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September 22, 2010

Dialogue vs. speech: From paralysis by presentation (and ppt) to dialogue that dazzles

One of the things I enjoy most about speaking engagements is the chance to connect with different groups of people and hear what’s on their minds.  Beyond the work we do with our clients, these presentations and the corresponding dialogue help me stay close to the challenges and opportunities faced today.  I’m always learning, and excited to hear about new and different strategies to help leaders and their organizations improve communication, engagement, and subsequently, business results.

Whatever the venue or purpose, I enjoy involving the audience in a conversation on the given topic – leading a dialogue rather than delivering a speech. I find that engaging people in sharing their experiences and insights:

  • creates a positive energy in the room
  • engenders a sense of community and a feeling that in most cases, we all have similar challenges (we’re not alone)
  • provides fantastic learning and teaching moments

Make your next presentation a great dialogue with the following winning strategies:

Your mindset matters.  Your goal is to create and facilitate dialogue, not to make a presentation.

Start with the goal in mind. Even if it’s an update to a group you see regularly, consider how you can maximize the opportunity to further your goals and accelerate the progress of whatever you are working on. What do you need from this group? What type of information are you trying to gather or deliver? What feedback or insights would be beneficial to your project?

Understand the audience. Who will be in the room and what is their level of knowledge on your topic? Consider the demographic mix, the level of experience and the audience’s mindset. Put yourself in their place and consider how to present your material in a way that will most resonate with them and where they’re coming from. Adjust your content accordingly.

Create connections. For presentations away from your regular location, arrive early enough to have a few pre-meetings with leaders and attendees, learn a few things about the local area, and share some of this information as you introduce yourself and your topic to the audience. Highlighting conversations and relationships with people in the room will show your familiarity, put others at ease and gain you instant credibility.

Energize with participation. In a larger audience, engage the group by asking for a show of hands at various points and invite people to share their examples to illustrate key concepts being presented. Consider involving audience members in an appropriate game or demonstration to highlight a key point in an energizing way. And don’t forget those who may be participating by phone or Web conference!

Ask for input. Plan to ask open-ended questions at critical junctures to check for understanding and gather information. For internal meetings with colleagues or leaders who may have insight into a challenge you are facing, ask for perspective on crucial issues or to test key messages.  

Simplify and summarize. In a world where everyone is juggling volumes of information every day, less is definitely more when it comes to presenting concepts and ideas. Chances are, your slides have way too much content – most of which is not necessary. Consider using simple, memorable ways to package key concepts (try a visual to make your point) and then amplify your point with real-life examples.  

Handouts facilitate learning.  We typically provide handouts of my PowerPoint slides to allow participants to take notes, which helps many leaders process and retain information. It also provides a way to share the information covered with others who weren’t able to participate.

Be prepared for anything. Whether it’s an internal or external audience, be ready to adapt your plan to accommodate shorter timeframes and still meet your objectives. Practice delivering the presentation in the allotted time, give the same presentation in half the time, and consider what you would say if you had only five minutes to capture the essence of your message. It will force you to be clear on the outcome you seek, the critical facts you need most and how you would create dialogue if you had less time.

How can you turn your next presentation into an interactive dialogue?

- David Grossman 


going slow to go fast

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