When my mother died 9 years ago, it fell to me to do her Eulogy.  I spoke about her and her love and devotion to our family as well as her career.  My mother did well: she was promoted to management in spite of the fact that she wa


For Effective Presentations - Know Your Audience (04/20/2020)

 I was asked by a colleague to discuss compliance procedures with his executive team.  As the subject matter expert,  I was in a good position to verify that actions in consideration within the organization would align with the "rules". He suggested that all that was needed was perhaps a “friendly review” of the regulations, methods and procedures, some Q&A and an offer to meet with their direct reports as appropriate.  He also mentioned that this would be a good opportunity for me to get out there in front of the right people.  It sounded good to me. This type of presentation was not a heavy lift and frankly, any opportunity to get face time with an executive team in my area of expertise and to promote a message of quality was a win – win as far as I was concerned. 

I arrived at the staff meeting with presentation in hand and ample time on the agenda to provide the requested materials.  I was fairly confident that my message would be well received and when my time came I launched into my presentation and stayed on track until I was finished.  When the time came for questions,  I noticed that this team was looking at me as if I were out of my mind. Confusion became horror when one of the executives turned away from me and loudly asked his boss: “What the heck is she talking about? We don’t want to do this! We just spent months figuring how we could reorganize to get around this! What the heck is going on?"   It got worse.  His exclamation was followed by loud, incomprehensible muttering (sounding suspiciously like Off with Her Head!) made clear only by violent nods of agreement all around the table with, of course, the exception of the guy who invited me. He looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.
What do you do when your message is rejected? How do you get back on track?
Maintaining your composure in the face of a public misunderstanding or criticism is essential to getting back on track. Responding in an emotional way might provoke others to confront or shut down and you’ll find yourself stuck in a negative and non-productive space. Maintain your leadership presence (essential if you want to keep your ability to motivate and influence others), and be authentic.  Admit what you know and what you don’t know.  Acknowledge the concerns that have been voiced and ask that you be brought up to speed with enough facts to gain a basic understanding of the underlying strategy at hand.  Let your key stakeholders know that you are committed to the success of the firm and will work to achieve the right balance as you take further actions.  Offer to integrate new information and knowledge of established requirements to create input that will add value. Offer to return and re-present your findings.   
The key take-aways here are these:
  •  Be prepared – understand the full picture. Use your network to find out what is going on and which initiatives are in play in organizations before you get up to present anything.  This will provide you with insights that can shape your message and frame potential concerns
  •  When challenged or criticized keep your composure.  A good way to get back in control (after taking a deep breath) is to politely acknowledge the concerns of those raising them and reflect back those concerns in your own words.  This will ensure that you are clear on the issues while demonstrating to others that you "get it"
  • Move from understanding and agreement around facts to next steps - no retreat - no finger pointing 
  • Shape your own message. Rather than let others shape your message for you, engage in requirements gathering.  Build a message that resonates with others and builds your personal brand. Always understand the “two way” purpose of a message - your audience will always listen for what's in it for them or how your information impacts their actions and, 
  • Finally, remember that resistance to change, new strategies or even business as usual should be treated as feedback rather than a personal attack or noise in the system. Listening carefully might give you valuable insights.
In my case, clearly, I was not as prepared as I thought. I was brought in to provoke a conversation not to inform. I had no idea of the underlying concern - the leadership team believed that this compliance issue prevented them from deploying a more effective customer service and sales model.  I let my ego get in the way of doing my homework and provided a canned presentation that was unsuitable for the situation.  It wasn’t pretty at first, but I resisted the urge run for my life and adapted by shifting my focus to the team and admitting that I did not fully understand the strategy.  Eventually, we were able to move on from there.
Our mentoring offers at Real Leadership Associates provide for test driving presentations to ensure their effectiveness.  I work with subject matter experts to assist them in developing presentations that resonate with key stakeholders, anticipate questions and concerns and deliver the message in a powerful way. If you would like more information, contact Beth.  
I expect that in the short to mid-term and maybe forever, in room presentations with a large team will be a thing of the past.  However, these tips work well for remote/social media situations.  Maybe more so since the benefit of observing expression and body language will be different.  One more skill to focus on is reading your audience at a distance!  Well researched audience prep is now as valuable as subject matter expertise.
Surviving this pandemic is no joke.  Staying socially distant from friends and family is difficult but neccesary - stating the obvious.  Our world will be differnent and leadership styles and business structures will evolve from this; to what I don't know but I have some ideas.  There is a lot of spectuation and opinion pieces offered that will inform you as you move forward.  Read and react every day! The best advice I can give you is be prepared for the difference and be open to change.  I expect to write about this going forward and while this whole experience is scary and frustrating, I'm interested to be a part of what we look like during and post transformation.  Please stay safe and play by the rules!


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