We spent a day recently helping a client organization prepare for their two-day national employee meeting. There would be a kickoff speech from the CEO, breakout sessions led by groups of senior leaders, and a few panel discussions led by team members. The EMS team arrived one day before the meeting to provide coaching and feedback as they put the final touches on their presentations.
The format of the event was designed to get employees excited about key organizational messages and strategies for the future. Part of the concept was to give corporate leadership opportunities to speak, share ideas and respond to employee questions. It was expected that all employees would leave the two-day session with positive feelings about the firm’s direction and confidence in its leaders.
Companies spend a lot of resources—time, energy, money— to get everyone in the same city, in the same facility at the same time for events like these. There will be costs for transportation, rooms, meals and entertainment. So it makes sense to maximize the impact of this investment by preparing key team members to motivate the entire staff.
Will you be involved in planning this type of future event for your organization? Here are some suggestions as to how companies should (and shouldn’t) prepare for presentations at these meetings, and for how to best use your friends at EMS for assistance:
Clear expectations and direction
Company execs needs to provide direction to leaders who will be tasked with presenting. Will there be a uniting theme or goal that everyone should include in their presentations? Are there specific expectations for messages that will come from certain key individuals or departments? Lack of clarity around content expectations can lead to repetition or, worse, leaving out important details or perspectives. Also, clarity around prep time and deadlines is key—if your AV team needs to have visuals finalized three days in advance, be sure team members understand there won’t be time for late changes.
Advanced preparation; last-minute rehearsals
When we arrived one day in advance of this conference, we coached the firm’s top leaders to fine-tune their presentations and help them learn a few new presentation techniques to make them more effective as presenters. We were able to work with them in the actual meeting rooms, so they could see how things were set up and how their visual aids would look. And they were able to immediately apply some of our suggestions to their speeches.
But one day in advance isn’t the best time to begin studying for a final test, nor is it the best time to make major changes to a speech or program. Some speakers were still making content decisions and discussing strategy with co-presenters, which added significant tension to an already-stressful week of activities. Others were so focused on last-minute edits that it was hard for them to be fully engaged with improving their delivery. Ideally, we should have met with them a week earlier to help address content and coordination challenges, and one day prior to the event to fine tune and add a little polish. The engagement still went well, but this would have had even more of an impact.
As a general observation, too many speakers tend to talk about themselves (overusing the pronouns I, me and my) instead of considering how audiences perceive their messages. If the goal of the meeting is to fire up the listeners, then your terminology needs to reflect that goal. So instead of saying “I’m excited to share this new strategy with you…”, focus your language on the listeners by saying, “Your leaders are excited about this new strategy and you will be too…”.
Longer-term presentation coaching
While some people are naturally good presenters, others find speaking in public to be more difficult. But everyone can benefit from coaching, no matter their experience level. Presentation coaching works best when participants have the opportunity to apply their skills and practice over several days or weeks. This way they build muscle memory, meaning they don’t have to think much about their delivery—their presentation muscles just take over because they’re well practiced. Speakers who have already received coaching can focus on their content and trust that their body knows what to do.
Be energetic and have fun!
When your goal is to effectively engage an audience, an abundance of energy and a bit of humor goes a long way. People listen more attentively when you do things to hold their attention. We’d all rather watch someone who’s fun and energetic than a boring and serious speaker. So add some creativity, pump up the volume, or try something a little different to keep your audience involved and enthusiastic. Remember, if you feel as if you’re overdoing it, chances are you’re just scratching the surface!