Presentations: are you too nice?
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I once went to a meeting and was told later that the CFO thought I was ‘nice’. Ouch.
Perhaps at one point in my career I may have been happy with that feedback, but at that point in time ‘nice’ wasn’t what I was going for. I did not have the impact on him that I’d wanted. I hear this a lot from the women I work with: ‘I'm no good at presentations’, ‘They look positive and say yes in the meeting, but then there’s no follow-through’, ‘I say something…someone else says exactly the same thing and they get the accolades’, and ‘I’m told I need executive presence’.
What’s actually going on here, is that our intent going into the meeting isn’t landing with impact. I’ve talked about intent and impact previously, and in this article were going to apply that concept to successsfully deliver a presentation in a meeting.
Here is the thought process that usually happens after we have been asked, ‘can you present at next week’s XX meeting?’…
‘Where am I going to find the time to do that? My calendar is already choca-block.’
‘How am I going to get all the information? Who do I need it from?'
‘Oh sh!t. I hate presenting at meetings!!’
Notice what’s going on there…we start a spiral of concern and worry…about ourselves! We start in the practicalities of the how and we end up with negative self-talk. We don’t give one thought about the intent of the presentation and the needs of the people who will be there. So we go and get all the information, pull the data together in a good-looking powerpoint presentation, and then we get up and smile broadly while quietly dying on the inside. We talk through the presentation and if we’re really prepared, we do more than just read every word on each slide. We ask if anyone has any questions, and if anyone does ask, we try nervously to answer the questions hurled at us. We often aim to please the people in the room.
Let’s rewind and see how we might approach this differently. When we are asked, ‘can you present at next week’s XX meeting?’, we could think through the following:
‘What is the purpose of the presentation? What is the outcome they’re looking for?’
‘What does the audience need?’
‘What is the best way for me to fulfil that need?’ I.e. Is a presentation to them the appropriate format?’
Notice the shift in the above thinking…the questions are about ‘them’, ‘the audience’. Your role simply becomes about facilitating them getting the information they want to reach the outcome they need.
Your intent needs to be focused on them
Which is why I suggest to you a reframe of your role when it comes to these so-called presentations, and think about it as one of facilitation instead.
Leadership is Facilitatorship
Presentation is for monkeys. Anyone can do it. It’s a one-way transmission of information and quite frankly ‘how’ it’s delivered is usually not considered as important as the ‘what’ is delivered. 'Presentation' doesn’t drive buy-in, decision making or change.
Facilitation is the seed of change, development and growth. The etymology of the word facilitation is ‘facile - to make easy’, and so in a meeting environment, it’s your job to make the learning and understanding easy so that the group can achieve their outcome.
It’s not about you
My husband used to ask me on a semi-regular basis how he looked, to which I would reply, ‘it doesn’t matter. No one’s looking at you anyway.’ After quickly explaining that what I meant was that no one’s looking because they’re so busy worrying about how they look themselves, he got the point. It’s never about you.
Ask questions, make connections
When you go in and ‘present’ at your next meeting, seek to answer the second set of questions I’ve raised above. Understand unequivocally that’s it’s never about you. You are simply the vehicle through which they get what they want. Once you’ve got those things in place, the rest flows. ‘Presentations’ become easy.
When it’s your turn to ‘present’, begin by clearly stating the purpose of the conversation you are about to facilitate and to what end. Explain to them how you will facilitate the outcome and, in particular, their role in reaching that outcome. By sharing your intent and the planned outcome, your chances of reaching that outcome are significantly greater. You plant idea and outcome seeds in their mind and reduce the risk of someone derailing the conversation.
Then get cracking. Ask questions of them. By asking for questions instead of making statements you seek to identify opportunities and remove roadblocks to make delivery easy. Make connections with what is said (and unsaid) in the room: this will serve as an invaluable way to have cut through and reach the outcome faster.
Be the one that provokes the conversation that is needed to deliver the outcome. Deliver with your full potential. Have the the impact you want and don’t be scared to do so. Because it’s not about you.
Don’t be the monkey that stands up front while they don’t listen.
Don’t receive feedback that you’re ’nice’.
Do deliver impactful presentations.