See if this sounds a little familiar. Someone calls a meeting and as you enter the room you see an electronic projector connected to a laptop computer with a very PowerPoint-looking template projected on screen. Our conditioning, based on these simple observations, tell us that, although this is called a meeting, there’s going to be a lot more one-way communication than usual. After all, that’s what PowerPoint does best right? Not necessarily.

A prospective client flew me down to California for a meeting to determine if I was the right consultant partner to solve a specific problem his organization was having. As I walked into the mahogany appointed executive conference room, I was keenly aware that the 10 decision makers around the table were not in unanimous agreement about bringing in a consultant to help solve their corporate presentation problems. You could see it on their faces. They’d been losing millions of dollars in lost contracts and had no idea where to begin. As I started into my opening comments, I could see many of them settling back into their soft leather chairs for the long pitch. They’d sat through hundreds of these before – so they thought. This type of passive participation is the kiss of death for a consultant and any presenter looking to truly involve his audiences.

A few minutes into the meeting, I came to a screen in my presentation that simply said, "What are the top three reasons you’re losing contracts due to your presentations?" I paused and looked slowly around the table, sat down in my chair (so I was at eye level with the executives), hit the escape key in PowerPoint to bring me back to PowerPoint’s editing mode and prepared to capture their ideas. After a few awkward moments, something interesting began to happen. At first the comments were slow to come. After all, I was breaking a long-standing corporate paradigm about presentations. The executives around the table began to sit up and lean forward in their chairs. Their comments now began to appear on "the big screen." The input began coming faster and with more passion. Now they were not only interacting with me but also each other in challenging the answers that were too pat. I asked permission of the group in updating information or paraphrasing longer commentaries so we stayed in "agreement." As we quickly ran out of room on the PowerPoint screen I then asked, "How would you order the top three?" We started sliding bullets around and within a few minutes there was general consensus. From my perspective, we had managed to do in 10 minutes what would have taken 10 weeks if I had tried to create consensus via e-mail or voice mail with the same group. Consultants can never help design solutions when there is no agreement on the problem.

I jumped back into my prepared presentation but now with the sharpened focus of those around the table. They were listening more intently because I had taken the time to listen to them. Twenty minutes into my prepared presentation I asked, "What are you looking for in a consultant partner?" Now they were ready as I exited out of the presentation process and we once again went interactive. The list filled up even quicker this time but now with information that was critical to my success. They had just provided the road map for my ability to capture this major contract.

I liked the way this presentation went, but I understand that corporate cultures play a large role in how free individuals feel to share their ideas. This meeting could have had a very different outcome in a "top-down" managed company where intimidation colors individual contributions. Collaboration won the day, however, and the best part is that they learned a new use for a tool residing on all their desktops. It’s like when you discover a $20 bill in your billfold that you didn’t know you had. It’s always a good day when we find something of great value where we least expected it.

About Jim Endicott
Jim Endicott is owner/manager of Distinction, based in Portland, Oregon, a business communications company offering creative and consulting services to corporate America. Jim writes a monthly column for PRESENTATIONS magazine and delivers seminars nationally on effective presentation design and delivery. In addition to animation and Web site development, Distinction has established a core expertise in the creation of presentation messaging and graphics. For more information, visit www.distinction-services.com.

Copyright 1999 Distinction Communications. All rights reserved.

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