A fair number of people have written to me recently, wondering why I am posting less frequently these days. In all honesty, the only explanation I can provide is that my time for writing has been more limited than I would like the past few months, as three of my regular clients are simultaneously requesting far more consulting hours than before.
Paradoxically, each of the groups in question is asking me to work on precisely the type of issues I have been planning to write about on the blog. Specifically, they would like practical advice about how they might raise the energy level of various types of management or board-level sessions. In essence, they are asking: “How can we make meetings more interesting?”
As each of these client requests concerns a slightly different context, I should emphasize that when I refer to “meetings” I use the word in a broad sense. In other words, the advice I give and the mindsets I advocate should apply to nearly any type of gathering, speech, or presentation, whoever the audience may be.
Of course, we can begin answering this query by recalling that our previous post addressed the question of why most of the presentations we see today are so boring. That blog entry closed with three thoughts about how we can bridge the distance between speakers and listeners, with the goal of making encounters in a business setting more pertinent and lively.
Clearly, there is a close connection between my clients’ requests and the themes I wish to address here. This potential synergy between my work and my writing would ordinarily be welcome, but the obvious conundrum is that the additional work these companies are generating for me also leaves me with little time to write. For me, it is indeed frustrating to have so few occasions to put pen to paper, at a time when my work is generating truly interesting and relevant material.
In any case, let’s turn our attention to the issue at hand. Raising the energy level of meetings in our organizations, making them more pertinent and lively, is largely a question of improving the connections between speaker and audience.
So, now we can go back to the first of my suggestions from last time. While it is one we have mentioned here before, it is certainly worthy of repeating, since I cannot emphasize it enough. If there is one underlying rule we should live by, it is to always strive to be in a conversation with the listeners, and not succumb to the tendency to get into “presentation mode”. Quite simply, this dynamic involves a true commitment to facing our audiences. In other words, we make listeners—not our screens—the primary focus.
In today’s world, just getting out of this “presentation mode” can be a difficult task. Many organizations I have seen seem to have the expectation—whether explicit or implicit—that speakers will organize their points in tightly-structured slide decks.
Of course, middle managers often tend to mimic the behavior they see from the top people in their organizations, on the premise that this is what is acceptable, or even required. Unfortunately, many of us see a multitude of bad presentations by our superiors, and we then perpetuate a cycle of mediocrity by reproducing slide shows that look similar to theirs.
With the three clients I referenced above, whenever I address the theme of how we can break this “cycle of mediocrity”, I end up turning my focus to narrative. Watching their meetings, it appears obvious to me that there is far too much emphasis on facts and figures. While there is nothing wrong with this in theory, in practice it neglects a basic truth about engaging human minds: We stay in conversation with listeners when we spruce up our formal, rational argumentation with a good dose of storytelling.
Next time, we will look a bit more closely at how we can put more story into our factual discourse.
Image: Flickr user Marcelo César Augusto Romeo