Moment: Leadership for a New Era”, they note that “CEOs are communicating more, and expanding their networks, in part because only another CEO confronting the pandemic can fully identify with today’s leadership challenges.”  As one CEO put it, “I find talking to other CEOs about how they’re handling the crisis extremely helpful – this shared experience connects us and gives me added perspectives.” Another said: “From an external perspective, I’ve been a beneficiary of amazing calls with other CEOs who have been willing to share their knowledge. This has been such a growing experience”.
As we all try to resolve how to handle the pandemic, in leadership meetings and business presentations, all of us are making mission-critical decisions affecting many stakeholders. Are you harnessing the collective smarts of leaders with integrity and hunger for growth to help you make better business presentations and decisions?  If not, why not? Your competitors are!  Contact me at jerrycahn@presentationexcellence.com or jerry.cahn@vistage.com.

Decisiveness: Rise to the Leadership Challenge

When confronted with the same general problem, leaders can take different approaches. The challenge for people who need to make similar decisions in the future is: how do you decide what’s most effective?

When I attended law school, a colleague and I decided to use our evaluation and computer skills to test the idea that you could evaluate the effectiveness of laws by analyzing comparable data. Noting that each state in the US had its own laws to control access and use of alcoholic beverages, we chose that topic. (We discovered that only a few key components of the complex laws each state had significantly made any difference on the desired impacts.)

Today, I work with a group of 23,000 smart, ambitious CEOs who are hungry for more success and therefore join Vistage Worldwide. To support my mentoring and facilitation on behalf of over two dozen of them in the New York area, I’m constantly learning from my own observations as well as leadership experts (e.g., Jim Collins’ comparisons in Good to Great) as well to meta-studies that do the same (e.g., What Really Works: The 4+2 formula.)  


After the coronavirus pandemic is over, analysts will study the different actions taken by different states and countries to learn how best to handle future pandemics. Over the weekend, I heard an analysis of why some countries (e.g., Sweden, Germany, Taiwan) were more successful in preventing major outbreaks and deaths, than other countries (e.g., US, England, Russia and Brazil). They found that leaders in the countries which prevented major outbreak had more decisive leaders: they immediately identified the potential problem, focused on taking action, and executed the plan.

Interestingly, decisiveness by leaders is also the focus of an article in Forbes. Ms. Kasowski notes that people gravitate to leaders who are more decisive – leading to greater impact.    She provides three basic actions leaders should take to be more decisive:

  • Reflect and understand where your hesitation comes from
  • Visualize your outcome 
  • Trust yourself and your outcome.

There are an enormous number of uncertainties that the post-pandemic world presents. As leaders, our job is to rise to the challenge of making wise decisions on behalf of our stakeholders. By doing so, decisively, you are likely to both generate better outcomes and attract the support you need from your stakeholders to achieve them.  That’s why I share this information with my Vistage member CEOs whom I am privileged to serve. Are you ready to rise to the challenge?

What’s Your SOCO?

As life becomes more complex, so do the presentations.  

As the number of people, technologies, ideologies, crises, etc. increase in our lives, we can understand that prioritizing, integrating, balancing them will get more complex. But what’s the excuse with presentations?

No, it seems that people are confusing the goal of a presentation – enabling the “audience” to accept your proposed idea – with how much information can be “crammed” into it and how long it is.

We’re clearly forgetting the value of a succinct presentation is that it’s easy to follow – and therefore more likely to generate results. Less truly is more! There’s no excuse for your compelling reason (often your Competitive Advantage) to show up as a footnote on page 21 of a 38 page presentation!

Here’s a suggestion for developing more succinct and focused presentations:

  • When you start your outline, identify your SOCO: the single overriding communication objective. This is the main message to your target audience, by which you would like to achieve your communication aim.
  • Outline the presentation – with each “slide” providing a unique message and providing whatever support it needs from facts, statistics, social proof, etc.
  • Practicing the trait that Steve Jobs used to acknowledge was a key to his success: saying no.

Review what you have and cut, cut and cut.

Then, when you deliver the presentation, remember to state your compelling point at the beginning, use the presentation to explain why it’s important and conclude by reinforcing the point.

If winning deals is even more important now, as you try to build a post-pandemic company, feel free to contact us for help: www.presentationexcellence.com  

Drive Accountability for Success

As companies get larger, and people work on diverse projects remotely, the need to hold people accountable is increasing. The old system of annual reviews, which gets lip-service, but provides little meaningful feedback for growth and only has consequences when things go seriously wrong, is being  “fired” at employee-centric companies. They need to have individuals working in-sync to achieve the corporate mission and goals. In the Accountable for Success (A4S) model, the fundamental building blocks are to:  generate individual and team peak performance, gain alignment with culture and strategy, and upgrade leadership capabilities. This happens with two key elements

  • Ongoing communication between the dyadic unit: manager and worker
  • A review calendar system that facilitates continuous learning for employee advancement in the existing job and all future ones.

As we work with companies to implement A4S, we learn about related tools that can help. For instance, most managers are not training to be excellent at giving feedback and coaching others. (As a result they turn to micro-managements!) New programs help managers upgrade their skills at delivering valuable feedback and using coaching principles such as catalytic coaching. (For more information, contact us.)
Brent Gleeson, in TakingPoint, addresses this issue in his Six Fundamental Leadership Accountability Skills

  • Results-driven Messaging –Accountability starts with providing crystal clear expectations of the results to be achieved. The expectations have to be measurable (e.g., monthly financial report for the prior month, with no errors, is due the third working day of each month). Objective metrics are also needed to evaluate success. (e.g., on a 1-10 scale, delivery by deadline gets a top score with lower numbers set for missing the target).
  • Courage to take Ownership – The leader (supervisor) is responsible for making sure that the worker truly understands what is expected of the worker/team. Only then can the worker/team’s missed performances be assessed and correct by both parties through additional training, etc. 
  • Clear Direction –People can only be held accountable if targets and processes are clear and aligned with one another; no conflicting priorities are permitted
  • Training for Skills – Companies that use the A4S model are Continued Improvement Learning Organizations (CILOs), committed to training people in the new skills they will take to better perform their current job and move to new ones. The ultimate success is instilling in each worker the desire to learn even more.
  • Willingness to Change – A core value for each person in a CILO is a willingness (even desire) to change. As individuals grow, new challenges and boundaries are necessary to keep them engaged.
  • Respectful Conflict Resolution – Fundamental to a success is trust among its members. Therefore, the leader needs to help workers and teams resolve conflicts with respect. 

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” This quote is credited to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker, two people known for their word of wisdom and lessons to live by. The next best thing is knowing how to navigate it, especially in a world that’s described as VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and market gyrations of close to 1000 points.

To anticipate and creatively respond to the changes, you might find Robert Tucker’s“13 Guidelines for Navigating the New Decade Ahead” very useful. Here are some of them:

1. Create your own early warning system. “Managing the future”combines the tools of technology scouting, forward thinking, competitive intelligence, strategic thinking, and scenario planning.

2. Think like a futurist. Systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present. Include the driving forces of change and mega-trends: workplace, demographic, social, regulatory, environmental, geopolitical and technological. 

3. Audit your information diet. Read voraciously and widely, and audit your information intake periodically. Move from passively “getting informed” to actively “being informed. By looking at what’s new, what’s incongruous, and what’s intriguing to you.

4. Connect the dots. Make connections between information that requires that you to adopt an open mind as you consume information. Challenge your own assumptions about where emerging trends are headed, and on how you and your organization might best respond. Don’t be blindsided!

5. Turn emerging trends into new solutions.  Innovation means seizing the opportunities, taking calculated risks, and translating hindsight, insight and foresight into strategic action. 

6. Practice getting better at predicting.  Demographic, automation and AI, and job flexibility trends can be predicted. By 2035, there will be 78 million people over the age of 65 years vs. 76 million under the age of 18. As more people live past 90, fewer will “retire from work” at age 55-65, preferring a new life-balance for their 70-80 years of adult life. 

Now is the time to disrupt yourself. Challenge your personal value proposition. Learn to navigate the future so you always will be relevant. Take charge by getting information, inspiration and support. Join the AgeBrilliantly.org community to navigate your life as you and your children age in a future quite different from that of our parents.

Afraid of Public Speaking?

One of the most common fears people have is getting in front of people to perform.  A book was published many years ago offering an alternative  –  “I’d Rather Die Than Give a Speech”  – but not a desirable one.

The real issue whether  to confront the fear.  What do you really want from life? Helen Keller noted that “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outight exposure; the fearful are caught as often as the bold.”  Peter Drucker, the father of management theory , once noted that the greatest risk is taking no risk. The safest plane is one that doesn’t fly; the safest ship is oen that nevr leaves port; but playing it safes comes with a cost – lost opportunities. “ When I look at my own life, it is those things that I was once most fearful of, which, when overcme and ultimately mastered, were the greatest conributos to my success and happiness”.


You can cushion the risk when you take the leap and confront your fears, by working with supportive people. Toastmasters offers virtually free opportunities to practice in front of other people (who are also fearful) and stick at it till they feel more confortable.  Most  speaking/presentation trainers use of variety of techniques to help people overcome it. Google has 90,200,000 entries for “how to overcome the fear of public speaking”; There are many strategies and tactics; find one that works for you.  Some focus on your sensitivity to triggers and help you reduce them and re-label them; others focus on shifting focus from themselves to their audience – through eye-contact, immersive engagement, etc. – so you’re not focused on your own triggers.

Indeed, we tailor the solutions to each student , with an understanding that each time a little fear is natural. Barbra Streisand once observed that despite years of successful entertainment in front of large groups, she still feels anxious for the first 15 seconds; but by shifting from the”me-to-them” mindset to one of “we’re all here together”it disappears quickly.

Finally, take advantage of every opportunity to practice. A colleague recently turned down an opportunity to speak to a dozen executives because he’s not self-confident in large groups (where the “enemy” outnumbers me by a lot; I’m fine one-on one”. So we recommended practicing with a large group (e.g., Toastmasters) where there were no high-stakes. As a result, he gained greater confidence, and has learned (through additional practice) how to work through the fear quickly and then relate to his audience with great results.

Share with us your story of how you overcame the fear of public speaking.

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