You don’t need permission

My elementary school teacher kept telling me that I couldn’t make it in grammar school because I was too quiet. I graduated top of my class.

Our neighbour kept telling my mother that I couldn’t make it in business because I was too shy. Here I am, running two sustainable businesses.

My music teacher kept telling us that we couldn’t play electrical instruments at the school concert. We insisted and had the audience cheer so loud that we were the first duo that was allowed to play an encore.

My colleagues at the University kept telling me that you just can’t present like this in a scientific context. After my presentation, the audience was gathering around me being thankful for a different kind of presentation.

I could go on with numerous smaller and bigger examples.

You don’t need anyone’s permission. If you believe in something, you’re the one to make it happen. Take responsibility and give it your best.

A new perspective

A fear that I often encounter among speakers is that their audience might “know this already”.

And quite likely that’s true.

Unless we have discovered something truly revolutionary (which is quite unlikely), people will already know much of what we’re going to tell them.

What people tend to forget is how “we know this already” is true for almost anything. There just isn’t a lot of new information out there. Most things have been pointed out by some person or another at some point in time.

Yet, audiences don’t show up for the knowledge. Knowledge is much more conveniently delivered in a memo.

Audiences show up because they want to take a look on that knowledge from your perspective. What’s your take on that?

Audiences want you to let them in into your experiences. What did you learn from applying that knowledge?

Because looking from different perspectives makes us see things that we might have missed before. It helps us see the unfamiliar in the familiar. It helps us discover new ways of applying what we know in a different context.

That’s why I think it’s a mistake to dismiss content that contains information our audiences have heard previously. It’s not about the knowledge. It’s about making them see from our perspective.

I’m dying to know what you let us find a new perspective on.

What you spend your time on

There’s a golden rule in screenwriting: Anything you spend much time on will amount to something in the story.

The problem with many presentations is that the presenter spends an enormous amount of time on an enormous amount of details that don’t amount to anything in the end. Well, actually, the biggest problem is that often there isn’t even a story in the first place.

A much better approach is this: Start by asking yourself what your story is and then include exactly those details that are required to tell the story. If a detail doesn’t amount to anything of significance in your story, leave it out. If, on the other hand, it’s highly important for a key part of your story then treat it that way.

If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it

End of story.

There’s really no point in insisting that you’ve mentioned it on slide 17. They didn’t get it.

Much better to just take the feedback to grow. Reflect your words and then, next time, try to make your point even clearer.

The indifference of PowerPoint

One of the big problems with PowerPoint presentations is how they are indifferent to their content so often. The bigger the company, the bigger the problem. It shows like this: Neither the presenter nor their slides provide any hint as to whether the presentation is about a trivial matter or something important. Whether it’s just pure information or a reason to celebrate.

Everything just always looks the same in that same boring corporate slide layout. Everything just always follows the same proven agenda. And everything is just always presented in the same monotonous style.

The worst part: apparently it’s just the way it is … and given the committee decision making process, there seems to be nothing you can do about it. When everything has to be approved by a number of departments and hierarchical levels, every divergence is quickly ironed out again (I mean: “what if someone doesn’t like it?”).

It’s just the way it is. Or is it?

Tell me about your strategies to navigate around the indifference of PowerPoint presentations.

Surrounded by great people

Good leaders surround themselves with great people. What sometimes keeps them from becoming great leaders is when they stop there, believing that their team of great people will somehow figure it out. (Which they probably will. Or not.)

What separates a team of great people from a great team is the “team” part. The feeling of “us”. The feeling that as a team we can achieve much greater things than any one of us could on their own.

Why do we exist – as a team? Where are we headed – as a team? What is the impact that we’re here to make? These are the lights that great leaders shine on the path of their teams.

Great leadership is not about figuring things out. That’s what the team is great at. Great leadership is about lighting the path. So that the team figures out the right things in the right way.

The lazy designer

So, I’m not a designer. But I design all my visuals myself. I’ve adapted a posture that I call “the posture of the lazy designer” and I thought you might be interested in it.

I think that good designers are – in a way – lazy designers. For three reasons:

1. They will not start a design until they have clarity about what to design. Who is it for? What’s the change? Why do we need that visual? Once you’re clear about what to design the how becomes much easier (and much more efficient).

2. They will let the content make as many decisions as possible. If your piece makes any sense, there will be tons of correlations among the contents. Make use of them. Things that belong together are placed close together, things that don’t are spatially separated. Things that are the same look the same. Things that are different look different (not just a bit but no-doubt-different).

3. They will make effective use of constraints. One color is enough to design almost anything. Two might be useful in many situations. Three? Depends. The same is true for almost anything: fonts, shapes, you name it. A good rule of thumb is this: Stick with the smallest selection unless you have a strong reason not to, i.e. unless you have a strong reason to add to the selection of fonts, colors, shapes etc., avoid it.

A mismatch?

A few things people care about:

  • feeling seen and heard
  • appreciation for their effort
  • their family
  • their employees
  • a day off with their children
  • improving their life
  • no hassle
  • not getting into trouble
  • getting a raise
  • being a rock star in their field

The things most presenters care about (judging from their presentation contents):

  • the company history
  • the leadership team
  • bragging about their achievements
  • the tiniest details of their product
  • making the deal

Well, there seems to be a mismatch …

Behind the facts

Most questions that are worth investing the time to prepare a presentation for don’t have an easy yes-or-no answer.

If they had, we could just send over the facts and call it a day. But often, it’s not that easy because facts are just facts. Much more important is what’s behind those facts and how they relate to ourselves.

Is 2 billion a lot? Is 3% worth the risk? Is the prospect to get the deal worth the compromises that we will have to make?

Rarely is the answer to these kinds of questions 100% rational. It’s much rather informed by our values and experiences. Influenced by our opinions and gut feelings. Driven by our personality and background.

The same is true for our audiences. So, when we strive to make change happen with our communication it just doesn’t suffice to stick with the facts.

It’s – in fact – required to understand the aspects that impact our audience’s decision making process: Why do they decide for something? Why against? How do they arrive at these conclusions? What influences them? How do they rationalize them?

Facts matter in the light of values. Arguments resonate in relation to values.

The good news is that this is where you can shine. Because you share the values. And you are willing to put in the effort.

Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz