In fifth grade, I learned one of my most important business lessons: the benefits of clearly communicating a message to an audience.
Picture a fifth grade classroom full of twenty-five 10-year old’s who had to create a project about African animals. Mrs. Lorenz divided us into teams and told us to take plastic animals and glue them into a shoebox (decorated to look like an African landscape) to create a diorama.
My partners were diligently painting and gluing while I cruised the room checking out everyone’s creations and making small talk. I didn’t have a gift for art; my gift was talking. When the dioramas were done each team made a presentation to the class. Since I hadn’t done much of the work, my job was to be the presenter.
After my presentation, Mrs. Lorenz began to refer to our team as “Linda’s group”. This was nonsense, since I had been the least productive member of the team, but I was the connection between our group and the audience. I was the one people remembered.
Even at that tender age, I learned ideas that have benefited me all my life:
- People attribute knowledge and power to those who can present information effectively.
- There is little connection between your ability to speak about your work and to actually do the work.
- This is completely unfair but true.
The good news is that it’s possible, with practice and will power, to improve your communication skills.
To be an effective and memorable presenter today you must:
- Know your audience: Present information (written or verbal) focused on those you want to impact, not only on the facts.
- Organize content to be brief, clear and answer the questions, “Why are you telling me this and what do you want me to do about it?”
- Present content using analogies and stories relevant to your audience.
- Avoid using “fill-ins” such as “ummmms” and “errs” and “You knows”
- Engage the audience, read and take cues from their reactions.
You not only need to know your subject matter, you have to look, sound and be perceived as competent.
This was true when I was 10 and it’s still true today.