Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We Dont Do Presentations

Writen by Simon Raybould

... we just have meetings.


I've come across that comment a few times in the last year or so and I've never challenged it at the time: there are too many people around who recognise that they need help to spend time worrying about those who think they don't. And yet at the back of my mind I'm aware of a slightly guilty feeling.

After all, just because these people don't think they - or their staff - are making presentations doesn't mean they don't need help at it. In fact there's an argument to suggest that precisely because of this belief they're more likely than most to need help!

Because I'm that sad kind of person, I lay awake at night mulling this idea over. Perhaps they were right and there really are no presentations of any kind in their place of work. Perhaps no-one ever had to provide information to anyone else face-to-face in an even semi-structured way. Perhaps they never met each other on the corridor and asked each other how things were going and updated each other on the progress of this-or-that-project. Perhaps they did everything in a completely organic (indeed anarchic!) way. Perhaps their sales and PR staff never have to meet the public or potential clients.


But I didn't think so.

I've never seen and organisation like this and I don't expect I ever will. So why do people tell me they don't do presentations (often with a bit of a sneer, trying to tell me that they thought I was a bit of a fool for suggesting it)? I guess it boils down to definitions.

My definition of a presentation is - as you'll have guessed - pretty catholic. It's about the process, not the place. It can take place formally, when everyone is sitting down and facing the speaker as he or she fights with nerves and notes, or it can be done informally, perhaps as people pass on corridors, at water coolers or (as I've seen more times than people will believe) going into or out of the office toilets! In such times, people aren't worried about the process of presenting itself (they've got more important things on their minds), such as getting a coffee, a cold water, or washing their hands) and so all they have to do is "get on with" passing on the information.

I can remember a book I read a long time ago. The (anti-) hero is being asked by another character to teach her to fight. He declines but is eventually hounded into agreeing to a challenge: he agrees to throw an orange and if the woman asking for training successfully catches it, he must train her. If she fails, she goes away and never bothers him again. The stakes are high.

He throws and she catches. Annoyed, the hero asks her what she's just done: she's exhaulted and talks breathlessly about winning the right to be trained, to stay, to become a master like him; she talks about beating the odds and about defying his expectations.

He shakes his head and points out that at that moment, when he threw, none of those things were happening. At that moment, all she did was catch the orange.

Presentations are kind of like that. Just catch the orange. The stakes aren't important.

And that's how these people can present at the water cooler but not in the boardroom. When the stakes are higher they forget that all they've got to do is catch the orange and they start to get hooked up on the idea of what they might win.

And what they have to lose.

Let's not get carried away, by the way: there's a skill to catching oranges which people need to be taught and they need to practice: it's not as easy as all that.

If it was, I'd be out of a job, but there are three steps to making better business presentations, I'd suggest.

1 - recognise that you make them. I've never met anyone who made none.

2 - recognise that you just need to catch the orange; the consequences will take care of themselves

3 - get some training on how to catch oranges if it's important to you or if you ever drop them

We all make presentations, we all catch (or drop!) oranges..... just a thought....


Dr Simon Raybould is the author of a book on voice (The Little Big Voice) and an ebook on business presentations. His company - Curved Vision - does really good presentation skills training in the UK .....

..... with fantastic results!

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