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Presentation and Storytelling Skills for Strategy Development and Stakeholder Engagement

To drive user experience vision forward, strategists need to effectively communicate their strategies with good presentation and storytelling skills.

In the first post of this series, I’ve argued that — if designers want to influence and translate strategy in ways that drive their user experience vision forward — they must become both business-savvy analysts and synthesizers.

In this blog post, I’ll make the case that — to effectively navigate the translation of product strategy into user experience development — strategists must master the art of presentations and storytelling to convey their vision with impact and authenticity. These skills are not mere add-ons but essential tools for success.

While I’ve gained valuable insights on Presentation and Storytelling skills through my own journey, I acknowledge that I still have much to learn. This article serves as a humble sharing of knowledge and an invitation to embark on a continuous journey of exploring the nuances of presentations and storytelling.

TL;DR;

  • Effective presentations play a crucial role in strategy development as they help to clarify vision, facilitate informed decision-making, gain stakeholder buy-in, foster collaboration, inspire innovation, enhance communication, and monitor progress.
  • Effective storytelling is vital for engaging stakeholders on an emotional level, establishing trust, and influencing their decision-making.
  • To effectively achieve your presentation goals, it’s important to tailor your approach according to the purpose, size, and type of your audience. By doing so, you can cater to their specific communication needs and enhance the overall impact of your presentation.
  • To make presentations more engaging, it’s important to create a story-driven narrative that includes personal anecdotes, visuals, and emotional connections.
  • Handling emotional challenges and empowering strategists can be achieved with emotional resilience through preparation, embracing feedback, and cultivating emotional intelligence.
  • Handling interruptions gracefully ensures a productive meeting environment, while incorporating feedback and psychological safety enhance the quality of input.
  • Delivering effective presentations is crucial for getting commitment to action, allowing leaders to communicate their vision, inspire stakeholders, and gain support for their proposed strategies. By explaining the reasoning behind their decisions and promoting a sense of shared purpose, presenters can secure the commitment needed to turn ideas into tangible outcomes.
Table Of Contents
  1. TL;DR;
  2. Importance of Effective Presentations in Strategy Development
  3. Significance of Storytelling for Engaging Stakeholders
  4. Types of Presentations based on Purpose, Audience Type, and Size
  5. Staying in the Flow
  6. Making Presentations Story-Driven
  7. Navigating the Emotional Challenges of Strategic Presentations
  8. Incorporating Feedback
  9. Negotiation, Issue, and Conflict Resolution
  10. Getting Commitment to Action
  11. The Right Time for Each Type of Presentation
  12. Recommended Reading

Importance of Effective Presentations in Strategy Development

Effective presentations play a critical role in the strategy development process, serving as a powerful tool to communicate, engage, and align stakeholders towards a common vision. The success of a strategy heavily relies on how well it is presented and communicated to key decision-makers, teams, experts, and other stakeholders. Here are the key reasons why effective presentations are essential in strategy development:

  • Clarifying Vision and Goals
  • Facilitating Informed Decision-Making
  • Gaining Stakeholder Buy-in
  • Fostering Collaboration and Alignment
  • Inspiring Innovation and Creativity
  • Enhancing Communication and Creating Shared Understanding
  • Monitoring Progress and Success

Clarifying Vision and Goals

In the second post of this series, I mentioned that I’ve found that — more often than not — is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate, but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve.

As the agendas work against each other, the team’s energy and drive drain away.

Maxwell, J. C., The 17 indisputable laws of teamwork (2013)

Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood — as my colleague Anton Fischer usually says — it doesn’t matter at that point if the team lacks a vision or the vision is just poorly communicated, the result is the same: the team will lack engagement and slowly drift apart.

A global study conducted in 2012 involving 300,000 employees found that just over half did not really understand the basics of their organizations’ strategies (Zook, C., & Allen, J., Repeatability, 2012). Given the effort applied to strategy development, there is a massive disconnect here. The opportunity to reconnect a firm with its strategy lies in how the strategy is communicated and understood (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016).

Six Strategic Questions, adapted from "Strategy Blueprint" in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020).
Six Strategic Questions, adapted from “Strategy Blueprint” in Mapping Experiences: A Guide to Creating Value through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams (Kalbach, 2020)

The first thing most people do when they hear the word “vision” in a business context is a yawn. That’s because visions are vague, unclear, and – frankly – nothing to get excited about. Well-designed visions should be rally cries for action, invention, and innovation (Van Der Pijl, P., Lokitz, J., & Solomon, L. K., Design a better business: New tools, skills, and mindset for strategy and innovation, 2016).

Even though the world is trusting in agile and lean, many companies still develop their vision and strategy traditionally, without end-customer insight or a clear link between discovery and execution. An actionable vision gives you the ability to see clearly further than the next revision or just data (Niemelä, S., & Haaparanta, J., Actionable Futures Toolkit, n.d.).

A clear and meaningful vision of the future to which a business is aspiring will help to engage people and unlock energy and commitment. It also guides actions and decisions at all levels of the organization and helps to promote consistency of purpose so that everyone works towards the same goal.

Kourdi, J., Business Strategy: A guide to effective decision-making (2015)

The beauty of a shared vision is that it motivates and unites people: it acts as the product’s true north, facilitates collaboration, and provides continuity in an ever-changing world (Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z.,  Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, 2017).

Presentations are instrumental in articulating the organization’s vision, mission, and long-term goals. They provide a platform to share the strategic intent, inspiring stakeholders to rally behind a shared vision and purpose. A well-crafted presentation can create a sense of direction and purpose, aligning everyone towards achieving the organization’s aspirations.

beach bench boardwalk bridge
Strategy and the Importance of Vision

Learn more about creating product vision in Strategy and The Importance of Vision (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Facilitating Informed Decision-Making

In the context of Facilitating Informed Decision-Making, Erin Meyer’s insights from The Culture Map offer valuable guidance on tailoring the approach based on the audience’s decision-making preferences. When presenting to an audience with a preference for consensus-based decision-making, presenters should focus on fostering open discussions and encouraging diverse perspectives. Create an inclusive environment where all stakeholders feel heard and valued, as building consensus is crucial for this group.

Both consensual and top-down decision-making process can be effective. But members of a global team often have expectations about decision making based on the norms of their own societies.

Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business (2014)

While leaders have always had to understand personality differences and manage how people interact with one another, as globalization transforms the way we work we now need the ability to decode cultural differences in order to work effectively with clients, suppliers, and colleagues around the world (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014).

Mapping out Cultural Differences on Teams in The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, Meyer, E., (2014)

When these cultural differences collide, it leads members of global teams to respond emotionally to what they see as ineffective behaviors of others on the team. Worse still, most of us are not even aware of the system our own culture uses to make decisions. We just follow the patterns without thinking about it (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014).

To engage a consensus-seeking audience effectively, presenters should focus on building relationships and trust with the audience. Providing a platform for open discussions and encouraging all stakeholders to share their opinions is essential. Presenters should emphasize collaboration and seek input prior to the presentation from all team members to achieve alignment. Consensus-building may take time, so presenters should be patient and demonstrate a willingness to listen to different perspectives, reinforcing the audience’s perception that their input matters.

On the other hand, when presenting to an audience that prefers a top-down approach to decision-making — like in many hierarchical societies — presenters should be mindful of authority and hierarchy. Be prepared to present clear and well-structured recommendations, backed by solid data and evidence. It is crucial to address senior leaders directly and provide them with the necessary information to make informed choices. This audience values efficiency and decisive actions, so avoid prolonged discussions and prioritize providing a clear path forward.

Presenters should be confident and assertive in their delivery, displaying subject matter expertise and a deep understanding of the topic. Acknowledge and respect the authority and decision-making power of this audience, as they will appreciate straightforward and actionable insights.

It’s important to understand how Decision-Making Styles can shift during presentations, especially depending on the size of the audience:

  • Intimate Presentations: In smaller groups with a consensus-based decision-making preference, challenging decision-makers during the presentation may lead to healthy debate and contribute to the final decision. However, presenters should approach this with sensitivity, ensuring the challenge is framed respectfully and constructively.
  • Boardroom Presentations: In a boardroom setting, where decision-making often follows a top-down approach, challenging decision-makers during the presentation can be risky. It may be perceived as questioning authority and undermine the presenter’s credibility. Instead, presenters can prepare thorough research and data-backed arguments in advance to influence the decision-making process indirectly.
  • All-Hands Presentations: In large-scale presentations involving a diverse audience, challenging decision-makers publicly can be counterproductive. It may create discomfort among attendees and overshadow the main message of the presentation. Presenters should choose the appropriate time and place for such discussions, opting for private meetings with key stakeholders to address any concerns.

Ultimately, adapting the presentation approach to the decision-making preferences of the audience from a cultural standpoint can enhance the effectiveness and impact of the presentation. By recognizing and respecting cultural differences in decision-making, presenters can build trust and create a more receptive and engaged audience.

Gaining Stakeholder Buy-In

Strategy development requires the support and commitment of various stakeholders, including executives, employees, shareholders, and external partners. An effective presentation can influence stakeholder beliefs and attitudes, garnering their buy-in and support for the proposed strategies, and Marsha Acker’s insights from The Art and Science of Facilitation provide valuable guidance on navigating the balance between collaborative decision-making and other approaches.

Honouring the wisdom of the group is a cornerstone of collaborative decision-making, but not every topic, problem, or decision needs to be collaborative. Higher complexity in decisions means a greater degree of collaboration will be important. When you are interviewing the sponsor and evaluating the complexity of a decision to be made, think about the scope (Acker, M.,The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to lead effective collaboration with agile teams, 2020):

  • Urgency. How quickly does the decision need to be made?
  • Risk. What’s at risk? Risks are uncertain events that might take place. Higher risk means there is a higher probability that certain events may happen, which means there is more benefit to be had from collaborative thinking and seeking multiple stakeholders’ perspectives.
  • Impact. What’s the scope of the decision’s impact? Does the decision impact one person, a whole team, a department, the entire organization? Greater impact means higher complexity and makes having diverse voices and thinking more important.
  • Durability. How long does the decision need to last? Does it need to last a day? A week? A month? The longer it needs to last, the more important collaboration becomes during the decision making process.
  • Buy-in. How important is it that others buy in into the decision that’s being made? How much ownership do they need to feel in the decision? The greater the need for buy-in, the greater the need for a collaborative decision-making process.

However, not all decisions warrant full collaboration, and strategists must carefully evaluate each situation. Some decisions might demand immediate action due to time-sensitive factors, making a top-down approach more appropriate. In cases where a decision carries a minimal risk or short-term impact, a single decision-maker can efficiently handle it.

As presenters, it is essential to be discerning and considerate when choosing the decision-making approach:

  • Tailor your presentation to suit the complexity and context of the decision at hand.
  • Provide transparency on the decision-making process to gain stakeholder trust and buy-in.

When stakeholders perceive that the chosen approach aligns with the decision’s significance and potential impact, they are more likely to buy-in and invest in the decision’s successful implementation.

By recognizing the factors that influence collaborative decision-making and exercising discernment in presentation approaches, presenters can effectively navigate stakeholder buy-in, ensuring that decisions align with the organization’s goals and values. Through a well-crafted and thoughtful presentation, presenters can harness the wisdom of stakeholders, garnering support for impactful decisions and fostering a collaborative and engaged environment.

We are going to cover buy-in in more details later in this article when we get to Getting Commitment to Action.

Fostering Collaboration and Alignment

In the realm of Fostering Collaboration and Alignment, Paul Sloane’s insights from The Leader’s Guide to Lateral Thinking Skills remind us of the pitfalls of rushing to quick and predictable decisions. As presenters, the allure of appearing decisive might lead us to bypass valuable opportunities for innovation. Jumping straight to conclusions based on existing assumptions and prejudices can stifle creativity and hinder the exploration of alternative solutions.

It’s tempting to appear decisive by jumping straight to the conclusion and making rapid decisions. But the chances are that those rapid decisions are predictable courses based on existing assumptions and prejudices, and that another chance for innovation as escaped.

Sloane, P., The leader’s guide to lateral thinking skills (2017)

When your stakeholders can’t agree on a solution, it’s probably a good time to take a step back and align on the problem you are solving for. I’m of the opinion that designers — instead of complaining that everyone else is jumping too quickly into solutions — should facilitate the discussions and help others raise awareness around the creative and problem-solving process.

yellow letter tiles
Problem Framing for Strategic Design

Learn more about problem framing techniques that can help you get team alignment by creating clarity of what problems they are trying to solve in Problem Framing for Strategic Design (Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com)

To foster collaboration and alignment, presenters should adopt a more inclusive and exploratory approach. Rather than rushing to a predetermined conclusion, encourage open dialogue and divergent thinking among stakeholders. Embrace lateral thinking, which challenges existing assumptions and encourages innovative solutions.

However, it is essential to strike a balance when incorporating lateral thinking into the presentation process. While lateral thinking encourages creativity and open discussion, certain types of meetings may not be conducive to lengthy exploration. Time constraints, a large audience, or imminent project deadlines may require more focused decision-making.

To address these challenges, presenters can leverage a combination of preparatory lateral thinking and focused decision-making during the presentation. Before the meeting, gather insights from stakeholders, and engage in lateral thinking exercises to explore diverse perspectives and potential solutions. This groundwork can provide a solid foundation for the presentation, ensuring that the ideas presented are well-considered and innovative.

During the presentation, presenters can selectively introduce lateral thinking elements to encourage engagement and collaboration. Provide a platform for stakeholders to share their perspectives briefly and consider alternative viewpoints. While engaging in extensive lateral thinking during the presentation may not be possible, the presenter can still foster alignment by encouraging constructive feedback and discussion.

In situations where a quick decision is required, the presenter can guide the discussion toward a focused and efficient decision-making process. Emphasize the critical criteria and prioritize the most relevant options, taking into account the organization’s goals and constraints.

Fostering collaboration and alignment through lateral thinking is a powerful approach to innovative decision-making. Presenters should strike a balance between preparatory lateral thinking and targeted decision-making during the presentation, considering the context of the meeting and the needs of the stakeholders. By skillfully blending these elements, presenters can create a dynamic and impactful presentation that leads to meaningful outcomes and successful decision-making.

Inspiring Innovation and Creativity

Inspiring innovation and creativity is a key objective of effective presentations, and presentation skills are instrumental in fostering an environment that encourages these qualities. To achieve this, presenters need to focus on problem framing, creating choices, and incorporating user research into their presentations.

  1. Problem Framing: Effective presentations begin with a well-defined problem statement. The way a problem is framed can influence the direction of creative thinking. Presenters must articulate the problem in a way that sparks curiosity, generates interest, and challenges the audience to think beyond conventional solutions. A compelling problem statement sets the stage for innovative thinking and motivates the audience to explore new possibilities. [Learn more about Problem Framing]
  2. Creating Create Choices: Presentations that inspire innovation often involve presenting a range of potential solutions or choices. Presenters encourage the audience to think critically, evaluate alternatives, and envision different approaches by offering diverse options. Considering multiple choices stimulates creativity, allowing participants to brainstorm and contribute unique perspectives that may lead to breakthrough ideas. [Learn more about Creating Great Choices]
  3. User Research: User research is a critical component of innovation and creativity. Presenters who incorporate insights from user research into their presentations demonstrate a user-centric approach. User research provides valuable data about the target audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points. Presenters inspire empathy and understanding by sharing these insights, encouraging the audience to design solutions that truly address user needs and challenges. [Learn more about User Research]
  4. Embracing Openness and Experimentation: Effective presenters foster a culture of openness and experimentation. They encourage participants to explore unconventional ideas, challenge assumptions, and embrace failure as a part of the creative process. By creating a safe space for experimentation and idea-sharing, presenters instill confidence in the audience to think outside the box and explore innovative solutions. [Learn more about Experimentation]
  5. Encouraging Divergent Thinking: Divergent thinking is a crucial aspect of creativity that involves generating a wide range of ideas and possibilities. Presentation skills that encourage divergent thinking include reframing questions, promoting curiosity, and acknowledging all contributions, no matter how wild or unconventional. This approach encourages participants to explore unconventional avenues and discover innovative solutions. [Learn more about The Art of Asking Questions]

Inspiring innovation and creativity through presentations requires a strategic approach that incorporates problem framing, creating choices, and user research. Effective presenters leverage presentation skills to engage the audience, foster an open and experimental mindset, and encourage divergent thinking. By embracing these principles, presenters can ignite creativity, leading to the generation of groundbreaking ideas and solutions that drive innovation forward.

aisle architecture building business
Strategy and the Art of Creating Choices

Learn more about how to create great choices in Strategy and the Art of Creating Choices (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

Enhancing Communication and Creating Shared Understanding

In my practice, I’ve found that — more often than not — is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate, but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve.

Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood: it doesn’t matter at that point if the team lacks a vision or the vision is just poorly communicated, the result is the same: the team will lack engagement and slowly drift apart.

Shared understanding is the collective knowledge of the team that builds over time as the team works together. It’s a rich understanding of the space, the product, and the customers.

“Creating Shared Understanding” in Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve userexperience, Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. (2013)

Shared Understanding (“Cognitive synchronization”) enables partners collaborating in a distributed design environment to reach two objectives (Falzon, Montmollin, & Béguin, 1996):

  • Assure that they each have a knowledge of the facts relating to the state of the situation – problem data, state of the solutions, accepted hypothesis, etc, and
  • Assure that they share common knowledge regarding the domain – technical rules, objects in the domain and their features, resolution procedures, etc.

Teams that attain a shared understanding are far more likely to get a great design than those teams who fail to develop a common perception of the project’s goals and outcome (Jared Spool, “Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding” in Govella, A., Collaborative Product Design, 2019).

When teams share an understanding, everyone knows what they’re working on, why it’s important, and what the outcome will look like.

Govella, A., Collaborative Product Design (2019)

It’s very easy to verify if the team lacks understanding of the problem the team is trying to solve. Just ask some fundamental questions in your next meeting, like “what is the problem we are trying to solve”? “And for whom”?”

If you get different answers from key stakeholders, it is probably a good indication that you should jump in and help facilitate the discussion that will help the team to align.

Collaboration means shift from thinking big ideas alone and moving into the real-mess of thinking with others.

Van Der Meulen, M., Counterintuitivity: Making Meaningful Innovation (2019)

Changing the behavior to a “we think together” model is the central activity of collaboration. Because thinking together closes a gap; people can now act without checking back in because there were there when the decision was made. They’ve already had debates about all the trade-offs that actually make something work. This may appear as a case of “when all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” However, time needs to be spent in the messy and time-consuming front-loaded process of thinking through possibilities in order to inform the decisions that need to be made (Van Der Meulen, M., Counterintuitivity: Making Meaningful Innovation, 2019)

Sharing early and often helps create shared understanding (learn more about sharing in another post in Communication of Data, Knowledge, Information) by triggering the conversations that help you find out what others think while doing three things (LeMay, M., Agile for Everybody, 2018):

  • Turning assumptions into knowledge
  • Testing ideas and hypotheses to see if they show promise with those they are meant to help
  • Opening up our thinking to find blind spots and mistakes.

Effective presentations use storytelling techniques, visuals, and clear language to break down complex information into digestible chunks. This enhances communication, ensuring that stakeholders understand the strategic objectives, priorities, and action plans.

top view photo of people discussing
Strategic Collaboration in Distributed or Remote Environments

Learn more how creating shared understanding helps improve strategic collaboration while working on Distributed, Remote or Global Teams (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Monitoring Progress and Success

In a previous post I suggest we need to find ways for capturing and tracking progress around the execution of an idea/approach comes from the fact that — even when you have clearly articulated the answer to the six strategic questions (what are our aspirations, what are our challenges, what will we focus, what our guiding principles, what type of activities) — strategies can still fail — spectacularly — if you fail to establish management systems that support those choices. Without the supporting systems, structures and measures for quantifying and qualifying outcomes, strategies remains a wish list, a set of goals that may or may not ever be achieved (“Manage What Matters” in Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works (Lafley, A.G., Martin, R. L., 2013).

Presentations play a role not only in the initial strategy development phase but also in the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of progress. Regular progress updates and performance reviews presented in a clear and data-driven manner allow stakeholders to track the strategy’s success, identify areas for improvement, and adapt the approach if needed.

close up photo of survey spreadsheet
Strategy, Visibility and Traceability

Learn more about the visibility and traceability aspects of the execution of an idea/approach (Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com)

Significance of Storytelling for Engaging Stakeholders

Storytelling is a powerful communication technique that holds immense significance in engaging stakeholders during the strategy development process. By presenting information in the form of a compelling narrative, rather than a dry recitation of facts, storytelling captivates stakeholders’ attention, evokes emotions, and creates a deeper connection with the content.

Stories have the power to win customers, align colleagues, and motivate employees. They’re the most compelling platform we have for managing imaginations.

Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations (2012)

Here are the key reasons why storytelling is crucial for engaging stakeholders in strategy development:

  • Emotional Connection
  • Creating Shared Memories and Meaning
  • Building Trust and Credibility
  • Engaging Different Learning Styles
  • Influencing Decision-Making
  • Encouraging Active Participation

Emotional Connection

People will often say they agree when they don’t agree. They will say they are on board when they are not on board. They will say that they don’t understand something when they understand it perfectly well. In a top-down organisational hierarchy, “I don’t understand” is a polite way of saying “No, I’m not going to do this.” Why does this dynamic play out time and time again, in organizations large and small, all over the world? It has to do with emotion. Feelings. We’ve all heard the saying “leave your emotions at the door.” It’s a common saying in business. Be objective. Focus on the facts. Nice idea. Unfortunately, it’s not possible (Gray, D., Liminal thinking, 2016).

Why do people say they agree when they don’t agree? Because somebody asked them to leave their emotions at the door, that’s why. And when they left the meeting, they put their emotions back on and went back to work (Gray, D., Liminal thinking, 2016).

Reason does not get people to act. Emotion is what causes people to act.

Gray, D., Liminal thinking (2016)
Actions and Results are observable; beliefs less so (Gray, D., Liminal thinking, 2016)

When a meeting, for example, is not a safe place to share their feelings and needs, you will get people saying one thing and doing another, a story we have all seen play out hundreds of times (Gray, D., Liminal thinking, 2016).

Stories have the unique ability to evoke emotions, making information more relatable and memorable. When stakeholders connect emotionally with the content, they become more invested in the strategy’s success. By infusing stories with personal anecdotes, real-life examples, or metaphors, presenters can tap into stakeholders’ emotions, driving them to support the strategy with passion and enthusiasm.

Creating Shared Memories and Meaning

Developing shared memories and meaning is important to creating shared understanding within a team. Theoretically, developing shared meaning requires achieving a shared understood lexicology, schema, or language in which to communicate, despite differences in backgrounds (education, training, experience, fields, etc.) of the team members (S.Y.T. Lang et al. / Computers in Industry 48 (2002) 89–98).

For developing shared memories, research is showing a powerful connection between story, place, and emotion and building memories (Vox., Memory, Explained, 2019):

  • Story: few people can remember up to 20,000 digits of Pi, yet many actors and readers can recite Hamlet, which has more than 50,000 words.
  • Place: the most accurate memories people had of 9/11 three years after the incident was where they were.
  • Emotions are the foundation of our strongest memories. For example, people are more likely to remember faces that express emotions.
Memory, Explained
Vox. (2019, September 12). Memory, Explained. Retrieved from https://www.designative.info/2019/09/12/memory-explained/

Narrative is a way of understanding one’s and others’ actions, organizing events and objects into a meaningful whole, and connecting and seeing the consequences of actions and events. (Chase, S. E., Narrative Inquiry: Multiple Lenses, Approaches, Voices, 2005)

Narratives function to frame the experiences of the group, and to allow members to interpret and understand their experiences in a common way.

Bolino, M. C., Turnley, W. H., & Bloodgood, J. M., Citizenship Behavior and The Creation of Social Capital in Organizations. (2002)

It’s been proven that the real efficacy of storytelling list in three standout features of stories that can help us do our jobs as business leaders (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016):

  • Stories are memorable. There is no point in saying something if it’s forgettable.
  • Stories convey emotion. People are inspired to act when they feel emotion.
  • Stories are meaningful. In a complex work environment, people need to be able to make sense of what’s going on and how they fit in.

When we are facing hard times in getting our concepts along, instead of blaming others for not “getting it,” we should ask ourselves, “what did I do wrong?” By being conscious of how you are crafting the narrative about your team’s progress and about how solutions work in the lives of those who use them, you can help make the ideas and decisions of the group stick. Telling the story of the collaboration is as important as the collaboration itself in many ways (Anderson, G., Mastering Collaboration, 2019).

Building Trust and Credibility

Stories build trust by making the presenter more relatable and authentic. When presenters share personal anecdotes or experiences related to the strategy, stakeholders perceive them as credible and trustworthy. This trust fosters an environment of open communication and encourages stakeholders to share their thoughts and concerns freely.

To that end, I found it necessary that designers understand the correlation between communication and relationships and the importance of building trust.

The single most important thing you can do to improve communication between you and your stakeholders is to improve those relationships, earn trust, and establish rapport .

“Stakeholders are People Too” in Articulating Design Decisions, Greever, T., 2020

These will speak more for you than the words that come out of your mouth in a meeting. I couldn’t agree more with Greever (2020) when he says that it’s ironic that UXers are so good at putting the user first, garnering empathy for and attempting to see the interface from the perspective of the user. Yet, we often fail to do the same thing for the people who hold the key to our success.

While building Trust and Credibility, the insights from David Maister, Charles Green, and Robert Galford’s book The Trusted Advisor offer a valuable framework—the Trust Equation—to understand and enhance trustworthiness. The Trust Equation deconstructs trust into four objective variables: Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy, and Self-Orientation.

The Trust Equation
The Trust Equation is a deconstructive, analytical model of trustworthiness that can be easily understood and used to help yourself and your organization (Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C., “Commitment” in The trusted advisor, 2021)

Credibility is the foundation of trust, highlighting the importance of being perceived as competent, knowledgeable, and reliable in one’s field. As presenters, building credibility requires demonstrating expertise and providing well-researched, factual information. Sharing relevant data, case studies, and success stories can bolster the perception of credibility.

Reliability refers to the consistency and dependability in delivering on commitments. For presenters, this means honoring deadlines, following through on promises, and delivering on expectations. Being punctual and consistently meeting stakeholders’ needs can solidify the perception of reliability.

Intimacy involves establishing a strong personal connection with stakeholders. Engaging in active listening, empathizing with their concerns, and showing genuine interest in their perspectives fosters a sense of intimacy. Sharing personal anecdotes and experiences can also create a deeper emotional connection.

On the other hand, Self-Orientation refers to the extent to which a presenter appears self-focused or genuinely invested in the stakeholders’ interests. Presenters must avoid self-promotion and overtly pushing their own agenda. Instead, they should focus on understanding the audience’s needs and tailoring the presentation to address those needs.

Trust and credibility are vital for presenters seeking to influence stakeholders and drive their user experience vision forward. By understanding and applying the principles of the Trust Equation, presenters can build strong relationships, engender confidence, and become trusted advisors to their audiences.

Engaging Different Learning Styles

Storytelling is an effective tool for engaging different stakeholders because it taps into emotional and cognitive processes that go beyond traditional data-driven presentations. Here’s how storytelling helps engage different stakeholders:

  1. Emotion and Empathy: Storytelling evokes emotions and creates a sense of empathy. By sharing relatable stories and experiences, presenters can connect with stakeholders on a personal level, fostering a deeper understanding and emotional investment in the message.
  2. Context and Relevance: Stories provide context and relevance to the presented information. They place data and facts in real-life scenarios, making the content more meaningful and applicable to stakeholders’ situations.
  3. Memorable and Impactful: Stories are more memorable than facts and figures alone. When stakeholders can recall and retell a story, they are more likely to retain the information and take action based on the message conveyed.
  4. Universal Appeal: Storytelling transcends cultural and language barriers, making it accessible to diverse audiences. By choosing universal themes and narratives, presenters can engage stakeholders from various backgrounds.
  5. Overcoming Resistance: Stories have the power to break down resistance to change or new ideas. When presented with a compelling narrative, stakeholders may be more willing to consider alternative perspectives and embrace new concepts.

In conclusion, engaging different learning styles and using storytelling as a communication tool are essential for creating impactful and inclusive presentations. By catering to various learning preferences and utilizing the emotional power of storytelling, presenters can effectively engage different stakeholders, ensuring that the message resonates with each individual and drives the desired outcomes.

group of people having a meeting
Storytelling for Facilitation and Discussing Design

Let’s talk about the need of incorporating storytelling in your facilitation toolset for better idea generation, discussing design, and creating shared understanding (Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com)

Influencing Decision-Making

Stories have the power to influence beliefs and attitudes, making stakeholders more receptive to new ideas or strategic choices. Instead of solely relying on data and logic, storytelling appeals to stakeholders’ emotions and values. This emotional connection can sway stakeholders to embrace the proposed strategies and commit to their successful implementation.

That involves a few key soft skills, particularly influencing without authority.

The True Measure of Leadership is Influence – Nothing more, Nothing less.

Maxwell, J.C., “The Law of Influence” in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, (2007)

Be relational, not positional: barking order is positional, It assumes that your employees will rush to obey simply because you’re in charge. But remember, leadership is influence. Be tuned into their culture, background, education, etc. Then adapt your communication to them personally (“The Law of Influence” in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, Maxwell, J.C., 2007).

Encouraging Active Participation

Engaging stories invite stakeholders to participate actively in the presentation. Rhetorical questions, thought-provoking scenarios, or interactive elements can prompt stakeholders to reflect, share their experiences, or voice their opinions. Active participation enhances stakeholder engagement, ensuring that their perspectives are considered and integrated into the strategy development process.

Commitment to action is built on participation and ownership. Organizations and business scholars have long puzzled over how to incentivize this sense of ownership, which is central to building commitment to action. Stock ownership plans, performance-based pay, and related schemes have all been tried. These have merit, but in the end, monetary rewards matter less to individuals than participating in the decisions that they are asked to implement (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Participation engenders a sense of ownership that results in commitment and effectiveness during implementation.

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)

In conclusion, storytelling is a powerful tool for engaging stakeholders during strategy development. By creating an emotional connection, simplifying complex information, improving retention, building trust, catering to diverse learning styles, influencing decision-making, and encouraging active participation, storytelling drives stakeholders’ commitment to the strategic initiatives. Presenters who master the art of storytelling can elevate their communication effectiveness, making strategy development more collaborative, impactful, and successful.

Types of Presentations based on Purpose, Audience Type, and Size

By understanding the specific situations, audience types, and audience sizes, presenters can tailor their presentation approach to effectively engage their listeners and achieve their desired outcomes. A well-suited presentation approach enhances communication, fosters collaboration, and increases the likelihood of successful strategy development and stakeholder engagement.

Purpose of Presentations

The purpose of a presentation serves as its North Star, guiding the content, structure, and delivery to achieve specific goals. Before diving into creating decks, PowerPoint slides, or any other artifacts, it is crucial to first define the purpose of the presentation. This initial step ensures that every aspect of the presentation is aligned with the intended outcome and maximizes its effectiveness. Here are the key reasons why it is essential to think about the purpose of the presentation before delving into its creation:

  1. Clarity and Focus: Defining the purpose upfront provides clarity and focus, enabling presenters to stay on track throughout the development process. Without a clear purpose, the presentation may lack direction and fail to convey a coherent message.
  2. Audience-Centric Approach: Understanding the purpose allows presenters to tailor the content and delivery to the specific needs and interests of the audience. An audience-centric presentation resonates better with stakeholders, increasing their engagement and receptiveness.
  3. Streamlined Content: Knowing the purpose helps presenters prioritize the most relevant information and eliminate unnecessary details. This streamlines the content, making the presentation more concise and impactful.
  4. Effective Storytelling: With a clear purpose in mind, presenters can craft a compelling narrative that aligns with the strategic objectives. Storytelling becomes more purposeful and persuasive, evoking emotions and driving stakeholders towards the desired action.
  5. Outcome-Oriented Design: The purpose of the presentation informs the design choices, ensuring that visuals, graphics, and layouts support the main message. Design elements are chosen with the specific goal in mind, enhancing the overall impact.
  6. Engagement and Relevance: A purpose-driven presentation captures stakeholders’ attention by directly addressing their interests and concerns. It becomes more relevant and engaging, holding the audience’s focus throughout the session.
  7. Efficient Resource Utilization: Defining the purpose before creation saves valuable time and resources. Presenters can avoid investing efforts in unrelated content or excessive details that do not contribute to achieving the presentation’s objectives.
  8. Flexibility and Adaptability: A clear purpose allows presenters to adapt their approach based on the audience’s response or changing circumstances. Flexibility enables them to address unexpected questions or challenges effectively.
  9. Measuring Success: The purpose serves as a measurable benchmark for evaluating the presentation’s success. Presenters can gauge the achievement of specific objectives and make improvements based on feedback and outcomes.

Now let’s talk about some types of presentations based on their purpose, namely Information Presentations, Feedback-Gathering Presentations, Persuasive Presentations, and Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment:

Informative Presentations

Informative presentations aim to provide the audience with facts, data, and information about a particular topic or subject. They focus on educating and increasing the knowledge base of the listeners.

  • Clarify Vision: In the early stages of strategy development, the informative presentation helps communicate the organization’s vision, mission, and long-term goals. It sets the direction and aligns stakeholders towards a common purpose.
  • Gather and Analyze Information: As the strategy development progresses, informative presentations become vital for sharing research findings, market trends, and data analysis. These presentations aid in gathering relevant information for decision-making.
  • Evaluate and Control: In the evaluation and control phase, informative presentations help assess the progress of the strategy implementation, presenting performance metrics, and highlighting areas that require improvement.

Informative presentations are valuable when presenting new research findings, updates on projects, or sharing insights into market trends and industry developments.

Feedback-Gathering Presentations

Feedback is a common element and activity in our workplace cultures and many social cultures. “Feedback” is a word that’s become ingrained in our vocabulary. We use it all the time, à la “I’d love to get your feedback on something…” In human-to-human interactions, such as our conversations in our projects, the feedback we receive might be nothing more than a gut reaction to whatever is being presented. And to be quite honest, even though we might not want to admit it, that’s often all it is (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design , 2015).

Feedback-gathering presentations are essential for gathering insights and opinions from stakeholders. Their significance in different strategy development phases includes:

  • Gather and Analyze Information: During the initial stages, feedback-gathering presentations allow stakeholders to express their ideas, concerns, and expectations. This helps in gathering valuable input that shapes the strategy formulation.
  • Formulate a Strategy: In the formulation phase, feedback-gathering presentations help fine-tune strategies based on input from various stakeholders. This enhances the chances of successful implementation by considering diverse perspectives.
  • Evaluate and Control: Feedback-gathering presentations continue to be valuable in the evaluation phase as they provide a platform for stakeholders to provide feedback on the strategy’s effectiveness, enabling necessary adjustments.

Feedback is an important part of the design process, but the term itself and the way we often ask for it is very broad and can produce conversations that aren’t useful.

Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design (2015)

The problem with asking for feedback is that — most times — we aren’t being specific enough in describing what we want feedback on and why we are asking for it. Sometimes, the input we receive might be a gut reaction. Occasionally, we might get back a list of instructions or suggestions on what to change. Sometimes, we might get comments that describe how what we’ve designed doesn’t match what the critic would have designed. Weeding through all that feedback to determine what’s of use to us–what will help us identify the aspects of our design that we should iterate upon–can be a struggle (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015).

Three Kinds of feedback

There are three forms of feedback, all of which vary in their degree of usefulness to us in the design process (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):

  1. Reaction-based feedback happens quickly and instinctively, usually filled with passion and driven by someone’s expectationsdesires, and values.
  2. Direction-based feedback usually begins with an instruction or suggestion. The individual providing it is often looking for ways to bring the design more in line with their own expectations of what the solution should be.
  3. Critique. This form of feedback is the most helpful to us in understanding the impact of our design decisions.

Understanding these three kinds of feedback can help us understand our conversations with our teams and improve our ability to react to and use feedback to strengthen our designs.

Reaction-based Feedback

Why can reaction-based feedback be an issue? At best, this kind of feedback informs us about the subconscious reaction of the viewer to what you’ve designed. We want to understand these reactions to avoid “selling” something to people who cringe at something the second they see it. But are the people from whom you’ve asked for feedback reflective of your design’s actual audience? (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015).

Direction-based feedback

Why can direction-based feedback be an issue? Feedback without any explanation indicates nothing about the effectiveness of meeting the design’s objectives. You will have to consider how or why the design you have is or is not effective at addressing the problem — e.g., dealing with the tension between novelty and compliance, exploration vs. approval. (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015).

Critique

Reaction and direction are limited in their ability to help us understand if our design choices might work toward the product’s objective. Critique – a form of analysis that uses critical thinking – is the feedback that focuses on precisely that understanding (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015).

After working as a designer for more than 25 years, I have a few disclaimers to share with you before deep-diving into critique:

  • The first one is based on my observation of working with team members for which term first language is not English: the word “critique” might have very different connotations in their native language, including some very negative ones as — for example — for German speakers, where critique reminds them of criticism.
  • Speaking of criticism, everyone seems to dread their work being criticized. Yet, most people don’t seem to have a problem being critical of the work of others, either intentionally or not!
  • The second is based on my design background: if you’ve been trained in some form of design program — especially with a strong design studio tradition — as I have, then you’ll remember how taking criticism (while painful at first) was something that became easier and easier the more you practiced. So now look at the background of your team, and — more likely than not — you will realize that most of them did not have that background! Criticism is not natural for them: neither to give nor to receive!

This is a long way of saying that — out of all the facilitation skills I’ve been sharing, critique is going to be the one that you’ll probably have to spend the most energy for the longest to build the muscles and create a team culture around it!

We will come back to discuss Critiques in more detail later in this article when we talk about how to incorporate feedback.

Persuasive Presentations

Persuasive presentations are crafted to influence the audience’s beliefs, attitudes, or decisions in favor of the presenter’s viewpoint or proposed course of action. Their significance during different phases of strategy development includes:

  • Clarify Vision: Persuasive presentations can be used to inspire and motivate stakeholders, creating a sense of urgency and excitement around the organization’s vision.
  • Formulate a Strategy: In the formulation phase, persuasive presentations are crucial for obtaining buy-in from key decision-makers and stakeholders. They help create alignment and support for the proposed strategies.
  • Implement Your Strategy: During the implementation phase, persuasive presentations may be used to engage employees and ensure their commitment to the strategy’s successful execution.

That said, we need to recognize the cultural challenges of persuading.

Business today is primarily run by teams and populated by authority-averse baby boomers and Generation Xers. Work gets done in an environment where people don’t just ask what I should do? But Why should I do it? That makes persuasion more important than ever as a managerial tool. But contrary to popular belief, author Jay Conger (director of the University of Southern California’s Marshall Business School’s Leadership Institute) asserts persuasion is not the same as selling an idea or convincing opponents to see things your way (Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion, 1998)

Persuasion is a process of learning from others and negotiating a shared solution.

Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion (1998)

It is instead a process of learning from others and negotiating a shared solution. To that end, persuasion consists of these essential elements: establishing credibility, framing to find common ground, vividly reinforce your position, and connecting emotionally (Conger, J. A., The necessary art of persuasion, 1998):

  • Establish Credibility: Your credibility grows out of two sources: expertise and relationships. If you have a history of well-informed, sound judgment, your colleagues will trust your expertise. If you’ve demonstrated that you can work in the best interest of others, your colleagues will have confidence in your relationships.
  • Frame Goals on Common Ground: Tangibly describe the benefits of your position. The fastest way to get a child to the grocery store is to point out the lollipops by the cash register. That is not deception–it’s persuasion. When no shared advantages are apparent, adjust your position.
  • Vividly reinforce your position: Ordinary evidence won’t do. Make numerical data more compelling with examples, stories, and metaphors that have an emotional impact.
  • Connect Emotionally: Adjust your own emotional tone to match each audience’s ability to receive your message. Learn how your colleagues have interpreted past events in the organization and sense how they will probably interpret your proposal. Test key individuals’ possible reactions

That said, we will cover the drawbacks of persuading (especially when it comes to vividly reinforce your position) later in this article when we talk about the differences between persuading and negotiating.

Persuasion and Thought Leadership

In a previous post, I argued that Thought Leadership is critical for designers to become good strategists who are better prepared to influence business decisions. Presentation and storytelling skills are integral to thought leaders, as they are crucial in effectively conveying innovative ideas and inspiring change:

  • In the fast-paced world of thought leadership, possessing profound insights alone is insufficient; the ability to present those insights persuasively is paramount.
  • By honing their presentation skills, thought leaders can captivate their audience, build trust, and establish themselves as influential voices in their field.
  • Storytelling, on the other hand, allows thought leaders to craft narratives that resonate emotionally with their audience, making complex concepts relatable and memorable.
  • Through persuasive presentations, thought leaders can galvanize support for their ideas, challenge prevailing norms, and encourage others to take action.

In an age where information overload is prevalent, the combination of presentation and storytelling skills empowers thought leaders to cut through the noise, amplify their message, and leave a lasting impact on their audience, thus advancing their cause and driving thought leadership forward.

adult background ball shaped blur
Strategy and Thought Leadership

Learn why Thought Leadership is critical for designers to become good strategists who are better prepared to influence the business decisions. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

The Cultural Nuances of Persuasion

When creating Persuasive Presentations, the insights from professor Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map shed light on the challenges presenters may encounter when dealing with trans-cultural teams. Cultural differences can significantly impact the approach to persuasion, with some cultures being Principles-first and others being Application-first.

"Persuading” axis in Erin Meyer's Culture Map: on the left we have the cultures that tend to engage on persuasion from a Concept-First Perspective (e.g.: Italy, France, Spain); on the Right, we have the cultures that tend engage on persuasion from an Application-First perspective (e.g.: Australia, Canada, US).
“Persuading” in The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (Meyer, E., 2014)

To effectively persuade an audience in a Principles-first culture, presenters should adopt a comprehensive and structured approach that emphasizes building a strong theoretical foundation. They should begin by thoroughly researching and developing a well-structured framework that underpins their arguments and proposals. Presenters should prioritize providing in-depth explanations and detailed evidence to support their points, as Principles-first cultures value a thorough understanding of the theoretical context. Utilizing data, research findings, and expert opinions can further bolster the credibility of their presentations. Presenters should take the time to articulate complex concepts clearly and concisely, ensuring that their audience can follow the logical flow of their reasoning. Presenters can build trust and credibility with their audience by showcasing a well-researched and robust theoretical framework, making their persuasive messages more compelling and influential.

To effectively persuade an audience in an Application-first culture, presenters should adopt a pragmatic and results-oriented approach that prioritizes concrete evidence and real-life examples. Starting with compelling facts, statements, or opinions can capture the attention of the audience and provide immediate relevance to their experiences. Presenters should focus on demonstrating practical applications and tangible benefits of their proposals, showing how their ideas can address specific challenges or opportunities. Incorporating case studies, success stories, and practical demonstrations can further reinforce their persuasive messages. Presenters should be concise and direct in their delivery, avoiding excessive theoretical explanations that might distract from the main points. By showcasing tangible outcomes and practical solutions, presenters can align with the preferences of an Application-first culture, increasing the likelihood of gaining buy-in and support for their ideas.

Persuading versus Negotiating

Persuading and negotiating are two distinct communication approaches, each with its strengths and limitations. According to John A. Conger’s “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” persuasion involves learning from others and seeking a shared solution. This approach emphasizes building understanding and collaboration to reach common ground. However, persuading can have drawbacks, as highlighted in Why Are We Yelling? by Buster Benson: when individuals become fixed on their positions and see the conversation as a contest of right and wrong, conflicts can escalate, hindering productive outcomes.

On the other hand, negotiation, as described by Roger Fisher and William Ury in Getting to Yes, is principled and focused on problem-solving. Negotiators aim to find solutions that satisfy both parties’ interests and promote an amicable outcome. Negotiation is especially crucial in the design process, as emphasized by Louis Bucciarelli:

In a collaborative environment, design involves negotiating among disciplines, integrating multiple perspectives to achieve workable solutions.

Bucciarelli, L, An Ethnographic Perspective on Engineering Design, (1998)

While persuasion and negotiation have their merits, strategists in the design process should recognize that successful design outcomes often arise from negotiation rather than pure persuasion. The design process involves compromise and finding common ground among various stakeholders, where solutions are negotiated, not imposed. By embracing negotiation mechanisms and fostering open communication, designers can manage the integration of multiple perspectives and achieve well-balanced, effective design solutions.

We are going to cover negotiation techniques — both in the context of design critiques, as well as conflict resolution — later in this article.

Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment

At some point in the decision making process, we know what we should do. We have clear intention, but that is not the same as doing it. Without action, the value of the best alternative is nothing more than potential value. Converting potential value into real value requires action (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Without commitment, advice giving is merely the expression of opinions.

Maister, D. H., Galford, R., & Green, C., “Commitment” in The trusted advisor (2021)

Decision-commitment presentations are meant to finalize and secure commitment to a particular course of action, strategy, or project plan. These presentations are necessary when seeking approval or support for significant initiatives or strategic directions. Their importance in different strategy development phases includes:

  • Formulate a Strategy: Decision-commitment presentations are vital for securing approval and support from stakeholders, which is essential for moving forward with a formulated strategy.
  • Implement Your Strategy: In the implementation phase, decision-commitment presentations are instrumental in obtaining the necessary resources, funding, and support for executing the strategy effectively.
  • Formulate a Strategy: Decision-commitment presentations are vital for securing approval and support from stakeholders, which is essential for moving forward with a formulated strategy.
  • Implement Your Strategy: In the implementation phase, decision-commitment presentations are instrumental in obtaining the necessary resources, funding, and support for executing the strategy effectively.
  • Evaluate and Control: Decision-commitment presentations play a role in the evaluation phase as they help ensure stakeholders remain committed to the strategy’s goals and objectives.

A decision isn’t truly made until resources have been irrevocably allocated to its execution. And so we need a commitment to action and a mental shift from thinking to doing. Thinking and doing are two different mindsets. If a business decision has the potential for a bad outcome (as nearly all of them do), a leader may hesitate in committing to action. It can even be financially risky for a decision maker to act, since incentives  generally reward good outcomes rather than good decisions (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Without action, the value potential in a decision cannot be realised.

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)

Shifting between the two mindsets is especially difficult for action-oriented executives and managers who get bogged down in the complexities and uncertainties of decision making. But to be effective, they must learn to operate in both modes — deciding and executing-moving rapidly from one mode to the other. A shift from thought to action can be emotional and may require courage. It also requires a shift from one skill set to another. During the decision-making process, conflict is fuel, encouraging a diverse set of alternatives, values, and perspectives. When it is time for action, we need alignment and buy-in (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

The mindset of deciding must embrace uncertainty; the mindset of action must replace uncertainty with certitude of purpose: “Let’s get on with it.”

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)

Shifting between the two mindsets is especially difficult for action-oriented executives and managers who get bogged down in the complexities and uncertainties of decision making. But to be effective, they must learn to operate in both modes–deciding and executing-moving rapidly from one mode to the other. Unlike the rapid action of detailed operational adjustments, strategy decisions involve less detail, have long delays before the outcome is observed, and may be very expensive or impossible to adjust once execution is launched (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016).

Strategic decisions require considerable deliberation and involvement of others, unlike the ready-fire- aim execution focus of operations. These are two very different modes of thinking and behaving, yet executives and managers must be good at both.

Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions (2016)

Teams that commit to decisions and standards do so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity. (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010).

The lack of clarity and/or buy-in prevents team members from making decisions they can stick to.

Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team, enhanced edition: A leadership fable (2013)
Five Dysfunctions of a Team
The journey of every high performing team starts with addressing the absence of trust (Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team, 2013)

To effectively gain buy-in and create clarity during Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment, presenters must ensure that team members are fully engaged and invested in the decision-making process, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment to the outcomes.

To achieve buy-in, presenters should encourage active participation, seek diverse input from stakeholders, and address concerns and objections openly to build trust and consensus.

Simultaneously, presenters must emphasize clarity in their presentations, helping stakeholders to deal with Uncertainty Ambiguity. They should craft a compelling narrative that clearly communicates the purpose, vision, and desired outcomes of the decision. Utilizing personal anecdotes, real-life examples, and visuals can enhance understanding and make complex ideas more relatable. Repetition and call-backs can reinforce key messages, helping the audience grasp the central concepts. Incorporating feedback and actively seeking clarity from the audience can also enhance understanding and ensure that everyone is aligned.

man wearing black and white stripe shirt looking at white printer papers on the wall
Dealing with Uncertainty and Ambiguity

Designers often find themselves with incomplete information about their users, the problem space, and its parameters. We must therefore be able to deal with Uncertainty and Ambiguity while not being paralyzed by them (Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com)

Adjusting the Content and Structure to match the Purpose of Presentations

Yes, the content and structure of the presentation should indeed change based on the purpose of the presentation. Each type of presentation serves a specific objective, and tailoring the content and structure accordingly maximizes the effectiveness of communication and achieves the desired outcomes. Let’s explore how the content and structure may differ for each purpose:

  1. Informative Presentations: these presentations focus on sharing factual information, research findings, or updates. The content should be clear, concise, and data-driven. Presenters should avoid persuasive language or biased statements, as the goal is to provide objective information. An informative presentation typically follows a logical sequence, starting with an introduction, followed by key points and supporting evidence, and concluding with a summary or key takeaways.
  2. Feedback-Gathering Presentations: these presentations aim to solicit input and opinions from the audience. The content should include specific questions or prompts that encourage participants to share their thoughts and ideas openly. The structure should allow ample time for discussion, Q&A, and interactive activities. Presenters should be prepared to listen actively and respond to feedback in real-time, fostering a collaborative environment.
  3. Persuasive Presentations: these presentations seek to influence the audience’s beliefs or attitudes. The content should be framed around compelling arguments, supported by evidence and examples. Presenters should address potential counterarguments and present a clear call to action.
    Structure: Persuasive presentations often follow the problem-solution structure, identifying a challenge or opportunity and presenting a persuasive case for the proposed solution. They may include emotional appeals and storytelling to enhance impact.
  4. Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: these presentations require a thorough and comprehensive overview of the proposed solution or initiative. The content should include a detailed analysis of the options, risks, benefits, and implications. These presentations should provide a balanced view of the situation, allowing stakeholders to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. A well-organized structure that addresses concerns and clarifies expectations is essential for securing commitment.

By adapting the content and structure to the purpose of the presentation, presenters can effectively engage the audience, align with their expectations, and achieve the desired outcomes, whether it is to inform, gather feedback, persuade, or secure commitment. Understanding the specific objectives of each presentation type enables presenters to tailor their approach and maximize the impact of their communication.

Audience Types

Presentations vary significantly based on the audience type, as the dynamics of engagement and the desired outcomes differ for each group. Let’s explore how the four types of presentations (informative, feedback-gathering, persuasive, and decision-commitment) should adapt to the unique characteristics of presenting to different audience types: internal teams, experts, and stakeholders.

Presenting to Internal Teams

Internal teams may include different departments, project teams, or cross-functional groups within an organization.

Tailoring the presentation content to their roles, responsibilities, and interests will ensure relevance and engagement.

Now let’s look at how the dynamics and the approach should change while presenting to internal teams based on the purpose of the presentation:

  • Informative Presentations: When presenting to internal teams, an informative presentation seeks to provide clear and relevant information to guide their actions and decisions. You should focus on fostering a shared understanding of the user experience strategy among team members. Provide actionable insights and data that enable teams to align their efforts with the strategic objectives.
  • Feedback-Gathering Presentations: Internal teams play a crucial role in executing the user experience vision, and feedback-gathering presentations aim to solicit their input and perspectives. You should encourage open and honest discussions, inviting team members to share their thoughts and suggestions. Actively listen to their feedback and address their concerns to build a sense of ownership in the strategy.
  • Persuasive Presentations: To gain internal teams’ support and commitment, persuasive presentations appeal to their shared goals and the benefits of the user experience strategy. Highlight how the strategy aligns with the team’s objectives, empowering them to see their role in its success. Emphasize the positive impact on team performance and achievements.
  • Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: Decision-commitment presentations focus on securing buy-in from internal teams, ensuring their commitment to implementing the strategy. Address potential reservations or challenges head-on, showcasing the benefits of the strategy to the team’s success. Clearly communicate action plans, responsibilities, and expected outcomes.

Presenting to Experts

Experts possess specialized knowledge and skills in a particular field or domain.

Acknowledging their expertise, presenting complex information, and addressing technical inquiries will demonstrate respect for their proficiency.

Now let’s look at how the dynamics and the approach should change while presenting to experts based on the purpose of the presentation:

  • Informative Presentations: while presenting to experts, delve into the technical details and domain-specific insights that support the user experience vision. Tailor the presentation to the experts’ expertise, providing in-depth analysis and data relevant to their area. Engage in technical discussions to elicit their input and validate findings.
  • Feedback-Gathering Presentations: while presenting experts, seek their evaluation and validation of the strategy’s technical feasibility and alignment with best practices. Encourage experts to provide critical feedback and alternative viewpoints. Incorporate their insights to enhance the user experience strategy’s technical aspects.
  • Persuasive Presentations: while presenting to experts, demonstrate the strategic value of the user experience vision while addressing any technical concerns. Emphasize how the strategy leverages their expertise to create innovative and user-centric experiences. Showcase how their contributions elevate the organization’s competitive advantage.
  • Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: aim to gain experts’ endorsement of the user experience strategy, securing their commitment to its successful execution. Demonstrate the long-term benefits and the potential for their expertise to drive meaningful impact. Address any challenges and ask them how can we overcome them.

Presenting to Stakeholders

Stakeholders are individuals or groups with a vested interest in the outcomes of the presentation.

Addressing their concerns, showing alignment with their goals, and highlighting the benefits will foster support and collaboration.

Now let’s look at how the dynamics and the approach should change while presenting to stakeholders based on the purpose of the presentation:

  • Informative Presentations: while presenting to stakeholders, focus on providing a clear and comprehensive overview of the user experience strategy’s objectives and potential impact. Present a strategic roadmap that aligns with the organization’s goals, illustrating how the strategy complements the broader mission and vision.
  • Feedback-Gathering Presentations: while presenting to stakeholders, aim to consider their perspectives and assess the strategy’s feasibility within the organizational context. Actively solicit stakeholder feedback, engaging in constructive discussions. Address their concerns and demonstrate a willingness to adapt the strategy based on their input.
  • Persuasive Presentations: presenting to stakeholders require a compelling narrative that highlights the user experience strategy’s potential return on investment and alignment with organizational objectives. Frame the strategy as a strategic opportunity for growth and innovation. Showcase how it addresses stakeholder interests and priorities.
  • Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: Decision-commitment presentations seek to secure stakeholders’ support and endorsement of the user experience strategy. Reinforce the strategic value of the strategy and the alignment with stakeholder goals. Clearly articulate the action plan and expected outcomes, inspiring confidence in the strategy’s success.
Effective Stakeholder Engagement Approaches Based on their Influence and Interest

Stakeholder engagement is a crucial aspect of strategy development and requires tailored approaches to effectively communicate with different stakeholders based on their attitude toward the project, especially when it comes to influence and their interest level

A power map is a visual depiction of stakeholders placed into quadrants based on a combination of their power or influence on the program and their interest level. Each of the quadrants within your power map has a separate associated communication strategy, as the type and frequency of communication with a stakeholder vary (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015):

  • High influence, high interest: In the top right quadrant are those with the highest level of interest and the highest level of influence. I refer to this quadrant as the power players. This is the group of people, you need to stay in regular contact with, and with which you should spend the most effort building and maintaining strong relationships.
  • Low influence, low interest: In the lower left quadrant are those with the lowest level of interest and the lowest level of influence. I refer to this quadrant as the sleepers. You may want to make information available to this group of stakeholders, but compared to others, less time should be focused on this group.
  • High influence, low interest: This group is found in the top left quadrant. I refer to this quadrant as the danger zone. This quadrant is tricky, and if not handled properly these stakeholders can threaten the success of your program. This group tends not to be fully engaged in the program; they may be distracted by other competing initiatives or be spending their time and energy elsewhere until they are more focused on your program and become positive proponents for it. Communication to this group must be handled carefully. Those in this group have high influence but only show up periodically to meetings. They tend to make assumptions and, even worse, decisions based on partial information. It is crucial to carefully think through the communications plan for this group, with an emphasis on focused communications that convey the most important information.
  • Low influence, high interest: This is another interesting group. For stakeholders in this group, it makes sense to give them a lot of information. I refer to this quadrant as the informants. These are often the people who think they have a lot of influence, but in actuality, they do not — at least not from a decision-making standpoint. Where they are influential is in getting the word out, good or bad. These people can be champions for your program, and positive publicity is always a good thing. On the other hand, they can be critics and can therefore be a corrosive force on your program. Given this emphasis, a good strategy here is to maintain regular communication, primarily by providing a lot of information. This group can also be beneficial as they may be a means to new ideas or approaches, and while they may not directly have a high level of power, they are still a good resource use.
Stakeholder Analytics: Influence versus Interest Quadrants
A power map is a visual depiction of stakeholders placed into quadrants based on a combination of their power or influence on the program and their interest level (Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management, 2015)

By taking the time to develop this full list of stakeholders that extends beyond the obvious boundaries of organization charts, you are able to keep all stakeholders engaged at the appropriate times and with the appropriate level of detail to garner the support needed and to avoid or remove roadblocks along your journey. Know who your stakeholders are, and then get to know your stakeholders.

Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)

Each stakeholder group possesses unique characteristics and interests, necessitating a nuanced approach to engage and secure their commitment to the user experience strategy. Let’s explore how to effectively engage each stakeholder type:

Danger Zone Stakeholders

Danger zone stakeholders are individuals who are critical of the user experience strategy or have reservations about its potential impact. They may express dissent or skepticism, posing challenges to the strategy’s implementation.

Engagement Approach:

  • Active Listening: Engage in active listening to understand their concerns and motivations. Demonstrate empathy and acknowledge their viewpoints, signaling that their input is valued.
  • Addressing Concerns: Proactively address their objections and provide evidence-based responses to alleviate their doubts. Offering practical solutions to mitigate risks can instill confidence.
  • Demonstrating Benefits: Emphasize the benefits of the strategy, highlighting how it aligns with their interests and addresses pain points. Focus on the positive impact on their roles or the organization’s success.
Power Players

Power players hold significant influence and decision-making authority within the organization. Engaging with them requires presenting a compelling case that aligns with their strategic goals and priorities.

Engagement Approach:

  • Strategic Alignment: Emphasize the strategic alignment between the user experience strategy and the organization’s overall mission and goals. Demonstrate how the strategy supports their key priorities.
  • Data-Driven Insights: Back the presentation with relevant data and insights to reinforce the credibility of the strategy’s potential impact. Appeal to their analytical mindset and need for evidence-based decision-making.
  • Executive-Level Communication: Tailor the communication style to be concise, direct, and focused on the bottom-line impact. Address their concerns in a results-oriented manner.
Sleepers

Sleepers are stakeholders who are passive or disengaged in the strategy development process. Engaging with them requires awakening their interest and encouraging active participation.

Engagement Approach:

  • Interactive Sessions: Organize interactive sessions that encourage participation and collaborative discussions. Incorporate exercises, brainstorming activities, or workshops to elicit their insights.
  • Personalization: Tailor the presentation to resonate with their interests and roles. Demonstrate how the strategy affects their specific responsibilities and how their contributions are vital.
  • Recognition: Acknowledge their potential contributions and expertise, making them feel valued and included in the strategy’s development and execution.
Informants

Characteristics: Informants possess valuable knowledge, insights, or data that can shape the user experience strategy. Engaging with them involves leveraging their expertise to strengthen the strategy.

Engagement Approach:

  • Knowledge Sharing: Foster an environment of knowledge exchange, where informants can share their insights and contribute to the strategy’s refinement.
  • Validation of Findings: Seek their validation of research findings or technical aspects to ensure accuracy and completeness.
  • Collaboration: Emphasize the collaborative nature of the strategy development process and the value of their input in creating a comprehensive approach.

Effective stakeholder engagement is a pivotal component of strategy development. By considering the unique characteristics of danger zone stakeholders, power players, sleepers, and informants, strategists can tailor their approach to engage each group successfully. Utilizing active listening, addressing concerns, demonstrating benefits, ensuring strategic alignment, promoting interactive sessions, and recognizing stakeholders’ expertise are key strategies to drive stakeholder engagement and secure commitment to the user experience strategy. Understanding and engaging stakeholders effectively fosters a collaborative and supportive environment, ensuring the successful implementation of the user experience vision.

group of people sitting in front of table
Strategy and Stakeholder Management

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Audience Size

The success of a presentation greatly depends on how well the presenter tailors their approach to the audience size. Different audience sizes present unique challenges and opportunities. Adapting your presentation style to the audience size is essential for effective communication and engagement. Whether it’s an intimate setting, a boardroom with high-level executives, or an all-hands presentation, tailoring your approach to meet each audience’s unique demands will significantly enhance your presentation’s impact.

Here’s how the presentation style should adapt based on the audience size:

Intimate Presentations

Intimate presentations typically involve a small group of individuals, fostering a more personal and interactive atmosphere. To adapt your presentation style.

  • Foster Engagement: Since the audience is small, encourage open dialogue, questions, and discussions throughout the presentation. Engage directly with individuals to create a comfortable and interactive setting.
  • Use Relatable Examples: Share relatable anecdotes or examples that resonate with the smaller group, making the content more relatable and memorable.
  • Address Individual Needs: Tailor the presentation to address the specific interests and needs of the audience members, as smaller groups may have diverse concerns.
  • Seek Input: Actively seek input and feedback from the audience to ensure a collaborative and participatory experience.

Boardroom Presentations

Boardroom presentations involve presenting to high-level executives and decision-makers. Adapting your style to this setting requires a more focused and concise approach:

  • Be Clear and Concise: Boardroom members value their time, so ensure your presentation is well-structured, to the point, and focused on key insights and decision-making factors. 
  • Address Strategic Impact: Emphasize how the presented information aligns with the organization’s strategic goals and impacts the bottom line.
  • Anticipate In-Depth Questions: Prepare for detailed and challenging questions from board members, as they are likely to scrutinize the finer details.
  • Be Prepared to Pivot: Be ready to adapt your presentation based on real-time feedback and the direction the discussion takes.

All-Hands Presentations

All-hands presentations involve addressing a large audience, often the entire organization. Capturing and retaining attention in this setting requires a dynamic and engaging approach:

  • Use Visuals: Utilize compelling visuals, charts, and graphs to present complex information in an easy-to-understand format for a broader audience. 
  • Tell Stories: Incorporate storytelling techniques to connect emotionally with a larger audience, making the presentation more memorable. 
  • Encourage Interaction: Use interactive elements such as live polls or Q&A sessions to involve the audience, keeping them engaged throughout. 
  • Highlight Key Messages: Reiterate key messages and takeaways consistently throughout the presentation to ensure they resonate with a diverse audience.
  • Pace Yourself: Be mindful of the time and pacing, ensuring you cover all essential points within the allocated time frame.
  • Use a Clear Voice and Body Language: Project your voice clearly and use expressive body language to maintain the audience’s attention and interest.

What to Include (and What to Exclude) from Presentations

Deciding what content to include and exclude should be a strategic process that considers the purpose of the presentation, the type of audience, and the audience size. Tailoring the content to match these variables ensures that the presentation effectively delivers its intended message, engages the audience, and leaves a lasting impact.

The editing and revision process is a critical stage in preparing a successful presentation. As the presenter, you must carefully review and refine the content to ensure that it aligns with the purpose, audience type, and audience size. Here are some key criteria to consider what material what to include and what to excluding:

  • Relevance to the Presentation Objective: Evaluate each piece of content and assess its direct contribution to achieving the presentation’s objective. If a section or data point does not directly support the main message or key takeaway, consider excluding it to maintain focus.
  • Conciseness and Clarity: Aim for clarity and brevity in your presentation. Eliminate any unnecessary jargon, complex language, or long-winded explanations that could confuse or overwhelm the audience. Keep the content concise, straightforward, and easily digestible.
  • Impact and Significance: Prioritize content that has the most significant impact on the audience’s understanding and engagement. Focus on core ideas and compelling stories that resonate with the audience, leaving a lasting impression.
  • Audience’s Prior Knowledge: Consider the level of familiarity your audience has with the subject matter. For internal teams or experts, you may need to dive deeper into technical details. For stakeholders or a larger audience, provide context and avoid overwhelming them with excessive technical information.
  • Time Constraints: Review the time allocated for the presentation and ensure that the content fits within the given timeframe. If certain sections risk exceeding the allotted time, be prepared to edit or summarize them without compromising the core message.
  • Clarity of Message Flow: Ensure that the content flows logically and cohesively, building a clear narrative that guides the audience through the presentation. Remove any tangents or non-essential information that may disrupt the flow.
  • Alignment with Audience Needs: Put yourself in the shoes of your audience and consider what information is most relevant and valuable to them. Tailor the content to meet their needs and address potential questions or concerns they may have.
  • Supporting Visuals: Review any visuals, such as slides or charts, to ensure they complement and enhance the content rather than adding unnecessary complexity. Visuals should reinforce key points and aid in the audience’s understanding.
  • Feedback from Peers or Test Audience: Seek input from colleagues or a test audience during the review process. Their perspectives can help identify sections that may be confusing or require further refinement.

By using these criteria to guide the editing and revision process, you can refine your presentation to be impactful, focused, and aligned with the needs of your audience. Remember that effective editing often involves making tough decisions about what to exclude, but ultimately, it allows you to deliver a more compelling and memorable presentation.

Now, let’s look at how to align the content with the purpose of the presentation, whether it is to inform, gather feedback, persuade, or seek decision-commitment:

  • For informative presentations, focus on delivering clear and concise information, providing relevant data, facts, and insights. Avoid overwhelming the audience with unnecessary details and prioritize key takeaways.
  • In feedback-gathering presentations, prioritize content that elicits meaningful responses. Encourage audience participation and engagement, leaving ample time for questions and feedback. Be prepared to adjust the content based on the input received
  • For persuasive presentations, emphasize compelling arguments and supporting evidence. Highlight benefits and outcomes that align with the audience’s interests and values
  • In presentations for decision-making and commitment, include content that clarifies the options and benefits. provide a well-structured and rational case for the proposed decision. Include data, analysis, and potential impact to enable informed choices

The second consideration is the type of audience for the presentation:

  • Presenting to internal teams may require more in-depth content, as they are familiar with the organization’s context. Tailor the content to address their specific needs and concerns.
  • Experts may require more technical details and data to engage effectively. Highlight technical details and evidence to support claims. Acknowledge their expertise and invite their insights to foster a sense of collaboration
  • Stakeholders, on the other hand, may be more interested in the broader impact and benefits of the presentation’s content. Address both the rational and emotional aspects of the presentation. Articulate the benefits and potential risks while considering their values and priorities

Lastly, the audience size also plays a role in content selection.

  • For intimate presentations, you can delve into more detail and foster interactive discussions. Customize the content to address individual preferences and concerns. Encourage open discussions and interaction
  • Boardroom presentations to a smaller group of executives may require a high-level overview and focus on strategic implications. Emphasize concise and high-level information to suit their time constraints. Prioritize key data and insights relevant to their strategic decision-making
  • All-hands presentations to a large audience may prioritize key takeaways and emphasize clarity and simplicity.

During the editing and revision process, consider the time available for the presentation and ensure that the content aligns with the allocated time. Be mindful of the attention span of the audience and avoid overwhelming them with excessive details. When considering what to exclude:

  • Avoid Overwhelming Information: Refrain from including excessive data or statistics that may confuse or distract the audience.
  • Remove Irrelevant Details: Trim content that does not directly contribute to the central message or objective of the presentation.
  • Eliminate Jargon: Tailor the language to match the audience’s level of understanding, avoiding technical terms that may be unfamiliar to some.
  • Be Selective with Examples: Only use real-life examples and anecdotes that resonate with the audience while avoiding unnecessary tangents.

Staying in the Flow

The importance of flow in creating great presentations cannot be overstated. Flow refers to the seamless and logical progression of ideas, concepts, and information throughout the presentation. It is the art of organizing and structuring the content in a way that allows the audience to follow and understand the narrative effortlessly.

The importance of flow in creating great presentations is deeply rooted in the psychology of human engagement and optimal experience, as explored by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the concept of flow. Flow is a state of complete immersion and focus in an activity, where individuals are fully absorbed and engaged in what they are doing. When presenters achieve a sense of flow in their presentations, they create an environment where the audience is effortlessly drawn into the content, and time seems to pass seamlessly.

A well-structured flow keeps the audience engaged and attentive, making it easier for them to grasp the key messages and retain the information presented (consider the Creating a Beginning, Middle and End approach from Nancy Duarte). It helps prevent confusion and cognitive overload, ensuring that the audience can absorb the content in a coherent manner.

Flow is crucial for maintaining the audience’s attention throughout the presentation. When the information flows smoothly, it feels like a cohesive story unfolding, capturing the audience’s curiosity and driving them to stay invested in the presentation until the end.

The concept of flow in presentations goes beyond simply delivering information; it requires thoughtful planning and structuring of the content. To achieve a seamless flow, presenters must start by defining a clear and compelling opening that captures the audience’s attention from the outset. This could be a captivating story, a thought-provoking question, or a surprising statistic that immediately connects the audience to the topic.

Once the audience is engaged, the presentation should follow a logical progression, with each section building upon the previous one. Presenters should ensure that ideas are presented in a coherent and organized manner, avoiding abrupt shifts or tangents that can disrupt the flow. Utilizing transition phrases and visual cues, such as bullet points or numbered lists, can help guide the audience through the content smoothly.

To maintain the flow, presenters should also be mindful of the pacing of their delivery. Speaking too quickly can overwhelm the audience, while speaking too slowly may lead to disengagement. Varying the tone and pitch of the voice can add dynamism and keep the audience attentive.

To ensure a smooth flow, presenters should also practice and rehearse their presentations thoroughly. This will help them become more familiar with the content, reducing the reliance on notes and allowing for a more natural and seamless delivery.

Finally, the conclusion of the presentation is as crucial as the opening. Summarizing the key points, restating the main message, and leaving the audience with a clear call-to-action or thought-provoking closing remark can bring the presentation to a satisfying and memorable conclusion.

By carefully planning the structure, engaging the audience, and maintaining a steady pace, presenters can achieve the elusive state of flow in their presentations. When the content flows seamlessly, the audience becomes fully immersed in the message, resulting in a more impactful and memorable presentation experience.

Transitions and Pacing

Transitions between sections are also crucial for maintaining flow. Smooth transitions help the audience navigate through different topics or ideas without feeling abrupt or disjointed. Effective transitions can be achieved through verbal cues, signposts, or visual aids that signal the shift from one section to the next.

Moreover, presenters should be mindful of the pacing to maintain flow. Rushing through content or dwelling on certain points for too long can disrupt the flow and hinder the audience’s ability to follow the presentation smoothly.

Making Presentations Story-Driven

The power of storytelling in presentations cannot be underestimated. A story-driven presentation captivates the audience, engages their emotions, and leaves a lasting impact on their memory. Here’s how to make your presentations story-driven:

Crafting a Compelling Narrative

If you use stories in your presentation, the audience can recall what they’ve learned from you and even spread the word. Just as the plot of a compelling play, movie, or novel makes a writer’s themes more vivid and memora-ble, well-crafted stories can give your message real staying power, for two key reasons (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012):

  • Stories feature transformation: When people hear a story, they root for the protagonist as she overcomes obstacles and emerges changed in some important way (perhaps a new outlook helps her complete a difficult physical journey). It’s doubly powerful to incorporate stories that demonstrate how others have adopted the same beliefs and behaviors you’re proposing – that is, show others going through a similar transformation that your audience will go through. This will help you get people to cross over from their everyday world into the world of your ideas – and come back to their world transformed, with new insights and tools from your presentation.
  • Stories have a clear structure: All effective stories adhere to the same basic three-part structure that Aristotle pointed out ages ago: They have a begin-ning, a middle, and an end. It makes them easy to digest and retell-and it’s how audiences have been conditioned for centuries to receive informa-tion. Make sure your presentation -and any story you tell within it-has all three parts, with clear transitions between them.

Crafting a compelling narrative is of utmost importance in various aspects of communication, including presentations, storytelling, and strategy development. It involves shaping information, ideas, and data into a coherent and engaging storyline that captivates the audience and resonates with their emotions and values. The significance of crafting a compelling narrative extends to multiple domains, and here are some key reasons why it is essential:

  1. Capturing Attention: A compelling narrative immediately captures the audience’s attention and keeps them engaged throughout the presentation or storytelling. By presenting information in a structured and engaging manner, the narrative piques curiosity and draws the audience into the story.
  2. Enhancing Understanding: A well-crafted narrative simplifies complex ideas and concepts, making them easier for the audience to comprehend and remember. By contextualizing information within a story, the audience can relate to the content and grasp its significance more effectively.
  3. Building Emotional Connection: Stories have a unique ability to evoke emotions and forge a deeper connection with the audience. A compelling narrative triggers empathy, excitement, or intrigue, fostering an emotional bond between the presenter and the listeners.
  4. Inspiring Action: An impactful narrative has the power to inspire action and influence behavior. By conveying a clear message and aligning it with the audience’s values and aspirations, the narrative motivates them to take specific actions or support the presenter’s objectives.
  5. Persuasive Communication: A compelling narrative is an effective tool for persuasion. By presenting information in a persuasive manner, the presenter can influence the audience’s beliefs, attitudes, and decision-making, driving them to adopt the presenter’s perspective or support their ideas.
  6. Encouraging Empathy and Understanding: A narrative often provides insights into diverse experiences and perspectives, fostering empathy and understanding among the audience. This can be particularly crucial in fostering collaboration and teamwork within organizations.
  7. Creating Shared Memories and Meaning: Data alone may be overwhelming or lack context. By weaving data into a narrative, the presenter can provide meaning and relevance to the numbers, helping the audience see the bigger picture and make informed judgments.
  8. Uniting Diverse Audiences: A compelling narrative can bridge the gap between diverse audiences with varying backgrounds and interests. It allows the presenter to create a common understanding and vision, aligning all stakeholders toward a shared purpose.
  9. Establishing Authenticity and Trust: A well-crafted narrative conveys authenticity and transparency. When presenters share personal anecdotes or experiences, it humanizes the message, fostering trust and credibility among the audience.

Here are here are some tips from crafting a compelling narrative:

  • Identify the Central Message: Determine the key message or main idea you want to convey through your presentation. This becomes the central theme of your narrative.
  • Create a Beginning, Middle, and End: Structure your presentation like a story, with a clear beginning that hooks the audience, a middle that builds tension and momentum, and an end that delivers a satisfying conclusion or call to action.
  • Introduce Characters (Real or Metaphorical): Introduce relatable characters or use metaphors to represent real-life situations. This helps the audience connect emotionally with the content.

In conclusion, crafting a compelling narrative is a fundamental aspect of effective communication and strategy development. It captures attention, enhances understanding, builds emotional connection, inspires action, strengthens memory retention, facilitates persuasion, encourages empathy, brings meaning to data, unites diverse audiences, and establishes authenticity and trust. A compelling narrative serves as a powerful tool to engage, influence, and inspire, making it a critical skill for presenters, storytellers, and strategists alike.

Create a Beginning, Middle and End

All good presentations–like all good stories-convey and resolve some kind of conflict or imbalance. The sense of discord is what makes audiences care enough to get on board.

Narrative Structure
Persuasive Story Pattern (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012)

After gleaning story insights from films and books, studying hundreds of speeches, and spending 22 years creating customized presentations for companies and thought leaders, Nancy Duarte found that the most persuasive communicators create conflict by juxtaposing what is with what could be. That is, they alternately build tension and provide release by toggling back and forth between the status quo and a better way-finally arriving at the “new bliss” people will discover by adopting the proposed beliefs and behaviors. That conflict resolution plays out within the basic beginning-middle-end storytelling structure we all know and love (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012).

Craft the beginning

Begin by describing life as the audience knows it. People should be nodding their heads in recognition because you’re articulating what they already understand. This creates a bond between you and them and opens them up to hear your ideas for change (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012).

After you set that baseline of what is, introduce your ideas of what could be. The gap between the two will throw the audience a bit off balance, and that’s a good thing because it creates tension that needs to be resolved.

Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations (2012)

If vou proposed what could be without first establishing what is, you’d fail to connect with the audience before swooping in with your ideas, and your message would lose momentum (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012).

Once you establish the gap between what is and what could be, use the remainder of the presentation to bridge it.

Develop the middle

The middle is, in many ways, the most compelling part of your presentation, because that’s where most of the “action” takes place.

People in your audience now realize their world is off-kilter-you’ve brought that to their attention and at least hinted at a solution at the beginning of your presentation.

Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations (2012)

Now continue to emphasize the contrast between what is and what could be, moving back and forth between them, and the audience will start to find the former unappealing and the latter alluring (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012).

Make the ending powerful

Your ending should leave people with a heightened sense of what could be–and willingness to believe or do something new. Here’s where you describe how blissful their world will be when they adopt your ideas.

Many presentations simply end with a list of action items, but that isn’t exactly inspiring. You want the last thing you say to move your audience to tackle those items. You want people to feel ready to right the wrong to conquer the problem.

Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations (2012)

By skillfully defining future rewards, you compel people to get on board with your ideas. Show them that tak. ing action will be worth their effort. Highlight (Duarte, N. HBR guide to persuasive presentations, 2012):

  • Benefits to them: What needs of theirs will your ideas meet? What freedoms will the audience gain? How will your ideas give the audience greater influence or status?
  • Benefits to their “sphere”: How will your ideas help the audience’s peers, direct reports, custom-ers, students, or friends?
  • Benefits to the world: How will your ideas help the masses? How will they improve public health, for instance, or help the environment?

Using Personal Anecdotes and Real-Life Examples

Using personal anecdotes and real-life examples when communicating or presenting can emotionallyience with the content, make abstract ideas more tangible, and build trust with the audience. This creates a compelling narrative that resonates with the audience and makes the information more relevant and persuasive. connect the audience and makes the information more relevant and persuasive. Here are some tips:

  • Incorporate Personal Stories: Share personal anecdotes or experiences related to the topic. This adds authenticity and helps establish a connection with the audience.
  • Include Real-Life Examples: Use real-life case studies or examples to illustrate your points. Tangible examples make abstract concepts more relatable and understandable.

Drawing upon Nancy Duarte’s expertise in presentation design, incorporating personal anecdotes and real-life examples can significantly enhance the effectiveness of a presentation. As emphasized in her book Resonate, sharing personal stories allows presenters to connect with their audience on a deeper level. When a speaker shares a personal experience, it humanizes the content and creates an emotional connection with the listeners. This connection captures the audience’s attention and makes them more receptive to the message being conveyed.

Additionally, using real-life examples, as highlighted in Duarte’s book Slide:ology, makes abstract concepts more relatable and understandable. Concrete examples bring data and ideas to life, making them tangible and memorable. By illustrating complex ideas with real-world scenarios, presenters can help the audience visualize how the information applies to their own lives or work contexts.

The power of personal anecdotes and real-life examples lies in their ability to evoke emotions and build a sense of shared experience with the audience. As Duarte explains in Resonate, this emotional connection creates an “aha” moment where the audience relates the content to their own experiences, leading to greater comprehension and retention.

When using personal anecdotes, it is essential for presenters to ensure that the stories are relevant to the presentation’s central message and align with the overall narrative. Duarte emphasizes the need for storytelling to have a purpose, serving as supporting evidence to the main idea or key takeaway.

Personal stories are also powerful tools for building trust, as emphasized by Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” When presenters share personal anecdotes and experiences, they create a human connection with their audience. These stories provide a glimpse into the presenter’s vulnerability, authenticity, and relatability, fostering an environment of openness and mutual understanding.

When it comes to teams, trust is about vulnerability. Team members who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open — even exposed — to one another around their failures, weaknesses and even fears. Now, if this is beginning to sound like some get-naked, touchy-feely theory, rest assured is not that is nothing of the sort

Lencioni, P. M., The five dysfunctions of a team (2013)

By sharing personal stories, presenters show that they are willing to be transparent and honest, which builds trust and credibility with the audience. Personal stories also demonstrate that the presenter has experienced challenges, failures, or successes similar to those faced by the audience. This shared experience cultivates empathy and strengthens the rapport between the presenter and the listeners.

Additionally, personal stories can illustrate the values, principles, and lessons that have shaped the presenter’s journey. When the audience sees how these values guide decision-making and actions, they gain insight into the presenter’s character and integrity. This transparency contributes to the establishment of trust and respect.

However, it is essential for presenters to exercise discretion when sharing personal stories. The stories should be relevant to the presentation’s context and align with the audience’s interests and needs. Presenters should also be mindful of the emotional tone of their stories, ensuring they strike the right balance between vulnerability and professionalism.

In conclusion, personal stories are a potent tool for building trust during presentations. By sharing authentic experiences and insights, presenters foster a deeper connection with their audience, establish credibility, and leave a lasting impact. Leveraging personal stories thoughtfully can transform a presentation from a one-way communication into a compelling and authentic exchange of ideas, building trust and engagement along the way.

Utilizing Visuals to Enhance the Story

Utilizing visuals to enhance the story is a powerful technique that draws upon the ideas of Edward R. Tufte in his book “Envisioning Information.” Tufte emphasizes the significance of visual representations in conveying complex information effectively and engagingly. Visuals, such as graphs, charts, diagrams, and illustrations, offer a compelling way to complement verbal explanations and make data more accessible and memorable.

Tufte’s principles advocate for clarity, precision, and minimalism in visual design. When incorporating visuals in presentations, strategists should prioritize simplicity and avoid clutter, ensuring that each element serves a clear purpose in supporting the narrative. Clear and unambiguous visuals enable the audience to grasp the message swiftly, enhancing comprehension and retention.

Good design is clear thinking made visible.

Tufte, E. R., Envisioning Information (1990)

Furthermore, visual storytelling goes beyond mere aesthetics. Tufte emphasizes the importance of using visuals to reveal patterns, trends, and relationships in data, thereby strengthening the persuasive power of presentations. By employing data visualization techniques, strategists can provide evidence to support their arguments, enabling stakeholders to make more informed decisions.

In addition to data-driven visuals, the use of evocative imagery and metaphors can evoke emotions and create a deeper connection with the audience. Visuals that tap into the audience’s emotions reinforce the message and facilitate an emotional connection, making the presentation more memorable and impactful.

Strategists should also consider the medium of their presentation when utilizing visuals. Whether using slides, infographics, videos, or interactive elements, the choice of visual format should align with the overall story and engage the audience in a cohesive and immersive experience.

When incorporating visuals into presentations, it is essential to consider the audience’s familiarity with the content and the level of detail required. Striking a balance between simplicity and complexity is key to ensuring that the visuals support the story without overwhelming the audience.

Adding visuals to a story is crucial for better understanding and recall of information. Graphics like charts and images help to clarify complex concepts, making the content more accessible. By using visuals, presenters can reinforce messages, evoke emotions, and create an engaging storytelling experience. Here are some tips:

  • Choose Engaging Visuals: Include relevant images, charts, and graphs that complement your narrative. Visuals can evoke emotions and strengthen the impact of your storytelling.
  • Use Visual Storytelling: Create a visual journey that complements your spoken narrative. This could be in the form of a slideshow, video clips, or animations that enhance the storytelling experience.

How many images should I include on each slide?

When people first learn of the power of images, they can sometimes go a little overboard. The thought process is clear enough: if adding one picture can improve memory, then adding ten pictures should blow memory right out of the water. Unfortunately, more is not always better (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

People can analyze and recognize images incredibly quickly (around 0.2 seconds). Unfortunately, this speed is confined to one complex image at a time. In order to comprehend multiple complex images appearing simultaneously, people must process each in turn. This not only increases the time it takes to interpret multiple images, but also drains attentional resources and impairs memory for the different images being analyzed. In fact, if I were to show you multiple visual scenes simultaneously, your memory would be up to 50 percent worse than if I were to show you those same scenes one at a time (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

When designing PowerPoint slides, try to imagine you are flipping through personal photos with a friend. You’d never reminisce by throwing a dozen photos haphazardly on a table and attempting to discern them all simultaneously.

Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing (2019).

Rather, the natural (and effective) practice is to go through them one photo at a time, allowing each to be analyzed and discussed in turn (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

What about graphs?

Graphs and tables are not like other images. The reason we are able to analyze complex scenes in the blink of an eye is largely due to the fact that most scenes have an underlying pattern or gist. For instance, if I show you a picture with 1000 evergreen trees, you don’t need to analyze each individual tree in order to get the gist and recognize the image as one of a forest (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019

Unfortunately, graphs and tables rarely have a gist. Rather, they are meaningful only in their specific details – every number, letter and shape carries information necessary to comprehend the whole. For this reason, deciphering graphs and tables is far from fast and almost never easy (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

Each time we pop a graph or table onto a PowerPoint slide, it’s akin to projecting a Where’s Waldo image: although we might know exactly where to look to locate the information relevant to our talk, the audience must weed through a complex maze in order to decipher the meaning of what they’re seeing.

Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing (2019)

As you can probably guess, when the audience is forced to expend attention and mental energy analyzing a graph or table, this almost always comes at the cost of them listening to and understanding your speech. When including a graph or table during a presentation, one option is to present it piecemeal. For example, you might start by displaying and explaining only the axes, then layer on data one line at a time, explaining each new section as it appears (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

Do I need to use images that are relevant to the topic?

Unfortunately, the terms engagement and learning are not synonymous. When an audience is engaged, this means they are primed and ready to learn … but this does not ensure they will actually do any learning. I bring this up to highlight the fact that including cute, sly or otherwise irrelevant images during an oral presentation has been shown to boost engagement but potentially impair learning. Conversely, including relevant images that support verbal content has been shown to help audiences build deeper connections and ultimately increase learning, but to potentially decrease engagement (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019.

As such, the issue of image relevance is predicated upon the purpose you are trying to achieve. During the early stages of a presentation, when your goal might be to ensure the audience is on board and excited to hear what you have to say, then irrelevant images might prove your greatest ally. However, during the later stages of a presentation, when your goal might be to ensure the audience understands and will remember the issues being discussed, then irrelevant images might be your greatest enemy. Simply being clear on your ultimate intention for an included image will help you determine how relevant that image needs to be to the words you’re speaking (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

One key principle highlighted by Tufte is the concept of data-ink ratio, where every element in a visual should serve a purpose in conveying information. This principle applies to presentations as well, where visuals should be carefully selected to enhance the audience’s understanding of the message being conveyed.

Use (predominantly) images on handouts

Any handouts given to an audience during a presentation should follow the same general rules as those that apply to PowerPoint slides. Last chapter, we saw that handouts with textual information will force the audience to choose between reading or listening (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

Handouts with visual images will not drive this same selection: people will be able to analyze images on handouts while continuing to comprehend the speaker. As such, try to ensure any hard-copy information handed out during a presentation is largely visual rather than textual.

Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing (2019)

Keep in mind, however, the issues outlined above concerning quantity, relevance and the unique nature of graphs and tables (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

Use images to support digital narration/text

This may be beating a dead horse, but the issues inherent with oral speech, written text, and visual images do not change when a presentation or artefact goes digital. Accordingly, when developing a novel program or website with oral or textual elements, try to support these with images. As before, if the goal is to hook people’s attention and get them engaged and excited, then the relevance of these images is largely unimportant. However, if the goal is to meaningfully convey information in order to drive learning, then ensure images are relevant to and support the textual information (Horvath, J. C., Stop talking, start influencing: 12 Insights from brain science to make your message stick, 2019).

Connecting Emotionally with the Audience

Connecting with your audience on an emotional level is key for presenters. By sharing relatable stories, showing empathy, and delivering inspiring messages, presenters can create a memorable and impactful experience. This emotional engagement leads to better retention, support, and action. Build trust and credibility by connecting with your audience emotionally, and you’ll achieve positive results. Here are some tips:

  • Appeal to Emotions: Trigger emotions such as empathy, humor, or excitement to engage the audience on a deeper level. Emotionally resonant presentations are more memorable.
  • Address Pain Points: Identify and address the pain points or challenges of the audience, demonstrating how your presentation offers solutions or positive outcomes.

Practicing Delivery and Timing

Practicing the delivery and timing of a presentation is crucial for refining speaking skills, maintaining confidence, engaging the audience, and managing timing. It also instills confidence, reduces nervousness, and achieves presentation objectives. Here are some tips:

  • Rehearse with Emotion: Practice delivering your presentation with the appropriate emotional tone and enthusiasm. This helps you convey the story’s emotions effectively.
  • Pace Your Delivery: Control the pacing of your presentation to allow the audience to absorb the content and emotional impact. Avoid rushing through important parts.

Aligning the Story with the Presentation Objective

To communicate effectively, align your story with your presentation goal. Keep the narrative focused on the key message and avoid distractions. Every aspect of the story should reinforce the objective, resulting in a more compelling and impactful presentation. Here are some tips:

  • Stay Focused on the Objective: Ensure that every element of your story directly relates to the presentation’s objective or the key message you want to convey.
  • Avoid Irrelevant Details: Remove any unnecessary or tangential information that distracts from the main storyline.

Encouraging Audience Engagement

Ask Rhetorical Questions: Pose thought-provoking questions to the audience that lead them to reflect on the presentation’s content.

Invite Participation: Encourage audience participation by asking for their opinions or experiences related to the story.

Using Repetition and Call-backs

The importance of repetition in delivering a message during a presentation cannot be overstated. While some cultures may view redundancy as wasteful or negative, strategically employing repetition in presentations is a powerful technique to make the message stick and enhance audience comprehension and retention.

In a diverse audience, people may have different learning styles, attention spans, and levels of engagement. By repeating key points and core messages, strategists ensure that everyone has multiple opportunities to absorb and internalize the information. Repetition acts as a reinforcement mechanism, reinforcing the main ideas and helping the audience remember crucial details even after the presentation is over.

Moreover, repetition aids in overcoming the “curse of knowledge” bias:

The “Curse of Knowledge” leads executives to talk about strategy as though they themselves were the audience. It temps them to use languaoge that is sweeping, high-level, and abstract. Often leaders are not even aware they are speaking abstractly.

Heath, D., & Heath, C. “Sticky Advice” in Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and others die (2009)

As experts in a subject matter, strategists may assume that the audience understands complex concepts as well as they do. However, this is often not the case. Repetition helps bridge this gap, allowing the audience to grasp the information gradually, even if it is novel or intricate.

Repetition, Rhythm and Flow

Repeating the main points also adds a rhythm and structure to the presentation, making it more engaging and easier to follow. It provides a roadmap for the audience to navigate through the content and ensures they stay on track with the presenter’s intended flow of ideas.

However, it is essential to find a balance when using repetition. Excessive repetition may become monotonous and disengage the audience. Strategists should focus on reinforcing the critical points without sounding redundant or excessively repetitive.

Employ Call-backs

Call-backs are a potent storytelling technique that reinforces key messages in a presentation, enhancing the audience’s retention of crucial information. By referencing previously mentioned ideas or themes later in the presentation, call-backs create familiarity and connection for the audience, tying the narrative together. They act as mental anchors, guiding the audience through a well-structured story and helping them make connections between different parts of the presentation.

Call-backs solidify the main message, making it more memorable, and serve as a mnemonic device for better retention. They contribute to the presentation’s flow and coherence, reminding the audience of the broader context.

Moreover, call-backs cut through information overload, bringing attention back to critical aspects. To use call-backs effectively, presenters should plan their content carefully, placing them strategically within the narrative. Thoughtful use of call-backs leaves a lasting impression, reinforcing the main message long after the presentation concludes.

Navigating the Emotional Challenges of Strategic Presentations

Strategists often encounter emotional and social challenges when making presentations due to the high stakes, the need to influence stakeholders, and the pressure to deliver compelling messages. Some of the common challenges include:

  • Fear of Rejection: Presenting strategies involves putting one’s ideas and recommendations on display, leaving strategists vulnerable to criticism or rejection. This fear of negative feedback can create anxiety and self-doubt, impacting the presenter’s confidence.
  • Dealing with Resistance: Strategists may face resistance from stakeholders who hold differing opinions or are hesitant to embrace change. Handling challenging questions or pushback during the presentation can be emotionally demanding.
  • Navigating Conflict: Presentations may lead to disagreements or conflicts among stakeholders with diverse interests. Managing conflicting viewpoints while maintaining composure requires emotional intelligence and adaptability.
  • Managing Nervousness: Even experienced strategists may experience stage fright or nervousness before and during presentations. Nervousness can hinder effective communication and impede the delivery of the intended message.
  • Building Trust and Credibility: Establishing trust and credibility with the audience is crucial for strategists. Building a rapport and connecting with stakeholders emotionally can be challenging, especially with new or skeptical audiences.

Approaches to Build Emotional Resilience

To build emotional resilience and effectively face these challenges, strategists can consider the following approaches:

  1. Preparation and Practice
  2. Embrace Feedback
  3. Cultivate Emotional Intelligence
  4. Handle Imposter Syndrome
  5. Utilize Breathing Techniques
  6. Seek Support
  7. Emphasize Authenticity
  8. Know Your Audience
  9. Focus on the Message
  10. Reflect and Learn

By building emotional resilience and adopting these strategies, strategists can face the emotional and social challenges of presentations with confidence, effectively influencing stakeholders, and delivering impactful presentations that drive success in their strategic endeavors.

Preparation and Practice

To build emotional resilience and effectively face the challenges that come with making presentations, strategists must prioritize preparation and practice. These two essential elements play a significant role in bolstering a strategist’s confidence, composure, and ability to deliver compelling messages. Here’s why preparation and practice are crucial:

  • Confidence Boost: Thorough preparation allows strategists to familiarize themselves with the content, structure, and flow of the presentation. When they know their material inside out, they gain confidence in their ability to convey the information effectively. This confidence shines through during the presentation and helps the strategist feel more in control of the situation.
  • Anticipate and Address Challenges: Adequate preparation enables strategists to anticipate potential challenges, difficult questions, or areas of contention that may arise during the presentation. By identifying these hurdles in advance, they can prepare thoughtful responses and avoid being caught off guard, thereby reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Enhance Communication Skills: Practice hones a strategist’s communication skills, ensuring that their delivery is clear, concise, and engaging. Practicing the delivery of key messages, using appropriate body language, and employing effective vocal techniques can significantly improve the impact of the presentation.
  • Familiarity with Visual Aids: Preparation involves ensuring that any visual aids, such as slides or charts, are well-designed and support the narrative. Familiarity with these visuals ensures smooth transitions between points and prevents technical glitches that could disrupt the flow of the presentation.
  • Fine-Tuning the Message: Through practice, strategists can fine-tune their messaging to strike the right balance between being informative and persuasive. Rehearsing helps them identify and eliminate unnecessary jargon or irrelevant details that could dilute the core message.
  • Reducing Nervousness: Practicing the presentation multiple times helps strategists become more accustomed to the act of presenting, reducing nervousness and stage fright. The more they practice, the more comfortable they become with the material, delivery, and audience interaction.
  • Building Adaptability: Practice enables strategists to adapt to various scenarios and audiences. Being well-prepared allows them to navigate unexpected challenges, such as technical difficulties or impromptu questions, with grace and flexibility.
  • Refining Timing: Timing is critical in presentations. Practicing ensures that strategists can effectively manage their time and allocate appropriate durations to each section of the presentation, avoiding overrunning or rushing through important points.
  • Reinforcing Self-Confidence: Regular practice reinforces a strategist’s self-confidence. The more they practice, the more they see improvement, leading to a positive feedback loop that enhances their belief in their abilities.

Preparation and practice are the cornerstones of building emotional resilience for strategists facing the challenges of presentations. Thorough preparation provides confidence, allows strategists to anticipate and address obstacles, and enhances their communication skills. Regular practice refines their delivery, fine-tunes the message, reduces nervousness, and fosters adaptability. By investing time and effort into preparation and practice, strategists can effectively navigate emotional and social challenges, ensuring they deliver impactful presentations that influence stakeholders and drive success.

Embrace Feedback

Building upon the ideas of Adam Connor and Arron Irizarry in their book Discussing Design and Tom Greever in his book Articulating Design Decisions, viewing feedback as an opportunity for growth and improvement is crucial for strategists making presentations. Embracing feedback as a learning experience shifts the focus from receiving praise or criticism to seeking valuable insights that can refine future presentations.

  • Feedback as a Valuable Input: Adam Connor and Arron Irizarry emphasize the importance of viewing feedback as a valuable input from various perspectives. Each piece of feedback, whether positive or critical, provides valuable information about how the presentation resonated with different stakeholders.
  • Reframing Criticism: Tom Greever highlights the need to reframe criticism as an opportunity to refine the design of the presentation. Rather than taking criticism personally, strategists can see it as a chance to identify potential weaknesses and address them.
  • Engaging in Active Listening: Actively listening to feedback ensures that strategists absorb the nuances of the comments, suggestions, and concerns shared by stakeholders. This active engagement enables them to identify patterns and common themes that need attention.
  • Identifying Areas for Improvement: Analyzing feedback allows strategists to identify specific areas that may require improvement, such as clarity of messaging, organization of content, or presentation delivery.
  • Seeking Diverse Feedback: Strategists can follow Tom Greever’s advice and seek feedback from a diverse set of stakeholders, including internal teams, experts, and stakeholders. Diverse perspectives provide a well-rounded understanding of the presentation’s impact.
  • Iterative Design Approach: Applying the principles of iterative design, strategists can view each presentation as an iterative process. Feedback from previous presentations informs and enhances subsequent ones, leading to iterative improvements.
  • Making Informed Decisions: Considering Adam Connor and Arron Irizarry’s approach, strategists can use feedback to make informed decisions about the presentation’s content, style, and delivery techniques.
  • Improving Stakeholder Engagement: Embracing feedback fosters a culture of open communication and collaboration with stakeholders. When strategists actively seek feedback and implement suggestions, it encourages stakeholders to remain engaged and invested in the process.
  • Continuous Learning and Adaptation: By viewing feedback as an opportunity for growth, strategists commit to continuous learning and adaptation. This mindset enables them to evolve and adapt their presentation skills to better meet the needs of diverse audiences.

Erin Meyer’s observations in The Culture Map shed light on the cultural nuances of giving and receiving feedback, which can prove challenging, and at times, even painful for presenters.

Evaluating – Direct Negative Feedback vs Indirect Negative Feedback
Different cultures have different expectations when handling feedback, with some offering (and expecting) more direct negative feedback, while others are more indirect (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014)

To foster a culture of open feedback, presenters from both sides of the spectrum—those accustomed to direct negative feedback and those more attuned to indirect feedback—can take steps to become more comfortable in inviting and embracing feedback:

  • For presenters from cultures that value direct negative feedback, it is crucial to approach feedback sessions with an open mind, recognizing that cultural differences may influence the style and delivery of feedback. They proactively seek feedback from diverse sources, inviting individuals to share their perspectives candidly. Creating a safe space for feedback by encouraging constructive criticism and assuring the audience that their input is valued can help build trust and openness.
  • On the other hand, for presenters from cultures that prefer indirect negative feedback, feedback sessions may evoke feelings of discomfort or vulnerability, as negative feedback is often wrapped in positive messages and given privately. Presenters from such cultures can adapt their approach by being receptive to non-verbal cues and subtle hints. They may need to read between the lines and ask open-ended questions to encourage feedback, allowing the audience to share their thoughts less directly. Cultivating a culture of psychological safety can help audience members feel more at ease in providing feedback, as it reduces the fear of judgment or negative consequences.

By being empathetic to the diverse feedback styles and recognizing that feedback is an opportunity for growth, presenters can create an environment that welcomes input and promotes meaningful dialogue. Embracing feedback with cultural sensitivity will not only enhance the presenter’s ability to connect with diverse audiences but also foster continuous improvement and mutual understanding.

Embracing feedback as an opportunity for growth and improvement empowers strategists to refine their future presentations continually. By valuing both positive and critical feedback, actively listening, seeking diverse perspectives, and maintaining a growth mindset, strategists can enhance their presentation skills, engage stakeholders more effectively, and drive positive outcomes in their strategic endeavors. Feedback becomes a valuable tool for growth and a catalyst for continuous improvement in the presentation process.

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence

To build emotional resilience and effectively face the challenges of making presentations, cultivating emotional intelligence is of paramount importance for strategists. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage one’s emotions, as well as the ability to empathize with others and handle social interactions with sensitivity and finesse.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.

Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (2005)

Here’s why cultivating emotional intelligence is crucial for strategists during presentations:

  • Self-Awareness: Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, which allows strategists to recognize and understand their own emotions, thoughts, and reactions during presentations. By being aware of their emotional state, strategists can better manage nervousness, stress, or self-doubt, and maintain composure while delivering their message.
  • Self-Regulation: Effective emotional intelligence empowers strategists to regulate their emotions and responses during presentations. Instead of letting negative emotions dictate their behavior, they can consciously choose how to react to challenging situations, ensuring they maintain professionalism and adaptability.
  • Empathy: Cultivating empathy enables strategists to understand and connect with their audience’s emotions and perspectives. This understanding allows them to tailor their message to resonate with the audience’s needs, concerns, and interests, fostering a sense of trust and receptiveness.
  • Handling Feedback: Emotional intelligence helps strategists receive and process feedback with an open mind and without defensiveness. They can separate their personal feelings from the feedback received, viewing it as constructive input for improvement rather than a personal attack.
  • Managing Challenging Interactions: Presentations may involve challenging interactions with stakeholders who hold differing opinions or resist the proposed strategies. Emotional intelligence allows strategists to engage in constructive dialogue, actively listen, and respond with empathy and understanding.
  • Building Rapport: With emotional intelligence, strategists can build rapport with the audience, creating a positive and supportive environment during the presentation. This rapport enhances the audience’s receptiveness to the message and fosters a collaborative atmosphere.
  • Conflict Resolution: During presentations, emotional intelligence helps strategists manage conflicts or disagreements that may arise among stakeholders. By recognizing emotions and addressing them with sensitivity, they can guide the discussion towards constructive resolution.
  • Adapting to Audience Dynamics: Emotional intelligence enables strategists to pick up on non-verbal cues and gauge the audience’s emotional state. This adaptability allows them to adjust their delivery, tone, and content to better engage the audience and maintain their interest.
  • Fostering Psychological Safety: Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in creating a psychologically safe environment for stakeholders to share their thoughts and concerns openly. This fosters a culture of trust and collaboration, promoting open dialogue and feedback.

By cultivating emotional intelligence, strategists can effectively manage their own emotions, navigate challenging interactions, and connect with their audience on a deeper level. Emotional intelligence enhances their ability to communicate with empathy, build rapport, and foster a supportive presentation environment. Ultimately, it equips strategists with the skills needed to face the emotional and social challenges of presentations with resilience and grace, ensuring successful outcomes in their strategic endeavors.

Handle Imposter Syndrome

One of the greatest barriers to moving outside your comfort zone is the fear that you’re a poser, that you’re not worthy, that you
couldn’t possibly be qualified to do whatever you’re aiming to do. It’s a fear that strikes many of us: impostor syndrome.

What can you do to overcome these feelings of inadequacy that so many of us experience? Here are three ways to stop feeling like a fraud (Molinsky, A., Everyone Suffers from Impostor Syndrome: Here’s How to Handle It, 2016):

  • Recognize the benefits of being a novice. You might not realize it, but there are great benefits to being new in your field. When you are not steeped in the conventional wisdom of a given profession, you can ask questions that haven’t been asked before or approach problems in ways others haven’t thought of.
  • Focus more on what you’re learning than on how you’re performing. According to psychologist Carol Dweck, the feelings that impostor syndrome leaves you with are ones we might actually be able to control. With a performance mindset, which people suffering from impostor syndrome often have, you tend to see your feelings of inadequacy or the mistakes you make as evidence of your underlying limitations. This mindset only fuels the concerns you have about being unfit for your job. But there’s something you can work to cultivate instead: a learning mindset. From this perspective, your limitations are experienced quite differently. Your mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the learning process rather than as more evidence of your underlying failings.
  • Understand the power of perspective. Those of us who experience impostor syndrome often feel like were the only ones feeling this way, but reality is very different. Early in my career, when I walked into a networking event, was convinced that I was the only one worried about making small talk with strangers. But over time, Ive realized that practically everyone in the room shares that same concern. According to a recent survey by Vantage Hill Partners, being found incompetent is the number-one fear of executives worldwide. So if you’re feeling like an impostor, chances are that others in your situation feel the exact same way. Or, as Tina Fey once quipped, “I’ve realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.”

It may not be easy, but overcoming impostor syndrome is possible-you don’t need to feel helpless or alone. Next time you’re in a situation that feels completely outside your comfort zone, don’t focus on your failures. Consider it your opportunity to learn from your missteps and to bring forth a new perspective that others may not have.

Positive Self-Talk

To build emotional resilience and effectively face the challenges of making presentations, positive self-talk is a powerful tool that strategists can utilize. Positive self-talk involves consciously replacing negative thoughts and self-doubt with optimistic and affirming statements. Here’s why positive self-talk is essential for strategists during presentations:

  • Boosting Self-Confidence: Positive self-talk helps boost a strategist’s self-confidence and belief in their abilities. By affirming their skills, knowledge, and preparation, they can enter the presentation with a positive mindset, ready to tackle any challenges that may arise.
  • Managing Nervousness: Presentations can trigger nervousness and anxiety, even for experienced strategists. Positive self-talk allows them to acknowledge their nerves while reassuring themselves that they are well-prepared and capable of delivering a successful presentation.
  • Overcoming Self-Doubt: Self-doubt can undermine a strategist’s self-assurance and lead to second-guessing their decisions. Positive self-talk combats these doubts, reminding them of their expertise and past successes, reinforcing their belief in their capabilities.
  • Fostering Resilience: Positive self-talk contributes to emotional resilience, enabling strategists to bounce back from setbacks or challenging interactions during the presentation. It helps them maintain a positive outlook, even in the face of obstacles.
  • Reframing Mistakes: If mistakes occur during the presentation, positive self-talk encourages strategists to view them as learning opportunities rather than failures. Instead of dwelling on the error, they can quickly regroup and continue with confidence.
  • Affirming the Message: Positive self-talk reinforces the importance and value of the presentation’s message. By reminding themselves of the significance of their ideas and recommendations, strategists can communicate with conviction and passion.
  • Managing Feedback: When receiving feedback, positive self-talk allows strategists to approach it with an open and constructive mindset. They can view feedback as a chance to improve and grow, rather than as criticism or personal failure.
  • Cultivating Optimism: Positive self-talk nurtures optimism, which is essential for maintaining a positive outlook and attitude during the presentation. Optimistic strategists exude enthusiasm, which can be contagious and engage the audience more effectively.
  • Building a Growth Mindset: Embracing positive self-talk aligns with the principles of a growth mindset, where individuals see challenges as opportunities to learn and improve. This mindset enables strategists to continuously develop their presentation skills and adapt to different situations.
  • Reducing Negative Stress: Negative self-talk can fuel stress and anxiety, hindering the strategist’s ability to focus and perform optimally. Positive self-talk, on the other hand, alleviates negative stress and contributes to a more relaxed and composed demeanor.

By practicing positive self-talk, strategists can harness the power of their thoughts to cultivate emotional resilience and face the challenges of presentations with a constructive and optimistic mindset. This inner dialogue empowers them to navigate nervousness, self-doubt, and obstacles with self-assurance and grace, leading to more impactful and successful presentations.

Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence

To get a more confident you, first know what gets in the way. The best resolutions will go nowhere without the confidence to stick with them (Kanter, R. M., Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence, 2014).

Confidence is an expectation of a positive outcome. It is not a personality trait; it is an assessment of a situation that sparks motivation.

Kanter, R. M., Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence (2014)

If you have confidence, you’re motivated to put in the effort, to invest the time and resources, and to persist in reaching the goal (Kanter, R. M., Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence, 2014)

It’s not confidence itself that produces success; it’s the investment and the effort. Without enough confidence, it’s too easy to give up prematurely or not get started at all. Hopelessness and despair prevent positive action.

Kanter, R. M., Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence (2014)

To muster the confidence to work toward your goals, avoid these eight traps (Kanter, R. M., Overcome the Eight Barriers to Confidence, 2014):

  • Self-defeating assumptions. You think you can’t, so you don’t. A British Olympic runner is so rattled by a misstep that cost her a contest that she dropped out of the next event. A company team decides that a popular world leader is so far out of their league that they don’t invite him to speak at their customer event. Talented women sometimes “leave before they leave,” as Sheryl Sandberg puts it, assuming that they won’t be promoted (or succeed when they have children) so they start behaving like they’re departing years before departure, thus foreclosing their options. It’s one thing to be realistic, it’s another to behave like a loser before entering the game.
  • Goals are too big and too distant. I know how often leaders say they want to tackle BHAGs — big hairy audacious goals. But having only enormous goals can actually undermine confidence. The gap between a giant goal and today’s reality can be depressing and demotivating. Confidence comes from small wins that occur repeatedly, with each small step moving you closer to the big goal. But the small steps must be valued and turned into goals themselves. Winners think small as well as big.
  • Declaring victory too soon. This is the dieter’s di-lemma: You lose the first few pounds and feel so good that you reward yourself with chocolate cake–then when the pounds go back on, you feel so discouraged that you have more cake to feel better. I saw this pattern in a college football team that was coming off a nine-year losing streak (yes, nine years!). After winning its first game in nearly a decade, a team member shouted, “Now we’ll win the championship!” First, of course, they had to win the next game-which they didn’t. Step-by-step discipline builds confidence.
  • Do-it-yourself-ing. It’s a trap to think you can go it alone, without a support system and without supporting others. Losing teams have stars, but they focus on their own records, not how well the whole team does; the resulting resentments and inequalities provoke internal battles that drag everyone down. To build your confidence, think about building the confidence of others and creating a culture in which everyone is more likely to succeed, whether through mentoring them or recognizing their strengths. Giving to others boosts happiness and self-esteem, as numerous research studies show. Supporting them makes it easier to ensure that they support you.
  • Blaming someone else. Confidence rests on taking responsibility for one’s own behavior. Even in difficult circumstances, we have choices about how to respond to adversity. Whining about past harms reduces confidence about future possibilities. When the blame game is carried out within companies, everyone loses confidence, including external stakeholders. Confidence is the art of moving on.
  • Defensiveness. It’s one thing to listen and respond to critics; it’s another to answer them before they’ve done anything. Don’t defend yourself if you’re not being attacked. Apologize for your mistakes, but don’t apologize for who or what you are. Instead, take pride in where you’ve come from and lead with your strengths.
  • Neglecting to anticipate setbacks. Confidence involves a dose of reality. It is not blind optimism, thinking that everything will be fine no matter what. Confidence stems from knowing that there will be mis-takes, problems, and small losses en route to big wins. After all, even winning sports teams are often behind at some point in the game. Confidence grows when you look at what can go wrong, think through alternatives, and feel you are prepared for whatever might happen.
  • Overconfidence. Confidence is a sweet spot between despair and arrogance. Don’t let confidence slip over into the arrogant end. Overconfidence is the bane of economies (e.g., the irrational exuberance that preceded the global financial crisis), corrupt leaders (who assume they’re so necessary that they won’t get into trouble for a small expense account fudge), or individuals who swagger and feel entitled to success rather than working for it. Arrogance and complacency lead to neglect of the basics, deaf ears to critics, and blindness to the forces of change-a trap for companies as well as individuals. Sure enough, like the old proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall, the slide into a losing streak often begins with a winning streak. A little humility goes a long way to moderate arrogance and keep just the right amount of confidence.

Utilize Breathing Techniques

Practice deep breathing exercises before and during the presentation to manage nervousness and maintain a sense of calm.

Seek Support

Reach out to mentors, colleagues, or presentation coaches for support and guidance in improving presentation skills.

Emphasize Authenticity

To build emotional resilience and effectively face the challenges of making presentations, embracing authenticity is a key aspect that draws inspiration from Brené Brown’s insights in her book “Dare to Lead.” Authenticity involves showing up as one’s genuine self, being vulnerable, and having the courage to share thoughts, ideas, and emotions openly. Here’s why emphasizing authenticity is crucial for strategists during presentations:

  • Fostering Connection: Authenticity creates a genuine connection with the audience. When strategists show vulnerability and courage by sharing their ideas and perspectives honestly, it invites the audience to engage on a deeper level and fosters a sense of trust.
  • Building Credibility: Embracing authenticity and vulnerability demonstrates the strategist’s confidence in their beliefs and recommendations. This vulnerability builds credibility, as the audience recognizes that the presenter is willing to be honest and transparent about their ideas.
  • Encouraging Openness: By being authentic, strategists create an environment where stakeholders feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. This openness encourages a two-way dialogue and allows for a deeper understanding of different perspectives.
  • Inspiring Courage: When strategists demonstrate courage in embracing vulnerability and authenticity, it inspires others to do the same. This can lead to a more courageous and innovative organizational culture, where stakeholders feel empowered to share their ideas and take calculated risks.
  • Enhancing Emotional Connection: Authenticity evokes emotions and fosters an emotional connection between the strategist and the audience. Emotionally engaged audiences are more likely to be receptive to the message and remember it long after the presentation.
  • Embracing Growth Mindset: Emphasizing authenticity aligns with the principles of a growth mindset, where leaders view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. Strategists who embrace vulnerability are more open to feedback and continuous improvement.
  • Overcoming Fear of Judgment: Presentations can trigger fear of judgment or criticism. Embracing authenticity helps strategists confront this fear by acknowledging that it is okay to be imperfect and vulnerable. This mindset allows them to focus on the value of their ideas instead of worrying about others’ opinions.
  • Strengthening Resilience: Embracing vulnerability and authenticity strengthens emotional resilience. Strategists who are comfortable with their vulnerabilities are better equipped to handle unexpected challenges or negative feedback during presentations.
  • Encouraging Innovation: Authenticity fosters an environment where innovative ideas can flourish. When strategists feel comfortable expressing unconventional ideas or challenging the status quo, it encourages a culture of innovation and creativity.
  • Enhancing Leadership Impact: Authentic leaders are more relatable and approachable, making their impact on the audience more profound. Strategists who prioritize authenticity leave a lasting impression, influencing stakeholders positively.

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Brown, B., Dare to lead (2018)

Emphasizing authenticity by embracing vulnerability and courage is essential for building emotional resilience as strategists face the challenges of making presentations. Being authentic fosters connection, credibility, and openness, while inspiring courage and innovation. It enables strategists to overcome fear, strengthen emotional resilience, and foster an environment of growth and continuous improvement. By showing up as their genuine selves, strategists create impactful presentations that resonate with the audience and drive positive change within the organization.

If you want to know more about vulnerability, go back and read again about the importance of sharing personal stories in Using Personal Anecdotes and Real-Life Examples earlier in this article.

Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is a crucial aspect of effective presentations, especially when considering the emphasis on authenticity, emotional intelligence, and positive self-talk discussed earlier:

  • Understanding the needs, concerns, and interests of the audience enables strategists to tailor their presentations with greater precision, fostering a genuine connection and engagement.
  • By embracing authenticity and vulnerability, strategists can create a safe space for open dialogue and encourage stakeholders to share their perspectives and feedback openly.
  • Building emotional connection, fostered through empathy and emotional intelligence, further strengthens the strategist’s ability to relate to the audience and resonate with their emotions and values.

In this way, knowing your audience complements and enhances the other elements discussed, forming a powerful foundation for creating compelling and impactful presentations that drive strategic initiatives forward.

Focus on the Message

Concentrate on the content and the value of the message being delivered, rather than solely on personal performance.

Reflect and Learn

After the presentation, take time to reflect on what went well and areas for improvement. Continuous learning and self-reflection enhance future presentation experiences.

After delivering a presentation, engaging in a process of reflection, as advocated by Donald Schön in his book The Reflective Practitioner, is a valuable practice for strategists. Reflection involves thoughtful examination of the presentation experience to identify what went well and areas that could be improved. This continuous learning and self-reflection enhance future presentation experiences in several ways:

  • Identifying Strengths: Reflecting on the presentation allows strategists to identify their strengths and areas where they excelled. Acknowledging these strengths boosts confidence and provides a foundation to build upon for future presentations.
  • Recognizing Areas for Improvement: Honest self-reflection enables strategists to identify aspects of the presentation that could have been handled better. This self-awareness guides them to focus on specific areas for improvement in future presentations.
  • Learning from Experience: Through reflection, strategists gain valuable insights from their presentation experience. They can assess the effectiveness of their communication, the impact of their message on the audience, and the overall flow of the presentation.
  • Embracing a Growth Mindset: Schön’s reflective practice encourages a growth mindset, where strategists view their performance as a learning opportunity rather than a fixed outcome. This mindset drives them to continuously seek improvement and embrace challenges.
  • Adapting Strategies: Reflecting on past presentations empowers strategists to adapt their presentation strategies based on feedback and outcomes. They can refine their approach, incorporating successful techniques and adjusting aspects that did not resonate well with the audience.
  • Building Resilience: The process of self-reflection builds emotional resilience by encouraging strategists to view setbacks or less successful presentations as opportunities for growth and development, rather than personal failures.
  • Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills: Reflection encourages strategists to critically analyze their presentation, identifying potential gaps in their reasoning or messaging. This analytical approach enhances their problem-solving skills and strengthens their overall presentation abilities.
  • Promoting Adaptability: By reflecting on past experiences, strategists become more adaptable and agile in adjusting their presentation style to suit different audiences and contexts.
  • Encouraging Innovation: Reflective practice nurtures a culture of innovation, as strategists are continuously exploring new ways to enhance their presentations and engage with stakeholders more effectively.
  • Driving Continuous Improvement: The habit of self-reflection reinforces a commitment to continuous improvement. It becomes an integral part of the strategist’s presentation process, leading to ongoing growth and refinement of their presentation skills.

Professional competence is not simply a technical matter; it is not a problem of applying the right means to given ends. Such competence requires the knack for seeing things as they are, seeing how things are interrelated, and seeing how they might unfold in the future.

Schön, D., The Reflective Practitioner. How professionals think in action (2014)

Adopting Donald Schön’s concept of reflective practice, strategists can benefit from post-presentation reflection to identify strengths, areas for improvement, and lessons learned. This approach fosters a growth mindset, encourages innovation, and drives continuous improvement in their presentation experiences. By integrating reflective practice into their professional development, strategists can elevate their presentation skills and enhance their overall effectiveness as communicators and influencers.

Incorporating Feedback

Incorporating feedback is a critical phase in the presentation process, as it allows presenters to refine their content, connect with their audience, and enhance the overall effectiveness of their message. However, obtaining the feedback needed to improve the presentation can be a delicate task.

In this section, we will explore strategies on how to get the feedback you need, ensuring that it aligns with your presentation goals and objectives. Additionally, we will address the challenge of dealing with conflicting feedback, learning how to navigate divergent perspectives while staying true to your vision. Moreover, interruptions during presentations can be disruptive, but mastering the art of handling interruptions gracefully is essential to maintain control and keep the presentation on track. Let’s delve into techniques for embracing feedback as a valuable learning experience, managing different viewpoints with poise, and fostering a collaborative and engaged environment for a successful presentation journey.

Getting the Feedback you need

Incorporating feedback effectively is crucial to refining and enhancing presentations. To ensure that presenters receive the feedback they want, it is essential to set the stage for constructive input and create an environment that encourages candid responses. Drawing from the principles outlined in “Discussing Design” by Connor and Irizarry, and “Articulating Design Decisions” by Greever, the following strategies can be employed:

  • Foster Psychological Safety: Create a safe and non-judgmental space where stakeholders feel comfortable providing feedback. Emphasize that all perspectives are valuable and that feedback is essential for continuous improvement.
  • Be Clear in Your Requests: Clearly communicate the specific areas in which you seek feedback. Providing context and guiding questions helps direct the feedback towards the aspects you want to address.
  • Target the Right Audience: Ensure that the feedback is sought from individuals who have the expertise or experience relevant to the presentation’s subject matter. This ensures that the feedback received is informed and valuable.
  • Offer Multiple Feedback Channels: Allow stakeholders to provide feedback through various channels, such as in-person meetings, written comments, or online platforms. This accommodates different communication preferences and encourages more participation.
  • Actively Listen and Avoid Defensiveness: Be an active listener when receiving feedback, staying open to different perspectives. Avoid becoming defensive, as this may discourage stakeholders from sharing their honest opinions.
  • Separate Personal from Professional: Encourage stakeholders to focus on the content of the presentation rather than on personal traits. This helps keep the feedback objective and constructive.
  • Acknowledge and Express Gratitude: Show appreciation for the feedback received, regardless of whether it aligns with your initial expectations. Gratitude reinforces a culture of feedback and motivates stakeholders to participate in the future.
  • Prioritize Actionable Feedback: Focus on feedback that offers specific suggestions for improvement. Identifying actionable items allows you to make tangible changes to enhance the presentation.
  • Iterate and Implement: After incorporating feedback, revisit the presentation and implement changes accordingly. Demonstrating that feedback is taken seriously and acted upon encourages further engagement from stakeholders.
  • Engage in Ongoing Feedback Cycles: Establish a feedback loop that allows for iterative improvement over time. Continuously seek feedback at different stages of the presentation development process to ensure ongoing refinement.

By following these strategies, presenters can create an environment conducive to receiving the feedback they desire and can utilize stakeholder input to enhance their presentations effectively. The collaboration between presenters and stakeholders fosters a sense of shared ownership over the presentation’s success and ensures that the final result resonates with the intended audience.

Structuring Feedback with Design Critiques

The ability to give and take criticism effectively is a crucial part of the design process. And as companies increasingly embrace design — not just as a feature but as a core competency — critiques have become more important than ever. In some cases, they may even be the hinge on which a product thrives or dies (Kolko, J., Want to build A culture of innovation? Master the design critique, 2018). 

A critique is an awkward conversation. If you’re seeking a critique, it puts you in a very vulnerable place. It’s difficult to hear what’s wrong with our work. However, if you’re providing a critique, you may have spent less time with the work and be reacting to your instincts without a structured goal for what the feedback is supposed to accomplish. The more a critique’s goal is clear, and the more the session is structured, the less painful and more productive that time will be (Hoffman, K. M., Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone, 2018).

It is better to have your preliminary work critiqued by your colleagues while there is still time to do something about it — no matter how difficult the criticism might be — than to have the finished project torn apart by strangers in public.

Buxton, B., Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design (2007)

Because critique – when done well – focuses on analyzing design choices against a product’s objective, it also provides the team with additional benefits, acting as a mechanism for building shared vocabulary, finding relevant consensus, and driving effective iteration (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015).

The ultimate goal for teams that are interested in improving conversations and collaboration with critique is not to add one more tool or type of meeting to their ever-growing toolbox. Instead, it’s to change the way we talk about what we’ve designed regardless of the type of meeting or conversation we’re in.

Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design (2015)

Beyond the benefits we get from the analysis done in critique, it
also helps teams to do the following (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):

  • Build shared vocabularies, making communication more efficient
  • Find consensus based on product objectives when deciding between multiple design options.
  • Inform and drive iteration on design aspects where they are most needed.

The Structure of Critique

The structure of a good critique looks like this (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):

  • It identifies a specific aspect of the idea or a decision in the design being analyzed.
  • It relates that aspect or decision to an objective or best practice.
  • It describes how and why the aspect or decision works to support or not support the objective or best practice.

Successful critiques help both parties learn more about the context in which work is meant to thrive. To do this successfully, a critique needs to focus on actionable problems that you can do something about. Too often, critiquing parties jump to suggesting solutions. Instead, try to avoid giving solutions in critiques. Doing so prevents the discussion from reaching a fuller understanding of the problem and why it matters (Hoffman, K. M., Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone, 2018).

To ensure that we uncover and include all of these details, there is a simple framework of four questions that we can ask ourselves, or the other individuals participating in the critique (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):

  • What is the objective of the design? We want to understand what we’re analyzing the design against so we can focus our attention on things pertinent to the conversation and the improvement and success of the design. Try to identify the objectives that the designer was aiming to accomplish through the choices she made. What are the objectives of the product or design that have been agreed upon by the team?
  • What elements of the design are related to the objective? Next, we identify the aspects and elements of the design that we believe work toward or against the objective. Whether the aspect or element is the result of a conscious choice by the designer doesn’t matter. We are analyzing the effectiveness of the whole design as it’s presented.
  • Are those elements effective in achieving the objective? Now that we are thinking about specific objectives and the design aspects related to them, it’s time to ask whether we think those choices will work to achieve the objective. This is the crux of critical thinking.
  • Why or why not? Finally, we need to think about the result that we think the choice will actually produce. How close is it to the actual objective? Is it completely different? Does it work counter to the objective? Maybe it won’t work to achieve the objective on its own, but in conjunction with other design elements, it contributes to the objective.

That said, there are a few components of a strategy that are critical to setting the right context of a design critique that — in my opinion — if they are missing, should raise red flags that you might be wasting your time running critiques and should go back to the drawing board and create a good strategy. These are:

Critique and Context

Setting context for stakeholders before a presentation is of paramount importance as it lays the foundation for a shared understanding and sets the stage for a successful interaction. By providing stakeholders with relevant background information, objectives, and the purpose of the presentation, presenters ensure that the audience is well-prepared to engage with the content effectively. Contextualizing the presentation allows stakeholders to grasp the significance of the topic, understand its relevance to their roles or interests, and align their expectations accordingly. Additionally, providing context fosters transparency and builds trust between the presenter and the audience. It empowers stakeholders to offer more informed feedback and enables them to ask relevant questions during and after the presentation. Ultimately, setting context enables a smoother and more meaningful exchange of ideas, enhancing the overall impact of the presentation and strengthening the relationship between presenters and their stakeholders.

Start the meeting with a reminder of the goal for this project or design, where we are in our process, and the kinds of feedback they can expect to provide. We should also make it clear that the purpose of the meeting is to get their support to move forward, not necessarily for them to riff on whatever they see (Greever, T., Articulating Design Decisions, 2020).

Executives may have a difficult time switching to our project from one meeting to the next. While we may spend every day thinking about these problems, they might not, and it can be incredibly difficult for them to remember why we’re here when they’re having several meetings a day, all about completely different products or designs. This is a common challenge for our stakeholders, but we can help them.

Greever, T., Articulating Design Decisions (2020)

Here are a few tips to quickly bring them up to speed (Greever, T., Articulating Design Decisions, 2020):

  • State the goal. The first thing you should remind them about is your previously agreed-upon goal for this project or design. This should ideally be an improved business metric or the outcome we expect, but it might also be framed as the feature or output of your work. It may also be your answer to the question, What problem does this solve Whatever the goal is, state that clearly upfront before you jump into your designs.
  • Summarize the last meeting. Second, briefly remind them of the discussion you had last time or the decisions you made together. This can be a short sentence or several items, depending on the project. Either way, you Want to quickly refresh their memory of your last conversation.
  • Show a timeline. Next, create a visual that will help them understand where you are in the process of your design. Typically, you can express this as a horizontal line where the left side is the starting point (research, low-fidelity mockups) and the right side is the finished design high fidelity, ready to ship). Highlight where you are on this spectrum and the level of fidelity of designs they can expect to see.
  • Specify the feedback you need. Also, tell them the kinds of feedback that are helpful at this stage in the project and what feedback is not needed yet. For instance, you might expect feedback on the overall layout and concept, but it’s too early for them to comment on specific copy or colors. Helping them understand what feedback is most valuable will help you guide the conversation in a productive way.
  • State the goal, again. Lastly, restate the goal. It’s important that we are always on the same page about the problem we’re solving. Conversations get derailed when people fail to remember the goal or the goal has changed without us realizing it. Repeating it will reinforce this and help everyone remember what we’re here to accomplish.
letters on wooden cubes
Strategy, Feedback and Design Reviews

Influencing larger decisions that shape strategy starts with the smallest of decisions, including how to facilitate and incorporate feedback to designs to drive product vision forward (Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com)

Dealing with Conflicting Feedback

Incorporating feedback is a critical aspect of refining and improving presentations, but it can become particularly challenging when the feedback challenges the data or facts upon which the presentation is built. When faced with such feedback, it is essential for presenters to approach the situation with openness, humility, and a commitment to accuracy.

  1. Listen Actively: When receiving feedback that challenges the data or facts presented, actively listen to the concerns raised by the stakeholders. Avoid becoming defensive or dismissive, as this can hinder constructive dialogue.
  2. Verify Sources: Take the feedback seriously and verify the sources of the conflicting information. Double-checking data and facts can help identify any potential inaccuracies in the original presentation.
  3. Be Transparent: Address the feedback transparently with the audience. Acknowledge any discrepancies and express appreciation for the input, demonstrating a willingness to correct any errors.
  4. Demonstrate Flexibility: Display flexibility and adaptability in response to feedback. If the feedback highlights valid points, consider revising the presentation to align it with accurate information.
  5. Seek Expert Opinion: Consult with subject matter experts or colleagues to gain further insights into the conflicting data. This can help validate or refute the feedback received.
  6. Explain Decision-Making: If the feedback challenges the underlying decisions made based on the data, be prepared to explain the rationale behind those choices. Articulate the factors considered and the process used to arrive at those decisions.
  7. Consider Audience Perception: Reflect on how the audience perceives the presentation in light of the conflicting feedback. Understanding their concerns and perspectives can guide you in making necessary adjustments.
  8. Maintain Professionalism: Handle any disagreements or debates over the data with professionalism and respect. Avoid engaging in confrontations and instead focus on collaborative problem-solving.
  9. Iterate and Improve: Use the feedback as an opportunity to iterate and improve the presentation. Incorporate any necessary updates to ensure accuracy and alignment with the most reliable information available.
  10. Communicate Updates: If changes are made based on the feedback received, communicate these updates to the audience, demonstrating responsiveness and a commitment to accuracy.

Ultimately, incorporating feedback that challenges the data or facts in a presentation is an opportunity for growth and improvement. By responding thoughtfully and diligently, presenters can strengthen the credibility of their work and build trust with their audience. It also reinforces the message that the primary goal is to deliver accurate and relevant information, leading to more effective and impactful presentations in the future.

Identifying the Right Sources for Feedback

To ensure a well-rounded and effective presentation, seek diverse input from colleagues, experts, and stakeholders, as different perspectives offer valuable insights. Consider feedback from individuals with relevant experience and expertise in the subject matter or presentation skills. Here are some tips of what who and what you should be looking for:

  • Seek Diverse Input: Gather feedback from a variety of audience members, including colleagues, experts, and stakeholders. Different perspectives can provide valuable insights.
  • Consider Experience and Expertise: Pay attention to feedback from individuals with relevant experience or expertise in the subject matter or presentation skills.
  • Analyze Audience Reactions: Observe the audience’s body language, engagement level, and responses during the presentation. Adjust your approach based on these cues.

Addressing feedback with Clarity of Roles and Responsibilities

Clarity of roles within an organization plays a crucial role in incorporating feedback for presentations effectively. As highlighted in “The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution,” execution relies on employees making thousands of decisions daily, guided by the information available to them and their individual motivations. A compilation of the work with over 250 about how companies learn to execute more effectively identified four fundamental building blocks executives can use to influence those actions—clarifying decision rights, designing information flows, aligning motivators, and making changes to structure (Neilson, G., Martin, K., Powers, E., The Secrets to Successful Strategy Execution, 2008):

  • who owns each decision
  • who must provide input
  • who is ultimately accountable for the results
  • how results are defined

Good decision making depends on assigning clear and specific roles. This sounds simple enough, but many companies struggle to make decisions because lots of people feel accountable—or no one does. 

Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance (2006)
The 17 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness
The 17 Fundamental Traits of Organizational Effectiveness: The research from Neilson, G., Martin, K., Powers, E. (drawn from more than 26,000 people in 31 companies ) have distilled the traits that make organizations effective at implementing strategy.

The most important step in unclogging decision-making bottlenecks is assigning clear roles and responsibilities. Good decision makers recognize which decisions really matter to performance. They think through who should recommend a particular path, who needs to agree, who should have input, who has ultimate responsibility for making the decision, and who is accountable for follow-through. They make the process routine. The result: better coordination and quicker response times (Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance, 2006).

Coordinating roles and responsibilities is inherently more challenging when you’re not in the same physical location. If you don’t check in frequently, your colleagues in other locations will lose track of what you’re doing (and vice-versa). But sending multiple messages to multiple recipients on multiple channels can create infusion and make it hard to tack progress. To organize who does what take the following steps (Harvard Business Review, Virtual Collaboration, 2016):

  • Simplify the work: streamline things as much as you can, and agree on who ultimately own each task. If you aren’t in a position to influence these decisions, talk one-on-one with the people you’ll be working with most directly to make sure that you’re all on the same page. If necessary press your boss for more direction — and suggest the changes you would like to see.
  • Have each person share a “role card”: Itemise important information such as the person’s title, general responsibilities, work schedule, close collaborators, and the key tasks, decisions, deliverables, and milestones the individual is attached to. These “cards” could be individual documents, email, or entries in a shared work or message board. Review the inform briefly during a meeting to clear up any misunderstanding.
  • Agree on protocols: guidelines are needed for important activities such as group decisions, tracking progress, and sharing updates. Consider these questions: Who is the group needs to be involved in each of these activities? Which communication technologies will you use for each of these activities? If you lack the authority to lead this conversation, pose these questions to your supervisor with respect to yourself: What activities do I need to be involved in? How should I share updates during a meeting? I’d like to…

With a well-defined framework of roles and responsibilities, presenters can easily gather and incorporate valuable feedback from all levels of the organization, leading to more successful and impactful presentations.

The most successful companies use simple tools that help them recognize potential bottlenecks and think through decision roles and responsibilities with each change in the business environment.

Rogers, P., & Blenko, M., Who has the D? How clear decision roles enhance organizational performance (2006)

One of the most popular tools for clarifying roles as responsibilities is a RACI Matrix — also known as a responsibility-assignment matri — which outlines how individuals with different specializations will participate in tasks such as work phases (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022).

RACI chart, also known as a responsibility-assignment matrix, helps professionals outline their roles and responsibilities in various phases of product development to ensure involvement, task collaboration, and partnership with other roles. The “X” indicates where roles are not involved.

Each person or role has its own column and each phase, activity, or deliverable has an individual row. Each cell in the matrix specifies the involvement of the corresponding party with the task. The involvement is specified through one of the four letters R (Responsible), A (Accountable), C (Consulted), and (Informed) — hence the acronym RACI. For example, in the RACI above, the product manager is responsible and accountable for the task of defining objectives and key results, whereas the UX/product designer and the engineering teams should be consulted. Overall role involvement at the phase level is based on the type of participation that appears most for activities and deliverables therein (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022).

The four levels of role involvement for any given task (whether a product-development phase, an activity, or the creation of a deliverable) are defined as follows (Kaley, A., Setting UX roles and responsibilities in product development, 2022):

  • R= Responsible: The role(s) or team member completes the task. There can be more than one person responsible for any task in product development. For example, a user researcher might be responsible for running a quantitative usability test, as part of the iteration and optimization phase of product development.
  • A= Accountable: The person provides final review and determines whether and when the task is completed. For each task, there should be only one accountable person. Accountability is essential for an organization and team. Without it, it’s difficult to get people to take ownership and get things done. In some cases, the accountable person is also responsible for completing the work or deliverable. For example, when running a usability test, a UX lead or researcher might be accountable for the overall completion of the study, while also responsible for recruitment, preparing the study protocol, facilitating sessions, and analyzing results. During each testing session, a product manager and engineer might share responsibility for taking notes.
  • C= Consulted: The role(s) provides input and expertise on the task. There are usually multiple people from various disciplines and levels marked with a C in the RACI, depending on the phase of product development and activities involved. In our example usability test, a UX manager might be consulted by the UX lead to get feedback on the study protocol and understand if there are any other peers on the UX team who would benefit from the research findings.
  • I= Informed: The role(s) are kept aware of progress as the task is worked on. Like the responsible and consulted roles, there are often many roles kept informed, including stakeholders, leadership, and other product teams who may be impacted by the work. Informed parties could also include people from customer support, legal, operations, marketing, human resources, and in smaller organizations, the CEO.

Addressing Feedback through Facilitation

In my experience — which I don’t think is unique — meetings are not as productive as they should be because they are not facilitated (no agenda, no one taking notes, no decisions being recorded).

Meetings are usually not designed. They are rather used as blunt force, expensive but ill-considered tools to solve communications problems. These problems don’t always warrant such a costly, high-fidelity solution. But even when they do merit that kind of solution, insufficient intention and energy go into creating the meeting experience itself.

Hoffman, K. M., Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone (2018)

No matter what kind of organization, team structure, or project types you’ve worked on, you’ve probably had experienced problems working with teams, such as:

  • drifting focus
  • misunderstood communications
  • uneven participation
  • Conflict
  • struggles for power and control
  • difficulties reaching consensus
  • frustrations with obtaining commitment to follow up action.

This is not by ill-intent: Patrick Lencioni posits that making a team high performing – i.e. high-functioning, collaborative, cohesive, aspiring, engaging – requires self-discipline, courage and stamina (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team, 2011).

Facilitation is a deceptively familiar word, because it sounds like something you know, but means different things in different workplaces. For the purposes of this conversation, a definition of facilitation consists of two things (Hoffman, K. M.,  Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone, 2018):

  • Facilitation is an explicitly designated role for managing conflict. That role is filled by a single individual, or multiple individuals when you have multiple small groups, with each group having its own facilitator.
  • Facilitators create a productive pattern of conversation, built on divergence and convergence. This pattern encourages tangents, but also manages tangents to direct the conversation toward decisions.

Facilitation provides a foundation of organization that allows a team to be creative and explore options together, but also make decisions, perform at a highly functioning level, and deliver on specific outcomes.

Harned, B., Project Management for Humans: Helping People Get Things Done (2017)

It’s been my experience that — left to chance — it’s only natural that teams will stray from vision and goals. Helping teams paddle in the same direction requires not only good vision and goals, but also leadership, and intentional facilitation.

Incorporating feedback is a vital aspect of facilitating a successful presentation. As a facilitator, the role extends beyond merely delivering information to actively encouraging an open and collaborative exchange of ideas. After sharing the content, skillful facilitation involves creating a safe and supportive environment where participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and providing feedback.

Emphasizing the value of diverse viewpoints and promoting constructive discussions allows the facilitator to navigate challenging moments, address concerns, and keep the presentation focused on achieving its objectives. In this way, incorporating feedback becomes a dynamic and integral part of the presentation process, ensuring that stakeholders feel heard, engaged, and vested in the success of the presentation’s goals.

photo of people near wooden table
Strategy and the Need for Facilitation

Learn more about how to become a skilled facilitator (Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com)

Emphasizing Psychological Safety while Collecting Feedback

Psychological safety is the belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. That one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes (Edmondson, A. C., The fearless organization, 2018).

Conflict arises in every team, but psychological safety makes it possible to channel that energy into productive interaction, that is, constructive disagreement, and an open exchange of ideas, and learning from different points of view.

Edmondson, A. C., The fearless organization (2018)

Creating psychological safety is not about being nice to each other or reducing performance standards, but rather about creating a culture of openness where teammates can share learning, be direct, take risks, admit they “screwed up,” and are willing to ask for help when they’re in over their head (Mastrogiacomo, S., Osterwalder, A., Smith, A., & Papadakos, T., High-impact tools for teams, 2021).

Psychological Safety and Business Performance” in How to create a learning organization (Rudolfsson, F., 2017)
Psychological Safety and Non-Violent Communication

Psychologists generally agree that conflicts need to be dealt with, but the question is: how? The American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg (1934-2015) developed the idea of nonviolent communication based on the premise that it’s not what you say, but how you say it.

He distinguishes between speaking snappishly, “language of the jackal”, and speaking from the heart, “language of the giraffe” (giraffes have the biggest heart of any land animal). The language of the jackal causes the speaker to feel superior and the person being addressed to feel bad (Krogerus, M., & Tschappeler, R., The communication book, 2018).

Typical examples of jackal language (Krogerus, M., & Tschappeler, R., The communication book, 2018):

  • Analysis: ‘That’s wrong, because…
  • Criticism: ‘The mistake you made was that you…
  • Interpretations: ‘You do that because..
  • Appraisals: ‘You’re smart/lazy, you’re right/wrong…
  • Threats: ‘If you don’t do it immediately, I’ll have to…

Statements like these are ‘desires in disguise’. Because we have not learned to ask for something politely or to express our wishes constructively, we resort to aggressive language. And aggression leads to counter-aggression or sub-
missive subjugation.

Krogerus, M., & Tschappeler, R., The communication book (2018)

From my experience living on four different continents, I tell you that we underestimate how we say things in one culture may be perceived as passive-aggressive (or sometimes straight out aggressive) in other cultures. In other others, jackal language tends to be more tolerable in some cultures, which — while working in multicultural environments — tends to inadvertently put some people from cultures where it is less tolerable on the defense.

There are two basic skills in using Non-Violent Communication (NVC): expressing yourself and hearing others. Expressing yourself is intended to help the other person understand you without them hearing any blame (the language of the Giraffe”). Let’s say you find yourself in a simple workplace conflict: someone has drunk the decaffeinated coffee you brewed. The four components of expressing yourself under NVC are (Hoffman, K. M., Meeting Design: For Managers, Makers, and Everyone, 2018):

  • Observations without judgments: “When I see you drinking my decaf” would be better than “When you steal the coffee.”
  • Feelings without attribution: “I’m frustrated” is better than “You’re annoying me deliberately.”
  • Express universal human needs: “I’d like some consideration” is more appropriate than “That is my coffee to consume.”
  • Make a clear, positive request, not a negative demand: “Could you ask me when you want some?” is more productive than “You cannot have it.”

5 Behaviours to Foster Psychological Safety

Contributor safety satisfies the basic human need for autonomy and contribution. You feel safe and are given the opportunity and role clarity to use your skills and abilities to make a difference. Here are five behaviors that will help you foster contributor safety on your team (Clark, T. R., The 4 stages of psychological safety: Defining the path to inclusion and innovation, 2020):

  1. Shift from Tell to Ask: A leader’s coaching continuum ranges from telling at one end to asking at the other. A good leader uses the entire continuum. Too much telling breeds dependency and learned helplessness. Shift as much as you can to the ask end. Lead through questions more than answers.
  2. Ask People What They Think: It may be true that the four most beautiful words you can ask a team member are, “What do you think?” Those four simple words invite contribution and increased confidence in the process. Never use these words gratuitously, when you don’t really mean it. At the same time, don’t move to a decision or action without asking, even when you think you know the right answer.
  3. Celebrate Small Wins: Certainly accomplishment is its own reward, but receiving genuine recognition from your peers makes it all the sweeter. As a leader, recognize the successes of your team quickly. Never delay and never resent the opportunity. Celebrate the successes of others and show genuine excitement for their accomplishments.
  4. Help Other People See Their Strengths: Many team members deliver mediocre performance because they don’t realize their strengths. They don’t know themselves. When someone points out their contribution and strengths, they’re shocked and accelerate to a higher level of performance. Do that. Identify the hidden or undervalued strengths that your team members have and bring them to their attention. Ignite the desire to contribute more.
  5. Approach Failure with Curiosity Rather Than Criticism: When performance falters, it means our inputs are not producing the outputs we expected. Something is wrong in what we thought the cause and effect relationship would be. When this happens, approach your team members with curiosity rather than criticism. Engage them in a root cause analysis. This will often diffuse the stress and emotional tension that often surrounds poor performance.
woman placing her finger between her lips
Strategy, Teamwork and Psychological Safety

Learn more about how psychological safety is a prerequisite for creating shared understanding (Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com)

Handling Interruptions Gracefully

Handling interruptions gracefully during meetings is crucial for maintaining a productive and respectful environment. Interruptions can occur for various reasons, such as clarifying doubts, providing additional information, or expressing differing viewpoints.

Responding to interruptions with grace demonstrates active listening and respect for participants’ contributions. By acknowledging interruptions and addressing them calmly and professionally, meeting leaders foster open communication and encourage others to share their thoughts freely.

Handling interruptions gracefully also ensures that discussions stay on track and that all voices are heard, leading to more inclusive and effective decision-making processes. Ultimately, this approach promotes a positive meeting culture, where ideas are valued, and participants feel engaged and valued.

Addressing Distracting Tangents

It’s vitally important as a leader to recognize when your team is falling into the pattern of accepting smart sounding ideas and inputs instead of measurable forward progress. The most effective way I have found to break through this is to recognize when you get stuck in a pattern of smart-talking about the “situation.”

Situation conversations are the easiest conversations to have because there is no risk. You are simply stating facts. You might contribute facts that no one else knows, and you might sound really smart while saying them, but there is no forward progress because you are simply describing what is happening.

Azzarello, P., “Concrete Outcomes” in Move: How decisive leaders execute strategy despite obstacles, setbacks, and stalls, 2017

Groups of people have a very strong tendency to discuss the situation. Over and over again. For a really long time. Situation discussions describe what we are doing, what the market is doing, what the competitors are doing, what the investors are saying, what the problems are, what the costs are, what the customers are demanding, what the changes in the business model are causing, what the opportunities are, what the employees are doing and not doing. Situation discussions don’t go anywhere; they only gather more detail. (Azzarello, P., “Concrete Outcomes” in Move: How decisive leaders execute strategy despite obstacles, setbacks, and stalls, 2017).

Sure, it’s important to use some time to note and understand the situation, but you can just feel it when everyone has internalized the situation, and then . .. you keep talking about it! Talking and talking and talking about it. You can feel it in your stomach when the meeting is not going anywhere, and you’re still talking. The talk gets smarter and smarter, and the forward motion everyone is craving never happens (Azzarello, P., “Concrete Outcomes” in Move: How decisive leaders execute strategy despite obstacles, setbacks, and stalls, 2017).

The single most important role a facilitator can play to ensure value capture is to stay focused on the difference between signal and noise; between capture the ideas and insights that could have potential long-term value and other observations that cloud the vision of those charged with implementation the event’s outcomes

Newman, D., & Klein, B. Facilitating collaboration: Notes on facilitation for experienced collaborators (2018)

As the noise gets louder and louder, we help the participants identify the signal – the gem of potential value – that lies within (Newman, D., & Klein, B. Facilitating collaboration: Notes on facilitation for experienced collaborators, 2018)

The Law of triviality is C. Northcote Parkinson‘s 1957 argument that people within an organization commonly or typically give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.[1] Parkinson provides the example of a fictional committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant, spending the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike shed, while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself, which is far more important and a far more difficult and complex task (Wikipedia, 2022)

Avoiding Distractions through Clarity of Purpose

Once you acknowledge the problem of bikeshedding, there are several steps you can take to avoid the issue and spend the appropriate time each issue demands (Melnick, L, How to avoid meetings about the trivial, aka bikeshedding, 2020):

  1. Have a clear purpose. Successful meetings need to have a clear and well defined purpose. Specificity is central to having a purpose and conveying it.
  2. Invite the right people. Only invite people who can contribute to the discussion or are needed for execution of the decision. If the purpose is to discuss the nuclear power plant, this purpose will make it clear who should and should not be in the meeting. As the post points out, “the most informed opinions are most relevant. This is one reason why big meetings with lots of people present, most of whom don’t need to be there, are such a waste of time in organizations. Everyone wants to participate, but not everyone has anything meaningful to contribute.”
  3. Appoint a decision maker. To reach the best outcome, you need a designated decision maker. First, it avoids forcing a consensus when there should be a black and white winner, a compromise is not always better than an extreme option. Also, it is often impossible to reach a consensus when nobody is in charge. The discussion just drags on and on.
  4. Have the decision maker set clear parameters. With one person in change, they can decide in advance how much importance to accord to the issue (for instance, by estimating how much its success or failure could help or harm the company’s bottom line). They can set a time limit for the discussion to create urgency. And they can end the meeting by verifying that it has indeed achieved its purpose.
Avoiding Distractions by focusing on ‘Next’

There are many other benefits to moving from situation conversations to outcome conversations. One of the other great things about outcome-oriented conversations is that they can be used to resolve disputes (Azzarello, P., “Concrete Outcomes” in Move: How decisive leaders execute strategy despite obstacles, setbacks, and stalls, 2017):

  • When discussing a situation and what to do next, “next” is a concept fraught with opinion and emotion. It might involve someone giving something up or stopping something. It might involve doing or learning something new.
  • “Next” has all the personal investment of the present wrapped up in it. To get people to agree on what to do next if a clear outcome is not defined, there could be a million possible choices, all laden with personal investment, experience, insight, opinion, and emotion.
  • But instead, you can pick a point in the future and say, “Let’s describe that point. Let’s agree on that point in the future.” Suddenly, everyone’s focus is shifted away from their invested and urgent personal space and placed on a goal in the distance. It breaks the emotional stranglehold of something that threatens to change right now.

By approaching your future from the future, you ensure greater coherence between your business today and your goals for tomorrow.

Sommers, C., Think like a futurist (2012)

The other benefit is that if you can agree on what the point in the future looks like, it reduces the set of possible next steps from a million to several. There are far fewer choices of what to do next to serve a well-defined outcome. You can have a much more focused and productive debate (Azzarello, P., “Concrete Outcomes” in Move: How decisive leaders execute strategy despite obstacles, setbacks, and stalls, 2017).

multiracial colleagues shaking hands at work
Managing by Outcomes and Jobs to be Done

Managing by Outcomes with Jobs to be Done (JTBD) can help facilitate two-way negotiations that allow for team autonomy and ownership.

I don’t know about you, but these distractions can be really irritating, so I trying to push myself to handle them gracefully. Here are some of the techniques I’m trying:

  • Set Expectations: At the beginning of the presentation, communicate the structure and flow of the session. Encourage questions and discussions but specify when they will be addressed.
  • Acknowledge Relevance: If a tangent is raised, acknowledge its relevance and importance. Politely suggest revisiting the topic during the Q&A or after the presentation.
  • Use Bridging Statements: Politely bridge back to the main topic by saying phrases like, “That’s an interesting point, and it connects well with what we’ll cover next…”
  • Stay Focused on Objectives: Remind the audience of the presentation’s objectives and emphasize the key takeaways to maintain focus.
  • Have a Plan for Q&A: Be prepared for the Q&A session by anticipating potential tangents or off-topic questions. Politely guide the discussion back to relevant points when necessary.

Handling Interruptions Gracefully with Difficult Stakeholders

When delivering a presentation, interruptions from difficult stakeholders can present challenges, but with a assertive approach, you can manage these situations effectively. Here’s how to handle interruptions gracefully while standing your ground with assertiveness:

  • Stay Composed and Confident: Maintain a calm and composed demeanor, even when faced with challenging interruptions. Confidence in your presentation and subject matter will show that you are in control of the situation.
  • Set Clear Expectations from the Outset: At the beginning of the presentation, let the audience know how you will handle questions and interruptions. For instance, you can say, “I’ll address questions and comments at the end of the presentation to ensure we cover all key points.”
  • Acknowledge the Interrupter: When interrupted, acknowledge the individual respectfully, using their name if possible. For example, “Thank you, John, for bringing that up.”
  • Restate the Purpose and Agenda: Remind the audience of the presentation’s purpose and agenda. Emphasize that you will cover relevant points and address questions later.
  • Provide a Time Limit: If the interrupter persists, assertively set a time limit for the interruption. For instance, “I appreciate your input, but we need to move forward. Let’s discuss this further during the Q&A, which will begin in [X minutes].”
  • Bridge Back to the Main Topic: Politely steer the conversation back to the main topic without dismissing the interrupter’s concerns entirely. Use bridging statements like, “That’s an important point, and it aligns with what we’ll cover in the next section.”
  • Maintain Control: Be assertive in controlling the pace of the presentation. If necessary, politely but firmly assert, “I’d like to ensure we cover all aspects of the presentation, so let’s return to our agenda.”
  • Address Difficult Stakeholders Directly: If you’re dealing with a particularly challenging stakeholder, consider addressing them directly during the presentation. For example, “I understand this is a concern for you, and I’m happy to discuss it further. Let’s take this offline after the presentation to ensure we respect everyone’s time.”
  • Stay Focused on Objectives: Remind both the interrupter and the audience of the presentation’s objectives, emphasizing that staying on track will help achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Leverage Supportive Stakeholders: If other stakeholders are present and supportive, they can help reinforce the importance of staying on topic. Encourage them to express their agreement with maintaining focus.
  • Offer a Q&A Session: Assure the audience that there will be a dedicated Q&A session at the end of the presentation. This provides an appropriate forum to address concerns and questions thoroughly.
  • Address Disruptive Behavior Privately: If a difficult stakeholder’s interruptions become disruptive, deal with the issue privately after the presentation. Approach them respectfully to discuss their concerns and find a constructive resolution.

Remember, assertiveness is about maintaining respect for all parties involved while ensuring that your presentation stays on track. By handling interruptions gracefully with difficult stakeholders, you can create a professional and productive environment that benefits everyone involved.

Negotiation, Issue, and Conflict Resolution

I’ve noticed in my own experience — but also observing how junior designers conduct themselves — that we usually tend to bargain over positions (e.g., “from a user experience perspective, this works best because….”), thinking that if we bring enough knowledge to the table or make strong enough arguments, designers would convince the team about the way to move forward. This idea of “Bargaining over positions” (through persuasion) comes with shortcomings that we are – more often than not – not even aware of since most of us were not trained with the emotional intelligence it takes to deal with conflict in a healthy way.

We can only change two things: our own minds and our own behavior.

Benson, B., Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement (2019)

As we argue our position, we often fail to question one crucial assumption upon which our whole stance in the conversation is built: I am right, you are wrong. This simple assumption causes endless grief (Patton, B., Stone, D., & Heen, S., Difficult conversations, 2011).

Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations, and values. They are not about what the contract states, but what the contract means.

Patton, B., Stone, D., & Heen, S., Difficult conversations (2011)

The important question to explore during difficult conversations are not about who is right and who is wrong, but about interpretation and judgment. Determining who is right or wrong is a dead end (Patton, B., Stone, D., & Heen, S., Difficult conversations, 2011).

Moving away from the truth assumption frees us to shift our purpose from proving we are right to understanding the perceptions, interpretations, and values of both sides. It allows to move away from delivering messages and toward asking questions, exploring how each person is making sense of the world. And to offer our views as perceptions, interpretations and values — not as “truth.”

Patton, B., Stone, D., & Heen, S., Difficult conversations (2011)

From that perspective, another challenge that arises while negotiating comes from the fact that the way most negotiation strategies fail because they start arguing over positions (Fisher, R., & Ury, W., Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in, 2012):

  • Arguing over positions produces unwise outcomes: we tend to lock ourselves in those positions. The more you clarify your position and defend it against attacks, the more committed you become to it. The more you try to convince “the other side” of the impossibility of changing your position, the more difficult it becomes to do so.
  • Arguing over positions endangers an ongoing relationship: positional bargaining becomes a contest of will. Each side tries through sheer willpower to force the other to change its position. Anger and resentment often result as one side sees itself bending to the rigid will of the other while its own legitimate concerns go undressed. Positional bargaining thus strains and sometimes shatters the relationship between the parties.
  • Where there are many parties, positional bargaining is even worse: although it is convenient to discuss in terms of two persons, you and the “other side”, in fact, almost every negotiation involves more than two persons. The more people involved in the negotiation, the more serious the drawbacks of positional bargaining.
  • Being nice is no answer: many people recognize the high costs of hard positional bargaining, particularly on the parties and their relationship. They hope to avoid them by following a more gentle style of negotiation. Instead of seeing the other side as adversaries, they prefer to see them as friends. Rather than emphasizing a goal of victory, they emphasize the necessity of reaching an agreement. In a soft negotiating game the standard move is to make offers and concessions, to trust the other side, to be friendly, and to yield as necessary to avoid confrontation. Pursuing a soft and friendly form of positional bargaining makes you vulnerable to someone who plays a hard game.
Becoming aware of conflict management styles can help you address strategic collaboration issues (A visualization of Conflict Management Styles in Organizational Behavior and Human Relations in two axis of "importance of achieving a goal" and "importance of relationship")
“Conflict Management Styles” in Organizational Behavior and Human Relations
William Ury's 'The walk from
Watch William Ury’s The walk from “no” to “yes” talk at TED

One approach to get more constructive conflict handling is to change the game from arguing over positions to negotiating on merits (Fisher, R., & Ury, W., Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in, 2012):

  • Principled: participants are problem-solvers whose goal is a wise outcome reached efficiently and amicable.
  • Separate the people from the problem: be soft on the people, hard on the problem; proceed independently of trust
  • Focus on interests, not positions: explore interests, and avoid having a bottom line.
  • Invent options for mutual gain: generate alternatives to choose from; decide later.
  • Insist on using objective criteria: try to reach a result based on stands independent of will; reason and be open to reason; yield to principle, not pressure.

As negotiators, different people will have different interests and styles of communication. Different things may be persuasive to them, and they may have different ways of making decisions. How should we accommodate such similarities and differences in negotiating with different people? Here are some suggested guidelines (Fisher, R., & Ury, W., Getting to Yes: Negotiating an agreement without giving in, 2012):

  • Get in step. In any negotiation, it is highly desirable to be sensitive to the values, perceptions, concerns, norms of behavior, and moods of those with whom you are dealing. Adapt your behavior accordingly. If you are negotiating with someone, it is that person whom you are trying to affect. The more successfully you can get in step with that person’s way of thinking, the more likely you are to be able to work out an agreement.
  • Adapt this general advice to the specific situation. These guidelines offer general advice. It will not apply in the same way in every circumstance with every person. But the basic propositions are generally applicable. Absent a compelling reason to do otherwise, we advise crafting your specific approach to every negotiation around them. The best way to implement these general principles will depend on the specific context. Consider where you are, with whom you are dealing, customs of the industry, past experience with this negotiator, and so on, in crafting an approach to fit the situation.
  • Pay attention to differences of belief and custom, but avoid stereotyping individuals. Different groups and places have different customs and beliefs. Know and respect them, but beware of making assumptions about individuals. The attitudes, interests, and other characteristics of an individual are often quite different from those of a group to which they may belong. Making assumptions about someone based on their group characteristics is insulting, as well as factually risky. It denies that person his or her individuality. We do not assume that our beliefs and habits are dictated by the groups in which we happen to fit; to imply as much of others is demeaning. Each of us is affected by myriad aspects of our environment and upbringing, our culture, and group identity, but in no individually predictable way.
  • Question your assumptions; listen actively. Whatever assumption you make about others -whether you assume they are just like you or totally different – question it. Be open to learning that they are quite unlike what you expected. The wide variations among cultures provide clues as to the kind of differences for which you should be looking but remember that all of us have special interests and qualities that do not fit any standard mold.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution with Different Types of Audiences

The dynamics of presentations and meetings can vary significantly based on the audience type and size, necessitating adaptable approaches to ensure successful outcomes. Additionally, fostering psychological safety in these interactions is paramount to encourage open communication, collaboration, and the constructive resolution of conflicts.

  • Power Players: Negotiating with high-level executives and influential stakeholders requires careful consideration of their priorities and concerns. These individuals may have strong viewpoints and may be less willing to compromise. Presenters must conduct thorough research, provide data-driven arguments, and demonstrate alignment with the organization’s overall mission. Emphasizing the strategic value and benefits of the proposed user experience vision can help gain the support of power players.b.
  • Sleepers and Informants: Engaging with sleepers and informants may involve drawing out their insights and opinions. Sleepers may require encouragement to participate, while informants may possess valuable information that can shape the strategy. Presenters should create a safe and inclusive environment, encouraging active participation and recognizing the contributions of informants. For sleepers, posing thought-provoking questions and seeking individual feedback can elicit valuable insights.
  • Danger Zone Stakeholders: Negotiating with stakeholders in the danger zone, who may be resistant or opposed to the proposed strategy, requires handling conflicts with sensitivity. Presenters must demonstrate empathy, actively listen to their concerns, and address their objections respectfully. Fostering psychological safety allows these stakeholders to voice their opinions without fear of repercussion

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution with Different Audience Sizes

  • Intimate Presentations: Intimate presentations allow for deeper interactions and focused discussions. Conflicts may arise due to divergent opinions within the small group. Presenters should facilitate open dialogues, ensuring that each participant has a chance to share their perspectives. Encouraging constructive debates can lead to effective conflict resolution.
  • Boardroom Presentations: In boardroom settings, conflicts may be more challenging to address, as high-level decision-makers have limited time and may prioritize strategic alignment. Presenters should be concise, present compelling data, and respond promptly to questions and concerns. Establishing a collaborative atmosphere where stakeholders feel heard is crucial for successful negotiation.
  • All-Hands Presentations: Addressing conflicts in large all-hands presentations requires maintaining control over the discussion and managing potential disruptions. Utilizing interactive tools, like live polls and breakout sessions, can involve the entire audience and prevent conflicts from derailing the presentation. Encouraging respectful exchanges of ideas promotes psychological safety and inclusivity.

Getting Commitment to Action

In the decision-making process, clear intention is not enough; action is necessary to convert potential value into real value. Commitment to action is essential for effective decision-making, as resources must be allocated for execution. Shifting between the mindsets of deciding and action is challenging but crucial for leaders.

While decisions require embracing uncertainty, action demands certainty of purpose. Dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity is vital for designers, enabling them to make informed choices despite incomplete information.

Trust and conflict play significant roles in enabling commitment within teams, fostering buy-in and clarity. Addressing the absence of trust is a fundamental step towards creating high-performing teams.

Effective presentations are pivotal in securing commitment to action, bridging the gap between intention and tangible results. Presentations provide the platform for leaders to articulate their vision, inspire stakeholders, and gain buy-in for the proposed course of action. Presenters facilitate the commitment necessary to propel strategies forward and turn ideas into concrete outcomes by conveying the rationale behind decisions and fostering a sense of shared purpose.

Here are some tips on how to get commitment to action.

Getting Commitment to Action through Buy-In and Clarity

And like the other four dysfunctions, commitment needs to be correctly defined before it can be achieved. Buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support; Clarity is the removal of assumptions and ambiguity from a situation (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010):

  • Buy-In: Commitment is not consensus. Waiting for everyone on a team to agree intellectually on a decision is a good recipe for mediocrity, delay, and frustration, which is why it amazes me that so many of the teams I work with still seem determined to achieve consensus. Ironically, commitment is something of the opposite. It’s about a  group of intelligent, driven individuals buying into a decision precisely when they don’t naturally agree. In other words, it’s the ability to defy a lack of consensus.
  • Clarity: Unfortunately, even when teams master this ability to “disagree and commit” (this is something that the folks at Intel came up with years ago), they can still fail to benefit from their commitment. That’s because many teams fail to achieve clarity and alignment around a decision. Instead, they make well-intentioned assumptions about what they’ve agreed to, and they end up creating confusion and frustration among employees who wonder whether their leaders are even talking to one another. I’ve seen this happen often, and it’s worth describing.

Effective presentation skills are indispensable in creating buy-in and clarity. Engaging communication, building trust, tailoring messaging, simplifying complexity, addressing questions, managing time, delivering a compelling call to action, and encouraging interaction collectively contribute to a presentation’s success. By mastering these skills, presenters can build rapport with the audience, drive understanding, and secure the support needed to achieve their objectives.

Commitment Clarification

With five minutes to go at the end of a meeting — any meeting — the leader of the team needs to call a question: What exactly have we decided here today? On the whiteboard, the leader writes down the decisions that the group thinks it has made. In many cases, team members see what the leader is writing on the board and react. “Wait a second. That’s not what I thought we agreed on.” And so the group dives back into the conversation until everyone is clear (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010).

It is amazing to me how a group of intelligent, highly educated adults, all of whom speak the same language, can sit in a room for two hours of discussion, and then leave the room under the false impression that everyone is on the same page.

Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators (2010)

In any case, by being extremely explicit about what has been agreed upon, a team will be able to identify discrepancies before a decision has been announced. Now, you might be wondering, “But maybe team members are purposefully sitting back and allowing for ambiguity, preferring to later ask for forgiveness rather than permission.” (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010).

Cascading Communication

To avoid that situation, the leader must also engage in cascading communication. That means demanding that the team go back and communicate the decisions to their staff members within twenty-four hours of the meeting. And not by e-mail or voice mail but either live in person or on the phone, thus giving employees a chance to ask questions for clarification (Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators, 2010).

Even the most passive executives will call out their concerns about a decision if they know they’ll be expected to go out and communicate it publicly.

Lencioni, P. M., Overcoming the five dysfunctions of a team: A field guide for leaders, managers, and facilitators (2010)

Of course, this assumes that if they don’t communicate decisions to their people, the leader of the team will hold them accountable.

Judging the Quality of Commitment to Action

In most cases, it is not hard to judge the quality of the commitment to action at the end of a decision process. The larger challenge is to build that commitment along the way. To assure high quality in this link of the chain, a decision maker should ask (Spetzler, C., Winter, H., & Meyer, J., Decision quality: Value creation from better business decisions, 2016):

  • “Have we achieved quality on all of the other requirements for making a good decision? If not, where do we need to focus before we commit?”
  • “Are there differences of opinion about the additional work required on the other requirements? How do we resolve those?”
  • “Once we commit, will the decision stick? Are the stakeholders and people with organizational authority aligned with the choice?”
  • “Do we truly understand the level of resources needed to successfully implement the decision: money, staff, time, authority to do the work, and executive attention? Have these resources been lined up?”
  • “Is everyone on the decision team committed, including implementers? Do they all understand the key value drivers?”
  • “Do we understand implementation risks and have a good mitigation plan? Do we have the capability to respond if any of the worst possible outcomes materialize?”
banking business checklist commerce
Strategy and Facilitating Good Decisions

Learn more about how to get commitment to action in Facilitating Good Decisions (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com)

The Right Time for Each Type of Presentation

You might be asking yourself “These are all great, but when should I be doing what?”. Without knowing what kind of team setup you have, and what kinds of processes you run in your organization, the best I can do is to map all of the techniques above the Double Diamond framework.

The Double Diamond Framework

Design Council’s Double Diamond clearly conveys a design process to designers and non-designers alike. The two diamonds represent a process of exploring an issue more widely or deeply (divergent thinking) and then taking focused action (convergent thinking).  

  • Discover. The first diamond helps people understand, rather than simply assume, what the problem is. It involves speaking to and spending time with people who are affected by the issues.
  • Define. The insights gathered from the discovery phase can help you to define the challenge in a different way.
  • Develop. The second diamond encourages people to give different answers to the clearly defined problem, seeking inspiration from elsewhere and co-designing with a range of different people.
  • Deliver. Delivery involves testing out different solutions at small scale, rejecting those that will not work, and improving the ones that will.
Design Council’s framework for innovation also includes the key principles and design methods that designers and non-designers need to take, and the ideal working culture needed, to achieve significant and long-lasting positive change.
A clear, comprehensive and visual description of the design process in What is the framework for innovation? (Design Council, 2015)

Process Awareness characterizes a degree to which the participants are informed about the process procedures, rules, requirements, workflow, and other details. The higher the process awareness, the more profoundly the participants are engaged in the process, and so the better results they deliver.

In my experience, the biggest disconnect between the work designers need to do and the mindset of every other team member in a team is usually about how quickly we tend — when not facilitated — to jump to solutions instead of contemplating and exploring the problem space a little longer.

Knowing when teams should be diverging, when they should be exploring, and when they should closing will help ensure they get the best out of their collective brainstorming and multiple perspectives’ power and keep the team engaged.

Map of Quantifying and Qualifying Activities in the Double Diamond (Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver)

My colleagues Edmund Azigi and Patrick Ashamalla have created a great set of questions and a cheatsheet that maps which questions are more appropriate for different phases of the product development lifecycle. So the following set of activities is inspired in their cheat sheet.

Presentations during “Discover”

This phase is wildly divergent, so we need to counterintuitively do the things usually perceived as “slowing us down,” such as user research, challenging the problem framing, creating a shared vision, and testing business ideas. While a degree of back and forth is expected, you can still move to clarity faster by agreeing on how we will be quantifying value and focusing on outcomes by discovering Jobs-to-be-Done.

During the “Discover” phase, these are the presentations that would likely be conducted:

  • Informative Presentations: During the “Discover” phase, meetings with information presentations are vital for sharing research findings, user insights, and market trends. These presentations help teams gather a comprehensive understanding of the problem space and identify potential opportunities.
  • Feedback-Gathering Presentations: In the “Discover” phase, meetings with feedback-gathering presentations allow teams to collect input from stakeholders, users, and experts. This feedback aids in refining problem statements, clarifying objectives, and exploring different perspectives.

Presentations during “Define”

In this phase, we should see the level of ambiguity diminishing, so facilitating investment discussions and clarifying priorities have the highest payoff in mitigating back-and-forth. That said, the cost of changing your mind increases drastically in this phase. Creating great choicesfacilitating good decisions, and experimenting to capture preference data allow teams to converge and align on the direction they should go.

During the “Define” phase, these are the presentations that would likely be conducted:

  • Persuasive Presentations: In the “Define” phase, persuasive presentations become essential to communicate the insights gathered during the “Discover” phase. Teams use persuasive presentations to advocate for specific problem statements and define the focus of the project.
  • Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: During the “Define” phase, meetings with presentations aimed at decision-making and commitment are crucial. These presentations enable stakeholders to align on project goals, define success criteria, and commit to the chosen direction.

Presentations during “Develop”

In this phase, we are going to a point where the cost of changing your mind increases rapidly as time passes. So the team should be focusing on learning as cheaply as possible (by capturing signals from the market) and discussions around investment should answer the questions if we should pivot, persevere, or stop.

During the “Develop” phase, these are the presentations that would likely be conducted:

  • Informative Presentations: In the “Develop” phase, information presentations continue to play a role in sharing research findings, design concepts, and prototyping approaches. This information guides the iterative development of solutions.
  • Feedback-Gathering Presentations: Meetings with feedback-gathering presentations should be ongoing in the “Develop” phase. They help teams gather feedback on design iterations and refine prototypes based on user insights and stakeholder input.

Presentations during “Deliver”

In this phase, it might be too late to change your mind and pivot. However, once a solution is live, the best you can do is collect data from actual customer usage for visibility and traceability of how your strategic choices are playing out, and make hard choices of if/what to pivot, persevere, or stop on the next iteration of the product.

During the “Deliver” phase, these are the presentations that would likely be conducted:

  • Persuasive Presentations: In the “Deliver” phase, persuasive presentations are used to present the final design solutions. These presentations aim to showcase the value and benefits of the solutions to stakeholders and users.
  • Presentations for Decision-Making and Commitment: During the “Deliver” phase, meetings with presentations for decision-making and commitment are vital to secure buy-in for the final design solutions. These presentations aim to gain approval for implementation and deployment.

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By Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as VP of Design Strategy at SAP and lecturer of Project Management for UX at the M.Sc. Usability Engineering at the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences .

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar has helped truly global companies in multiple continents create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

Itamar holds a MA in Design Practice from Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK), for which he received a Distinction Award for his thesis Creating Innovative Design Software Solutions within Collaborative/Distributed Design Environments.

2 replies on “Presentation and Storytelling Skills for Strategy Development and Stakeholder Engagement”

[…] Public Speaking Engagements: Seek opportunities for public speaking at industry conferences, seminars, and webinars. Delivering insightful presentations not only helps disseminate your expertise but also establishes you as a recognized authority in your field, further elevating your credibility amongst your peers [learn more about public speaking in Presentation and Storytelling Skills for Strategy Development and Stakeholder Engagement] […]

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