The Presenting Challenge – How to inspire action and lead change

woman presenting data virtually

The presenting challenge is real.

Politicians still won’t answer a simple question directly.

Many business presentations are still boring and virtual presenting hasn’t helped the phenomenon of ‘death by bullet point.’

With more and more of us stifling yawns on Zoom and sneaking  a quick look at our emails and LinkedIn while being presented to, something has to change.

Extraordinary presenters make things happen. They connect with hearts and minds; they lead change and drive action. The challenge is substantive, serious and sadly, still not recognised by some of the most successful businesses in the world.

Despite incredulous advancements in the world that have changed the way we live; too many professionals are still presenting the same way their predecessors did decades ago.

– Opening presentations with uninspiring agendas

– Reading slides saturated with text and copious numbers

– Inflicting ‘death by bullet point’

– Talking at people

– Sharing information their audience doesn’t need to know, don’t care about and won’t remember

– Speaking at a pace more akin to the speed of light

Paradoxically, before we work with our clients one of the questions we like to ask them is:

‘When you are being presented to, what, if anything, did you find personally frustrating or disengaging? Please share your thoughts.’

You don’t have to try to guess the responses we receive; they are included above.

Habit, insensitivity or a lack of courage?

One of my favourite leadership books is ‘The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations’ James M. Kouzes – Barry Z. Posner. The authors offer ‘FIVE PRACTICES OF EXEMPLARY LEADERSHIP’ as an ‘evidence-based path to achieving the extraordinary—for individuals, teams, organizations, and communities.’

These practices could be embraced and adapted to also address the presenting challenge:

‘Model the Way’

The first practice revolves entirely around leadership by example. It extolls the time-tested virtues of congruence and consistency; creating and demonstrating the standards of excellence for others to follow.

If you read through a slide that looks far more like a document than a visual aid, your team will do that to others.

The presenting challenge

If you really want your team to speak with confidence, clarity, purpose and authenticity you have to lead the way; you have to show them how to do it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you believe you do, get some honest feedback; get yourself some coaching.

Have the courage to challenge the status quo yourself, to give people permission and the tools to do the same.

Each time you present, ask someone who will be very honest with you three simple but powerful questions:

How you made them feel

– How much they remember

– What they will do differently now having heard you speak

‘Inspire a Shared Vision’

Many business presentations are heavily focused on ‘what is’ rather than, ‘what could be’.

Sharing the ‘what is’, is all well and good although if that’s all you have to say its likely that you can say it in at least half the time and without blinding your audience with unnecessary data. If that’s your sole objective then arguably it may even be more appropriate to send them an email telling them ‘what is’ and ask them to contact you for questions or clarity.

At Mindful Presenter we believe that every audience wants three things from the person presenting to them.

1. The facts, evidence and insights

2.  An emotional connection to number 1

3. A vision of the future – what their future will look like after you’ve finished speaking

 The presenting challenge

We live in a world of ‘noise’. We are already overwhelmed with information, intrusion and instructions and the last thing we need more of in a business presentation is simply more ‘noise’.

The presenting challenge for all of us is to lead each time we speak; to inspire action and change. Our audience doesn’t want bullet points, they want us to breathe life into the information and for us to show them how it will make a difference to them.

‘Challenge the Process’

The authors of ‘The Leadership Challenge’ believe that ‘Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. They look for innovative ways to improve the organization. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.’

Leadership can’t be about keeping things the same and neither can high impact presenting and public speaking. Mindful Presenters are always looking for opportunities to connect, improve and lead change. That means having the courage to experiment and take risks; to step outside of their comfort zone and not simply ‘follow the leader’.

‘Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march.’ Howard Schultz

The presenting challenge

The most powerful place to start adopting this practice is to stop doing what so many presenters are doing today. Stop:

–             Opening presentations with uninspiring agendas

–             Reading slides saturated with text and copious numbers

–             Inflicting ‘death by bullet point’

–             Talking at people

–             Sharing information their audience don’t need to know, don’t care about and won’t remember

–             Speaking at a pace more akin to the speed of light

–             Lacking passion and purpose

Enable Others to Act 

On their own leaders are useless; they exist to lead, serve and enable others.

Their job is to foster collaboration, build trust, nurture talent and to turn possibilities and opportunities into reality. Leaders are influencers and enablers and so are presenters.

The reason most business presentations take place is to:

– Inform

– Persuade

– Motivate

– Celebrate

Regardless of the objective, every presenter has the task of making their audience feel able, equipped and committed to doing something with the ideas or information shared. At the core of this is instilling a sense of strength and power in their audience that it is within their gift to make a difference.

The presenting challenge

To enable your audience to act you have to firstly learn as much as you possibly can about them:

– Who are they?

– How much do they know?

– How much do they need/want to know?

– Why do they need to know it?

– What motivates them?

– What’s in their way?

The best way to find the answers to these questions is to ask them before you sit down to craft your presentation.

There are many challenges inherent in enabling your audience to act; here are a few of my favourites:

– Make it personal and relevant to them – Don’t tell them anything they don’t need to know or won’t care about.

– Craft a conversation rather than a presentation. Don’t talk at them, involve them in a discussion

– Approach your audience with humility. Confidence is essential but the truth is that ‘Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.’ Theodore Roosevelt

‘Encourage the Heart’

Everyone is busy. In all of our presentation skills  training workshops and in each one to one personal executive coaching session our clients tell us how busy they are.

They share that information in the context of explaining:

– Why they don’t prepare; as much as they want to because they just can’t find the time

– Their intolerance of other presenters wasting their time because they clearly haven’t prepared sufficiently

Another paradox.

In the same way that highly effective leaders appreciate how hard their teams work and how they have to lift them up emotionally from time to time the presenters challenge is the same.

The presenting challenge

In a previous article I wrote called ‘The A to Z of Mindful Presenting: J – Journey’ I said ‘There is a great deal we can learn about how to take our audience on a powerful journey through the world of storytelling. The most creative, robust and effective approach I have come across to help us has been around for decades. It’s the universal story structure shared with us by American mythologist Joseph Campbell which has come to be known as the hero’s journey

When it comes to presenting and public speaking the hero isn’t the presenter, or the company, product or service; it’s the audience.

The presenters challenge is to focus on making their audience the hero and the way to achieve that is by focusing entirely on your audience and how you make them feel.

Presenting is a challenge but if we change our perception of the opportunity from being a chore to a privilege, we increase our chances of inspiring action rather than simply inflicting habit.

If you need help with the presenting challenge:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image courtesy of:


Share this article

Leave a comment

Download our Free Guide

Sign up for our newsletter and download your free guide to authentic public speaking.

When you sign up, you’ll get a link to our free guide, plus helpful public speaking articles posted on our site. You can unsubscribe at any time.