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Communications Grok: Total Recall
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away - well, Atlanta - I asked an audience what their boss had said the day before during his 90-minute speech.
They couldn't remember.
He's a very big cheese at a very big company. The jobs of every audience member in the room depended on him; they had a huge incentive to hang on his every word.
And he blew it.
When a leader speaks for 90 minutes, perhaps using a seemingly endless parade of PowerPoint slides, and his or her speech does not have a clearly defined point, it's not the fault of the audience if they don't "get it."
Oh, it's a tempting excuse. "The audience just didn't understand what I was trying to say," a leader might argue. "They probably don't get the nuance of my language; they likely aren't as familiar with all aspects of the business; they have short attention spans; they aren't strategic thinkers."
Utter nonsense. All of it.
These are lame excuses, and oh so common. It's the No. 1 responsibility of a speaker, any speaker, to deliver a clear message. It takes a lot of thought, a lot of work and a lot of rehearsal to accomplish. But it can be done.
Less is definitely more here. Executives are always tempted to go longer - often because no one will tell them to shut up. But if John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural speech ("... ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.") is just 15 minutes long, does the boss really need 90 minutes?
Try this next time you speak. Let's say you present on a Tuesday morning to 20 sales people. On Tuesday afternoon, have someone send them a short e-mail - something like, "Thanks for attending the presentation this morning. What do you remember as the speaker's main message? Also, please provide your candid, confidential, anonymous feedback on the speaker so he/she can improve for next time."
That's it. Someone aggregates the responses and forwards them to the speaker. And whether the speaker is the CEO or a mid-level manager, he or she will know two things, 1. If the major message was, indeed, clearly delivered and 2. What they're doing right and wrong in terms of communicating effectively.
Getting better at speaking entails a lot of things, but one of the key elements can often be asking your audience if they actually understood what you said - because you can work backwards from that input to adjust your presentation for next time.
Because wasting 90 minutes of your time speaking without a discernible point should be a crime, because it also wastes 90 minutes of your audience's time, because you probably don't need 90 minutes to begin with and because what you need is total recall.
p.s. I periodically contribute to a CEO newsletter called "Build Your Business" written by people a lot smarter than me who are experts in things like improving cash flow, international development and raising money. If you'd like to peek at a sample, click on this link: http://app.cooleremail.com/v.pl?01d6c314b2336d88fee40194bac49edb
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