GET SMART: A CONVERSATION WITH RICK GILBERT (PART 2)
Rick Gilbert has been called a “communications guru” by Fortune magazine. He is the founder of Powerspeaking, Inc., a cutting-edge speech communication training company. Innovation is the hallmark of every course Rick has created: PowerSpeaking®, HighTechSpeaking®, FastTrackSpeaking®, and Speaking Up®.
His new book, “Speaking Up” is one my recommended books of 2012. Over the next four weeks, Rick and I will discuss ‘Speaking Up’ to executives: the goals of speaking to executives, the seven deadly challenges, the power of improvisation in the boardroom, and whether a presentation can – and should be – SMART as Hell.
PART TWO: THE SEVEN DEADLY CHALLENGES
Glenn: Rick, your book discusses seven deadly challenges to Speaking Up. Interestingly, neither slide design nor presentation style – the two most popular topics for presentation books these days – are one of the seven. Why?
Rick: That’s because the seven deadly challenges are process concerns. Process is everything that is not your content and not your delivery. Steve Kirsch said that 80% of your success in an executive presentation is your facilitation and only 20% is your content. Your visual aids and your style are in a different bucket than how you manage the room. The seven deadly challenges include what happens when your time is cut, an executive walks out, or there’s a food fight in the room and handling these situations take different skills.
Glenn: So, clearly content is important, but you’re suggesting that content is the low bar to get into the room?
Glenn: You wouldn’t last five seconds – in fact, your sponsor would probably be sacrificed – if your content isn’t there.
Glenn: I’ve heard a number of executives say that your delivery and your slides are of almost no importance to them. Some, in fact, would rather you just turn off the slides -
Rick: And have a conversation with them.
Glenn: Yes. John Kispert – CEO of Spansion, who we both know - used to say to me that “We want a conversation, not a presentation”.
Glenn: Let me throw out each of the Seven Deadly Challenges and get your thoughts.
Glenn: Challenge #1: Time Cut…
Rick: The problem here is that you have twenty minutes of material, but when you stand up, they tell you that you’re only getting five minutes. How do you make that transition?
In the book, we show you how to prepare two versions of your talk: the twenty minute version, and then a five-minute version or even an elevator pitch that you might want to do in 40 seconds.
Glenn: Challenge #2: Disengaged Executives.
Rick: Here you’re running into a situation where people are on their emails, looking at their computers, checking their iPhones. If one or two are doing it – not a problem. It might not even be that they’re disengaged. They might be looking up information related to your talk.
If, however, you read and room and realize that you’ve lost a majority of them, you need to take action. In the book, we show how the presenter can call attention to what’s happening – in a subtle way – and then check in to see if the topic is still important to the audience. That will usually jar people into paying attention or they might confirm that – you know what? – they really don’t need your presentation today.
Glenn: Challenge #3: Food Fights…
Rick: This is similar to losing their attention, but it’s much harder, because now you have to deal with status differential. Some senior team members are at each other’s throats and there’s almost nothing you can do about it – except see if you can draw them back into your content by leveraging the agenda.
Glenn: I’ve been there. This is the one where the presenter is standing there like a tourist watching two big cats go at it.
Rick: There you go… Often the best thing to do is to turn to your sponsor, who does have the ability to corral these people.
Glenn: Challenge #4 has happened to me as well: the Decision Maker Leaves. There are 40 people in the room, but the only one who can make a decision get’s up and walks out. What do you do?
Rick: The first question is: can the group make a decision without that person? If you don’t know that, you’ll want to find out before they leave. So, if you can stop them before they reach the door and say, “Mr./Ms. CEO, I see you have to leave right now, would you like me to continue and make the decision without you or should we reschedule?”
That may seem difficult, but all the executives we interviewed say that’s a good thing to do, because otherwise you don’t know what to do next. If you can get that person to commit, then you’re doing yourself and the group a favor.
Glenn: This seems like a key part of your prep work: knowing who will make the decision and having a plan to deal with their departure.
Rick: Yes. That’s one of the things you should work on. Your sponsor might be able to tell you if it’s common for this person to leave
Glenn: Challenge #5: Topic Change…
Rick: What happens here is: you go in prepared to talk about topic ‘A’, but – for whatever reason – the group suddenly wants to talk about topic ‘B’. Again, the key is to read the room, realize what’s going on, and comment on it. You could say, “It seems like we’re moving into a new area. Would you like me to continue on the scheduled topic?” If you’re able to deal with the new topic area, you can shift into that. If, however, you’ve been completely blind-sided, you’re probably better off ending the presentation and coming back when you’re prepared.
Glenn: Right. This is, I think, also one of the strongest arguments for not over-preparing slides. I’ve been asked to give an update on mentoring, but when I walk in the room, the executive says, “I just heard something in the lunch room I’d like to talk about…”
Rick: Yeah, exactly.
Glenn: My response is always, “Okay. Let’s talk.”
What about dealing with Challenge #6: Side Talk?
Rick: The challenge with Side Talk is that – in your own management meetings – if people are engaged in side talk, you can just stop them, because you’re in charge. In the executive boardroom, however, you’re an invited guest in a private club that you’re not a member of. You’re highly outranked, so you don’t approach the side-talkers and say, “Excuse me, can I get your full attention?”
Glenn: [laughing] That would be a high risk strategy.
Rick: Definitely high risk! One strategy is to see if you can engage them by using one of their names, saying, “Janet, I know this has been a concern in your department…” and see if you can draw them back. Again, if it’s in the back of the room and it’s not a distraction, you might just let it go. If it’s in the front of the room and becoming a distraction, you may need to rely on your sponsor.
Glenn: This one requires a delicate balance. A lot of presenters don’t realize that – in some cases – these executives have been in the room for days, listening to a parade of presentations. To expect that they won’t talk, share, or reflect on your topic or another topic is unreasonable. You cannot get insulted by that. But you can’t be seen as losing control either.
Rick: That’s the balance…
Glenn: What about Challenge #7: Energetic Discussion?
Rick: Energetic Discussion is a challenge, but it’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s what you’re hoping for. People are listening, challenging, engaged. You have to be fully listening, reacting, and facilitating. You need to be able to capture the ideas and actions, recap them, and then take action on them and report back.
Glenn: It seems that most of these Challenges relate to a presentation that isn’t SMART. If you’re not specific, measurable, aggressively attainable, relevant, or time-bound, you’ll run into these problems. Is that true?
Rick: Right. You’ve got to be relevant, certainly. And respect for their time is mandatory. Ignoring those will get you in a lot of trouble.
Glenn: And Rick’s book, “Speaking Up”, will keep you out of trouble. Next week, we’ll talk with Rick about the power of improvisation when presenting to executives.
Learn more about Rick and his work through the resources below: