How to make sure your presentations support your change management efforts
Communication, especially in person, drives most change efforts. The change agent's language and appeal to change should be from basic information sharing. However, our communication habits run deep, and many practitioners leave useful tools unused.
I’ve given presentations for a long time, and I’m sensitive to the look in my audience's eyes when they realize they’d rather be somewhere else… sometimes anywhere else. When someone is feeling that way, you’re probably not going to be able to convince them to change.
There are some things you can do to avoid that. Let’s look at a few tactics you can easily apply to your change communications.
Take the Audience Perspective
All communication should reflect the audience in some way. Taking the audience perspective will help them connect with your message.
Address audience needs: Addressing something the audience sees as a need is a quick way to get their attention and interest. If you can align your goals with theirs and show them how the change will benefit them, your ideas will become part of their journey. The message will motivate them. If you only address your needs and interests the importance they assign to it will drop.
Use their language: Jargon chokes understanding in presentations. Inaccessible language creates cliques of similar experience, and if your audience isn't part of that clique, they'll feel excluded. Instead, adopt the style of your audience. How do they talk about their goals? Their challenges? Use that vocabulary. The more they see themselves in the presentation, the more the change will seem to be part of their story.
Respect their time: Try very hard not to overstay your welcome. People defend their time (rightfully) and the more it seems like you are wasting it, the more likely resentment sets in. That's the opposite of what you want. The more your message relates to them, the more time you will be honored with their attention.
Focus on a Purpose
Having a reason for the presentation provides you with focus and your audience with clarity of purpose. These suggestions can help with that focusing on that reason:
Have a clear call to action: A presentation is an opportunity to make a direct appeal for change. However, without the direction of what to do after the presentation is over, your audience will not consistently realize the change. A particular call to action should use the momentum created after the presentation to achieve escape velocity from inertia. The call to action should be the whole purpose of the presentation. What are you hoping they do? Make sure you ask them to do that and make it as easy as possible for them to follow through.
Make a consistent appeal: The appeal is the underlying premise you use throughout the presentation. What is the angle you are using to convince the audience of the urgency for change? If you have different appeals (i.e., requests) and they are not consistent with one another, they will be muddled and ignored.
Feelings are critical to how people react to a change. They mean the difference between passionate support and fierce resistance. If you want to set a foundation for change, you have to imbue your presentation with emotion.
Don’t just talk facts: Facts are important, but if that's all you provide, they will lack more profound meaning. You must connect the information with a higher underlying purpose. Don't rely on the audience to do that. Emotions (sometimes tragically) override reason. You need to give the emotional heft to the facts so that they provide the clarity you seek.
Create emotional payoff: Change is mostly about feelings. If you provide an emotional payoff, you can hope for a better result from your audience. They need to feel something to believe something. For the facts you presented to matter, they need to have some heart anchoring them. This emotional connection is critical to the success of your presentation.
Use story: Stories are an essential part of education and motivation. Good stories can convince and inspire in a way few facts can. Most importantly, stories have a way of creating motion. They engage the audience, trigger something called narrative transport which makes them more open to the idea of change, and they make your points memorable.
Provide closure: Good stories have good endings. They give us something to do next. They bring all the ideas together in a satisfying way. If your conclusion doesn’t tie the ideas together, and it does not connect with your call to action, it may not end with the momentum needed to push your audience past their inertia.
Make the audience the hero: Whenever I work with people who are passionate about a change, they tend to think of themselves as the one leading the change. They tell the story with themselves as the hero. I don’t want to diminish your heroic tendencies, but when you are presenting, your audience is the hero. They are the ones being asked to change. You are the sage providing them with the possibility of growth. They have to take it. Give them the room to act and they will be more engaged and interested.
Don’t demand too much
You are already asking the audience to change in some way. Don't make the act of participating in the presentation a big ask. The more natural the exchange, the easier it will be for them to change.
Emphasize a few ideas: Think of every piece of information you give your audience as handing someone a bag of groceries to carry. How many can you hand them before they can't move? Pretty quickly (especially with kids --speaking from experience) the burden becomes too much, and they start dropping things. If you provide too many different ideas, your audience may not remember any of them, or at least not the ones you would have prioritized. Focus makes your message more memorable and consistent from person to person.
Avoid too much technicality: Technical details are important. They are also easy to overlook. If someone is not bought into the why the how is not going to impress them. If you are looking to get initial support for your change, worry about the reasons and the feelings first. You can move to the technical details when the audience is ready.
Mind the attention span: You know people have a short attention span. Frankly, I’m overjoyed you’ve read this far! A good rule of thumb is that you should introduce some novelty every 10-15 minutes in your presentation. It helps set milestones, and people remember more directly before and after a change. It also wakes them up and shakes off complacency.
You will determine the communication that will be most effective for your goals by the context where you deliver it. If you follow the principles above you will have a better chance of finding it.
If you’d like to learn how to build presentations that lead change initiatives, be sure to sign up for the free course Present Like it Matters: Giving Presentations That Lead Change.
Image source: SDASM Archives