Brutal presentations. They happen to the best of us. Long, boring, ineffective. “Please, please, let this be over” kind of meetings, conversations and speeches.
I’ve sat through some brutal presentations.
If I’m going to be honest, I have to admit that I’ve delivered some brutal presentations. You too, maybe?
But I’ve learned, and grown (I hope)… and stopped presenting.
I haven’t stopped speaking or leading or facilitating. I love that part of my work. Absolutely love.
But I’ve stopped presenting. After years and years of trying to figure out just the right slides, just the right graphs and just the right messaging to create a “wow” presentation, I decided to stop.
Here’s what I do instead…
Whether it’s a keynote speech, a staff meeting or a sales presentation (especially if it’s a sales presentation), the audience wants to hear a story. Why does this thing matter? How did it change someone life or work? Was there more profit, joy, success? That’s what we really want to know.
When I coach clients around the topic of presentation skills, I ask them to pretend that I’m their ideal potential customer/audience and give me their best pitch/speech about why we should work together or why I should buy. They launch into it, and about 2 minutes in, I find myself throwing up the time-out sign, or if I think I can get away with some humor, I’ll take out my phone and send them a text that says, “Hi. I’m bored. I’m sitting through a brutal presentation. How’s your day?”
I’m trying to make the point that they’ve lost me. That I couldn’t care less about their product, service, benefits, idea, etc.
Why? Because I’m not engaged (yet). I’m not interested, curious, amused, delighted or intrigued.
Want to help me get there? Tell me a story…
Tell me about the time this product/service/idea dramatically improved something. Tell me the before and after. Give me a little drama, suspense, a villain, a hero and a happy ending.
And then I’m listening. I’m interested, curious, amused, delighted and intrigued. I want to hear the rest. I’m keeping my phone on silent.
When I find myself wanting to convince others – to buy, to listen, to care, to change, to do something – I try to catch myself and quickly take a U-turn (you-turn).
I know that I’m not going to get very far if I focus on what I want (even if what I want is very very good for the person/audience). It has to be about what they want.
And how can I know what they want? Simple – ask.
Simple, but not necessarily easy.
I’m not sure of which questions will get them to open up. And even if they do, how can I prepare a presentation, or a talk or a meeting with a bunch of unknowns? What if they say X? Or Y? Or Z? What then?
See… not so easy.
We have to get more comfortable with being in the moment, with having real conversations without a packaged or fully-prepared answer – whether that’s with an audience of 1 or an audience of 1,000. We have to prepare what we do know (the story of our company, our history, our vision, our product/service/capabilities, our ideas) so well, so that we can have license to play with the things that we don’t know so well.
Genuine curious questions. Dancing in the moment. Being real.
It’s not about convincing. It’s about caring.
So now we’ve told some stories. We’ve asked some good questions. We’re having a conversation!
Back to the dancing in the moment. We have to ask ourselves if we’re truly there with the audience? Is there a real felt connection? If there is, we’ll know it. If there isn’t, we’ll know it.
Is there nodding? Note taking? Smiling?
Can they sense how much we relate to what they’re saying/thinking/feeling? Can we see the “ah yes, he/she gets me” thought bubble over their heads?
If so, we’re ready to close…
We all like to choose. People don’t want to be sold to, preached to or convinced of anything. We want to choose our own next steps.
So let’s offer some options. Based on the “conversation” (even if standing on a stage or at the front of a room) we just had, think about what options might make sense for the audience? What choices can we offer?
A. They can choose to stay the same. Do nothing. Buy nothing. Change nothing. Let’s let that to be ok. If it’s not a fit, or not a fit right now, it really is ok.
B. They can choose to take a small step with us, by implementing something we’ve suggested or offered.
C. They can choose to take a larger step with us.
D. They can ask more questions and continue the conversation.
All options are valid. The audience must feel complete freedom to choose.
And when they have that freedom, they’ll often choose you. To work with you. To listen to you. To buy from you. To continue to develop a relationship with you.
That’s what naturally happens at the end of a real conversation.
So let’s stop presenting. Instead, let’s tell stories, ask questions, connect and offer options.