Have you ever had that moment where you are in the audience watching a leader deliver a presentation and you just couldn’t wait for it to be over? People are glancing at their watches, some are giving that awkward eye-roll to their friends, and you dare anyone to ask a question when it’s all over. We’ve all been there!
Last week I had the opportunity to teach Communicating with Confidence to chamber of commerce and association leaders across the country. The key point I make throughout the program is that you have no greater responsibility than to connect with your audience. The more you connect, the more your confidence grows. You owe it to yourself and your audience to stop presenting and start connecting.
Here are the three big biggest mistakes I see leaders make when speaking that prevents them from connecting with their audience.
MISTAKE #1: LEADERS FAIL TO TAKE THEIR AUDIENCE WITH THEM
When leaders jump right into their vision or their proposed solution when they start speaking they fail to take the most important people with them: their intended audience. Dale Carnegie, in his bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, shares a technique called “YES, YES.” The idea is that you have you to understand the needs, wants, and concerns of your audience so well that when you open up your presentation the audience feels like you get them and they psychologically say, “Yes, that’s exactly what I feel… Yes, I’ve been there… Yes, you get what I’m going through.” When leaders fail to do this they make the presentation more about themselves and their agenda rather than their audience. If you want to connect, take your audience with you from the start.
MISTAKE #2: LEADERS RELY ONLY ON THEIR COMPETENCE
Competence alone is not enough to connect. When leaders rely only on their competence to deliver their message they become rigid and often get caught up in trying to prove why their thoughts, ideas, or message is the “right” one. The focus becomes only on getting through their slides or their talking points and they miss small meaningful moments to connect and build trust with their audience. Kouzes and Posner have spent their career studying what makes a leader credible and the top four traits of admired leaders are 1) honest, 2) forward-looking, 3) inspiring, and 4) competent. Competence matters but when that is all you rely on you fail to inspire others and you make it harder for your audience to buy into the big picture of where you are trying to lead them.
MISTAKE #3: LEADERS LEAVE THEMSELVES OUT OF THE MATERIAL
If your energy and personality does not add to the effectiveness of your presentation than you have made yourself a commodity that can be easily replaced. You are better than that! Listen: facts don’t change people, stories change people. The best leaders are the best storytellers. They realize stories bring the facts to life. They understand that authenticity and vulnerability is what it takes to connect and humanize themselves to others. They understand that people buy into them before they ever buy into their message. Hand two leaders the same exact material and the one who adds in their personality, stories, and analogies will always be the one that connects with the audience more. Norma Bates, in the hit television show Bates Motel, was preparing a presentation she had to deliver and the advice she received is a good lesson for all of us: “Don’t be so worried about the information that you leave yourself at home. You’re the best part.”
If you want to be a leader that influences, aligns people to a strategic vision, and gets buy-in from others than you must be willing to shift your focus on how you present information. Remember: stop presenting, start connecting.