Presentations will always be a part of the professional world. How can you help team members who fear it?
What do you think about doing a presentation? How about facilitating a brainstorming session? Or running a status meeting?
Would you rather go to a scorpion petting zoo than do any of those things?
There are plenty of people who would take the scorpions.
Now imagine that not only is public speaking THAT scary to you, but you have social anxiety. Uncomfortable social situations give you actual physical symptoms like nausea, cold sweats, and panic.
Because of that, some teenagers are advocating that schools stop requiring classroom presentations by students.
In recent years, teens have mobilized in social media to change school dress codes, high school start times, and homework policies. The latest element of the teen education experience to be targeted: the requirement to do presentations of their class work. The claim is that this demand could be harmful to someone with extreme anxiety.
These issues aren’t equivalent, though. Dress codes and school hours are one thing: they’re parameters of the job. Presentations, however, are the job.
Why Public Speaking Matters
Making presentations and public speaking are critical skills for professionals. Some experts say they may be the most important skill by far.
Whatever else may change about the nature of work, with the influence of technology and the priorities of the economy, it seems certain that we will always reward those who can think on their feet and reach an audience.
The word “presentation” calls to mind thick and slick PowerPoint decks, large audiences, and deep thoughts.
The same skills – and the same influence – are used in many other situations though. Running a status meeting, facilitating a brainstorming session, briefing a boss on a crisis – these are all based on the same skills and leverage the same benefits.
- Speed – speech is fast
- Interaction – questions can be asked, answered, and discussed
- Personal message – presenter uses their own words and leverages their own brand
- Improves coverage – if people showed for the presentation, we presume they received the message (can’t assume for emails)
And these are just the basic benefits. It’s not even counting how interaction can turn into collaboration, how in-person interaction can build team bonds, or how immediately customizable a presentation or meeting can be depending on who showed up or what the answer to a question was.
It’s a bold act, then, to suggest that we look for an alternative to presentations and meetings.
Some meetings, of course, would be quickly dispensed with by many of their attendees. Nobody wants to sit through a meeting to listen to someone read a status report.
But that’s an issue with the operation of the meeting, not the method of communication.
Help Colleagues Tackle Fear
What about the fundamental nature of presentations? Can we find a way to get similar benefits – and maybe additional ones – through another channel?
It might help if we think small. Instead of trying to reinvent corporate cultures and communication norms all at once, what about just trying to do this for a project or department.
Imagine you have a project team of perhaps 10 to 15 people. One of your team members, let’s say it’s a business analyst, has confided in you that public speaking is a tremendous ordeal for them.
You have personally observed that the person has difficulty presenting ideas or engaging in brainstorming, and you’ve received negative comments about the person’s ability to be a part of the team as a consequence.
However, you’ve also noted that when they complete project documentation, working independently, it is thorough and insightful, and you can see a lot of value in keeping them on the team.
What could you do to make sure the person’s value to the team is optimized and also recognized?
Assign a presentation buddy –
Have a team member work with your BA to present their ideas and get their questions answered.
If it sounds inefficient, think about how we do pairs programming, for example. Two people with complementary skills can use their different perspectives to advantage.
Have a team presenter –
What if all facilitation and presentations on your team went through someone noted for their communication skills?
You would get all the benefits discussed above, but more since communications would go through your strongest communicator.
Also, the requirement for team members to communicate their ideas through an intermediary would sharpen the focus of the ideas.
Use alternative communication structures –
What about using instant messaging or a chat room to replace a live presentation?
Or, if you can allow more time for it, consider more of a forum where people can post ideas and comments, but there’s no demand or expectation for real-time response.
Employ a round-robin approach –
This is actually a best practice for preparing for a critical meeting: meet with stakeholders individually ahead of a decision-making session to hear their feedback and address their concerns.
This helps make the message stronger before the official presentation.
In our hypothetical setting, consider the possibility that this replaces the actual meeting, or that, while our BA should be driving the individual meetings (maybe with a buddy along for support), someone else can facilitate the meeting which gets closure.
With all of these, our anxious BA can employ their skills and work with the team in ways more comfortable to them.
Perhaps, with these ideas in mind, we can look for ways to accommodate the needs of students as well as colleagues, giving everyone a chance to shine.