I’ve stolen this title from a Peter Bergman blog post that appeared last November. (Just stumbled across it myself - better late than never.) He talks about presentations and the preparation for same. In particular, he tells the story of a speaker who, in spite of extensive preparation, realized the speech he prepared didn’t say what needed to be said. Rather, he knew that speaking from the heart was the correct thing to do and, by throwing aside his notes (literally, at the podium), went on to capture the true feelings of the moment. Bergman states that “Of the many speeches that night, his talk, unscripted, simple, heartfelt, is the one that affected me most.”
When was the last time a presentation you made about audit findings felt unscripted, simple, and heartfelt?
I am guessing I’ve tripped a few of you up with that comment. “We are professionals. We have to be prepared. We must have a scripted presentation because that is the only way we can speak with authority. Our messages are not simple so our presentations cannot be simple. Heartfelt has nothing to do with it; this is about the facts.”
I am not saying you should not be prepared. No presentation of any type succeeds without preparation. Even improvisational presentations take a certain type of preparation. However, I am saying that following a script leads to, at best, boredom and, at worst, disaster. (Think about the many times executives, within the first two minutes of your scripted presentation, have thrown you off track.)
And if your message is not simple enough to be explained succinctly, what makes you think anyone is going to listen? Yes, I’ve been knee-deep in IT audits where I forgot how to spell CPU (in fact, I’m in one now.) But, if the resulting issues cannot be explained in such a way that anyone can understand them, the chances of getting effective action greatly decrease. Use the elevator-ride approach. You get on the elevator with the CEO and he wants to know what you found in the audit. You don’t have time for a scripted or detailed response. You must give a succinct summation. (And in our company, the CEO is on the 3rd floor.)
But, the real point I’m trying to make (and finally getting to) is this - how can you present anything (repeat anything) if it isn’t heartfelt? How can you report a finding unless you sincerely believe it has importance to the company, to auditing, to everyone? Yeah, this is a bit touchy-feely. But this is important because it is based on passion for our jobs. (And I won’t spend any more time specifically talking about passion. If you don’t have passion for the job, go find something else to do. You’re messing it up for the rest of us.) You have to believe in what you are saying for people to join your cause. (And auditing is, indeed, about causes.)
I’ll be honest – I’ve played the presentation game many different ways, from over-rehearsed to forgot-to-read-the-report. And the absolute best presentations were the ones where I was prepared enough to know exactly what was going on, but was not particularly clear how I was going to say it. When presentation time came, my knowledge of the subject area and my conviction that I was telling people something important resulted in some of my best results. Maybe they weren’t the best in structure or elocution or articulation. But they were the best in getting the attention of those in attendance and getting something done.
And now we come back to where we started. This is about trusting yourself to say the right things at the right time. If you have prepared, if you know the facts, if you can cut to the chase, and if you truly believe in the issues you are trying to convey, then your chances for success are much higher than in those situations where you practice a canned speech until it is all can and no tuna. Trust yourself to say the right things.
There is quite a bit more in Bergman’s post. (Be sure to also look at a prior blog he references.) He brings up a lot of points that, while they may seem a bit of a stretch, are tips any auditor can use to make better presentations. Take a look and see what else you see. Let me know if there is anything else that resonates with you. Or do you already disagree that ad hoc may be better than ad nauseam?