Don’t Give Business People
‘Nothing but the Facts’
like we do.
Paul Glen is the
CEO of Leading
Geeks, an education
and consulting firm
devoted to improving
and people. You can
contact him at info@
The next time you give a presentation to business
people, do a follow-up a day or two later. You will
likely find that nearly everyone in your audience
completely missed your point.
The reason we often bomb when it comes to
presenting to business people is that we misunderstand how they tend to process presentations and
information. We make the mistake of believing
that they think like we do. They don’t.
Anytime you give a presentation, you need to
share four things with your audience. And you
have to think about what each of those four things
means to nontechnical people.
Facts. Most presentations by technical people
are built around facts. We believe that our obligation to our organizations — and to the concept of
truth itself — is to present the cold, hard facts as
best we know them.
Unfortunately, facts don’t penetrate most people
in the same way that they do techies. Because facts
are objective and verifiable, we find them compelling, even exciting. They stand on their own and
provide a sense of order and structure that we like.
In our minds, if you have the facts, you have
all you need to make a decision. But for business
people, facts are neutral at best, and not motivating in many cases. They need more than facts if
they are going to arrive at your meaning.
Insights. Insights depend on facts, but they only
come when you have illuminated the implications of
the facts. An audience of business types won’t arrive
at these “aha!” moments if you don’t point the way
to the larger meaning to which the facts give rise.
And if you don’t do that, you won’t get through
to them, because, for business people, insights
are more influential than facts. You might feel
uncomfortable telling your audience what they
should conclude from your facts, but if you don’t
guide them to the insight, they may not understand what you’re trying to tell them, or they may
at least miss its significance.
Stories. As essential as insights are, they can
be impotent without a story to illustrate them.
Humans seem to be wired to think in narrative
terms, and for nongeeks, stories are the dominant
structure for understanding facts and insights,
making them viscerally accessible.
Techies often complain that anecdotes don’t
prove anything. That’s true, but this fact doesn’t
change the reality that stories are compelling to
most people. Don’t think of narrative as a means
of providing proof; think of it as a device to help
people remember your important points.
Emotions. Most importantly, people remember
what they felt during your presentation. Maya
Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did. But people will
never forget how you made them feel.”
Your challenge is to have an impact on your audi-
ence. To do that, you need to plan out not just what
you want them to think, but also what you want
them to feel — especially in cases where you’d like
them to make a decision, change course or up your
funding. It’s the emotional impact (which includes
facts, insights and stories) that persuades business
people to take action. u