Talking at people creates a communication deficit, yet I’ve got to get them understanding and moving on this year’s goals. Help!
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Morty was a gifted presenter. His ability to turn big, fuzzy ideas into complex, technical realities seemed like magic. Although Morty was mesmerizing to listen to, his presentations left his audience confused and irritated.
Morty and I had worked together on many meetings over the years. His goal for this year’s annual meeting was to leave his audience deeply connected to his vision and energized about working on it.
He had an hour in the team’s annual team meeting and was planning to present for most of it. As we talked, I suggested he start by asking his audience – all engineers – what they thought his top 3 goals were. Asking first is my strongest recommendation for reducing the communication deficit. (Just a reminder: The speed of thought is 4 times the speed of speech; the more words your spew, the smaller the space your words occupy in your listeners thoughts.)
When you ask first, you’ll hear two ways to reduce the communication deficit:
1. You find out what you don’t need to say, which means you won’t bore your audience and lose them.
2. You will hear what is on their minds, enabling you to make your presentation relevant to them. This helps them focus their speedy thinking on the topic at hand.
You’ll get 2 additional benefits: Your audience will feel respected and cared for. This is true even if they are completely off the mark, and need to be reeled in, provided you do that with care.
But this may be too much too soon, as it was for Morty, and that’s alright. The thought of asking his engineers about departmental goals first made Morty so uncomfortable, we went with option #2: Break up his presentation into smaller chunks and pause for a round robin check-in after each chunk. He was willing to try it.
Five minutes into his presentation, he stopped to check in with his audience, asking them “How is this sounding so far?” He used a round robin format, adhering strictly to the steps:
1. Give everyone a minute in silence to gather their thoughts. (Time it, or the extraverts will break the silence.)
2. Give each person 10 seconds to share their thoughts. (Time this too.)
3. Do not interrupt to comment, and don’t allow anyone else to either.
The results were visible. I saw Morty’s face open up and his shoulders relax as he heard each thoughtful, considered response. I saw the engineers lean forward in their chairs and put energy into connecting with Morty. Best of all, I watched Morty engage with his group, summarizing the key points said and nodding
Best of all was what he did next: He went back to his slides and skipped over those that were no longer necessary. The slides he did show, he related to the comments he’d heard in the round robin. Now the engineers were nodding as he spoke. Listening to the group for just 10 minutes helped him tell his story in a way that included everyone on the room.
I get goose bumps thinking about it.
You don’t have to be an executive to do this. You can be someone leading an agenda item in a meeting, someone presenting to a group, or a member of a group that is spinning its wheels.
The principle is the same: Ask first. Use the Round Robin structure. It will take mere minutes.
You wouldn’t dream of going on and on about yourself to a stranger at a party. That’s considered boorish. What is it about a business meeting that turns us into the stranger at the party we all back away from?
Leadership is going first. Be the first to ask.