He had a new role, for about a year or so. Managing a complete company, over 500 employees, a lot of new responsibilities. After the initial shock of the sheer number of new tasks, he started to feel comfortable again. The first months of operational getting in the way of strategic began to shift into more strategic every day. Less working IN the organization and more working FOR the organization. Delegating is hard! With the extra time on the horizon, he picked up his to-do list with personal improvement items. The one that had been there a long time was presentation skills. The new role required a lot more of presenting, both internal as external, so it made sense to work on that. As any highly structured analytical manager, he already had a clear idea of what that improvement would look like. Just tell me where to stand, how to hold my hands, where I interject the joke. The content is al there, I just need some help with the flow. There is a reason I tell the people I work with: I am a storytelling coach. It comes from the firm belief that you need to get the story straight first. Spend most of the time and energy there. Once that is out of the way, we can look into visuals, voice, body language, and top it off with handling the Q&A. Story first. Always.
I had 2 hours of his undivided attention, so we started right away. Begun with the problem: most presentations suck, like 99%. Our goal is to be in the 1% memorable one. So let’s start with the common issues. No clear point. Why should the audience care? The erratic flow of slides with a way too many details. And my favorite one: too long, way too long. The type of presentations where the key message is on the last slide. The slide that is never to be seen as the presenter is running out of time. Presentations delivered by people so busy doing the daily grind they have not time to tell a captivating story. Content density driven by the idea that for the audience to understand something, they have to explain everything. All the reasons why the end result does not work. All these problems, in the end, roll up in the most significant mistake: the idea that presenting centers around the presenter. The inside out problem. What is in it for me rather then what is in it for you.
Funny that the concept of customer-centricity is all around, and so often fails to make it into the story we tell live on stage. So, where do we start fixing this problem? By answering some simple questions. Fill in the form I handout to all the people I coach. Start with the objective in mind. What do you want your audience to know, believe, and do after the presentation? Realizing that the acting part will happen once you have left the room, without you being present. Make the uninformed understand, the dubious belief and the resistant act, that is the goal of the story. As we filled in the other critical elements of the story prep form, the pieces started to connect. Customer-centric storytelling with your own goal in mind. Slowly a very different story began to emerge.
As we used the standard corporate pitch as an example deck where to improve, it started to fall in place. He took tons of notes, plenty to laugh about. Asking questions like: and that is relevant to the audience because? really helps to separate the wheat from the chaff. The last bucket of the story was all about growth. As the constraint clearly was not in the market, plenty of new customers to be found, the limitation was purely internal. The internal organization, the internal processes, within the boundaries of the regulator, needed improvement to match the speed of the market. As we talked about ways to communicate that both external and internal, we stumbled on the topic of trust. Trust as in a mentally safe place to work. Trust to allow employees to speak out their minds. Trust to talk about potential improvements from a mindset that everything always can be improved. His tone of voice changed, his eyes lit up, clearly a topic that was close to his heart. When I asked him why he became emotional about trust in the workplace, he stood up, started to wave his hands. The only way we can grow, in this people-driven business of ours, is if we allow our employees to help us improve. Help us improve, in order to grow. Grow to both meet the market demands as well as grow to become the best possible place to work. How about you add that core belief to your story, to your presentation? Stories should be personal, this makes it real, makes it authentic. Amazing how much you can improve presentations by getting the story right and personal.