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Presentation and communication tips for executives

In response to a reporter’s question about how to make more effective presentations, I offered the following perspective on cardinal sins. These form the basis of a short session I teach in at Columbia Executive Education.

Cardinal sin #1: Present it the way you thought of it. We have all been there. A presentation that starts off with

Hi, my name is Bob, and I?d like to introduce my team of Sue, Vivek and Carrie. About 6 months ago, we were kind of.. well, asked to look into market opportunities in the regional area, and we spent some time to figure out. Anyway, you get the idea. Boring, boring boring. Far better to start off with framing the issue in your terms, as in Hi, Im Bob and I am here to explain why web-based services could be the answer to growth we have been looking for.Cardinal sin #2: Death by PowerPoint. I know, its trendy to have flash presentations, but honestly, dancing baloneys are not equivalent to clear communication. A CEO of my acquaintance was so into PowerPoints that a recent presentation took up over eight megabytes! It didnt help make his message any more clear ?in fact, last February he was fired. Get the message clear, straight and interesting and you don?t need to worry about all the gizmos and gadgets.

Cardinal sin #3: Inconsistent terminology. Frequently occurs when a team has put the presentation together. So a feature in section one becomes a benefit in section 2 and is a talking point in section 3. Confusing.

Cardinal sin #4: Fail to target to the audience. This is a big one, and a mistake that I see many executives make, even though they should know better. So they will give a technical talk to an amateur audience, or a simple show and tell to a sophisticated one. Know who the listeners are, and target appropriately.

Cardinal sin #5: Lack of energy and conviction. Who wants to listen to someone who clearly isn?t even interested in what they are saying?

Cardinal sin #6: Reporting the data, not interpreting it. If you?re going to use numbers, tell us why we should care. What does a 3% increase in market share mean? What does a rise in working capital mean? If you can?t translate the raw data into something meaningful for your listeners, they will tune you out.

A hugely important part of effective executive communication is authentic story-telling. At Columbia Business School, we spend a ton of time teaching executives how to more effectively tell their stories. In fact, we build the development of a leadership statement into many of our executive education courses. A leadership statement answers three pivotal questions:

1. What do I stand for as a leader

2. How does this connect to what the organization is doing?

3. What does this mean for you, the listener?

I?m going to be leading a group through this exercise in December. Such an experience can be quite emotional, and that positive emotion flows back into the presentation.

We also bring in actors to help executives learn to make not just a factual, but an emotional and symbolic connection to their listeners.

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