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Less information. More impact.

Jun 15, 2022

“Can you believe it… Not a single question! Were they even listening?”

If you’ve ever presented to a group of people and been met with crickets at the end, it can be easy to blame your audience. But deep down, we know the fault is with ourselves.

There’s nothing worse than seeing someone ‘extinguish’ an audience with their communication – especially if that person is in a leadership role. And yet this happens all too often. 

Here are 4 of the most common things I see going wrong, and how we can avoid them. Which of these seem most familiar to you? What other pitfalls would you add to the list?

  1. We obsess about information, not impact

It’s so easy for communication – whether that’s in a meeting, a presentation or a conversation – to simply become an exchange of information. What brilliant ideas, experiences, data, opinions do I have to share that seem relevant to this topic?

The danger here is that we just share stuff until we don’t have anything left in the suitcase. Or until we (or they) have simply had enough.

Instead, take a step back and ask yourself: what’s the impact I want to have? This isn’t only a question of what you want your audience to learn or understand. It’s also a question of how you want them to feel and, perhaps most importantly, what you want them to do. Once you’ve got this clear in your mind, make sure everything you include in your communication serves that impact, without creating additional noise. Speaking of which...

  1. We think more is helpful

If you want to put out a fire, use a firehose. True, and also a powerful metaphor for communication. It’s so easy to shower our audience with so much information (“actually, just one more point while I think of it…”), that they hit a point where it’s Just Too Much. There’s nothing wrong with the content of what you’re saying… but your audience is done!

Building on my earlier distinction between information vs impact, it’s helpful to remember that preparation isn’t just planning what to say, but planning what to leave out. As a starting point, ask yourself: what are the top 3 messages my audience really needs to hear, and structure your communication around those 3 messages. Keep coming back to them to summarise, but also to ‘signpost’ where you’re headed. 

Once you’ve hit your 3 messages, ask yourself, is anything else really necessary? Or are you just addicted to being additive? 😉 

  1. We ask the wrong question

After sharing a message, it’s easy to simply throw to your audience with a question like, “Does anyone have any questions?” But let’s face it – it’s easy because it’s lazy. At best, it allows those who (a) process information quickly, and (b) are comfortable speaking up in a group to get their question out… or to fill an otherwise awkward silence!

Instead, why not ask people to take a minute to note down what has stood out for them, what they’re surprised by, and any questions they’d love to ask. Invite people to pose their questions simultaneously (for example, by posting them onto a shared space somewhere). Then dedicate the time to work through them (or a selection of them if time is limited).

Even better, ask a question that provokes some discussion. For example, you might ask, “If we were to go live with this tomorrow, which of your customers would this affect? What questions do you think they’d ask us?”

  1. All head, no heart

We love a good bullet point. A great bit of data. A knockout piece of business case analysis. All of which are useful, but only if your audience is feeling motivated and inspired to do anything with it. 

The problem is, many leaders don’t spend enough time designing the emotional aspect of their communication – how they can use things like stories, metaphors, pictures, personal anecdotes and experiences to shape how an audience feels about an idea. (None of which fits in a bullet point.)

This takes effort, but it also takes courage. As one of my clients recently reflected, keeping things clinical feels so much safer: “The moment I try to engage an audience emotionally, I feel exposed to judgement. But it's important for me to name that fear, because it’s up to me to lean into it.”

So, there you have it. 4 common pitfalls to get us started, all closely tied to one another. Which of these seem most familiar to you? What other pitfalls would you add? Hit reply and let me know (I read all responses!).



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