4 Things Business Presenters Can Learn From Painters

A leaking water pipe inside our house recently caused damage that entailed major renovations. As the various work crews came in and out over the next three months to repair the damage, the paint contractor caught my attention.

Several things about their work processes struck me as they relate to my own line of work: public speaking and coaching executives in business presentations.

The More Time Spent in Preparation, the Less Time Spent in Clean Up

The painters took almost as long to "get ready" to paint as they did to actually paint. Of the five days on the project, they spent 2 full days in prepping: taping around the woodwork, doors, cabinets; removing the electrical outlets; removing the doors; removing hardware for drapes; filling holes where pictures had been hanging.

But once they started the actual painting, the walls changed color quickly. Clean up was also fast. They pulled up the protective tape in minutes. Presto. No splatter to scrape spot by spot.

With presentations, the same is true. The more effort that goes into fine-tuning the message, structuring the key points to support that message, and selecting memorable ways to illustrate those key points, the less time it takes to clear up the confusion with your audience in the Q&A session and the fewer times you have to "re-tell" the message in meetings that follow.

The Color Changes, Depending on Your Viewpoint

The supervisor painted four large "test" swatches of different colors on the wall as we started the renovation project so that we could make a final decision on color. But he cautioned, "Before you decide, be sure to check these colors from different spots in the room and in different lights -- early morning, mid-day, late afternoon, night. The color will change, depending on the light."

Although I knew that theoretically, the dramatic difference before my eyes amazed me. The light sage green at mid-day looked much brighter in the early morning, turned beige in the shadow of afternoon, and appeared gray at evening.

As with presentations, each audience member brings their own experiences, attitudes and needs to hear your presentation. Your job as a presenter is to anticipate the various viewpoints from which others will "see" your message and then tweak it to make it relevant and engaging from each perspective.

The Right Tools Make All the Difference

Painters have what they need to do a professional job: ladders, tape, drills, sanders, drop-cloth, buckets, pans, rollers and brushes of all sizes and shapes. Presenters need the right tools as well. Nothing marks an amateur like someone who can't get their slideshow to display, uses animation like a teen with his first remote-controlled car, adds sound like a toddler who has discovered his first rattler, and doesn't know how to turn on the mic.

Liability Should Be a Concern

While everyone hopes for the best, professionals also consider the worst. What happens if things don't go as planned.

In our renovation project, the business owner took one look at our six tall picture windows in the living room and said, "I'll need to get scaffolding in here. It's not safe to have my painters up on ladders for something like those."

(Unfortunately, on another job running at the same time as our job, one of his painters did fall and end up in the hospital emergency room.) Though accidents happen infrequently, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider and plan for them.

Likewise with business presentations: Always have a back-up plan. How will you present your information with no A-V support? If the key decision maker arrives late -- or leaves early? If your time is cut short? If you get asked that ONE question that sheds a negative light on data you wish they didn't know?

Consider the bad things that could happen and envision your poised response.

After all, painters change only the physical now. Persuasive presenters can change the future.