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Creating the Presentation

Research the Topic

Get your stuff together. There are two ways to research the topic. One way is to gather material on it from print and media sources. These sources can range from newspaper, trade magazine, and periodical articles to corporate reports. Go through these sources to find material that you deem relevant and mark that material with a highlighter.

The Internet can be a big help in this area. You can search periodicals through their actual web sites or in a database. Sources like ProQuest and Lexis/Nexis catalogue millions of articles culled from newspapers, periodicals, and business, trade, and academic journals. In addition, many leading business and news publications provide their articles for a nominal fee. Some publications offer their articles free through their web sites; these include The Atlantic, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, and Strategy + Business.

The second way to research the topic is to go talk to someone. Ask your colleagues to provide you with information on the topic. If you are a guest presenter, do not be afraid to contact the host and ask for ideas about what the audience might like to hear. This technique can also be useful if you are making a sales presentation. As the sales expert, you know the material. Your challenge is to adapt it to what the customer wants to know. By doing so, you position your message to land on receptive ears.

Gather Anecdotes

During the research phase, it is important that you keep an open mind. Allow yourself to be receptive to ideas that are tangential, that is, that are not directly related to your topic but serve to add color. Look for stories that can embellish your presentation. To adapt the old Chinese proverb, one good story is worth 10 minutes of presentation.

These anecdotes can come from your own experience or can be gathered from other sources, such as speaker reference guides. Humor can be a good icebreaker, but always, always, always, keep it fresh, alive, and, above all, nonoffensive.

Assemble the Material

Arrange your research materials in a way that makes sense in terms of what you wish to say. You can organize it into subject files or keep everything together. The key is to put everything into an order that makes sense for you.

Outline the Material

Now you can begin to structure the material you have collected. Create an outline that makes sense for you. The important thing to remember is that organization is essential. Just like a paragraph, the outline for a presentation has three essential parts:

  • Beginning: Tell the audience what you are going to say.

  • Middle: Explain what you are saying.

  • End: Remind the audience of what you have just said.

This is a formula, but it is one that works every time. The key to the outline process is organization, but the format of the outline is up to you. Some folks like to jot notes on a page and proceed from there. Others, particularly professional writers, like to flesh out a more formal outline. Here's a typical outline format:

  • Use Roman numerals (I, II, III) for your headings.

  • Use capital letters (A, B, C) for subheadings.

  • Use numbers (1, 2, 3) for content points.

The operative point in creating an outline is to keep your ideas in sections. This way you can rearrange the order easily. The formal outline works well here because while it contains detail, the sections of the outline are freestanding and can be moved around easily.

Structure an Argument

A leadership presentation or a well-run coaching session should be grounded in reason and logic. The organization of the facts should support the argument and flow to a logical conclusion. A good presentation will have good claims (results) and effective reasons (facts). Aristotle identified the grouping together of claims and reasons as an enthymeme, or logical proposition.[1]

  • "Our prices are too high, so we had better lower them to attract new customers."

  • "Our vision is to be the leader in our industry, and our leadership will enable us to set the standards for others to follow."

  • "The competition in our segment is very strong, so we will need to develop new and better products that better meet the needs of our customers."

Enthymemes are not difficult to formulate. British philosopher Stephen Toulmin took Aristotle one step further by adding a third element to claims and reasons, which he called warrants. A warrant is "the connection . . . between your claim and your supporting reasons."[2] Think of the warrant as the product of the claim and the reason.

  • Claim: We value diversity in our organization.

  • Reason: Our diversity is an important strength when it comes to understanding our customers.

  • Warrant: Our diversity will enable us to continue to develop products that customers want to buy.

Warrants are the "general principle that enables you to move from reason to specific claim."[3] They are the syntheses of your arguments, the statements that will enable people to latch onto your leadership ideas.

The leader needs to imbue his or her arguments with a mixture of fact and personality. A dry recitation of arguments will not sway anyone. When the arguments are invested with the leader's character, along with well-turned phrases, analogies, and stories, the presentation will take flight.[4] Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King were masters of the craft of augmenting their arguments with rhetorical flourishes that carried the listener on a kind of symphony of sound and reason.

The Persuasive Message

One of the chief responsibilities of a leader-communicator is to persuade followers to adopt her or his point of view. In fact, Drucker argues that persuasion lies at the core of all communications.[5] Except in times of extreme crisis, such as a battlefield or a pilot taking command during a thunderstorm, where time is of the essence, leaders must do more than say, "Follow me." They need to give reasons why people should follow them. And, during those crisis moments when the leader does not have the luxury of time, he or she must call upon the reservoir of credibility that he or she has established through consistent and repeated leadership messages. Robert Cialdini, a noted authority on the topic of persuasion, lists six key characteristics that persuaders use. Each is rooted in fundamental human behavior.[6]

  • Reciprocation refers to the sense of obligation to "repay in kind" that we feel when we receive something that we perceive to be of value.[7] None of us likes feeling that we owe something to someone else, so we are inclined to pay it back as a matter of course in order to free ourselves from the obligation. When the leader describes what the organization has done for the individual or the team and then asks for something in return, she or he is using a form of reciprocation. For example, if a leader talks about how the organization has given individuals opportunities for growth and success, and how those opportunities have been fulfilled, employees will typically fall in line and do whatever the leader asks them to do. We are likely to reciprocate because we feel a sense of obligation.

  • Commitment and consistency involves sticking with an individual or a principle because it is in line with what we have done previously.[8] A call to action is an example of commitment and consistency because it asks followers to do something as a consequence of the commitment they have made to the organization. We see calls to action when organizations need to transform themselves in the face of crises and when they are trying to capitalize on new opportunities. The fact that people belong to the organization will make them inclined to respond to the call to action if they deem it consistent with organizational goals and values.

  • Social proof involves people's going with the flow because others are doing it. Cialdini cites the example of canned laughter as a tried-and-true method of inducing people to laugh.[9] The leader who asks others to follow her or his example is employing the concept of social proof. The challenge for the leader is to follow through, to do what she or he promised to do. Social proof can be a validator of work/life integration; the leader who takes time off to participate in a child's school activity is leading by example if the same opportunity is afforded to others in the organization.

  • Liking simply reflects the fact that people will associate with those whom "they know and like."[10] The leader who is often seen and heard, and who is perceived as someone that people want to be around, is an example of liking. However, while it is true that the leader whom everyone likes will have a better chance of getting others to follow, likability is not a leadership prerequisite. It may even be a detriment to leadership, because the desire to be liked may cause a leader to put off the tough decisions. When it comes to leadership, it is more helpful to think of liking as a form of respect. Respect can emerge from knowing the leader and liking what he or she stands for.

  • Authority refers to an individual or a group's willingness to obey those who they assume are in positions of control over them.[11] Cialdini describes the Milgram experiment, in which "students were willing to deliver dangerous and severe levels of pain to another person because they were directed to do so by an authority figure." People will defer to power and will do what they are told. It is up to the leader, however, to use this power judiciously. The recent corporate finance scandals are examples of situations in which underlings went along with their bosses because they were told to do so. To speak up or point out the errors would have been to risk career suicide. Authority in the wrong hands can be a tool of the devil. Authority in the right hands is an instrument of judicious leadership.

    While authority and leadership are intertwined, position and leadership are not. People can be appointed to positions of authority, but they must earn their right to lead. People will defer to those in authority, but if that authority is abused, people will either tune out or comply out of fear. In both cases, the leader has failed to win their respect. And when people have no respect for their leader, this often compromises their performance, i.e., they may not do as well as they would if they were more motivated.

  • Scarcity is defined as "opportunities [that] seem more valuable to us when they are less available."[12 ]Leaders who talk about the "select few" who will have the opportunity to achieve if they are willing to put in the time, effort, and personal discipline are employing scarcity. Leadership development programs, both in the military and in the private sector, employ variations on the scarcity principle when either nominating or recruiting people for leadership positions.

In and of themselves, these methods of persuasion are amoral; they are characteristics of human behavior. They can be used for good or evil purposes. For example, marketers use these methods singly or in combination to provoke a desired response to a product or service they want us to buy. Someone with an evil intent, such as a Charles Manson or a Saddam Hussein, uses these methods to gain influence over others for some twisted purpose that is rooted in denigration and subjugation. When these methods are used correctly and with the right motives in mind, such as by someone like Mother Teresa who is acting for the good of the organization and the benefit of others, they can be valuable enhancers of the leadership message. The use of one or more of these methods will make for a more compelling, and ultimately more persuasive, leadership message.

A Stake in the Outcome

There is another caveat regarding persuasion: The leader must care about the message and should have a stake in the outcome. The leader must demonstrate that her or his vision or point of view is right for the organization. For example, a leader who insists on transformational change must demonstrate its benefits and be clear in his or her expectations for him- or herself and for the team. We see this when a new coach takes over a team or a new manager is hired to run a department. The fate of the coach or manager is tied to the fate of the team or the department. If the team wins, the coach and the players share in the victories. If the department achieves its objectives, the manager and the employees share in the rewards. In each case, the leader has a vested interest in the performance of the players or employees, and vice versa. The sense of shared destiny adds to the credibility of the message, and ultimately of the leader.

Persuasion gets to the core of leadership. When it is used with discretion and with the right intentions, it can be extremely powerful in accomplishing the leader's goals.

Develop the First Draft

Okay, cue the lights. Spotlight on the writer. Bring up the music. Now comes the hard part: getting it down on paper. If you have followed the guidelines given earlier, your task will be easier. Your challenge is to put thoughts and words to your outline points. As you craft your words, you will have to keep some key points in mind.

  • What is your message?

    Remember your message. It will serve as your compass. If what you are adding does not complement the message, it is better left unsaid.

  • What is your thesis statement?

    The thesis and the message may be one and the same, but sometimes the wording of the two is slightly different. Regard the thesis as the reason why you are speaking and what you will say—e.g., "Tonight I will tell you why we need to cut costs and provide ways we can do it."

  • What are you using to amplify your message?

    Amplification comes from the content that you add. You shape your message using your own knowledge and the information you have gained from the research materials and anecdotes.

  • What visuals do you have to illustrate your message?

    Visuals can be anything from flipcharts and posters to electronic graphics. The rule of thumb is to use the graphics to support the message, not to present the message. You can, of course, use a photograph or a chart to tell part of the story, but you should not rely solely on graphics to tell the story.

When crafting your presentation, you have the option of writing it out word for word or preparing notes from which you will speak. Some people feel that word-for-word scripting enables them to think through precisely what they want to say. This approach is the soundest one, and it allows for the greatest amount of advance creativity. The downside is that it is time-consuming.

Other presenters prefer to work from notes. Not only is creating a presentation using this approach less time-consuming, but the approach also allows the presenter to be more flexible and responsive to audience needs. The presenter who is stuck to a speech may overlook the audience, while the presenter who is standing and delivering from notes can shift gears more readily according to audience needs.

Some speakers script everything in advance, then cull the words to note cards. By doing this, they determine their flow, precision, and word choice in advance, then deliver the presentation in a manner that appears to be spontaneous.

How Long Should It Be?

The subject of length is important. The presenter should ask in advance how long she or he is to present. For a set speech, a rule of thumb is that 15 to 20 minutes is good, but that unless the speaker is really first rate, the audience will go to sleep with anything longer. In contrast, sales or technical presentations may run for an hour or for an afternoon. In this case, the presentation should be more relaxed and informal. The speaker needs to engage the audience by asking questions frequently to ensure that everyone understands the material.

There is no right or wrong way to craft a presentation. What matters is the speaker's commitment to the material and the desired impact upon the audience.

The Leadership Close

Every leadership presentation needs to have a strong conclusion. The presenter has to give the audience both something to remember and something to do. Effective closes have two important elements: a recapitulation of the message and a call to action.

The recapitulation, or summary, is a simple restatement of the key points in the presentation and the leadership message. It is always important to remind the audience of what you have said; in so doing, you reinforce your message and its importance. A call to action is the action step of the presentation. It is asking the audience to do something in return. By asking for something, the leader is demonstrating a need for support as well as a confidence that that support will be received.

  • Be specific. Give the audience a challenge and ask it to do something:

    • Implement a strategy or tactic, e.g., improve quality or develop a new product.

    • Perform an action, e.g., reduce absenteeism or have more fun in the workplace.

    • Demonstrate leadership, e.g., ask the audience members to be personal leaders to themselves and their people.

It is also appropriate to weave a story into the call to action. Storytelling is an ancient art, and stories are often used to develop an analogy between the present and a recent or past event. All of the world's major religions blend stories with calls to action. Why? Because the story makes the message memorable as well as relevant to the listener. The story itself may be personal—something the leader experienced—or refer to something contemporary or historical. At the conclusion of the story, be certain to include the action step; otherwise the story will lose its impact and the presentation will lack a leadership close. (For more on storytelling, see Chapter 12.]

Revise Your Draft

No one said that this would be fun. Authors have their own adage: "Writing is rewriting."

Once you have crafted the presentation in a format that is comfortable for you, put it aside for a day or so. Then reread it and see how it sounds. Practice reading it out loud. When you do, you will find words and phrases that look good on paper but ring hollow when spoken. Adjust the phrasing. Remember, you are crafting a presentation that will be seen and heard, not read. Sound and images come first.

Review the Drafts with Colleagues

Share what you have crafted, either notes or speech, with your trusted colleagues.

Be prepared. Everyone has an opinion—once the words are on the page. For more than 40 years, the famous theatrical caricaturist Al Hirschfeld drew stylized drawings of leading actors and actresses that accompanied reviews of plays or musicals in the New York Times. In an interview, Hirschfeld said that not once during his lengthy career did an editor ever alter, or even suggest altering, a line. Yet, he said, he regularly witnessed the butchering of copy by everyone in the newsroom. Even the great Winston Churchill was not immune to the markings and slashings of the junior copy boys. So get used to it. People will make comments.[13]

Take all comments into consideration. But incorporate only those that have merit in light of your message, your audience, your intention, and your content. Throw everything else out. If you do not pay close heed to this rule, the finely sculptured horse that you have artfully created will slowly, but unmistakably, "morph" into an ugly, hump-backed camel. Ugh!

A word of caution: Disregard the previous paragraph if it's your boss who is making the suggestions. In that case, argue your point of view, but do not argue it to the point of no return. Unless you are writing the Declaration of Independence or the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, do not jeopardize your promising career. Take what your boss says under advisement and try to find a way to make what he or she is suggesting work.

[1]Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruskiewicz, Everything's an Argument (Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1997), pp. 72-73.

[2]Ibid., pp. 84-85.

[3]Ibid., p. 83.

[4]Ibid., pp. 81-96.

[5]Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: Harper Business, 1973, 1974), p. 487.

[6]Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, 4th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2001), pp. 19ff, 55ff, 98ff, 143ff, 178ff, 203ff.

[7]Ibid., p. 20.

[8]Ibid., p. 53.

[9]Ibid., pp. 99-100.

[11]Ibid., pp. 200-201. Cialdini notes that while participants in the Milgram experiment thought that they were administering ever higher electric shocks, in fact they were not. The actor feigned pain in response to the seemingly higher voltages (pp. 180-181).

[12 ]Cialdini, Influence, p. 205.

[13]Interview with Al Hirschfeld, 60 Minutes (date unknown).

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