By Tim Hayes
They painted a brand new double-yellow line down the center of the main road near my house last week. It must have looked so pristine, so clean and neat, the two parallel stripes of paint telling drivers to stay on their side of the road.
I say it “must have” because the first time I saw it, some knucklehead had intentionally zig-zagged his car across the wet paint about six times, spewing a trail of yellow tire-tread marks all over the road – a complete eyesore that my neighbors and I will be forced to look at and live with for the next five years until the municipality paints the lines again.
If there isn’t a crime on the books for “tire-tread graffiti,” may I be the first to suggest one? Never fear, dear readers, there is a parallel in the world of executive communications – the point of this blog, I realize – and I’m getting to it now. It’s the dragging along of bad habits that hinder and hurt the potential of leaders to truly stir the people and organizations they hope to lead. Here are some examples of “tire-tread graffiti” I run up against all too often:
· A refusal to rehearse a speech out loud before standing behind the lectern. Having a thousand eyeballs staring at you is hardly the time to be considering a speech seriously for the first time. A well-crafted presentation deserves your attention well ahead of that moment of truth. What’s more, your audience deserves your best effort – and that includes rehearsing the speech aloud and accepting coaching to maximize your delivery.
· An insistence on stressing multiple “very important” topics in a single speech. Here’s a good rule of thumb I remind my clients of every now and then – when everything’s important, nothing is. To the irritation of the occasional executive, I insist on identifying what I call the “Sunrise Statement” – the single idea that an audience member can cite when asked the next day, “What did that person talk about?” While an internal audience may be able to absorb a lot of different topics, with equal weight assigned to each, an external audience would only become confused and disengaged. Again, the audience deserves to be respected by keeping the messaging clear and focused.
· An over-reliance on PowerPoint. The human brain can only handle one task at a time. When a speaker uses 50 images in a 20-minute talk, I see that as a problem. When most of those images are chock-full of charts and text, I see that as a joke. I once saw a CFO at an annual meeting of shareholders use a slide that had so much on it that part of the words actually spilled over onto the draping around the projection screen. Ludicrous! By doing this, you’re inviting the audience to stop listening to you, because they’re so preoccupied reading and trying to make sense of the blizzard of words and numbers before their eyes. It’s a speech, folks. It’s meant to be heard. By human ears. Images that support what’s being spoken? Great. Charts that show general trends? Yep. But keep them simple, so the audience always chooses to listen to you over reading the slides.
Years ago, when I was on the payroll of some large corporations, making these observations and suggestions could be difficult. As an outside consultant I’m not really that much smarter, but somehow clients are more apt to listen. That’s a tremendous perk to my chosen profession, because rooting out and changing these bad habits helps executives become better communicators, which only helps their organizations. Otherwise, these types of “tire-tread graffiti” just keep making messes that last.
Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting