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Your culture drives your presentations every time

7 min read


My son is all grown up now and studying hard at university, but when he was a small boy and was naughty I remember the following dialogue.

Me: “Reece, why did you do that?”

Reece: “I don’t know.”

Me: “But Reece, you know better than that.”

Reece: “I know, Dad”

Me: “Well, if you know, why did you do it?”

Reece: “I don’t know.”

As adults, how many times do you find yourself or others doing what they know full well they shouldn’t do but doing it anyway?

At Mindful Presenter, every week we go into businesses and see professionals:

  • Reading slides
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Delivering information as fast as a bullet train
  • Speaking in a robotic “corporate” tone

They know it’s not the best way to share and present their ideas, but they do it anyway.

Highly intelligent, creative, responsible and talented professionals suddenly lose their personality and true sense of themselves as they turn into the corporate spokesperson.

Why is that?

There seems to be a fascinating phenomenon driving the issue.

Often, we are called in by executives to help their people present “more effectively, with impact.” We are asked to help teams to be more dynamic, engaging and to articulate their message with purpose and absolute clarity.

For the most part, we are given a long list of concerns and weaknesses about the presentation styles and performance of key people.

We don’t believe there is a cast iron template for great presenting, so we do whatever we can in advance to witness how these people present. We achieve that by sitting in on company presentations as observers and do nothing else but that — observe.

They are right

Nine times out of 10, the initial brief was spot on as we witness presenters rambling, reading slides and being very obtuse.

They are also wrong

Then we get them into the training room as delegates and often something miraculous happens. Suddenly, they become engaging, entertaining and powerful speakers.

Why is that?

What we’ve found is that when you allow them to be themselves, and I mean their real selves, you see them shine as gifted orators who already have most of what it takes to present an idea with real impact. All they needed was encouragement, support and a safe environment to be themselves.

What’s in the way?

It’s not PowerPoint as many would have us try to believe; it’s a cultural thing.

Every organization has its own unique culture, which, simply put, is a collection of values, attitudes and beliefs that are manifested in the way people think, speak and act. It starts at the top and rapidly becomes all pervasive and the lifeblood of a business.

In many organizations today, people simply don’t “feel safe” presenting.

It’s the way things are done.

Many companies have hugely powerful visions and values in the written sense of the word, and we hold the view that every presentation should be aligned to those values.

Are they? No.

Many presenters think they are aligning to values and say they are, but when observed from the outside in, they are often delusional. In fact, in a typical workshop of eight delegates, when you ask them to remind you of their company values, we very rarely find more than half who can.

That presents an interesting dilemma and challenge in its own right for most organizations, but when it comes to the way they communicate and present their ideas, it really is the heart of the problem.

More often than we would care to hear, our brief is to help people to “just get straight to the point.” I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard executives say they are not interested in connecting, stories and engagement — they just want the facts. The brief they give us to help their teams present more effectively simply isn’t aligned to their own values.

If all you really want is for people to get straight to the point, you should just ask for an e-mail, a one-to-one discussion or a document sent to you. You really don’t need 10 people in the room to hear the facts.

The leader’s role

  1. Ditch the templates

Templates are so 1990s. They stifle creativity and free thinking and only serve to ensure that every presentation is the same and boring. Allow your team to present their ideas in a way that works for them. By all means, give them an idea of your preferred approach and structure, but then just let them get on with it. Corporate templates achieve nothing but stroking the ego of the person who created them and making everyone the same.

Your logo really doesn’t need to be on every slide either.

  1. Data is dull

We see so many presentations where all the senior management team want is the data. Data is often quite easy to attain so if that’s all you really want, just ask for it privately. When you ask for a presentation, also ask for the highlights and the story behind the data.

You really don’t need reams of numbers, and if you do, ask for it before or after the meeting.

  1. Be real

A common listed value we see in many businesses today is “human,” which always strikes me as a little odd because of course that’s what we all are. Yet it’s set in the context of encouraging employees to be real, authentic, to be open and to keep things as simple as possible

Interestingly, people are human all day long until some stand up to present — then, they adopt a robotic and monotone personality as they read slides to the most important person in the room.

Help people to be themselves, encourage and support them to lose the “corporate speak” and to enthuse, engage and educate you by simply being themselves.

  1. Perfection drives anxiety

One of the most common requests we have on our workshops is people seeking to answer difficult questions more effectively when presenting. On further discussion, we find that a common trait in business today is that presenters believe that they are expected to be perfect and to know the answer to everything. The greatest cause of presentation anxiety we see today is the belief that it is unacceptable to not be able to instantly answer every question which is asked of them.

It doesn’t matter how good you are at your job, you simply can’t know everything. We need to let our people know that it’s perfectly fine to say, “I don’t know but I’ll find out and come back to you.”

  1. Involve everyone

Have you ever noticed that when someone in the audience asks a question, the speaker tends to answer only the questioner? Well that’s great for the questioner, but what about the rest of the room? The best speakers will answer the question making eye contact with and engaging everyone in the room. Encourage your people to do the same.

  1. Lose the ego

We all want to look good; it’s human nature. When we are presenting to colleagues and, especially, those more senior to us, we want to look and sound confident, clear, knowledgeable and inspirational. It’s completely normal, and it’s what fuels us to do the best job that we can. Where it becomes an issue is when it’s competitive.

In other words, when someone in the room chooses to become the “sniper” and shoot the presenter down because they are more senior, want to look good themselves or simply like the attention.

Encourage everyone to leave their egos and seniority at the door and just listen, support and engage with the presenter.

Help them to be the very best they can be.

Maurice De Castro is director at Mindful Presenter and a former executive at companies such as Interflora and Direct Line Insurance.

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