by Chris Westfall, author of “Leadership Language: Using Authentic Communication to Drive Results“
Did you know that two-thirds of managers are uncomfortable talking to employees for any reason at all? That’s a troubling statistic. Being able to share your story with others is central to your impact as a leader. If this is an area you need to brush up on — and even if it’s not — we need to look at your delivery to make sure your message will matter.
Kira, an engineer, came to me recently to run through an intensely detailed presentation. Every corner, nook, and cranny of every slide was filled with detailed diagrams of multi-step processes. Details were central to the discussion, in Kira’s mind. The extreme level of detail was, she reasoned, vital to her credibility and authority, as well as her message.
But, unfortunately, I didn’t believe her.
They say the devil’s in the details, and in this case those details were dragging her straight to hell.
If Kira really understood her subject, why couldn’t she explain it simply?
Density and complexity unravel your power. Simplicity creates it.
As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain a thing simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Not to contradict Albert, but: let’s go with the assumption that you do understand your topic well enough. What’s keeping you from describing things simply? Maybe the ability to explain something simply is the source of a little misunderstanding.
Here are some things to keep in mind before you craft your next presentation or pitch:
1. Define what it’s about.
What’s this presentation really about? If you just replied with the presentation’s title, you’re missing the point. Look instead at the impact your presentation is designed to create. If wild success shows up, how will you know it? What does victory look like when you have finished delivering your material? Consider the realistic and desired impact that goes beyond the title slide. Ultimately, the presentation is about what action you want the audience to take when you are finished—and that action goes beyond the meeting. That’s what the presentation is really about.
2. See it first.
The way to structure a powerful presentation starts with what your audience is thinking. That means visualizing the way things are right now. Not the way things are for you; visualize the way things are for your audience. Describe the picture they are seeing, and you instantly build trust and rapport. The impact is an audience that registers: “She sees me. She sees us.She knows our situation.”
I’m not suggesting that you open with “Everyone here needs to lose weight,” but the introduction of a high concept is the best place to begin. For many of the companies I coach on their investor pitches, you will hear entrepreneurs begin the conversation with a “Picture this” statement — a comment that appeals to the visual nature of human beings. The presentation begins with a visual; ask your audience to see the way things are (a high concept) followed by the way things could be (that innovative, counterintuitive twist).
3. Head first? No. Head second.
After you create the visual of the way things are, you want to introduce the logic, facts, and figures that back up your vision. Remember, the facts don’t speak for themselves. Consider the context and its importance. That’s the difference between saying, “Here’s the number” and “Here’s what the number means to you…and the people you care about.” Don’t leave the heart out of the story. Tell your audience: What’s the danger in doing nothing? What’s the urgency here? What’s the emotional impact of no action?
4. Think, feel, do.
For every slide you put on the screen, ask yourself these three questions:
- What do I want the audience to think when they see this slide?
- What do I want them to feel?
- What do I want them to do?
In my work with my corporate clients, we look in the direction of impact by tweaking each of these elements. Not every slide will have every element, of course. Some slides are more informational than others. Is there a way to incorporate elements of emotion and action into the story? What about combining an emotional appeal with statistics and data that drive home the point? The best presentations bring these three elements into every part of the story, in varying degrees, to create the action and outcomes you want.
5. Move forward, or move it out.
If you can’t answer the think, feel, do questions, then you should ask: Why am I keeping this slide? Why am I keeping this part of the presentation? If what people feel is a headache coming on because your presentation is denser than a neutron star, clean it up and move it out. Get rid of the density. Introduce clarity. One idea, one slide. Remember, you’re there to inspire action. Your audience wants to know: What do you want us to think, feel, and do differently? By clarifying your message, you’ll move from “reporting facts” to creating action from your audience — and building your confidence as a leader.
Chris Westfall has created multimillion-dollar revenue streams for companies on four continents using innovative new strategies on leadership communication. As an international business consultant, coach, and public speaker, he’s helped launch more than 50 companies while raising over $50 million in investment capital. He is the publisher of seven books, including his newest release, “Leadership Language: Using Authentic Communication to Drive Results“.