Presenting – A Big Cultural Crisis in Leadership Today

ducks walking in a row

Presenting in business has changed dramatically over the past two decades; the question is, has your organisation changed or are you part of today’s leadership crisis?

Would you market your business today the same way you were marketing it 20 years ago?

Would you use exactly the same technology today that you were using in your business 20 years ago?

Would you lead your team exactly the same way today you were 20 years ago?

I’m guessing that as leaders we’ve all learned quite a few lessons in the last 20 years and so for most of us the answer to each of these questions is likely to be a resounding no.

Why then has the culture of  business presenting remained static for decades? 

Every week we are called in by HR Business Partners of some of the world’s biggest brands to help their people improve their presentation skill‘. On further discussion we are often told:

‘It’s not joined up thinking’

‘Their message isn’t clear’

‘They are boring’

Then the phenomenon is exposed

We go along to see some of these people presenting and the synopsis we were given seems to be spot on.

However, when we get those same people into the training room and offer a little encouragement, guidance and support we witness an incredible transformation.

They suddenly become imaginative, creative and very engaging speakers. Yet as much as they like, accept and are excited about our ideas and the future of high impact presenting they often share a few stumbling blocks:

‘Our executives and managers just want the data and the facts; they would hate the idea of headlines and images’

‘We have these awful corporate templates which no one can deviate from’

‘It’s pretty scary here, we are expected to know the answer to everything’

‘ What they may have told you that they want and what they actually do themselves are very different’

Comments like these aren’t isolated, we hear these and much worse every week.

If that’s not a crisis then I don’t know what is

It’s a phenomenon as well as a challenge as we’ve learned that leaders desperately want their people to present more effectively but paradoxically in the same way they’ve always done.

Or at least that’s what their people say.

There is a bigger issue at play though that may well answer the question. Leaders tell us they want more creativity and engagement but that’s not how they present themselves. Many want their teams to do as they say rather than as they do and they aren’t open to changing themselves.

That creates uncertainty, animosity and distrust. You can’t send people on a course to be different and exceptional when you continue to do as you always do.

Leadership is about leading by example.

When it comes to presenting there are a great number of things leaders can do to create a far more effective culture and environment to help transform and support the way their teams communicate:

Leadership Tip 1:  Ditch the templates

Does your organisation really need them? 

Ask yourself what useful purpose they serve in enabling and encouraging your team to express their creativity, responsibility and talent.

Do you really need your logo and Corporate colours on every slide?

By all means give them some clarity and guidelines but don’t stifle their creativity.

Leadership Tip 2: Tell them it’s fine to say ‘I don’t know’

In far too many organisations people tell us that culturally it’s unacceptable to be honest and say ‘I don’t know’ to a question they just don’t know the answer to.  Working in an environment where people not only feel they have to know the answer to everything but are fearful of simply saying ‘ I don’t know’  just can’t be a great place to work.

Encourage them to express a view or opinion and have the courage to simply say ‘I’ don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you’.

Leadership Tip 3: Encourage a conversation – not a ‘data dump’

Data is one of the easiest things to get in most businesses today in fact many organisations are overwhelmed with statistics.

If that’s really all you want ask them to just send it to you with the headlines and call them if you have any queries; don’t make them stand there and read it out from a slide line after line.

Tell them you’d like to have a conversation about the data instead and that you would like to hear the story behind the numbers and their impact on the business.

Leadership Tip 4: Tell them how to keep you engaged

Despite what you think you know, believe or have been told, it is extremely difficult for people to read a long list of bullet points and listen to you at the same time.

In meeting rooms across the world eyes are glazing over every day.

Audiences desperately try to focus their attention on simultaneously reading complex data whilst listening to the speaker’s interpretation of that data which is often different.

Imagine how much more interesting, enjoyable and useful your businesses presentations would be if you told people before hand what you want, what you need from them and crucially what keeps you focused and engaged.

Don’t make them assume, guess or  simply follow everyone else because they just don’t know.

You have the power to challenge the status quo and transform the communication culture of your organisation.

Leadership Tip 5: Ask for the story

Numbers are important, I get it as I’ve been there myself.

There is however a time and a place; the time is before the presentation and the place is not on a slide, it’s on your desk.

Get the numbers up front and use the time of the presentation to hear the story behind the numbers and the way forward.

The only numbers that should be on a slide are the really important ones.

Let’s face it you don’t want to be surprised by numbers in a presentation anyway.

Leadership Tip 6: Help them prepare

Don’t let them spend an inordinate amount of time preparing a detailed presentation when all you are interested in is the bottom line.

Tell them in advance and make it clear exactly what it is you want and expect from them. 

I’ve lost count of the number of leaders who I’ve heard complain that people have wasted so much of their time presenting information to them that wasn’t helpful.

Your team may be highly creative, intelligent, talented and responsible people but mind reading is rarely on their C.V.s.

Leadership Tip 7: Let them be themselves

In other words don’t induce such high anxiety by making them think they have to be polished, slick and all-knowing oracles.

Help them to be who they are and tell it as it is.

Being professional doesn’t mean you have to be deadly serious all of the time, help them to relax, use humour and enjoy rather than worry about the experience.

The future of presenting

We live in a world today where the vast majority of people dread going to presentations because they live in the certainty that:

– Much of it will be boring

– A fair part of it will be irrelevant to them

– It could have been done in half the time

– They could have read it for themselves in a document or email

Far too many leaders believe that the solution to the challenge is to simply send people on a presentation training course expecting everything to change after a day’s training.

As much as we love coming in to work with your teams you can be certain that the future of presenting is far more than a training issue.

It’s a cultural one too

Nothing will change until leaders change.

Give them the knowledge, understanding and tools and then set them free to be who they are.

Help them to value their own voices  and to do it their way not yours.

Taking on board these 7 tips will go a long way to helping you to shape the communication culture of your business to one which is open, honest, creative and compelling.

I really hope you enjoyed this post. If you did, please feel free to share it through your preferred social media channels below and subscribe to our mailing list so you won’t miss any future posts.

If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.

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