Sunday, February 20, 2011

3 Simple Presentation Tips for Leaders

While there are hundreds of definitions of leadership, most would agree that one of the important characteristics of a great leader is the ability to inspire others to change.

Unfortunately, some leaders seem to lose sight of that objective when they have the opportunity to speak to an audience. Here's some simple yet impactful presentation skills advice from frequent Great Leadership guest blogger Paul Thornton that will help a leader inspire their audience to take action.

Keep It Simple
By Paul B. Thornton

Some leaders miss the mark when presenting their message for the following reasons:

1. Providing too much detail.
Big ideas are buried in the presentation. Effective leaders make their big ideas stand out. They remove the clutter. They eliminate the things of little value to their message. Impactful speakers make their message concise—as long as necessary, as short as possible.

Suzanne Bates, author of Speak Like a CEO, Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (McGraw Hill 2005) states, “Every speech, presentation, or communication needs one big idea. Without big ideas, you’re just another speaker. A big idea has a life of its own.” Suzanne makes the point that a big idea doesn’t require a two-hour speech. It’s big because of its power to change and transform people and organizations.

What’s your big idea?

2. Not identifying actionable steps for people to take.
The best leaders describe one or more actionable steps people can take. If people are left with no specific actions to take, guess what, they keep doing what they have always done. It’s business as usual.

It’s said that Abraham Lincoln often slipped out of the White House on Wednesday evenings to listen to the sermons of Dr. Finnes Gurley at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. After one sermon, an aide asked President Lincoln for his evaluation of the sermon. The President thoughtfully replied, “The content was excellent; he delivered with elegance; he obviously put work into the message.” “Then you thought it was an excellent sermon?” questioned the aide. “No,” Lincoln answered. “Dr. Gurley forgot the most important ingredient. He forgot to ask us to do something great.”

What actions do you want the audience to take?

3. Not convincing people to take action.
Impactful leaders make the sale. They present the facts, arguments, and emotional appeals that convince people to take action. They explain what’s in it for the audience and why it’s important to take action now. In some cases the leader needs to explain the negative consequences of not taking action. The most effective presenters deliver their message with great passion and conviction which helps seal the deal.

Have you convinced the audience?

The challenge for all leaders is to:

 Make their big ideas crystal clear

 Identify actionable steps

 Convince people it’s the right thing to do

About the author:
Paul B. Thornton is an author, speaker, and trainer. He teaches management and leadership courses at several colleges. His latest book, Leadership - Off the Wall, highlights the guiding principles some well-known CEOs and presidents keep on their desks or post on their office walls.


Dana Searcy said...

Thanks for the great post. There is diffidently a difference between the speeches when you leave thinking “that’s nice” and the speeches when you can barely wait to get started. It’s nice to have a formula for how to accomplish talking to people instead of over their heads. I especially like the part about making the message as long as it needs to be and as short as possible.

Dan McCarthy said...

Dana -
Thanks, I like Paul's 3 points too. I'm going to keep them in mind next time I give a presentation.

Poul Andreassen said...

The uniqueness of your article is indeed something that is influential in nature if probed deeply, it eventually got connected to leadership and I realized it in my instincts. Thanks for sharing it in such a delightful manner..!

Unknown said...

As a veteran salesperson I found your blog very interesting and entertaining. I couldn't agree more that making a great speech is like making a sale - you have to ask the audience to do something!

Anyone making a speech should ask themselves one question prior to writing, "What do I want them (audience) to do differently after I have spoken?" Answering this question prior to writing the speech empowers the writer to craft their argument and presentation in a way that maximizes learning and inspires the listener to do something differently. After all, don’t we attend speeches to find the inspiration to change? Bringing the analogy back to sales…the listener has attended the event because they are “ready to buy”. A good salesman knows this, provides the information the customer needs to make a decision, and then asks for the business - i.e. they close the sale by asking the customer to change.

Unknown said...

I like the three simple presentation tips from Paul. I think every presentation with this three core principle's built in will be effective. However, I feel there is another element, which is very important, is the audience. As a leader, one must understand the variety of an audience, know the audience well before the presentation, adjusting the speech based on the audience. This would mean conducting a prior research about the audience, their common interests, arriving at the venue early, altering the presentation style, content, manner, etc..... Please let me know your thought about this.

Tim G said...

Good tips, thanks.

Regarding #1: it's very easy to forget that what you choose NOT to say can be just as important as what you choose TO say.

One tip I've seen used well is this: once you've planned what you're going to present/say...reduce it by 50%, so that you truly focus on only the most important things.

Matt said...

Interesting points. I've always found it odd how many really smart people can't seem to organize and present their ideas clearly.

There are many times you can tell someone has a good idea but it get's lost in the translation. These 3 steps really break it down to show what to do to make an effective point.

Dan McCarthy said...

Poul –
Credit goes to Paul, but thanks!

Mike –
Right, I’ve always thought there are a lot of sales skills that can be adapted for a leadership role. Thanks.

Llango –
Sure, I agree, knowing your audience is critical. I don’t think Paul’s 3 things was meant to be all-inclusive.

Tim –
Good advice! Thanks.

Matt –
Thanks. Sometimes all that “smarts” gets in the way, doesn’t it?

William Wheeler said...

From a personal standpoint, it's a pet-peeve of mine to sit in a presentation room listening to someone read directly from the PowerPoint slides...
Anyways, on the actual topic, I would wonder what kinds of motivations we can include in our speeches and presentations to explain "why" these actions need to be taken. I see so many presentations go by at work, and a large portion of them do not include a good reason why something needs to be done. Most of the time its because "the customer asked for it" or "the management requires it". Is there anything we can include that doesn't step on anyone's toes and gets the same message across, while motivating our employees to succeed at our requests?

Julio said...

Excellent points for being taken into account. In fact, a big idea is totally different of being an extended speech. In this regard, the saying ‘Get to the point’ should be done. Likewise, we as leader should provide suitable paths to together achieve the wanted goal as well as we should internalize our message to hearing in so far our message is convincing.

Tom McGee said...

All good thoughts. The only thng I would add is asking yourself, "What story am I telling and how does my audience fit into that story?" I'm not talking about adding human interest stories or illustrations. Every presentation should have plot to it, some tension or obstacles to overcome and the triump of courage over fear in the end... This is how I used to sell mentoring software.

Mr Presenter said...

Nice post.

With many presenters focusing on the 'delivery' of the information to the audience you've rightly pointed out that the ability to present, have audience buy in and take action is 'the skill' here.

One other factor to consider is the emotional state of the audience. Where are they now, where do they need to be and what language will shift that state.

People buy emotions and its leveraging language as a tool to paint the pictures that create the state/emotion that in turn cause 'action' to take place.

Mr Presenter

Queenie said...

3 Simple points that definitely mean a lot. I have heard of a lot of "talks" that are so long that sometimes I get lost on what the speaker is really trying to say. At times,when I am already at home and trying to think of the talk I just heard, I sometimes realize there is nothing I remember. Using Paul's 3 points, speakers will surely make the listeners listen and remember the message of their talk.

by the way, here is another article on giving meaningful talks and how it can increase your leadership effectiveness.