Paul Butler | Presentation skills

Paul Butler

Last week, we saw the start of the 2020 presidential debates here in the United States — a battle that was highly entertaining and of paramount importance for the opponents.

One of the main attributes of leaders is often said to be good communication skills and the ability to present well. During this article, I will challenge three of the commonly held beliefs about the subject of presentation skills and at a minimum, hope to convince you that substance matters more than style.

1. “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you’ve told them.”

This is a presentation technique that makes sense. It’s simple and it’s memorable. It has a nice trinitarian ring to it — a three-part formula for success. The only problem is, most people don’t like to be told something and certainly three times over in short succession. One of the first communication lessons we were taught at grade school was how to show and tell. We weren’t taught to tell, tell and tell. The only aspect I remember about my ineffective teachers is that they talked way too much.

Great leaders tell stories to show people what the future could look like if people were to follow them as a leader. They paint pictures in our minds. They draw us in by stirring us emotionally. They appeal to our highest aspirations. Yes, they tell but they show us. They put the pill inside the cookie — not in a deceptive manner but we’re more likely to take the medicine when we can see how we will be better for it.

2. “Be authoritative.”

If one good thing has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the fact that the facades have disappeared for so many. It’s nigh-on impossible to be the perfect professional when your cat walks across your computer screen or one of the children starts having an embarrassing meltdown during your all-hands company Zoom meeting.

No-one likes a fake. We want our leaders to be real people so they can relate to our real-life issues. When a presenter pitches perfectly, we question their authenticity. Some of the greatest leaders in human history exhibited genuine humbleness and an inaptitude for grandiose speeches. Moses had a stutter, as did Winston Churchill. It matters more for a person to be sincere than saccharine. To be more a person of integrity will engender a greater number of hearts and minds than someone who authoritatively babbles insidiously.

3. “Leave them wanting more.”

My observation has been that outstanding oratorial leaders leave no room for ambiguity. If someone needs further clarity, they’ll offer it. If time’s up, they’ll offer ways for them to be contacted when the formal presentation ends. What they won’t do is pacify people with pat answers.

The attributes you and I should be looking for in our next president are, at least I believe, the same attributes we should look for within any leader of any organization. Might I suggest, we should look in the mirror every morning and hope to see these in our own reflection, too?

I believe a good leader needs to communicate and be able to demonstrate they have:

· Self-control.

· Solution-mindedness.

· An ability to focus on highest priorities.

· Work/life balance.

· Belief in others.

· A servant’s heart.

· Kindness toward others.

· A joyfulness to celebrate success.

· Humility.

A slick communicator doesn’t always make a good leader. Just because someone’s speech is as smooth as butter doesn’t mean they don’t have an angry agenda in their heart. We can see through the smokescreen of presentation skills if only we listen enough to what’s really being said by what’s not being said.

One of the best leaders I ever worked for was the most awkward of public presenters. He would turn beet-red when asked to stand and speak. He would twiddle paper clips to help his nerves. His goal when he stood was to sit down as quickly as possible. But having worked for this man and having observed his life closely for nearly three years, his quietness and his genuineness said more to me and brought out the best of me, much more than a speech that was high on style but low on substance.

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