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Want to Have Impact? Strive for Brevity.

Want to Have Impact? Strive for Brevity.

A few columns ago, I wrote about the importance presentation skills play in one's career growth, and why they are not only an important part of being a more effective manager but also why it is so advantageous to develop them in your staff. At a time when many directors have their minds on succession planning and leadership development, challenging your up-and-comers to develop and demonstrate such skills can help you identify those with true advancement potential.

This month I'd like to revisit the topic with an emphasis on the practical matter of what makes a presentation effective in the first place. I got to thinking about this at the recent HFM (National Society for Healthcare Foodservice Management) conference. There, attendees received a small, business card-sized handout with a bullet-pointed outline of an “elevator speech” they could use to explain the purpose and value of HFM membership to administrators and others in their organizations.

Such mini-presentations can often be highly effective. In contrast, how many times has your organization passed out binders, presentations folders and lengthy documents that ostensibly are designed to orient you and others to new programs, policies or positions of the organization? And how many times have such materials ended up sitting on a shelf or in a drawer because you (and most everyone else) doesn't have the time to spend reviewing them?

In-person presentations are even more prone to this “failure to communicate.” The attention spans of bosses and others are short. Getting them focused, even for a few minutes, is an immense challenge. When given a chance to present ideas, how many of us fail to get our message across effectively because we can't make key points quickly and in a manner that sticks in the mind of the person we are trying to deliver them to?

There are many books that treat this subject, but I am going to refer to two I've always liked because the authors follow their own advice. While each is about 130 pages long, the core strategies they present are covered in one or two very short chapters.

The first is by Milo O. Frank; “How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds — or Less.” The second is by Ron Hoff: “Say It in Six.”

Frank's strategy is a perfect guide to giving that elevator speech, when you have just a quick moment in time to plant an idea, position a project or lobby for support. (Executive recruiters will tell you the same approach is key to making a case in interviews for your own suitability for a particular opportunity).

Hoff's suggestions are more geared to distilling a formal group presentation into one that is short, effective and memorable. He also provides clear guidelines on how to structure your main points. In the spirit of this discussion, I'm going to summarize both approaches in the remaining space of this page.

Hoff's “Six Minute Structure That Will Work Forever” involves five components:

  • Identify a “Burning Issue”
  • Explain Why the Issue Matters
  • Offer a Tangible Solution
  • Detail the Benefits and Payoff
  • Sum it Up and Close the Deal

When you think about it, that's the same thing you're trying to do in an elevator speech, but without the luxury of six minutes. So how does Frank suggest approaching the problem?

  • Have a Clear, Single Objective

  • Target the Right Listener

  • Prepare a Single Sentence Introduction that puts an immediate focus on the objective in the context of the listener's own priorities.

  • Have a Prepared “Hook” that ensures your point will stick in the listener's mind.

An elevator speech is not the time to present or explain a solution or strategy. The goal should be to suggest a strong benefit and hook the listener so he or she will come back to find out more later. That's when you should have the six-minute presentation ready to do the rest of the job.

Reading this column over, I only wish I was as good at such tactics as those who seem to employ them naturally. Many in our audience probably feel the same way. But if you agree that convincing others of the value of your ideas is a critical leadership skill, get both of these books, use them to prepare yourself to sell your next proposal or project, and practice the techniques they suggest.

Whatever you do, don't let them end up unread on your office shelf.

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