A while ago we said that we give presentations to make money. Today I want to make another sweeping and controversial statement.
Each presentation we give is an exercise in leadership.
Leaders have one aim. Make other leaders. To make other leaders, you need:
- A vision
- The ability to share the vision
- A definite direction to follow in order to realise the vision
Put away all the books about what makes a leader. Instead, get out in front of people, give great presentations and test your leadership muscles.
Start each presentation with a vision. By this, I mean before you have even put pen to paper or opened up your laptop, get a clear idea of what you want your presentation to acheive. A big part of this should be that you want your audience to spread the messages and stories you tell them. In other words, you want to create other leaders. Therefore, keep your vision simple, clear and concise.
When it comes to sharing the vision, be original. Take people out of their comfort/slumber zones. Give them analogies. Tell them interesting stories. For instance, Fred Perry played in his first Wimbledon final with a badly injured knee, but before he took to the court he had already decided what his victory celebration would be. As soon as his winning shot hit the turf he performed a cartwheel and jumped the net, just as he planned in the dressing room. Link that to your current situation at work – how to play through the pain barrier, how to stick to a vision against the odds, how to execute against a plan. Give a prize to anyone wearing a Fred Perry shirt. Whatever you do, give people a reason to follow your vision and share your ideas.
Every presentation you give from now on should be a workout for your leadership qualities. You have them already. Go and use them.
Here is a simple rule for those that have to deal with the press:
A journalist is just a customer with no money and no intention of buying what you sell.
In other words, if you are trusted to talk to customers and you have the time, it is well worth devoting a little time getting to know some people that write about your industry. Talk to them in just the same way that you would talk to a customer, but enjoy the fact that the pressure is off in terms of converting a sale. Pitch your ideas. Tell your stories. Discuss the issues that come up, but do it honestly. I guarantee that you will get some great ideas back. In the past, I have used discussions with journalists to road-test new ideas for pitches. Use the fact that they are jaded old hacks to your advantage – if you can tell them a story that sparks some interesting conversations then you can guarantee that the same stories will be equally compelling for real customers with real money and a real interest in what you have to sell.
A word of warning, though. PR people will try to sell you expensive courses to teach you how to talk to the press. They will retain a savage attack-dog Paxman-on-steroids type to scare you into buying even more of their supervision and guidance. My advice – don’t bother. Be honest. Say something original. Enjoy it.
Simple answer: Each and every presentation we give makes us a little bit more successful. Even the bad ones.
So if you measure success in terms of money, then every presentation makes us richer. Or if you prefer happiness to be your gauge of success, you will become happier each time you present.
If you’re looking for a little motivation before the next time you stand up to speak to an audience of colleagues, customers or prospects, take a moment to chew over that statement.
While you’re chewing, maybe have a look at a few job advertisments. Notice that for every job with a salary worth getting out of bed for, the candidate will need to have ‘excellent written and verbal communication skills’. Look closer and you’ll see that this is always in the top three requirements. If you’re still chewing, dig out your own job description. If you can’t find it, call HR. Go on, give them something to do. They’ll think that you are either thinking of leaving or asking for a pay rise and will fall into a flat tail-spin. But I’m digressing.
The point is this. The ‘communication skills’ bar is set pretty high. ‘Excellent’ is the requirement and nothing less will do. But interestingly, the bar never moves. ‘Excellent written and verbal communication skills’ are required for everyone from the most junior technician to the Chief Executive. This tells us two things. Firstly, the people that write job descriptions are inherently lazy, which is why asking your HR team to find your job description is such a fun thing to do. And secondly, it says that in order to progress in your career you need to be more excellent than the other excellent communicators around you.
So the next time you prepare a talk, think about how you are going to make it more than ‘excellent’. Then go out and do it. To get the next job on your career path, to get involved in the next exciting project at work, and to spread a little happiness to the world, give yourself permission to be excellent.