This post is the first in a series accompanying The Control Room: Conversations for Growing Companies, an interview series with entrepreneurs and experts. Listen to the interview here and subscribe for new interviews, transcripts, show notes and more here.
I stepped on stage in a 200-seat ballroom at a resort hotel in Southern California. It was 10am on a Saturday at a huge, international law firm's global annual meeting. The huge monitors on either side of the podium reminded me that I’d never spoken in a room even half this size.
Not only that, but I followed a panel of rainmakers trading business development war stories for the crowd: between these four senior partners, over $40 million in business preceded me to the stage. These guys had the credentials to back up every word they said.
What could I say to follow them? What could I say for 45 minutes? And why would this crowd care?
I had to get practical. I told specific stories about times when lawyers went out of their way to help me without trying to pitch their services. I shared the email templates and strategies I use to build professional relationships.
But above all, I convinced the audience that they should care, and that they should do the things I talked about.
Afterward, a senior partner pulled me aside: "I've been practicing law for 40 years and that's the best speech I've seen. Really well done." Three of the four rainmakers who preceded me on stage stopped me to tell me how great it was.
This was insane. How did it happen?
Public speaking is terrifying for most people. I wasn’t good at it. When my friend, a partner at the firm I presented to asked me to give this speech, I said yes without thinking. As it sunk in, I realized that I might be in real trouble. I couldn’t fail, but I didn’t know how to succeed.
I read books. I read the (endless) speaking advice online. I tried on my own to come up with something that would work… and I made some progress. Then, I realized that this was a real opportunity: I had a chance to get really good, really fast at this rare and valuable skill.
An “ok” speech shouldn’t cut it. Let’s maximize this opportunity.
So I found an expert and convinced him to coach me… even though his fee was more expensive than my fee for the speech. I was ready to lose money on this speech for a chance to learn from one of the best.
And it worked.
My guest today is that expert. Michael Baldwin worked on ad campaigns with Steve Jobs earlier in his career; now, he coaches C-level executives at Fortune 50 companies to become masters of presentation.
Michael's book, Just Add Water, is a short, dynamic and very visual read that will help you transform your presentations. These lessons apply whether you're presenting to 3 or 3,000 people. I highly recommend it.
We talked about how to improve how we use one of our most misunderstood presentation tools (PowerPoint), then dove into what convinced Michael to start his consulting practice, his lessons on getting big company clients and his thoughts on why entrepreneurship is worth the work.
Here are few important presentation takeaways from my talk with Michael and the book.
Present to Convince, not Inform
Presenting to inform is boring. Presenting to inform quickly gets you to a "Death by PowerPoint" presentation: lay out the background, identify a few options, talk about the pros and cons, develop a few charts, maybe make a recommendation at the end. All of this, read by the presenter to the audience for an hour or more. It's not fun.
We know this drill.
Michael believes that the purpose of a presentation is to drive the audience from Point A to Point B. To do this, you must first define Point A (their starting perspective) and then convince them to make that move to Point B.
So you have to do more than simply inform. You have to convince the audience to move. To do this, you have to have conviction. You must believe in something strongly enough to drive your audience to act. This surely requires more work than presenting choices, but it's the clearest path to a great presentation.
Begin with a Crystal Clear Objective
So you want to convince your audience to do something. Michael calls this "something" your Crystal Clear Objective (or CCO), and every presentation should have one. It answers the following question: when I'm done here, what do I want my audience to believe or to do?
Michael frames the CCO statement like this: "To convince [my audience] that [my main point]."
To me, the CCO is the bridge between what you say and what the audience does about it.
In my law firm speech, I could have just presented tactics to build client relationships. But tactics alone wouldn't be enough to get this group to act. This audience is busy, stressed and doing enough already. I had to make them care about what I had to say.
Could I convince them that these tactics would get them more clients or make them more money? I'd bet they would work, but I've never built a book of business. Why would this group believe me? I had no first-hand evidence. This was the easy answer, but not the best answer.
What I knew - and what I cared about - was that using these tactics helped me find something I'd missed in the first few years of my career. Now, I felt connected to topics I worked with. I learned more. I understood more. I cared more. I was happy.
So my CCO was "To convince these busy, stressed lawyers that investing in professional relationships will make them happy."
Reimagine Slides as Billboards
Typical presentations can be bad enough, but think about your worst meetings. Here’s what I’ve seen: dozens of slides with 10 bullets or more, blocks of text, maybe some horrible fonts or ClipArt or -- the worst -- some unreadable, pasted Excel file ("Sorry, this is a bit of an eye chart" -- how does this happen?).
Michael tells me that even the most seasoned executives give these presentations, even though they hate them too. It's the most common problem he sees.
Instead of loading up everything in your slides, think of them as billboards. "You should be able to read the entire content of any slide in under 10 seconds. If you imagine you’re driving on a freeway and you go by a billboard, you don’t see if for very long, but the ones that are done right, you get it immediately," says Michael.
This principle doesn’t sound difficult in theory, but can feel tough to actually do it. If everyone in your company does slides in a certain way, it’s hard to be different – even if the way they do it is awful. If you make this change, you're making a cultural statement. It requires bravery. Even defiance. This is especially true in big companies.
Remember, simpler slides will stick. Convince your audience, and I promise that no one will complain about your slides. I've done it, and I'm not the only one.
I hope you enjoy our talk. If you like this series and want more, subscribe to get email updates on new posts in this series, show notes and transcripts.