Last time, I suggested that we turn our attention to some practical ideas for making meetings and presentations more dynamic. It is a subject that is close to both my heart and my work these past weeks. Beyond being a point of my current focus, though, it is indeed a theme that has been something of a leitmotif of my consulting endeavors for the past fifteen years.
As I observed in some previous posts, three clients that I am spending much of my time with these days are all asking for help with a similar type of question. In a world where listless reading of slide decks has become widely accepted (even expected) behavior, how might they raise the energy level of their management sessions and board meetings?
So, here is a quick overview of my suggestions for breaking the mold of the standard “show-slides-and-tell” format, the one that leads to so many numbingly boring presentations. My goal today is to cite the most salient points in summary form. Then, I plan to expand on some of them in future posts.
Among the modifications I find myself proposing to presenters most often are:
—Make it simpler. If there is one general observation I would make based on seeing thousands of slide decks over the years, it is that most people put far too much on each slide. Putting less on each screen allows us to stick to just the essential points, and to hold the listeners’ attention.
—Make it more personal. When we read slides from a screen, we have a tendency to think that the data will persuade those in attendance. In the end, though, we convince others most readily when they can “feel” us and our conviction.
—Make it more insightful. A former colleague from my business school teaching days used to repeat this over and over to his students: “In today’s world, we are drowning in data, and starving for insight.” As a presenter, your job is not merely to show the facts and figures. Instead, you should try to cut through it all quickly, by explaining what you find significant.
—Make it more narrative. As someone who has long studied the positive effect that storytelling has on an audience, I am continually surprised that this form of discourse remains so underutilized in our organizations. Stories are simply the most powerful way to connect with other human beings, and to convince them. More than any form of rational argument, stories succeed at holding our attention. They also stay longer in our memories.
—Make it more conversational. Recall the opening anecdote from our last post. A presenter walks in and forms a nice, friendly bond with the listeners—through casual and spontaneous interaction. That bond is quickly broken, though, when the speaker turns to the screen and suggests we “get down to the serious matters” at hand. We should all try to stay in a natural, conversational mode with our audiences, even in more formal settings.
The changes I put forward here do require a dose of courage, and a bit of practice. As I often say though, they will result in more engaging meetings and presentations, a consequence which is well worth the price of some extra preparation.
Image: Flickr user Wendy Darling