Written by Daren Fleming
Business leaders know the importance of a creating a positive public image. The way they dress, act and speak reflects not only upon their character, but on the values of their organisation. A CEO who goes on a drunken rampage during a business conference damages their own reputation, as well as the reputation of the organisation. If the media gets a hold of the story, there can also be financial implications.
Most high level executives learn early on how to keep themselves in check. But what about your company’s sales representatives and mid-level managers? If they don’t know the importance of maintaining a professional image, they could say the wrong thing to the wrong people and disgrace the organisation.
Look at all the distractions at Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office brought on by her partner, Tim Mathieson. At a January 2013 government event, Mathieson was acting as a Men’s Health Ambassador when he spoke to the West Indian Cricket Team about the importance of prostate checks.
He gave an impassioned speech, then capped it off with a tasteless joke that smacked of racism and sexism. The audience laughed. Gillard grimaced. And the media had a field day.
Mathieson will always be under the microscope, but the rest of us can learn from his mistakes. Obviously, you’ll want to stay away from racist comments and avoid using jokes before they are road tested. But most missteps fall into a grey area. Here is a simple road map to knowing what is acceptable, so you can keep your message on point.
Three Options - One Answer
Every time you present information to a group, you have three choices. To share what you could say, what you should say or what you should not say. The right choice can be the difference between making the sale, or making the news.
1. What You Could Say
What you could say is everything you know about the topic you are speaking on. Even if you have only a few years of experience in your field, it can still add up to lot of information for a single presentation.
Less experienced speakers don’t hold back in hopes of impressing the audience with their vast knowledge. They believe it will make them look smarter and better than their competition. They start with a company history lesson, launch into all the services they offer and only then get to the point of the presentation. Unfortunately, many speakers try to cram all this information into 20 minutes.
A speaker that says too much comes across as boring, unorganised and they usually run out of time. As for the audience, they get lost in the details, confused about the real message and really just want the presentation to end. Here’s one clue that you said too much - no one asks any questions.
Seasoned presenters know this is the best way to lose an audience. Avoid sharing everything you know and your audience will thank you for it.
2. What You Should Say
What you should say during an effective presentation is that you understand your audience and you believe you can help them. Say it simply and say it directly.
You can communicate your services effectively by highlighting only the key points you want your audience to understand. Emphasise the bottom line in a way that your audience will remember. Then, wrap up your presentation with a call to action that is reasonable and beneficial to all. No one will remember your entire presentation, but if you can sell them on a few key highlights they will want to know more.
Always leave time for individuals’ questions, but don’t alienate the rest of the audience with long answers. If a question requires an in-depth response, answer it briefly and suggest further discussion after the presentation ends. Everyone will be grateful if you keep things moving.
One more point, your audience will look upon you more favourably when you wrap up a meeting early; it shows you are respectful of their time. Plus, you give them the power to chose what is important for a follow up discussion.
3. What You Should Not Say
We’ve all been here at one point in our career; we say something we should not have and it blows up in our face. Then we spend days or even weeks trying to control the damage.
This lapse in judgement usually happens when you decide to divert from the scripted presentation and ad lib a few comments. It is often towards the end of the presentation when you feel like you are doing well, the audience is receptive and the little voice in your head tells you to ‘go for it.’ The little voice is dead wrong.
Bad jokes, confessions and secrets spill out. Before you even realise what is happening, you’re revealing tricks on how to pay less for your company’s service. You’re explaining how office politics paved the way for your arch rival’s promotion. Or worse yet, you find yourself doing impersonations of the boss.
The only thing worse is that moment of clarity, when you realise what you have done. In a panic, many speakers attempt to reverse course and explain what they really meant was something entirely different. By then, everyone in the room realises the presentation has turned to damage control. The best thing you can do is simply stop talking.
Protect The Company
As a business executive, you know the risk of ad libbing during an important presentation. But your employees may not have made that mistake - yet. Until they learn the potential consequences, your employees are in danger of harming the company every time they meet with business clients.
Tim Mathieson could benefit from learning the difference between what you could say, what you should say and what you should not say. His tasteless joke about Asian doctors may follow him for years; replayed with each new embarrassment to the Prime Minister’s office. Judging by his behaviour so far, it’s a sure bet.
Some of Mathieson’s indiscretions could be avoided if he remembers that even though he is not a politician, he still represents a part of the Prime Minister’s life; much in the same way that your employees represent your company. A poor reflection on the individual also reflects badly on the organisation.
To protect your company’s image, ensure that the people in your organisation are trained to manage the message. Awareness is the first step. If you suspect some of your employees don’t understand the difference between what they could say, what they should say and what they should not say - it’s time to get them into training.
About The Author
Darren Fleming is the Owner of Executive Speaking. He specialises in helping business leaders speak so others listen and then buy. He can be reached at www.executivespeaking.com.au