Early 2009, Sonia Aplin was facing a challenge. As the Internal Communications Manager for Ericsson Australia and New Zealand Sonia was tasked with advising the senior leadership team on how best to communicate the new corporate strategy.
The challenge for Sonia and Ericsson was two-fold. She knew that for the strategy to be successful, employees needed more than to be able to just recite the new strategy – they needed to really believe in it and understand how their work contributed to the organisation’s success.
The other challenge was that the latest Employee Engagement Survey showed two concerning facts. The Leadership Communication index was at 57 points (compared with the Ericsson Group total of 73) while Strategy Awareness was at a moderate 66 points. A critical success factor for the Ericsson strategy depended on improvement in both these areas. Sonia and her HR colleagues had a goal to increase both those measures by 3 points….and anyone who works closely with employee opinion surveys will know that this is easier said than done.
During this time, Barack Obama was the hot topic. Being a communications specialist, Sonia was more interested in the way he communicated as opposed to his politics. What she noticed, as well as other commentators, was Obama’s effective use of story. So that triggered Sonia’s research into storytelling. What started with a Google search, ended with a tender process and working relationship with us to deliver organisational storytelling workshops to their top 80 leaders.
Sonia along with the Leadership & Culture Manager went to the executive team with their recommendation. To take the leaders through a 2-day program. The first day was designed to ensure understanding of the new strategy and the desired behaviours associated with that.
The second day was our organisational storytelling workshops, which would give them the practical business skills of storytelling to engage their employees and clients in the strategy.
They were tentative at first…..we are talking about taking storytelling into a male-dominated, engineering firm, but their courage was rewarded. The executive team supported the approach and every single member of the team, including the CEO, attended the training and continue to encourage and role model the use of organisational storytelling throughout Ericsson. 97% of the participants agreed it was relevant to their role with 91% saying it improved their effectiveness as an influencer and leader.
Leadership Communication Capability, increased by a staggering 18 points.
So did it work? Sonia states “Anecdotally, yes. The use of stories in team meetings, presentations and formal and informal communications is obvious and is having a real impact. Another measure of the success is that the Australian and New Zealand Communications team won the Ericsson Global Award for Best Strategy Communications, with storytelling being cited as the point-of-difference. So that was something we were all very proud of and we are now working with our global colleagues to bring storytelling to their organisations.”
But what about the tangibles…the key measures of success? Increasing both Leadership Communication and Strategy Awareness by 3 points. The subsequent Employee Opinion Survey showed that Strategy Awareness increased by 11 points and Leadership Communication Capability, increased by a staggering 18 points. That is what we call a success story.
I have a confession to make. I am loving ‘The Voice’, Channel 9’s new reality TV show. Feels good, got that off my chest. I could pin the blame on my 13-year-old daughter, but have to take full responsibility for this one. I thought I would watch a few minutes and was instantly hooked! Just when you thought that whole category was done and dusted (really Australian idol, Australia’s Got talent, X factor etc.) along comes ‘The Voice’ and changes the whole format, winning new audiences.
If you haven’t watched it already, 4 judges, Seal, Joel Madden, Delta Goodrem and Keith Urban sit in chairs with their back to the stage. It’s a blind audition with singers being judged purely on their voice and if a judge / coach likes what they hear, they hit a red button that turns their chair around. But what makes it compelling viewing is (apart from the quality of the singers) if more than one judge turns around, they have to persuade the contestant to join their team. There is a shift in the power balance and you see both leadership and the art of influence in operation. In one of the first episodes, Seal and Delta Godrem both went head to head to try and secure one of the contestants, Chris Sebastian.
Seal told Chris, ‘If you come on my team, I’m interested in one thing and one thing only, making you great’. Delta in response said ‘I understand your spirit and I understand this country. This is my country. I love Australia. We can make this happen together, and that will be a very easy ride for us”.
To which Seal retorted “That is a very good pitch she’s making, but there’s one thing that doesn’t sit with me, she keeps using the word easy. It’s not going to be easy brother”.
Chris thought about it for a moment and went with Seal and later he explained why saying ‘When she said it will be easy with me – she lost me – the last thing I wanted people to think was I had taken the easy way out’.
There are classic communications lessons we could all draw from this. Seal made his pitch all about the singer. Who can resist the opportunity to have someone coach you to greatness? It’s irrestible and that’s why artists come on to shows like this, to be discovered. Delta promised an easy ride thinking that would appeal. Compare the promise of an easy ride versus the promise of greatness? Which would you pick? Seal also understood where this particular contestant was coming from, he wanted to carve out his own identity and not ride on the coat tails of his famous older brother Guy Sebastian. So Seal immediately picked up on the word easy ride, understanding that this would be the last thing Chris would want. Also when Seal said it won’t be an easy ride, he knew this would not turn Chris off as he was also speaking to a universal truth. Everyone knows it’s hard to make it in the music business.
To persuade as a communicator, it has to be all about your audience, what they want not what you think they want. As Seal and Delta’s responses indicate there is a world of difference between what we might think someone wants versus what they actually want. You have to understand your audience, and walk in their shoes to succeed, to influence and persuade.
I am loving watching and learning from Seal (and the other coaches), and now have a legitimate (cough, cough) academic reason to continue to couch surf and watch The Voice weekly. And you have been warned, its highly addictive.
Just last week I received an email that made me laugh out loud and go YES! And no it wasn’t a joke from a friend. It was from Meetings & Events Australia (MEA) announcing that they are banning the traditional use of PowerPoint-style presentations including such proven yawn inducers like bullet points, clip art, reading from the screen (that old chestnut) at their major conference to be held in Sydney. Hats off to MEA!
So whether you are presenting with or without PowerPoint here are 3 top tips to make your next presentation shine. This can be summarized in just one-word connections. People need to connect to you the person (not the presenter, not yet anyway); they need to feel you connect with them and they need to connect to your messages.
Getting your audience to connect with you first as a person, is the presentation equivalent of shaking hands when you meet someone. Just as you would never launch into business stuff before shaking hands, you would never launch into your presentation without getting the audience to connect with you first. So can you begin with something personal, humble, even funny, that segues into your presentation? Keep it short, and never launch into your CV – that is boring.
How can you connect with your audience? One CEO coming into the company’s strategy session handled this one by saying ‘Even this morning when I was driving here I thought what not another strategy session, feels like we just had one a few weeks ago!’. He was echoing what a lot of people in the room where thinking and feeling – so even before you have started your formal presentation people connect to you, as a person and they feel you understand them …that you connect with them.
The next tip for all presenters is to get people to connect with your messages.
Just yesterday in my daughter’s school I was listening to a parenting expert who said you should have 3 non negotiables as a parent, because your kids can only remember 3 and any more will be hell for you as a parent! The same rule applies to your presentation have only 3 key messages. 3 is all your audience can remember and anymore and it’s hell maybe not for you but definitely for them! Some tough love here, no one is going to walk away from any presentation remembering what your 8 key messages were.
For each key message think of an anecdote, a story that would make it memorable. People remember the story and through that they remember the point you were making.
So there you have it – to be a successful presenter with or without PowerPoint you need to get people to connect to you as a person first, you need to connect to the audience and you need the audience to connect to your messages, by having a maximum of 3 and using stories, anecdotes and humor to make your messages memorable.