Getting your point or idea across to important stakeholders in a concise and simple way is the difference between getting approval and not.
What makes a presentation unsuccessful?
When you have a recommendation you’re trying to get approved within your organization, there are going to be a lot of stakeholders you have to get your idea in front of. You’ll have to put it in front of your manager, maybe their boss, a director, some vice presidents. Some of your ideas may even go all they up to the C-suite, and there’s something I like to call Figliuolo’s Law which states, an individual’s annual compensation is inversely proportional to the number of slides to look at before they have a stroke.
I’ve worked with a CEO who said, “If it has a staple, I won’t read it.” I worked closely with another CEO and we went in to present. The other team went to present first. He picked up their presentation, he felt it for heft, and it was only about 25 pages long, he threw it across the room and said, “Talk to me, what do you want? I’m busy.” Now, we knew better, we had presented to him before. Our presentation was three slides long. Effective communications is one of the most critical skills out there, but so many times we’re just flat-bad at it.
This isn’t about PowerPoint. This isn’t about presentations. This is all about the thinking that happens before you start writing that presentation. So let’s look at how we typically do things today.
First, we’ll start by doing a bunch of analysis because we have the data. We can slice it, we can dice it, we can create graphs and pivot tables. And once we get done with our analysis, we look for an insight. The graph went up and I thought it would go down. There must be an insight there. We then write a thick, incomprehensible, 80 page long presentation because we want to show everybody how rigorous we’ve been and how hard we’ve been working. We then go to share that presentation in a two-hour meeting, and people are watching the clock go round and round and round. And about 20 minutes in, you’ve lost them. People are falling asleep, people are on their phones. You don’t get your point across.
The negative impacts of this approach are huge. First, poor communication is inefficient. Most of that analysis you’ve done will not see the light of day. Most of the slides you put together for a presentation will never be shown. And after that meeting people walk out scratching their head and saying, “I don’t know what we just decided.” Well, you have to have another meeting. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s also ineffective. Your ideas don’t get approved if you’re not thoughtful about how you’re going to communicate, and what information you’re trying to get across, as well as what information you’re not going to share. The method is broken. We have to get better at communications. So what I’d like to offer is a very different process for thinking through how you’re going to construct and ultimately share your recommendations.
The structured thought process
The structured thought method I’m going to share is very different than the way we communicate today. There are a lot of benefits from taking this different approach. This method is going to help you quickly and clearly define your idea and build support for it. You’ll define what the issue is and make sure everybody knows what the question is and why we have to solve it. You’ll then create what I call the core idea, that one single thought that encompasses your entire recommendation. You’ll walk through building what I call the architecture. What’s the logical structure you’re going to use to prove that core idea? What information will you include and exclude?
Once you have an architecture, you’ll turn it into a story, a very simple narrative that flows from A to B and get your audience there as cleanly and as compellingly as possible. You’ll syndicate that story with multiple stakeholders before you even do any analysis because you want to get their feedback early in the process. This is going to help you ultimately sell your idea. Once you’ve done all of that, then, you’re going to focus on identifying the required analyses and making sure you can prove your case. And ultimately, you’ll package your idea in whatever the relevant communication vehicle is. It can be a presentation in PowerPoint, it can be a memo in Word, it can be an oral presentation in front of a group.
This structured thought process has a lot of benefits. First, it’s efficient. You’re going to be efficient in your fact gathering, as well as in how you’re going to influence your stakeholders and bring them along for the ride. The method is effective. You’re going to get your point across. This is how you get to yes. This is how you get your business case approved. This is how you get your steering committee to say yes to whatever the recommendation is. Your thinking will be crisper. Everyone will know exactly what you’re recommending, as well as why you’re recommending it. The communications will be clearer because you have the right set of analyses in the room, and you don’t have distracting analysis that’s going to pull people away from what your recommendation is. Ultimately, by following this structured thought process, you’re going to have a clear and compelling idea that should get approved on the first time that you pitch it.
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