Colleagues. Co-workers. Peers. Whatever you choose to call them, there’s no doubt that they form an important part of what makes your working day tick.
Without them, you’d be left without sounding boards, someone to share a laugh/gossip/grumble with and, lest we forget, someone with whom to share tea-making duties. And if you’re truly blessed, they’ll also provide those all-important elements of any successful presentation; inspiration, context and feedback.
And it’s that final point that can be the undoing of many a great presentation. It would seem that the tacit approval of a colleague during the presentation creation process is an absolute must for large swathes of presenters. This need for a thumbs-up comes in many forms:
The Line Manager – thus ensuring that the party line is being followed
The Peer – a great, honest critic of their message/content/overly ambitious graphical treatment
The Direct Report – because keeping them onside is always a good idea
The list can go on and on with each colleague-to-colleague conversation treading a fine line between useful critique and (put bluntly) an exercise in arse covering.
So, what’s the outcome of all of this enthusiastic and time-consuming discussion? The resulting presentation undergoes a soul-destroying transformation from being a focused and personal message to becoming an amorphous, generic and, nine times out of ten, boring exercise in treading the middle ground.
A waste of your time. A waste of your colleague’s time. And, most criminally, a waste of your audience’s time.
Sadly, I’ve seen the result of ‘presentation creation by committee’ too many times in organisations that really should know better. These presentation pitfalls are easy to spot – they have very little direction, slides are overly busy, and the overall message has very little to do with the issues facing the audience.
It’s like the loudest voices from marketing, sales, product and legal all got together, shouted over each other and someone quietly in the corner recorded the resulting noise onto slide after slide after slide.
Enough is enough – it has to stop.
If you want your presentation message to truly ‘zing’, it’s absolutely imperative that you OWN the presentation. Have the strength in your own convictions and stand proudly by the points you’re making (and if this makes you nervous, perhaps you might want to take some time out to review what you’re saying – because, if you don’t believe it, why should your audience?).
Of course, I’m not suggesting that the best presentation material is created by hermits. I wager that the great orators of our time; Dr King, Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, all “ran a few ideas up the flagpole to see if anyone was saluting” early on in the process. However, once they’d sounded their ideas out, they moved forward to make the presentation their own.
Don’t get me wrong – your colleagues CAN (and often should) be a valuable source of material for your presentation however this flurry of insight and opinion needs to be managed at the appropriate point of the process.
Use your colleague’s thoughts as ‘building blocks’ for your presentation right at the start of the process (not throughout the entire creation). This allows inputs to be considered, moved about, honed and refined before you get into the nitty gritty of presentation development (nailing down your key message, creating your story structure and evolving your content driven visuals).
Sound like hard work? A bit risky? Why run the risk of upsetting the apple cart?
Well, outside of the blindingly obvious (every presentation is a privilege and your audience deserves a message that is clear, useful and engaging), there is a more ‘selfish’ reason for truly owning the presentation – your reputation depends on it.
Delivering a message that is personal to you is a hell of a lot more powerful than delivering somebody else’s ‘beige’. We’ve all suffered too much from those coma-inducing ‘speaking lots but saying nothing’ ‘made-by-committee’ presentations. Your next audience deserves better.
So, go on – OWN your presentation and proudly stand by YOUR message. It works.