A Presentation Sells Ideas

Christopher Witt —  June 21, 2012

A presentation is about gaining buy-in. It’s about selling ideas.

A firefighter called last week to ask about speech coaching. “What kind of a speech does a firefighter give?” I asked.

He explained that he was being considered for a new position within his current department and, as part of the process, he had to give a presentation about himself. “What do I know about making presentations?” he asked. “I’m just a firefighter.”

That’s the state of affairs in every workplace today. There’s more communication than ever before, and an increased emphasis on collaboration and shared decision making. As a result people who never had to give presentations in the past now to do so all the time.

They talk internally (to colleagues and stakeholders) and externally (to customers and clients). They’re not just presenting information. They’re pitching ideas, trying to gain buy-in or to win approval to proceed.

No one is just a firefighter anymore. Or an engineer, a construction worker, a manager, an architect, a doctor, a business development director, an editor. Whether they like it or not, whether they’re prepared for it or not, they’re also sales representatives. They’re selling ideas.

Take a look inside any business and you’ll see what I mean:

  • A project manager presents an updated technical plan to stakeholders at a stage-gate meeting to secure resources for the next phase of his project.

  • The director of HR asks the board to approve her revised employee compensation and benefit plan.

  • A CEO and CFO make the rounds of venture capital firms in search of fourth-round funding to take their company public.

  • An architect meets with a city’s architectural review panel to discuss his design proposal for an apartment complex.

  • The creative director of an ad agency pitches her concept to a potential client.

  • A zoo veterinarian proposes a new program for breeding snow leopards in captivity.

  • A team of engineers makes an oral proposal for a 5-year, one-and-a-half-billion dollar contract to outsource a county’s IT department.

  • An acquisition editor has a slot on the agenda to pitch three book proposals to the editorial board.

Ventures large and small get the go-ahead—or the axe—in response to a presentation that makes the case for adopting or supporting an idea that will change how things get done.

In today’s workplace people’s success depends on their ability to communicate their ideas in a way that wins people’s understanding, support, and approval.

Photo courtesy of Jiri Hodan at www.publicdomainpictures.net.

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.