In the time it takes you to read this article, Google will perform over 15 million new searches, Twitter users will send close to 2 million new tweets and Netflix subscribers will stream nearly 400,000 hours of video content. Our world is more connected than ever before, with easier access to information and on-demand content than at any time in history. Yet for all this unprecedented access to information, in the moments that really matter, people aren’t just looking for something or someone to inform them; they’re looking to someone who will lead them. In these crucial moments, employees expect more than an articulate speaker — they expect a leader.
Presentation skills have long been recognised in leadership training and development as an essential competency. The ability to communicate business objectives, outcomes and financials effectively to key stakeholders is a foundational skill for every senior leader, especially in the domain of corporate governance. But while these skills are hugely important, they alone aren’t enough for effective senior leadership of today’s employees, who demand more than the polished delivery of information.
The organisational landscape is changing fast. It is predicated that by the year 2025 millennials will make up 75 per cent of the workforce. This demographic shift — along with the accelerating pace of change, the continuing rollout of new technologies, and changing employee and customer expectations — has created a new context in which leaders must lead. Eighty per cent of respondents to the ‘Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2019’ survey believed that ‘21st-century leadership has unique and new requirements that are important or very important to their organisation’s success’.
So while presentation skills are essential for leaders, we must aim higher and think bigger than this. Every chance we have to speak or present is an opportunity not just to inform, but to inspire, to mobilise and to lead. It’s an opportunity not just to speak to the room, but to lead the room. Here are four shifts we need to embrace:
- From Sharing Information to Communicating Purpose: Presentation competency typically focuses on how a leader shares information, but today’s leaders need to know how this information fits a bigger purpose. Gallup’s latest research on the millennial workforce found that an ‘overarching sense of organisational purpose — a connection to the “big picture” of why the company exists and what it brings to the world’ — is a significant driver of employee engagement; 71 per cent of these respondents said they are likely to stay in the purpose-driven organisation longer than 12 months (falling away to 30 per cent in the absence of such purpose). Yet only 26 per cent of respondents had heard someone in the past seven days talk about how their daily work connects with their organisation’s mission and purpose. Deloitte’s findings demonstrate the need for leaders to shift their focus from ‘business financials and shareholder returns as the primary outcomes to creating and communicating purpose to multiple stakeholders’.
- From Making Points to Making Sense: Deloitte’s research found that 81 per cent of respondents saw ‘leading through complexity and ambiguity’ as a unique requirement for 21st-century leadership. Presentation skills help people make a point, leaders are required to help people make sense. In moments of uncertainty, when the narrative is open to interpretation, true leaders are sense makers. Through clearly articulated and compelling messaging they illuminate and respond to uncertainty by controlling and leading the narrative.
- From Delivering Content to Adding Value: Presentation skills provide you with the tools you need to communicate, but the first question you must ask yourself as a leader is, ‘Do I have something valuable to say?’ Knowing how to breathe, project your voice and deliver with confidence is worth little if you have nothing of value to contribute to the conversation. Millennials want their work to be meaningful and valuable. Gallup found that 59 per cent of them rated ‘opportunities to learn and grow’ as extremely important when applying for a job. Every time you stand up and speak you have an opportunity to share your experience and help your audience to learn and grow.
- From Mastering Techniques to Building Trust: ‘Millennials,’ Gallup observed, ‘have been witness to major breaches of trust perpetuated by companies and institutions.’ It’s hardly surprising, then, that only 25 to 30 per cent of millennials have much trust in big companies or banks. The global Edelman Trust Barometer places Australia just four percentage points above the world’s least trusting country. You can learn all about how to adjust your posture and what to do with your hands when presenting, but what your people really want is authenticity and genuine connection. Every presentation is an opportunity to truly connect and break down these barriers to trust.
As leaders, the future demands we aim higher than presentation competency and think more holistically about how we communicate. Every time you stand up and speak in public is an opportunity to lead. To create a line of sight between activity and purpose. To add value and enable people to learn and grow. To make sense of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. To build trust and strengthen connection. Much more than an opportunity to speak to the room, it’s your chance to lead the room.
Written by Shane Michael Hatton.
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