Mastering the Art of Bad Presentation Part II: Routine, Blackout, and Relativity
One of the most rare (and forgotten) elements in today's business culture is the concept of a "fun meeting". It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms; like military intelligence or jumbo shrimp. Think about it. How often have we really ever walked away from a meeting or presentation saying, "That was time well spent." or "Let's do that again!" Often enough, we come away thinking that it was a waste of time, or that an email would have been sufficient. Many times, as leaders, we do our best to effectively engage with our teams, make a connection, and then continue on to the next task. Seldom do we host a meeting which helps our colleagues develop renewed vigor or inspire them to participate. While it is not impossible to have fun during a presentation, (ever play conference call bingo?) it certainly helps to break from the daily norm. The point is that the every-day meeting or conference call has become a dull routine, and as the saying goes, "Routine reinforces routine."
To break this cycle, introduce something unexpected into the mix. If you're giving a PowerPoint show, toss in an element of humor to shake things up. One of my personal favorites is the Ed Koch approach of, "How am I doing?" All it takes is a slide that has a funny cartoon, or asks the audience if they are bored. It wakes them up in their seats, and stirs their rapture. More important, it gets them to pay attention to you and helps to reset their attention span. This last point is quite important because you will only have a few opportunities to capture their focus, and drive your points home. Use these breaks from routine to do just that. If you're on a conference call without the use of visual aides, adjust the tone of your voice and stop to gain buy-in. You can accomplish this by giving a shout out to someone on the call. Singing works great, too. It sounds crazy, but until you hear the head of an entire department belt out some Beatles lyrics, two hours into a call, you will not understand how critical refocusing the audiences' attention span really is.
So, what happens when the unexpected comes to you? When you are the leader of the group and face of your team, you eventually wind up in a situation where you are forced to speak off the top of your head. It is a time when either nothing is prepared, or worse, the presentation you did prepare is unavailable. These can be either the most fun or terrifying experiences you will ever have while speaking publicly. Back at the bank, the unexpected found me when the entire projection system failed the moment before I was to give a fifteen minute piece to a bunch of very tired and hungry executives. At first, I froze; unsure of how to proceed. Should I wait for the techs to complete their job, and risk losing the audience? Or, should I just improv the deck and hope for the best. It was a gamble, yet I decided to roll the dice; but how would I begin? Simple, go with what you know; I started telling a story of how I met some of my team. This got me talking about our projects, and over the course of the next few moments, I was able to give them the core details of our proposal, without any graphics or slides. It was old school, and it was fantastic. By the time the techs had finished operating on the projector, I was finished, and the audience was captivated. Bottom line, start with what you know and go from there. If you still have concerns, a bullet point list kept in your pocket works wonders. The shorter the better. Use it when you need to check your storyline.
One last point for when you speak to a tepid audience: be animated. One of the biggest taboos for presenting is to stand in one spot. Get out of your chair, walk around, and keep your hands and feet moving. Give your audience plenty of eye contact, and project your voice towards them. If you are mobile, then you are energetic; and if you are energetic, then you have a greater chance to stir the attention span of your audience. Watch for their body language. When heads are nodding, and they are sitting forward, then you are moving in the right direction. If you see heads and backs slumped down into chairs, arms crossed, with phones in hand, it may be time to move on.
Here are some ideas for your next meeting. Take all that you want to cover and cut it in half. Yes, half. This will force you to pick and choose which points really need to be covered. Then, put all of these elements into your presentation. You can even mix in some humor, and breaks. Next, host your meeting or your call and finish up early. Give the gift of time back to your team. This will pay tremendous dividends in the long run, and help build morale. As an epilogue, send out a short email with the main points you covered, and include a summary of anything else you wanted to include before trimming the fat off of your agenda. Try this once and you may begin to ask yourself, as a leader and concerned member of your team or business, could this meeting have been better off as an email?
--Scott S. Rosen