Thursday 19 October 2017

Create talks where people say 'you had to be there'

Are you preparing a presentation? Would you like me to review your slides? I can! Let The Communicator help. Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie (Stock image)
Are you preparing a presentation? Would you like me to review your slides? I can! Let The Communicator help. Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie (Stock image)

Gina London

It should be the difference between attending a live presentation and simply being handed a document to read. But, unfortunately, for just about every business presentation, there is no difference. And that's a problem.

Recently, I travelled to Rome to work with three senior vice-presidents of a large multinational corporation.

To tens of thousands of employees all over the world, these smart and successful men are responsible for explaining the company's business development strategies to drive sales and increase profits.

I asked them why they thought they were flown across Europe, to Asia, to Africa to America to personally present information that could more easily and more affordably be delivered by pushing the 'send' button. They admitted they had never thought of it like that before.

We examined their slide-decks. Filled with words, charts, and graphs, the slides were not augmenting the men's presentations, they were the presentations.

Similarly, I met last week with another trio. This group was comprised American business investors.

Before our meeting, they had emailed me a presentation they created. When I joined them in their board room, I began by saying, "Gentlemen, I've reviewed the deck you sent me. All 153 slides of it."

Knowingly, yet sheepishly, one of the men looked across the table at me and replied, "You think that's too much?" "Not if you're going for quantity over quality," I replied.

Let's face it. Most of you out there are working too hard making your presentations. You're forgetting the two basic tenets of all communications: Keep it human. Keep it simple.

1 Keep it human. I had lunch the other day with a client who's a senior director of a large company. He told me about a time when he and another director were at a party. They were each asked to say a few words.

The other executive stood up and pulled out a sheet of paper from inside his jacket. He then proceeded to look down at the paper - without looking up once apparently - and read off the name of every employee he wanted to thank. After he finished, he put the paper back in his pocket and sat down.

Then it was my client's turn to speak. He started off by admitting to everyone that he hadn't prepared a list and that he might forget to name someone. Instead, he told a couple of personal stories about what it meant to him to work with such a great team.

Afterwards, some associates came up to my client and told him how much more they were touched by what he had said than by what the other director had said.

My client was surprised by this. But I hazarded a guess as to why by offering up that old saying: "People don't remember what you say as much as they remember how you make them feel."

I'm not suggesting here that you shouldn't prepare. But if you prepare and leave trying to genuinely connect on a personal level out of your presentation, you can expect to leave your audience as cold as you were.

Better to sacrifice a point then sacrifice a heartfelt, personal story. Remember, people make decisions based on emotions first and back them up with data. Emotion always wins.

2 Keep it simple. Another client I worked with this week was preparing slides to present as part of an interview for a big promotion opportunity. He was only being allowed 15 minutes to speak - but from looking at all his slide material - I estimated he had written about 57 hours' worth of talking points. I helped him retool his slides so there weren't paragraphs of information on them. Cut the verbiage. He needs the interview team to listen to him and to engage with him. Not be reading over his shoulder.

Are you like my trio of traveling executives? My team of investors? My promotion-seeking client? Stop trying to pack everything into your presentation.

When is the last conference you went to when a speaker did NOT run over time? I'll bet it felt good, didn't it? Try it for yourself. If the organiser says you have 20 minutes, plan for 10 and then give yourself some time to react in the moment or enjoy the telling of a story and not feel rushed. If you are planning to present six reasons, try giving just three and add an interesting anecdote or illustration to bolster them.

Leave your audience wanting more.

People, whether employees, colleagues, clients or prospects, who are sitting in an audience at a presentation are always hopeful at first. Maybe this time there will be something engaging. Something funny. Something I can relate to.

Simplify your slides. Take the stage and motivate your audience by your presence, not the words behind you. Your slides can be conceptual. They don't even have to be literal. Try images to illustrate points. Find a GIF that's unexpected. Search YouTube for a short video. Explore.

By taking the opportunity to give your audience that something extra, your presentation will become more memorable, more effective. That is the difference that inspires people.

And that's when an attendee will tell someone else who wasn't at the presentation, "Oh! You had to be there."

It can happen for you too. When you are the movie. Not the book.

Are you preparing a presentation? Would you like me to review your slides? I can! Let The Communicator help. Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie

Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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