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Maurice DeCastro

Management

Presenting: A Crisis in Leadership Today

Look beyond the data and find the story

Published: Monday, October 12, 2015 - 12:25

Would you market your business today the same way you were marketing it 30 years ago? Would you use the same technology? Would you lead your team the same way? I’m guessing most leaders would answer each question with a resounding “No.”

If that’s the case, why has the work culture for business presentations remained static for decades?

Every week here at Mindful Presenter we are called in by the HR business partners of large corporations to help employees “improve their presentation skills.” Upon further discussion we are often told: “It’s not joined-up thinking,” “Their message isn’t clear,” and “They’re boring.” 

When we go to see some of these employees’ presentations, the synopsis we were given seems to be spot on. However, when we get the employees in the training room and offer a little encouragement, guidance, and support, we witness an incredible transformation. They suddenly become imaginative, creative, and engaging speakers.

Yet, as much as they accept and are excited about our ideas and the future of high-impact presenting, there are stumbling blocks that prevent its practical use. Employees have told us:
• “Our vice president and directors just want the data. They would hate the idea of headlines and images.”
• “We have these awful corporate templates, which no one can deviate from.”
• “It’s pretty scary here. We have to know the answer to everything.”

Comments like these aren’t isolated; we hear these and much worse every week.

If that’s not a crisis then I don’t know what is

Leaders desperately want their people to present more effectively but, paradoxically, also in the same way they’ve done in the past. Or at least that’s what their people say.

There’s another problem that isn’t being acknowledged. Leaders tell us they want more creativity and engagement, but that’s not how they present themselves. Many want their teams to do as they say rather than as they do—and the leaders aren’t open to changing themselves. That creates uncertainty, animosity, and distrust. You can’t send people on a course to be different and exceptional when you continue to do as you’ve always done.

Leadership is about leading by example, even when it comes to presenting. We believe that when it comes to your team presenting their ideas to you, there are a few things that you need to do to help.

1. Ditch the templates
You really don’t need templates. What useful purpose do templates serve in enabling and encouraging your team to express their creativity, responsibility, and talent? In addition, do you really need your logo and corporate colors on every presentation document? By all means there’s a need for clarity, but don’t stifle creativity.

2. Tell employees it’s OK to say, “I don’t know.”
In many organizations, people tell us that it’s unacceptable to say, “I don’t know” when they don’t know the answer to a question. Working in an environment where people feel they have to know the answer to everything and are fearful of admitting when they don’t makes for an uncomfortable place to work.

Encourage people to express their opinions and have the courage to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.”

3. Encourage a conversation—not a data dump
Let’s be honest, data is one of the easiest things to get in any business. I don’t know any business that isn’t overwhelmed with data. If that’s really all you want, ask your people to just send it to you with the headlines, and let them know that you will call if you have any questions.

Don’t make them stand there and recite data from a slide, line after line. Tell them you’d like to have a conversation about the data instead.

4. Tell people how to keep you engaged
Despite what you think you know, believe, or have been told, it’s not humanly impossible for an audience to look at a long list of bullet points and listen to the presenter’s interpretation of the data at the same time. In meeting rooms around the world eyes are glazing over every day. You have the power to challenge the status quo.

5. Ask for the story
Numbers are important. I get it; I’ve been there myself. There is, however, a time and a place for numbers. The time is before the presentation and the place is not on a slide, it’s on your desk. Get the numbers up front and use the time of the presentation to hear the story behind the numbers and the way forward.

The only numbers that should be on a slide are the really important ones. Let’s face it, you don’t want to be surprised by numbers in a presentation anyway.

6. Help them prepare
Don’t allow your people to spend an inordinate amount of time preparing a detailed presentation when all you are interested in is the bottom line. Tell them in advance, and make clear exactly what it is you want and expect from them. Don’t leave them guessing.

7. Let them be themselves
In other words, don’t put the fear of god into your people by making them think they have to be polished, slick, all-knowing oracles. Help them to be who they are, and tell it like it is.

Being professional doesn’t mean you have to be deadly serious all of the time. Help people to relax, use humor, and enjoy rather than worry about the experience.

The future of presenting

The vast majority of people dread going to presentations because they are certain that:
• Much of it will be boring
• A fair part of it will be irrelevant to them
• It could have been done in half the time
• They could have read it for themselves in a document or an email

As much as we love coming in to work with teams, you can be certain that the future of presenting is far more than a training issue.

It’s a cultural one too

Nothing will change until leaders change. Give your people knowledge, understanding, and tools, and then set them free to be who they are. Help them to value their own voices, and to do it their way, not yours.

First published on the Mindful Presenter blog, Aug. 28, 2015.

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About The Author

Maurice DeCastro’s picture

Maurice DeCastro

Maurice DeCastro is the founder and director of London-based Mindful Presenter, a training organization that helps companies and individuals become mindful about the way they communicate their ideas to inspire and lead people to action.