Business Communication Should NOT Be Boring

When I began teaching public speaking classes at San Francisco State University, I was still working during the day at a high tech company. This was the late 1990’s and we were, like most start-up companies in Silicon Valley, working long hours toward a big Vision. It was an exciting time of stacked soda cans and late night pizza parties. The buzz in the office was palpable, the dream driving each of us to dig deep into our strengths and passion.

That is, until it came time to do a company presentation.

Something about that medium – business public speaking presentation – sends flat-line vibes to the presenter. It’s a strange thing, really, because the public speaking forum is such a powerful place. You have the opportunity to Move the Room with your ideas, information, expression.

I don’t blame those presenters, though.

In most business environments, we’ve got few or no mentors for great public speaking.

The dry, bullet-point driven, I-need-my-slides-as-my-notes style presenting is so commonplace, no one thinks to question it. They just dread it, instead. Speaking or listening, they dread it.

But here’s the thing: it can’t be like that anymore. The days of huge, venture-backed adventures in entrepreneurship are (mostly) gone. Now, every single day counts in the assessment of a great idea’s viability. The public speaking forum has GOT to be maximized. And it can be.

Here’s the thing that drives me batty: Business is such a rich environment for both personal and professional growth. It’s the perfect place to reach for one’s edges, to seek brilliance. It’s where your own version of success and feedback are both available (after a ton of hard work and willingness to hear the crappy stuff you don’t want to hear.) Why aren’t we using the business environment to reach for our brilliance?

So, I’m committing to change this whole dynamic. Here forward. NO more boring business communication. Because we are human beings doing business. We’re going to act like it.

You with me?!

Messy Presentations

I’m always recommending to people that they actually try to avoid using PowerPoint or other presentation technology. I do this because I meet so many people who “have a really great Powerpoint Presentation [they] could build their talk around.” I cringe when I hear this. I cringe because a presentation is always and foremost about connection – and visuals often interfere with your connection with the audience. It’s the antithesis of engaging and exciting speaking.

I know. You’re thinking all that stuff about how visual learners need to see AND hear things (or maybe even just see them). Or you’re thinking that it’s hard to remember everything that’s being said and having a visual reinforcer is really helpful. Let me ask you this: When there is a slide full of words on the screen, what are you doing? Are you listening to the speaker or are you reading the slide? Yep. Of course you were reading the slide. After all, if it’s written, it must be really important.

Now, I want you to think back to the last excellent presentation you saw. The last one that left you with ideas, thoughts… moved you to action. Is it the slides that cause that powerful effect? Was it that one slide where the word “Impact” came flying in from the right and landed in the midst of the list of 14 things you can do to change the world that made you want to leap from your chair and begin doing your part immediately? I’m just saying… it’s not about the slides. Pretty much ever.

All that, and…. well-done slides can really amplify your message in powerful, visceral ways. Combined with your beautifully crafted speech, a simple slide show can skyrocket the effect. So, I ask clients to create a presentation without slides. Then, we check the content to see if there are places in the presentation where a visual would actually amplify their message and be of great value to the audience.

So, I love Presentation Zen. Garr is brilliant with design (a talent I am virtually completely without) and he is a huge champion of simplicity in slides. Garr gets it that your slides aren’t your presentation. Lucky for us all, he is on a mission to help us create slides that have this amplifying effect on our presentations, while preserving our connection with our audience (which is our job to create. Slides can’t create the connection – they can only mess with it.)

I regularly coach clients to use images in their slides, instead of words. But just popping in an image isn’t enough. There are good and bad ways to do that, too. And Garr’s blog post 11 Ways to Use Images Poorly in Slides is a great gift. It’s easy to follow, logical, and simple to understand. He uses lots of great visuals to illustrate his points, too. Go check it out.