Sunday, June 20, 2010

Presentation Skills 101: Who is Your Audience (Other than You)?

What Makes Presentations Fail?

The biggest challenge to improving communications for clients is the art of perspective.

Everything good (or bad) comes from the ability (or inability) to see the forest for the trees and visa versa. In the case of pitching to investors or clients, it entails understanding where your communication ends and your audience's understanding begins.

All the stock phrases for improving communication sound simple: know your audience, be passionate, speak to (rather than at) your listeners.

In fact, as in Buddhist statements everyone takes for granted to be true (be here now, for example), nothing could be more complicated. All require a kind of perspective that is difficult to maintain when you are the one speaking.

As in any relationship that feels important, the one between you and your listeners requires the ability to observe and change behavior (or tactics) when you're not getting through. The challenge, of course, is that the more important a relationship feels, the less perspective we tend to have on ourselves.

With technologists, one often has to curb the discussion of a product or operation in order to focus on its effect's relevance to the listener.

With high-level executives, it's often a challenge to get rid of jargon that might feel transparent to them but abstracts an issue when it should be directly felt.

Those Who Teach Are Not Exempt

I'm not immune to the tendency to lose perspective, but I have created a habit of checking to ensure my client and I are working well together.

My challenge for myself is always checking to ensure that I'm not talking at -- but with -- the person to whom I'm giving feedback. There's always the risk of taking over the conversation. However, it's essential to remember to listen rather than talk when appropriate because my goal is to bring out the strengths in a client rather than change him or her into someone else.

It never works to try to change someone into something else -- the conversation becomes a performance that doesn't engage 9 out of 10 times. Each person's strengths is his or her biggest asset. And my job is to ensure that each client is being the most engaging self (himself or herself) possible.

Sometimes Grown Ups are Just Tall Children

My friend, Kate Quardfort, who teaches drama in the South Bronx, wrote a great piece for the Huffington Post about the challenge of creating trust and perspective. Check it out.

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