Effective presentations make your message stick, not your audience sick

Dear Joan:

I have a question for you about all-day meetings. We were in an all-day meeting recently, where people made presentations one after another. I’ve been in many similar sessions in my career (I’m a sales representative for a large company) and it makes for a very long day and one that doesn’t have much impact. The speakers are usually from corporate, telling us about new products, changes and things we should be doing.


I never get the feeling that much thought goes into these speeches. I think they probably know this stuff so well, they don’t even think about how to present it, so everyone in the audience can understand it or know how to use it. Some presentations are so boring, we can hardly stay awake. I could be out selling and earning a living, instead of stuck for a day, listening to things I’m only going to forget, or that I could just as easily read about.


Some people give handouts and that helps but most only run through their PowerPoint presentations and we’re supposed to ask questions at the end, but few people ask anything. What is your view of all-day meetings like this? What do other companies do?



Like you, my eyes have glazed over and my buns numbed more times than I care to remember. The rationale of the corporate folks is usually to maximize your time away from your job, so they try to cram as much into an eight-hour day as possible. But, in spite of their good intentions, the say and spray method doesn’t achieve the results they are after.


The first thing you learn in an Adult Learning 101 class, is that we don’t retain much if we are lectured at for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time. Experienced trainers and facilitators know that to truly make a message stick, they need to use engagement techniques and mix it up a bit.


When I facilitate presentation labs for corporations, most people are surprised to hear that they should be using anecdotes and getting audience participation if they want to be interesting and make the message stick. Intuitively, they know that, but they didn’t think they were supposed to be doing it, since everyone always falls back on the lecture format.


For best results, mix it up. Here are a few ideas:


  • Break your hour-long speech down into fifteen minute modules and start each one with a question designed to get the audience talking about the topic. Examples: “What has been the most challenging thing about using our order entry system?” “As you look at these pictures of our old product and next year’s product, what do you see?” “What has been the most common objection you hear from your customers when you are selling this product?” Then, describe the new features or process, weaving in their comments as you go.


  • If the audience is large, or isn’t used to interaction, break them up into small groups to discuss a topic and come up with a question or comment. This works particularly well after you have presented new, difficult or complex material, such as after an all-department quarterly meeting. Simply say, “Now, I’d like you to huddle up in groups of about five people and talk about what we just presented. In seven minutes, I’d like each group to come up with one comment or one question.” When seven minutes are up, break in and ask the groups to determine a spokesperson. Waiting until the end, prevents the most dominant person from jumping in and running their group. This process will not only create instant dialogue and interaction, it will reveal what they think and expose any misperceptions.


  • Let the audience practice a new process or technique. For sales staff, let them practice pitching the new product to a partner. If it’s a new process, let them talk to their neighbor about ideas for implementing it. If it’s a new assembly, ask for two volunteers to come up and have a contest to see who can put the new unit together faster.


  • Provide handouts that give how to’s or FAQ’s (frequently asked questions). For instance, if it’s a controversial change that you want all managers to announce, provide them with talking points and then get them into groups to discuss questions and concerns they anticipate from their staff.


  • Tell personal stories about your experiences or anecdotes from others that illustrate your points. We think in stories, not facts, so tying key points to stories will be sure to make your message stick.


  • If you are in charge of the all-day presentations, make sure that the day is broken up with enough discussion and activities. For instance, you could call all the presenters together a few weeks before and brainstorm how they can keep the audience engaged and stimulated.  For example, one organization put experts at each table of ten chairs and then rotated the audience four times-- every twenty minutes. The participants loved it—they go t their questions answered and learned from the fast-paced group discussion how others approached the topics at each table. The audience raved about the event and the company vowed never to have an old-fashioned “talking head day” again.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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