Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The language of leadership

resentations form an important part of business life with an average business professional being subjected to up to 2,500 presentations during his or her career, yet, they become meaningless if they cannot be understood nor remembered. A survey of Standard & Poor’s 500 companies found 78% of CEO’s ranked communication as the most important skill of a modern manager, yet the majority of us will struggle to identify five memorable presentations.

Creating a lasting memory of your presentation is critical to ensure your product or service is at the forefront of people minds.

It is interesting to discover why we remember certain things and forget so many others. We remember remember the speeches of Churchill during the war when he urged the people with passion to fight the enemy and Martin Luther King’s passionate vision in his fervent speech, “I have a dream”. We all know roughly what the speeches were about, Churchill rallying a nation in war, and King of a unified world where black and white people live in harmony. It’s interesting to ask why we remember these presentations, and more to the point the complete story from a simple phrase or sentence quoted. Yet how easily do we forget what yesterday’s business presentation was about? Was it passion, was it vision, maybe imagination or simply good delivery which triggers our process of recall?

Throughout history, great political and business leaders have had an ability to craft and articulate a message that inspires and motivates. Yet, it seems that few modern day managers and business leaders are able to follow in their footsteps, preferring to hide behind an array of PowerPoint slides and bullet points. So how do you captivate, entertain and educate your audience? How did the great leaders of the past create such evocative and memorable speeches without the use of PowerPoint?

In the midst of the blitz, Churchill raised the nations support with nothing more than great oration, “we shall fight”. Why did it work, and what magic rules of communication did Churchill apply?

Churchill told a graphical story of fighting on the beach, on the sea, and in the streets, enabling the audience to picture in their minds the ensuing battle, he repeated key phrases continuously like a mantra; ‘we will fight and never surrender’ giving the nation ownership of their own destiny, making his audience the centre of the issue, dramatising their role in the ensuing events.

Great presentations tap into the needs and aspirations of the audience, and they all have the same objective, and that is to create a lasting memory of your presentation to ensure your product or service is at the forefront of people minds. From our understanding and learning of the great speeches and presentation, we are able to pick out six key concepts and easy to implement rules to ensure your next business presentation captivates your audience and make them remember it (for the right reasons).

1) Tell them a story; starting from the here and now in order to get to the then and when

2) Appeal to the aspirations of the audience; if you do this – success, if you don’t – failure, darkness, humiliation

3) Apply a series of contrasts, hot-cold, light-dark, pride-humiliation, etc, startling images and metaphors. Consider this from Peter Silas, CEO of Philips Petroleum, ‘We can no longer wait for the storm to pass. We must learn to work in the rain’

4) Repeat key phrases at least three times – ‘I have a dream’, ‘We will fight them’, ‘Education, Education, Education’, even ABBA, ‘money, money, money’!

5) Use vivid images to deliver passion - Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech

6) Use simple words in short sentences (no more than 15 words) and short paragraphs (no more than 9 lines) – Nike’s ‘Just do it’, GE ‘speed, simplicity, self confidence’

See if you can inject some spice and passion into your next presentation; try and apply some of the rules described above; your audience will love you for it.

To close, an apt quote from Rudyard Kipling ‘Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind’ – if administered with the correct dosage to treat the right affliction!

Notes to editors:

The Oatmeal Group is a UK company specializing in providing communication excellence to the executive workplace. The Oatmeal Group is served through four business divisions, consultancy, training, marketing and adventures.

More information on The Oatmeal Group can be found on the company website at www.oatmealgroup.com

Further enquiries to:

John Davies (Marketing) – 0843 289 1249