The fear of presenting is universally recognized as one of the greatest fears people have. The fear of presenting to senior leadership can inspire sleepless nights and much anxiety with perfectionistic doing and re-doing of the slides to prepare. An interesting fact though is most presenters don’t spend the critical time learning about and preparing for the interests and styles of those to whom they are presenting. They don’t think about why they and others are shot down (along with their ideas) over and over again. Is it that they just would rather not think about that, or is it something else?
Here’s an example:
Sean is a talented director in a finance organization of a mid-sized organization. He sees scores of data around waste, miss-use and underutilized resources by different departments. He’s brilliant at finding the common patterns and creating tools for helping others track and evaluate spending. He’s even developed one currently (for fun, on his own time), that would notify leaders about their patterns, to help them adjust their spending/resource usage early on, which could make a real difference.
Sean’s style is very analytical and detailed though. Whenever he presents his ideas to senior management, they lose patience with him, he gets cut off, and his ideas never get fully heard, let alone tried out. He doesn’t read the room well, and can’t tell what’s going on. Many react to his ideas as though they were just stronger controls and compliance oriented. Sean also can’t hide his lack of respect for those that might be wasting the organization’s resources. Because of Sean’s lack of style versatility, he loses, but so does his organization.
Building an Influencing Roadmap: To achieve a better result, consider a few rules of the road for influencing successfully when presenting:
- Pre-presentation Reconnaissance: Think ahead of time about those you are presenting to. What is most important to them? What do you know, (or can find out) about their goals and perceived obstacles to achieving them? How can you link your idea to connect to those goals in your presentation?
- Style Adjustment: What are the styles of those you are presenting to? Adjust your presentation to reflect:
- the bottom-liners that want information bulleted and short
- something visionary for the expressive types, that links to a better exciting future
- something that will benefit all employees, and ease pressures on them, for the sustaining type of leaders
- Have those “deep dive” slides available for those analytic types who will want much more detail
- Style Adjustments for Key Decision Makers: Think about your key decision makers, and present in the style you think will work best for them.
- Watch and Adapt to the Audience: Pay attention while presenting to eye contact, restlessness and other body language signals from your audience to adjust your pace, and ask questions to understand and respond to objections. Too often our stress reaction to those signals (if noticed), is to default more diligently into our own style, taking us further from our goal.
Do your styles and goals homework ahead of delivering presentations. It will not only increase your probability of success, but it will also help with your pre-presentation anxiety. In addition to building a roadmap, consider what might be scary about it for you. Try and work through the fear by recognizing that it feels scary to you and understanding that it is normal to feel that way. Then push into the investigative behaviors that will get you the information you need. With the benefit of your advance preparation, remember to read the room, and adapt as accurately as you can during them. These behaviors will give you the greatest opportunity to have your ideas considered and adopted.