What’s her job?

When doing a sales presentation to a group of people, it really helps to understand what each person’s role in the meeting is.

Who is the decision maker? Why did she bring this or that person? Often, it’s not what it seems at first sight. And sometimes, we might underestimate the importance of these roles.

For example, there might be a finance manager whose job is to take care that you don‘t overcharge. There might be a product manager whose job is to take care that you don’t bullshit. There might be a marketing manager whose job is to take care that what you propose fits the overall brand story.

But it might just as well be the other way around. That the product manager is really dying to use your innovative solution and hoping for you to convince her boss. Or it might be that the boss is eager to pull your proposal off but the sales director needs to be convinced because if she isn’t all-in her team won’t be motivated to make it a success.

When knowing exactly why everyone’s there you can much better resonate with what’s important to them.

Not my fault

“On slide 19, I clearly stated this …”

Of course you did. But your audience didn’t get it. And that’s the end of the story. If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. It’s our job as a speaker to make our point obvious. To speak with clarity. And to light the path so our audience is willing to follow.

If they don’t it’s not their fault. It’s ours because either we haven’t been able to create that clarity to follow our line of thought or we haven’t researched well enough what resonates with our audience. If we want to make an impact, we’re better off taking responsibility for it. This way, we can improve the next time.

How to decide what to leave out

If you’re anything like me you could probably speak for days about your topic without you getting bored. Most likely, your audience won’t grant you as much time to speak.

So, what to leave out?

Here are two questions that may help you find an answer. Start with clearly stating the change you’re trying to make. Then, for every part of your presentation, for every detail, every slide, and every word, ask yourself:

  1. Does it contribute to making my point obvious to my audience?
  2. Do they care?

If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes” to both questions, then this detail most likely doesn’t belong into the presentation – at least not in its current form.

A great presentation is 100% relevant and delivered with clarity.

How to serve your audience well

Here are four ways that make your audience’s life so much easier.

Keep it short! How often have you been frustrated by speakers who just won’t cut to the core. We are all busy and still grant the speaker access to our time. The more the speaker values our time, the more we value her effort.

Make it relevant! You’re not doing a presentation for you. You do already know what you’re going to say. You’re doing it for them. So, what do they need from you? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? What is it that matters most to them? Make it about these things.

Take responsibility! There’s a very simple rule in speaking: If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. This is always the speakers fault and never the audience’s. So, take responsibility and keep it simple. Use their language. Use examples that make it easy to relate to. Have a clear structure that makes it easy to follow along.

Make it entertaining!
Just because it’s serious doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Think about yourself: if in doubt, we’d always choose entertaining over boring. So, if we can deliver the exact same content but 10x more fun, why shouldn’t we?

Answers and questions

There are at least two kinds of people: Those that have more answers than questions and those that have more questions than answers.

Given that most things are complex, few things have simple answers and each one of us is an expert in even fewer things, it’s hard to believe that any one person would be able to have definitive answers on many things.

People who have many answers tend to confuse answers with opinions and decisions. They tend to believe that their opinions and their decisions need to be right.

They don’t.

It’s perfectly ok to have an opinion even if you don’t know all the answers. It’s perfectly ok to decide what to eat, where to go, or what to say even if you don’t know all the answers. It’s probably even required in most situations because we hardly ever have all the knowledge that it takes to find the right answer.

But that’s ok. We can have an opinion and still acknowledge that there might be a different truth that we don’t fully grasp. Or that we just don’t know enough about, yet. We can always adapt.

It’s when we insist on being right all the time that we have stopped getting it right. Being right is hardly ever the point though. Working hard to be right leads discussions to become fights.

The world would be a much nicer place if we took opinions for what they are, if we admitted that we don’t know much about most things, and that getting it right is often a more helpful posture than being right.

Tell me only one thing

The default mode for presenting is this:

“I’m going to tell you everything I know and when I’m done, you are going to be convinced.”

Of course, we all know how that usually turns out.

The thing is that “everything” is often quite a lot. It’s overwhelming not only for your audience but also for yourself because it’s hard to find the clarity to speak about “everything”. It’s hard to find a structure that makes it easy for your audience to follow along when you speak about “everything”.

A much easier and much more effective way of approaching a presentation is this:

“Don’t tell me everything but tell me only one thing and make it the most interesting thing.”

Make it the thing that makes your audience curious, that’s most surprising or most exciting for them. When you do this and when it really matters, i.e. when they really care about that thing, then they will want you to tell them more. If it’s exciting they will even beg you to tell them more.

And of course you do.

But not by telling them everything but by telling them the next thing that’s so interesting that they will want you to tell them more. And then you do it again and again and again. You drag them down a rabbit hole, drag them ever deeper and make them curious. You lead them up to the point where you’ve actually convinced them.

So, when preparing your next presentation don’t tell me everything. Tell me only one thing and make it the one thing that makes me want you to tell me more. It’s so much easier to prepare. It makes it so much easier to find the clarity to structure your presentation. And it’s so much more interesting to listen to.

The long valley of hard work and despair

“The Dip” is what Seth Godin calls that long valley of hard work and despair that you have to get through before being able to achieve anything of significance and remark-ability.

When faced with the dip, Godin says that

“The most common response to the Dip is to play it safe. To do ordinary work, blameless work, work that’s beyond reproach. When faced with the Dip, most people suck it up and try to average their way to success.”

When was the last time you aimed high with your speech? When was the last time that you tried to come up with something that’s actually amazing? And with amazing I don’t mean “looks good” but to take your audience to places they haven’t been before.

It requires us to do work that feels scary. To say words that people might not like. To step up even when we feel like others might repel us. To be vulnerable to speak about the things we truly care about. To be courageous to come up with new ways of looking at things.

It might feel scary. It might be hard work. But it’s also worth it.

A diamond needs to be polished, not decorated

Purity is what makes diamonds beautiful.

You polish it and shape it to take it’s purest form.

What you specifically don’t do with diamonds is to decorate it with fluff and stuff.

Why then do you decorate the diamond that is your product with all sorts of gimmicks and fluff and stuff when speaking about it?

When polished what is it that makes your product shine by itself?

About authenticity

When people work on appearing more authentic what they often actually do is become less authentic. Because what they do is to treat the symptoms rather than the cause. For example, they try to work on their body language, their voice, their words to appear more authentic rather than to become more authentic.

What I often observe is that people adapt behaviours that are not theirs. Behaviours that someone told them to use. However, instead of feeling more comfortable on stage, this leads them to feel more stressed because now, there’s so much more to concentrate on: what to do with their hands, how to look at the audience, how to walk the stage, how to pause in between sentences and so much more. Thus, they appear even less authentic.

When you work on becoming authentic rather than appearing authentic, the cause is often quite different. It’s not the body language or the wording you use, but the posture. For example, people become inauthentic when they speak about things they don’t really believe in or use words they don’t really believe in. Unless you’re a professional actor, your body will show signs of uncertainty when you don’t believe in the things you say. That’s what audiences perceive as inauthentic.

The most effective way to become more authentic is to work on what you say. Speak about things you actually care about. Use the words you actually believe in. Work hard to empathise with your audience so that you are confident that what you have to say actually does change things for the better. And, most importantly, care for your audience.

And then, when you say the things you believe in, using words you believe in, observe closely what your body wants to do – and reinforce that. Get rid of what others tell you to do with your body, voice, and words but find the words that are true to yourself and your cause.

Thank you for confirming my opinion

The other day I stumbled upon an article that someone shared on social media with these words:

Thank you for this article which confirms my thinking so much.

It’s a great reminder of how people are looking for statements that reinforce their point of view. She didn’t thank the author for a balanced view on the topic, let alone for challenging her point of view. She specifically thanked the author for confirming it. She appreciated being right.

This is yet another hint at how hard it actually is to convince people of something they don’t believe, yet. It’s so much easier to resonate with what they already believe.

Marketers and politicians understand this better and better and it is one reason why worldviews seem to drift more and more apart. As more and more people become good at resonating with what people already believe, worldviews are more and more reinforced, ever less likely to find common ground.

But!

It’s also an important reminder of how essential empathy is for communicators. If you don’t see what they see, if you can’t understand why what they believe is true from their perspective, if you are not willing to acknowledge their point of view, it’s going to be a tough sale to make them see what you see.

Yet, given the deep separations of today, it’s more important than ever that, as communicators, we succeed in resonating with those who disagree. To find the common ground. To find ways to make them see what we see. However, this is not going to work by insisting that we are right and they are wrong but by resonating with what’s important to them and making them see it from their perspective. If you can’t do this then how is your audience supposed to be able to do it?

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz