The Mighty Ukulele: Anyone Can Do It

 Ukulele Star Jake Shimabukuro

Ukulele Star Jake Shimabukuro

I recently saw a documentary, Mighty Uke, about the global resurgence of the ukulele.  (Yes, it’s true!) The filmmakers traveled the globe to discover why so many ukulele clubs, groups and ensembles are sprouting up in countries like Japan, Israel, the U.K. and New Zealand.  They found that part of the Uke’s appeal is that with a little instruction and practice, anyone can learn how to play.

After the film, a local ukulele group took the stage and played three songs.  It was clear that many in the group were nervous, but they played well and with passion.   They received a standing ovation at the end, as much for their courage as for the music.

Giving a presentation, like playing the Uke, is something everyone can learn to do well.  If you prepare and practice, people will appreciate what you have to say.

 

 

The Presenter’s Gift: How to Add Value for Your Audience

 

One of the worst comments a presenter can hear from their audience is “That was a waste of time.” When this happens the audience feels that the presenter has ‘taken’ their time without giving back anything of value.

Why does this happen?  Many presenters I work with feel the stresses of a challenging global economy, the rapid changes within their own organizations, as well as the pressure to perform.  With this, it’s no wonder that speakers adopt a get-it-done mindset and rush to put their ideas down on slides without giving much thought to what would truly have value for their audiences.   To succeed, presenters need to break out of this mindset and focus on giving information that helps their audiences succeed.

On a recent trip to China I was reminded about the importance of adopting a ‘giving’ mindset when presenting.  Towards the end of a visit to Zhouzhuang, a beautiful ‘water village’ of canals and bridges outside of Shanghai, I came upon an area of Buddhist temples where people were lighting candles and offering prayers.  As I stood nearby, a gentleman introduced himself and asked if I would like to pray.  Not knowing what the correct process was, I hesitated briefly but said yes.  He then showed me how to light the candles and bow in three directions, which symbolized the connection between myself, the earth and the sky.

He then introduced himself – an executive from Malaysia on holiday.  After I told him about my company and work on presentation skills, he said, “Yes, when we develop our managers we focus on both capabilities and character.   A person can have capabilities – skills, but it is also important that they have a positive character and purpose to their work.”   I mentioned that I often coach people to ‘be of service’ to their audience and he said that this matches the Buddhist philosophy of ‘giving’ of oneself.  After some more discussion he gave me his card and an invitation to visit him if I was ever in Malaysia.

On the bus trip back from Zhouzhuang to Shanghai, I thought about the conversation with the Malaysian executive and how amazing it was to talk about presentation skills with someone like him thousands of miles from my home in the U.S.  It also reinforced my thinking about ‘being of service’ as a presenter.

We often think that giving a successful presentation means communicating what we want to say.  That is the capability or skill part.  Being of service means our mindset about presenting focuses on providing value for our audiences, regardless of their culture.

While this is a noble concept, the key question is: How do you apply this mindset to your presentations?   Here are my ideas:

1. Take time to understand people’s day-to-day roles, challenges and goals, so your information is relevant to their situation.

2. Give people the information they need to take the action you are requesting. If you want executives to approve the budget for your project, then help them make an informed decision.  Know what’s important to them, so the data and strategies you present are what they want. If you want people to change their behavior, show them how the change helps them accomplish their goals, as well as the goals of the organization. Using this focus can help you quickly identify the right information to include in your presentation.

3. If you find yourself getting nervous and worrying about how you will perform, take a breath and refocus your energy on what you can do to help your audience succeed.

“Giving” a presentation is more than just communicating your ideas.  It’s offering your audience a ‘gift’, information that has value for them.  Adopting a being of service mindset can help you succeed as a presenter, even in turbulent times.

Risky Business: Presenting the Case for Change

 

I was talking to the CFO of a rapidly growing company recently to get his input on how people could be more effective when they present new programs and initiatives to him.  He offered some interesting insights:

Most people try to sell change by focusing primarily on the benefits of making the change.   What they forget is that those benefits are not guaranteed and I’m also thinking about how much risk I am willing to take to get those benefits.  Approving their project may make sense when viewed on its own, but I’m looking at the tradeoffs I’ll need to make to support it.  They need to show me that they understand what it’s going to take to actually implement the change within our organization.

As I thought about this leader’s comments, it struck me that most presentations we deliver are about change: improving a manufacturing process; asking people to change their behavior and collaborate vs. compete; or introducing a new compensation plan to a sales force.  It’s easier to focus on the benefits of change, but ignoring the risks and people’s concerns can slow or even stop efforts to improve.  This is true in any presentation, not just one to executives.

If you find yourself in a position where you are advocating for change, you need to create a compelling picture of the future benefits people will experience and you need to address the risks involved.  The following steps will help you identify risks and present a stronger case for change to your audiences.

Understand Their Risks.  Take time to understand the how people perceive the risks associated with the change.  Possible risks include:

- Financial.  They may worry about missing specific group and company goals, which can impact their compensation.

- Reputation.  People may fear that failing at something new will have a negative impact on their image, credibility and career prospects in the organization.

- Political.   Decision makers may have to ask favors of other stakeholders in the organization in order to support your plan.  A failed effort can cost them power, influence and resources they need to accomplish other goals.

- Business/Technology.  Supporting your effort means people may not be able to pursue other business or technical initiatives.  Be aware of the tradeoffs they are making.  What are the costs to them of supporting your effort?

As much as you can, create a complete picture of the risks people perceive. You can then look for ways to address their concerns and engage them in the change process.

Build Flexibility Into Your Approach.  In addition to perceiving different risks in change, people also react differently to change based on their personality.

- The ‘Driver’ values innovation, quick decision-making and results, so they are comfortable taking risks.  Their sense of urgency means they can be frustrated by over-analysis of potential risks.

- ‘Influencers’ are fueled by passion, creativity and a compelling vision of the future.  They are very energetic and love starting projects, so they place less emphasis on planning and tend to gloss over risks.

- ‘Steady’ personalities are loyal team players who value security and comfort.  They are uncomfortable with conflict and rapid change, which means they can be quite risk-averse.

- The ‘Conscientious’ person values accuracy, detail, logic and a thorough approach to risk assessment.  They can provide a valuable contribution to planning change efforts, but when they place too much emphasis on conscientiousness they can slow down efforts to innovate.

You need to work effectively with all personality types during the change process.  They’ll deal with change and risk in different ways, so adjust your approach to address their needs.

Emphasize the Risks of Not Taking Action.  I recently heard Andy Bryant, Chairman of the Board for Intel, speak at a business breakfast.  He mentioned that one of the keys to leading change efforts is to show people the costs of continuing to go down the path they are on.  This is consistent with research on risk which shows that people take risks to avoid losses as well as to receive future benefits.  You can use stories, examples and data to outline for people the costs (stress, cost overruns, lost customers) of following their current path.  When provided with the right information, people will risk making a change in order to avoid the ‘pain’ or losses they are experiencing.

Outline Your Plan.  Part of getting people to buy into going down a new ‘path’ is to communicate your plan for getting to the final destination.   Highlight the long-term vision behind the change and the benefits to individuals and the organization.  Show them the short-term steps you are taking to assess risks, to ensure that people have the resources they need to succeed and to measure results.

In summary, when you present the case for change it’s important to address risk.  If you follow the above suggestions you’ll engage people in ways that have meaning for them and you’ll find more success in leading change initiatives.

Polishing Halos With The Nature Conservancy

 

At the Nature Conservancy's luncheon celebrating 50 years of conservation in Oregon,  Russ Hoeflich, the Oregon chapter’s director, delivered a compelling talk that took us through a half-century of preserving great places.

Russ’ presentation had a variety of elements that kept our attention:

An Easy-to-Follow Format.  He went decade by decade through the past 50 years, with each decade having a theme.  The 60’s were a time of “risk, persistence and determination”.

Intriguing Facts and Statistics.  He shared the how it took 100 tons of explosives to help restore 7,000 acres of wetlands in Upper Klamath Lake!  

Stories.  Many stories.  Like how the Conservancy scrambled to preserve 27,000 acres in northeast Oregon’s Zumwalt Prairie, just before they were to be sold at auction on the steps of the Outlaw Café.

Voices.  As he finished his review of each decade, Russ played an audio interview with a leader from that decade who shared his or her memories and inspirations.  Using audio was an effective choice.  It made us really pay attention, so we sensed the speaker’s emotion.

Russ also thanked the hundreds of trustees, thousands of volunteers and tens of thousands of members who have made the Conservancy’s success possible.  A highlight came when he profiled the accomplishments of Lifetime Conservation Achievement award-winner Cliff Heselton.  Cliff’s first words upon taking the stage were: “If I knew you were going to say such nice things about me, I would’ve polished my halo before coming up here.”

Cliff’s humility and humor is not unusual for people involved with the Conservancy. They do great things and don’t care who gets the credit.   

Talking to The Top: How to Make an Impact When Presenting to Executives

 

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a new client – a marketing manager at a high-tech company.  As part of our coaching we watched a video of her presentation at a large conference, where she had been rated in the top 5% of all speakers.  As we reviewed the video she said,

I just wish I could be that effective when presenting to our company executives.  My ideas never seem to connect with them.  I often don’t get past my first couple of slides and find myself fighting off tough questions and side comments.  I get frustrated and then I get even more nervous before my next presentation to them.


If you relate to her frustration, you’re not alone.  Many presenters find that even though they succeed with one type of audience, that doesn’t guarantee the same skills and approach will work with all audiences.   Each audience, and especially an executive audience, has its own unique issues and challenges.

Being effective when presenting to executives is important for two reasons.  One, the executives rely on you to provide insights and information that help them make decisions.  Second, the presentations are also a chance for you to boost your visibility and career by working with executives to solve problems and help the organization succeed.

If you currently speak to executives, or anticipate that you will in the future, the following steps will help increase the impact of your presentations.

1.  Know Their Style.  Get as much information as you can about how the executives like to receive information.  Some people focus primarily on bottom-line results, others on the logic of your analysis or the impact on people.   Use this information to tailor your approach to the audience.

2.  Start Strong.  Show that you have a plan for the presentation and will use their time effectively. In the first 30-60 seconds cover: the purpose of the presentation; your message or key point that you want them to take away from the presentation; an overview of your agenda; and what you want from them (feedback, a decision, information).

3.  Connect to the Big Picture.  Executives have a broad view of the organization, so show them how your topic fits with larger strategic initiatives such as revenue growth, cost cutting or productivity.  Identify the high-priority issues that resonate with executives, but avoid spending too much time going over information they already know.

4.  Be Honest About Risks and Results.  If you are asking for financial, people or other resources, be ready to explain how you estimated the ‘return on investment’ for your proposal.  There are risks and problems with every project, so show that you know what they are and have a plan for addressing them.  As you review the results you forecast for the project, clearly articulate the key assumptions that are not backed by data and need to be proven.  As much as you can, tell a complete and accurate story about the numbers behind your proposal.

5.  Prepare for Questions and Dialog.  You will get questions and challenges from executives, so be ready.  Approach these situations as an opportunity to talk with executives about the issues you are addressing vs. just pitching your ideas.  Build in time for interaction into your agenda.  Identify likely questions and practice how you will respond.  During the presentation, pause and take a short breath before responding to questions.  Be concise and direct with your answer.

When it comes to presenting to executives, preparation matters.  If you take the time to practice the above suggestions and tailor your content and approach to the audience, you’ll build credibility with executives, contribute to your organization’s success and open up doors for new careers opportunities.

Talking to The Top: How to Make an Impact When Presenting to Executives

 

I recently had a very interesting conversation with a new client – a marketing manager at a high-tech company.  As part of our coaching we watched a video of her presentation at a large conference, where she had been rated in the top 5% of all speakers.  As we reviewed the video she said,

I just wish I could be that effective when presenting to our company executives.  My ideas never seem to connect with them.  I often don’t get past my first couple of slides and find myself fighting off tough questions and side comments.  I get frustrated and then I get even more nervous before my next presentation to them.


If you relate to her frustration, you’re not alone.  Many presenters find that even though they succeed with one type of audience, that doesn’t guarantee the same skills and approach will work with all audiences.   Each audience, and especially an executive audience, has its own unique issues and challenges.

Being effective when presenting to executives is important for two reasons.  One, the executives rely on you to provide insights and information that help them make decisions.  Second, the presentations are also a chance for you to boost your visibility and career by working with executives to solve problems and help the organization succeed.

If you currently speak to executives, or anticipate that you will in the future, the following steps will help increase the impact of your presentations.

1.  Know Their Style.  Get as much information as you can about how the executives like to receive information.  Some people focus primarily on bottom-line results, others on the logic of your analysis or the impact on people.   Use this information to tailor your approach to the audience.

2.  Start Strong.  Show that you have a plan for the presentation and will use their time effectively. In the first 30-60 seconds cover: the purpose of the presentation; your message or key point that you want them to take away from the presentation; an overview of your agenda; and what you want from them (feedback, a decision, information).

3.  Connect to the Big Picture.  Executives have a broad view of the organization, so show them how your topic fits with larger strategic initiatives such as revenue growth, cost cutting or productivity.  Identify the high-priority issues that resonate with executives, but avoid spending too much time going over information they already know.

4.  Be Honest About Risks and Results.  If you are asking for financial, people or other resources, be ready to explain how you estimated the ‘return on investment’ for your proposal.  There are risks and problems with every project, so show that you know what they are and have a plan for addressing them.  As you review the results you forecast for the project, clearly articulate the key assumptions that are not backed by data and need to be proven.  As much as you can, tell a complete and accurate story about the numbers behind your proposal.

5.  Prepare for Questions and Dialog.  You will get questions and challenges from executives, so be ready.  Approach these situations as an opportunity to talk with executives about the issues you are addressing vs. just pitching your ideas.  Build in time for interaction into your agenda.  Identify likely questions and practice how you will respond.  During the presentation, pause and take a short breath before responding to questions.  Be concise and direct with your answer.

When it comes to presenting to executives, preparation matters.  If you take the time to practice the above suggestions and tailor your content and approach to the audience, you’ll build credibility with executives, contribute to your organization’s success and open up doors for new careers opportunities.