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It is your job to bait the curiosity of your colleagues—not shame them for not understanding you.

(Originally published for Fast Company August 5, 2022)

The most important measure of a successful and dynamic interaction with your colleagues during a meeting or presentation is whether they’re engaged.  When they feel included, absorbed, and enlightened at the end of your presentation, you’ve done your job well.

On the other hand, if they feel lost, spoken down to, or confounded after listening to you, you’ve not only failed in your objective as a speaker, but you are also missing opportunities to influence, convince and inspire.

It’s your job to bait the curiosity of your audience—not shame them for not understanding you.

Here are three ways to be more engaging and avoid making them feel stupid or uncomfortable.

Stop saying “as you recall,” or “as you remember,” etc.

The problem with saying “as you remember” (and other versions of this) is you are placing a lot of faith that they retained everything you said in your previous presentation, conversation, or email three days ago.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I won’t recall what I had for breakfast, much less information that may have been relayed a few days ago. Starting with “as you remember” forces the other person to do a deep dive into their own memory to line up with your present thinking. Once this happens, you’ve lost engagement, and you’re likely inducing a feeling of shortcoming or annoyance in them. There may be one or two people who remember the reference but trusting that everyone will is very risky.

Instead, reintroduce the idea. This will engage anyone. An example is: “I spoke about this in our last meeting, but it is worth revisiting,” or “I just mentioned a few solutions, but I want to address these again.” This frees the other person from the burden of remembering. Do this work for your listeners and you will have a higher engagement.

A bonus: If they didn’t catch it the first time, they will now. This will allow you to add emphasis to the message you need to land.  Repetition and redundancy are not only helpful when speaking, they are essential.

Introduce the concept or idea first (tell me what you are talking about)

Imagine that I say to you, “A can of La Croix, an iPhone, dry erase markers, and car keys.” You have no idea how each of these things relates to each other unless I introduce the concept first. Now, what if I told you here are some things on my desk: a can of La Croix, an iPhone, dry erase markers, and car keys? I am giving you not only context, but I am introducing the idea (things on my desk) before I dive into the details.

Always introduce your ideas at a concept level first. It can be tempting to demonstrate our knowledge and acumen in front of peers and superiors. In our enthusiasm, we jump into the details and minutiae of our topic before introducing the key concept we are communicating. For example, we’ll dive into updates without saying we are giving an update: “The team finished up the project early and we are happy that the sales have elevated since last quarter.” Tell us what you are talking about first: “Here are some updates from our last meeting…” this way everyone is on the same page.

Be a better tour guide for your presentation

This is especially relevant since the pandemic has revealed that “death by PowerPoint” is much more insidious in virtual presentations than it ever was in person.

Your slide deck should never be the main attraction of your presentation. Ideally, it won’t even be a supporting character. Your audience wants to hear from you not a slide show. The trap when presenting (especially virtually) is that the speaker will say, “As you can see on this slide…” But if your slide has so many numbers, details, and lines going every which way, no one can see what you are talking about, nor do they know what they are looking at to begin with.

The solution to this is to ensure that any materials you share support what you are saying, instead of you supporting your presentation’s list of facts. With each slide, introduce what we are looking at. For example: “Here are the current market trends” Then tell the listeners where to look: “I would like to draw your attention to the fifth row,” or “Take a look at the bottom right corner” or “What I am currently highlighting is…” If you tell your audience “As you can see,” they will start scanning the slide for the correct reference. Now they are no longer listening to you, and likely will fall behind or become confused about your point.

When you are presenting, think of any supporting slides as wallpaper.  This means you may want to draw your audience’s attention to some of the details, but the focus should then turn back to you.

We want colleagues to walk away from our presentations and interactions feeling wiser and informed, not lost or out of the loop. These small changes to eliminate redundancy and encourage clarity and guidance will lead to great outcomes in your communication and your career.

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