Tom, a senior medical leader, started off his powerpoint presentation by referring to “cases” and relaying a bullet list of symptoms. I could already see his audience switching off. Second time round, to a different audience, he told a story about “Joe”, giving a touching description of how a disease was affecting Joe’s daily life. When sharing this personal experience the medic spoke naturally, showed his own emotions and values. His audience to connected with him and his story. When Tom went on to talk about what a difference certain medicines had made to Joe’s activities and life they paid more attention, connected to his message, and went away motivated to take action.
I’ve now coached hundreds of business people on how to communicate in an impactful, authentic and creative way. I notice that 9 times out of 10, individuals leave their natural selves behind when they get up on the stage or present in front of a group. Initially I thought the more senior the individual, the more freedom and confidence they would have to let their character and what is important to them shine through – after all, their company clearly values them. Not at all, even C-suite executives seem to don a corporate cloak and mould the way they present to fit the perceived corporate culture. In doing so they inadvertently side line their own personal experiences – and their greatest asset!
Why is it their greatest asset? Because the highest honour you can give your audience is an insight into who you really are. What makes you tick? What is meaningful for you? Why are you taking the time to talk to them? Your listeners want to feel like they know you – the person behind the corporate title. Sharing personal experiences with your audience and giving them glimpses into your life‘s journey invites them into your world. This connection with you is essential if you want audiences to connect to your message.
Relax, I’m not suggesting you share your deepest and darkest moments for the sake of unburdening your soul. Simply bring your humanity and personal experience with you when you step up and present. Use personal stories, anecdotes, create fictional names for real people so you can describe relevant experiences. Bring your passion, fire, and emotions to your subject matter – no matter how corporate it is.
A scientist presenting lifechanging results from clinical trials felt her message lacked impact. When I explored what motivated her research, she explained that her grandfather had died from cancer when she was a child. Ever since then she has wanted to find a cure for cancer. Weaving this into her presentation forged a connection between her and her audience, and brought home the value of her research.
My clients include surgeons, pharmacists, and technologists. They all want to make a difference in their particular field. While there are many techniques we can use to help us present effectively, I believe we make more impact, more connection, and more of a difference when we dare to share more of ourselves with our audience.
All references have been anonymised.