(“Presentations in times of change” is a Guest blog by Simon Raybould of Presentation Genius – http://presentationgenius.info)

If you’re leading people through change, the chances are you’ll get some resistance from at least some of them. (If you don’t, you’re in luck – but make sure everyone isn’t just going along with it as a result of groupthink before you celebrate too much!) Presentations to the team are one of the key ways change is typically disseminated so it’s important to get it right…

… and in that last sentence is one of the key mistakes leaders make when they’re making presentations during change. You don’t disseminate the change during your presentation: at best you disseminate information about the change – not the change itself.  All too often I see leaders (or would-be leaders, to be honest) who believe the change process goes like this:

  • they see a problem
  • they research possible solutions
  • they pick on of the solutions
  • they tell everyone what the solution is
  • the change happens by magic.

If you think that’s how it happens in real life you’ve got a significant problem with how you understand people. By using that approach, you end up with people who feel (at best) ambushed. Even if they realise that the change is necessary, you run the risk of them feeling resentful of the way it’s been disseminated.

So what should you tell them?

So what should your presentations-during-change include if you’re going to avoid the inevitable backlash of upset and potentially resentful staff? This checklist is by no means comprehensive, and you’ll know your own teams well enough to sort out the details for yourself, but this is a reasonable starting point of things to cover in addition to the obvious, logistical information

1. Why change is needed

Is it just because things will be better after the change (towards something)? Or is it that change is needed because if things don’t change the company will fold (away from something)? Don’t assume that’s what obvious to you, as the team’s leader, with more information available, is equally obvious to everyone else.

Change always has a cost, even if it’s clear and obvious that the change will lead to a better place, so you’ll need to make a good case here, if people are even going to listen to the rest of what you have to say.  Be upfront about the costs involved, as well as the benefits of change, the dis-benefits of not changing and so on.

To be blunt, if you don’t get this bit right, nothing else you say will carry any weight.  Personally, I suggest this is the guts of your presentation and that some of the other things are done in different ways, or in subsequent presentations: people can’t take in information if they’re unsettled or shocked: give your audience time to assimilate all of this section before you move on.  It can take longer than you think!

2. Your research process

Sure, you’ve convinced yourself that your solution is the best one, but even if you’ve done step one really, really well, it doesn’t automatically mean that people agree with you about what the change should be – so at the very least you need to let people know you’ve done a lot of work on what the nature of the change should be.

The better your relationship with the people you’re leading, the less you need to do here, I’d say – and if you’re 100% everyone trusts you and your judgement absolutely you might need to do no more than something like “I’ve looked into a couple of dozen options and this one seems to be the best suited for us, all things considered.”.  More likely, you’ll need to provide something with considerably more credibility than that!

3. The end product

People generally find it easier to handle change if they’re absolutely clear of where they’re going. Be very, very clear what the end product of your change will look like.

No, clearer than that. Much clearer.   Nope, still not clear enough.

Even if the end product is a period of uncertainty be clear about that!

4. The change process – and contingencies

It’s all well and good knowing what the great and glorious future will look like, but the process of getting there is important to everyone. In particular it’s important to people with a detail-orientated outlook to life. No one will remember the minute details of the time time if you give it to them in a presentation but at the least you should give them the broad picture… and tell them how to get more information.

Don’t just say “The timetable is available if you want it”. Tell them where and show them hardcopy!

Credibility

People are more likely to cope better with the changes if they trust you – and that comes from your personal credibility. Being credible during your presentation is one The Big Questions of my speciality of presentation skills training, so it’s a little hard to cover it in a short blog like this, but you might want to think about:

  • rehearsing – the more slick your presentation, the more your audience can trust your content, so messing up your technology is a sure-fire way of undermining their trust in you and your proposed changes
  • speak slow and low – don’t go for sing song, but remember that (all other things being equal) people who speak more slowly and people who use lower voices tend to be trusted more
  • don’t move – I don’t mean you shouldn’t move around the stage when you need to, but make sure it’s a movement for a reason… don’t wander and don’t wave your hands around unless you have a specific gesture to make.
  • hide your working – how much easier is it to believe the characters in a play if you can’t see the stress, costume changes and so on that happen backstage? Your presentation works the same way – your audience shouldn’t see you setting up and they shouldn’t see you testing your equipment!  (If you can hide your wires, so much the better! ;) )
  • dress to impress – obviously if you’re known for being a jeans-and-trainers kind of leader, don’t suddenly turn up in a three piece suite, or equivalent, but make sure that the jeans are clean and that you feel the part. A useful rule of thumb is to dress one level of formality above your audience.

Summary

It’s not rocket science. It’s pretty much all about putting yourself in other people’s shoes and treating them like you’d want to be treated yourself, if you were them. Of course, the details are tricky, but the idea is simple….

One last thought

No matter what you tell people, don’t do it using corporate templates and bullet points… they’ll have absolutely not effect (if you’re lucky) and the exactly wrong effect (if you’re unlucky)!

(“Presentations in times of change” is a Guest blog by Simon Raybould of Presentation Genius – http://presentationgenius.info)