Quotas will increase the need for aspiring women to communicate with compelling clarity
The talk of quotas and the very welcome push from the BCA to increase the numbers of women in leadership will provide opportunities for more women to be noticed in general and in particular as candidates for senior roles.
A terrific outcome will be an increase in situations where women need to make high-stakes presentations to senior – demanding – audience. Situations where women will need to present their team's recommendations to decision making bodies as they are given more opportunities to step up and then afterwards when they are appointed to more senior roles.
This requires a whole new skill set for many aspiring women, and one which will need to be acquired quickly as women leapfrog into new positions.
The skill set involves being able to distil and focus clear messages so that they resonate with different audiences, map out supporting points in a compelling way and then prepare a PowerPoint presentation that gets to the heart of the matter really fast: ideally within the first 30 seconds of your presentation.
Yes, even if it is a really difficult, technical and complex topic you will be able to communicate the general gist of your argument in 30 seconds – if you are across the material and your audience.
Here are some thoughts on how you might go about it:
Distilling messages is hard thinking work that requires effort, discipline and skill. It requires us as communicators to step out of our own world where we are intimately familiar with our content and into that of our audience who most likely is not. The key thing is to clarify the one unifying question that our audience will want us to answer, and answer it. Sounds simple, but it actually requires a lot of thinking. This step in itself will focus your presentation and boost its relevance to your audience.
Mapping out your supporting points is easier to do once your question is clear, but still not easy. I like to brainstorm my ideas and then organise them into a hierarchy as a storyline, which is a bit like a structured mind map. I use neosi to do this, but you may like to use sticky notes or a whiteboard.
Preparing a PowerPoint presentation is the easy part once my argument is clear. I make sure that the order of the pages reflects my storyline, that I have an executive summary up front that matches the structure of my story so that my audience get a snapshot of my overall argument up front. I then ensure each page describes only one message. Sometimes, when the situation allows for it, I will avoid preparing a whole presentation and rather use the one-page storyline as a guide for the meeting.
Once the substance of my presentation is clear, I find I can present with far more confidence. I have faith in my recommendation, am confident in my ability to present it to others and also far more comfortable in taking prickly questions. The process of building the story deepens my understanding of the topic, confirms my argument and ensures I am much more aware of what my audience is looking for. I hope it does for you too.
Click here to watch a video that provides some practical ideas on how to do this as well as a cheat sheet explaining some of the steps.
Davina began helping others communicate at university when she coached other students on their essay writing. Since then she has focused on helping professionals clarify their thinking before they communicate, particularly using techniques that she learned while working as a Communication Specialist at McKinsey & Company.