I’ll never forget my scariest boardroom experience. I was presenting to a large group of broadcast executives in Miami. They all looked at me with one eyebrow up, or at least it seemed that way to me. I worked my way through the presentation, reading from slides, just hoping I was making sense. Let’s face it, these high-stakes presentations may always exist for us, and they can chill even the most senior executive to the bone.
Many of us hamstring ourselves by thinking we have to use a lackluster presentation to show we really know what we’re talking about. Why? Because that’s “how it’s always been done.” That line of reasoning is the death knell for an interesting presentation.
I once heard someone say, “Only rookies are bold enough to make slides interesting, the rest of us have fallen into the status quo trap.”
Here’s the sobering truth:
No one remembers the status quo. No one is moved by the status quo.
People remember and respond to that which is different and meaningful.
They are persuaded by your command of knowledge, stories, and passion during a presentation. Here’s a favorite story of “John” who was preparing for his first appearance before his Board of Directors. He was about to ask for approval to acquire land for a new facility. A big ask.
John was struggling with a PowerPoint deck crammed with small numbers. He said to me, “Board members expect me to use this format. Everyone does it this way. I have to show that I’ve done my due diligence.”
“Really?” I asked, “Would you have been promoted to this position if they didn’t think you knew your stuff? You’re not interviewing for the job. You already have it. Give them the gist of what they need to know. That’s what they’re hoping for—not another boring presentation.”
Speak From Your Knowledge During a Presentation
I encouraged John to set aside his slides and tell me the story of the numbers in plain English. Overall, how were numbers trending since the last Board Meeting? Why did the international numbers look bad? What was the forecast? A big distinction between mediocre and great presenters is about speaking from your knowledge and not from slides or a script.
I asked him, “If you were to shave this 15-minute presentation down to a 10-minute executive summary, what crucial pieces would you include?” He made his choices.
“Now, go back and humanize the presentation with a mini-story, the names of real people or an analogy,“ I said.
John thought of an interesting historical note and a unique geographical feature of the land. Just by using colorful word choice, he enjoyed the presentation more, which translated into more interesting energy for Board members.
In another rogue move, John agreed that he would go back and use just a small handful of clean slides that would help him tell that story with color photos and charts of simple bell curves. He decided to make the complete deck available to Board members in a handout if they were interested.
John called me after his presentation to tell me he had been a hit. “You know what?” he asked, “Not a single Board Member asked for a copy of the entire deck!”
It’s an easy trap to imagine that as a business presenter, your job is to be brilliant and prove it with data. But the message that strikes us most deeply will never be about your IQ. It will be about the conversation, humanization, meaning and value you brought into our world. Sure, the Board may not say it, but they’ll feel it. And that’s enough.
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