Policed presenters lack yahoo moments

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By Peter Watts

Successful presenting requires empowerment. Because no two audiences are alike, every presentation must be crafted for its unique audience and the presenter must feel assured of having the freedom to do so.

If a presenter doesn’t feel empowered then taking that creative chance can be unnerving, and robotic default to PowerPoint becomes the safest route. If you’re looking for a yahoo moment, robotic delivery doesn’t deliver.

This brings me to Marissa Mayer of Yahoo!. Ms. Mayer’s decision to cancel flexible working and recall everybody back to their cubicles has exercised a lot of space on the leadership blogs, and also deserves some attention in the sphere of communications.

Flexible working requires management to trust their staff and manage by results, not by physical presence at a desk. Ms. Mayer’s decision might have been styled as driving collaboration in the workplace, but the Internet when used with the right tools can deliver that, and without requiring users to be corralled into pens.

Instead, the message sent is that Yahoo! doesn’t trust employees to do their jobs when not directly policed via physical presence.

Presenters need the trust to take presentations and customise them to their audiences. Command and control undermines trust. Ordering everybody back to the mother-ship is the first sign of command and control.

Another factor to consider is the message this decision sends about how managers are to manage their teams. Managing by presence means managing by check-box. Is somebody at their desk? Check. Were they there on time? Check. Before long, more check-boxes appear and these spread into how corporate presentations are to be delivered. Enforced corporate standards take hold and the men in blue suits take over. Audiences however, crave personalities. They warm most readily to presenters who bring their own ambassadorial flavour to the presentation. Approved corporate PowerPoint decks when delivered rote are as flavoursome as airline catering and congeal on the plate twice as quickly.

Empowered presenters need the confidence to add spice and seasoning uniquely to that customer’s taste. They need the empowerment to adapt in the moment. There’s no time to call back to the kitchen and check that variation is acceptable to chef. By that time, the customer has tuned out and is dining elsewhere.

Enterprises fit for the 21st century win competitive advantage through the passionate, flexible, and empowered intellects of their employees. This is especially true of those many employees who use their words to crystallise the brand in front of customers. These employees need, above all, to feel empowered.

If a few individuals choose to abuse flexible working as an opportunity to under-perform, then failure to police that specific issue should not become an excuse to take the easy measure and set employee empowerment back by a decade.

The challenge is how to police a culture of empowerment, not to empower a culture of police.

Keep It Brief

by Peter Watts

A quote widely associated with the actor James Dean can be taken as interesting, if unusual, advice for presenters:

James Dean

 “Die young and leave a great looking corpse!”

This translates for presenters as:

“Finish early and leave a great closing impact.”

As presenters we hope to make a message-shaped impression in the mind of an audience rather than James Dean’s Porsche-shaped impression in the side of a road, but the fundamental idea is the same; quit while you’re ahead!

I recently heard a presenter who held my attention from the moment he stood up. He showed confidence, clarity, and control over his subject. It was great public speaking; Easy to listen to, informative, and much sooner than I expected, over!

The speaker had concluded, point proved and argument summarized. The audience meanwhile would have happily listened a little longer.

This presenter had communicated his point, and then finished. Job done.

 Sometimes excellent speakers seize defeat from the jaws of victory by going on too long. They get off to a great start with the audience firmly alongside. Over time though, the audience drift away as the topic becomes sluggish with information unnecessary or even irrelevant to the purpose.

Only if you are being paid to speak for a specific time period, is quantity ever a valid measurement. It’s all about quality, and these two characteristics, quantity and quality, have an inverse relationship. The more one goes up, the more the other goes down.

 As you plan your next presentation, challenge yourself to reduce quantity by 20% and make that into an ongoing discipline. Look for things that can be taken out so your key message comes through with clarity and strength.

The way to surprise and please the audience is not only with the brilliance of your presentation. You can also delight them with it’s brevity.

 Finish early, leave an impact. Less is most definitely more.

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