There are some great presenters. There are people to whom any of us would gladly pay money to let us listen to them read the phone book. The odds are that you are not one of them. I'm certainly not one of them. So, you and I should stop making presentations. Instead, we should engage in conversations with the people with whom we are communicating.
I first learned this decades ago at Procter & Gamble. I was preparing to take some marketing ideas on the road and I asked Steve Knox, one of our sales leaders, to sit through my presentation and give me some pointers. He politely listened to the whole thing. When I was done, I asked him if he had any advice. All he said was "Don't present."
I was crushed.
Then he elaborated, explaining that there was nothing wrong with the content. There wasn't anything wrong with my presentation either - except that it was a presentation. No one likes being presented to. Fortunately, they do like engaging in conversations.
Since then, I have avoided presentations as much as possible. Inevitably, when I engage well with an audience, it feels much more like a two-way conversation. When I fail to engage, I realize I've fallen back into the presentation trap.
Communications coach Carmine Gallo knows that people zone out of presentations after about ten minutes. He suggests creating soft breaks every ten minutes to re-engage your audience. These include activities, Videos, demos, second voices, and audience involvement among others.
Mike Broderick has built a whole business in audience involvement - Turning Technologies. The problem they solve is that "Recent studies have found that 39% of professionals have admitted to dozing off during meetings. This can be caused by using same boring lecture format that many educational institutions have seen as ineffective, causing them to implement more interactive and engaging options."
The core of Turning Technologies is their audience response hardware that lets people put polling questions into PowerPoint presentations. This is a relatively easy way to inject audience involvement.
Broderick explained to me that this works for three reasons:
- It makes the audience think. When someone is asked a question they have to stop and think. Getting people to stop, think and engage with the material is a huge accomplishment on its own.
- It makes the audience part of the experience. In 1999 Broderick heard a futurist suggest that "experience and image will be the primary currencies of the 21st century". Answering questions is a different experience - one that fosters learning.
- It leaves the audience feeling differently. Far different from how people feel after they simply look and see something, engaging in critical thinking and a group experience leaves the audience feeling like they have been part of what happened.
- Be clear on your goals. Then think about the questions you can ask your audience to help them get down the road to those goals.
- Leverage polling or some other technique to disarm the audience. People can hide from general questions. They can look at the other hands before responding to "raise your hand if...". But anonymous polling lets people answer without repercussions. Then, when they see others feel the same way, they are more likely to ask follow up questions.
- React to surprising answers. It's only interactive if you take peoples' responses seriously, adjusting the conversation to take that into account. If you don't adjust, the Q&A is just an interlude in your presentation.
Relationships are the heart of leadership in general and of BRAVE leadership in particular. Further, relationships must be two-way, born of interactions. As the Institute for PR puts it,
people evaluated organizations that responded back to their comments as more trustworthy and committed, and as having better control of mutuality and communal relationships, and higher satisfaction, compared to organizations that did not respond back.
This is why it's time to stop making presentations. Convey information by giving people things to read or view. Use your time with other human beings to engage in two-way relationship-building conversations.