Business Irish

Monday 18 December 2017

Emma Ledden: Ability to engage and connect is essential for success – your business depends on it

Emma Ledden
Emma Ledden

Emma Ledden

THE ability of a business person to present to a group of people is crucial to both the success of the individual and the business.

Presenting yourself and your messages is a vital professional skill, both externally, while pitching for business and maintaining client relationships, or internally to gain buy-in to a company strategy from management or employees.

Despite its importance, this fundamental business skill poses huge challenges for many people. The ability to present to a group of people, or indeed sometimes just one to one, with clarity, conviction and confidence seems to be a skill just out of reach for many educated and technically competent people.

But why?

There seems to be some universal and recognisable reasons boardrooms and conference centres are filled with presenters doing what can only be described as 'Death by Power Point'.

The first major stumbling block is the inability of the presenter to get out of their own detail. The presenter has done all the work, they have all the background, they put all this information onto slides, and then they talk through every single bit of it whether an audience wants this information or not.

In fact, it is this lack of empathy with the experience the presenter is creating for the audience that is the root cause of this problem in the first place. The presenter has failed to properly consider the audience at all.

The presenter is concerned only with how they look, what they believe they should talk about or what they think the audience should hear.

This self-survival mindset is one of the major obstacles that must be overcome in an emotionally intelligent way to gain engagement or connection with an audience. The presenter must also accept the written proposal with all its detail is not the same as a visual aid that is used in a presentation scenario.

Next, not only are many presenters unable to escape the detail, they also can't stop using their industry language, jargon or acronyms with the assumption they are understood and processed the same way as simple English.

Audiences fail to act after a presentation due to a lack of understanding: they fail to comply because they don't comprehend why they should.

The reason they lack this knowledge is because the presenter has made assumptions about the audience.

They assume the audience cares, that the audience wants to listen, and that the audience understands – or most commonly it's assumed they understand – in the same way the presenter does. These assumptions lead to a total disconnect and lack of engagement between a speaker and the audience.

Finally, and most dangerously, is the culture of apathy that exists in many businesses in relation to the effort and skill that is required to give a successful presentation. A mental attitude of "It'll be grand", or "Sure I know it all in my head", is at the heart of this issue.

The reality of business pitches being read through in a taxi on the way to the potential client, or group presentations where very senior members of a company have never practiced together until the day the pitch is taking place, happens all the time. It is shocking, lazy and arrogant on behalf of the speakers involved. It also sets a very bad example for the junior staff that will follow this lead in the future.

Time is always used as the excuse when a justification is needed. Yet the real reason is over-confidence in most of these situations.

Yes, it is true you do know your own business better than anyone else, but great presenting is actually about the audience. Are you sure you know them as well as you think you do? It's a question worth asking.

The ability to engage, connect and create understanding is something that must be taught and nurtured alongside technical skills in business. It is not something we are born with and it doesn't come automatically with a management job title.

This communication skill must be acknowledged and valued for all it is worth. After all, your business depends on it.

Emma Ledden is a former TV presenter and author of 'The Presentation Book'.

Irish Independent

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