5 Golden Rules To Cure Meeting Overload

July 25, 2016

As a specialist in presentations, I often find myself confronted by training participants who ask me how best to present in a project status meeting, or an information-sharing meeting, or some other kind of meeting.

They are initially surprised by my simple, blunt answer: “Don’t.”

Never pollute a meeting with an unnecessary presentation. A meeting is a great opportunity for discussion, interaction and decision-making. A presentation is an ineffective way of taking up valuable discussion time, or just lengthening a meeting and making it more boring than it should be.


Why is a presentation ineffective in a meeting situation? It’s very simple. We forget most of what we hear very quickly. This makes an oral presentation an extremely bad way of transmitting information from one brain to another. No matter that most presentations suck – even a TED-quality presentation is a very inefficient way of transmitting information.

Presentations are fantastic ways of transforming people, not informing them. If you want to change their beliefs, feelings or actions, by all means present. But if you want people to take in and remember new information, a far more effective way is to give them three things: a document to read; quiet time to read it; and coffee.

Here, therefore, are my five golden rules for meetings, and any company that follows these will most certainly cure their meeting overload problem, and free up time for real work.

1. Information is read, not presented

Amazon and LinkedIn are two of the world’s fastest-growing, most successful modern companies. One key point they have in common is that they do not allow presentations in meetings. (Neither did Steve Jobs.)

Instead, meetings begin with reading time. The meeting organiser has prepared and printed a real document – not a set of bullet-points, but a real standalone document with full paragraphs – and the meeting begins with at least ten minutes of silent reading time so that every participant is quite literally on the same page.

Slide Bezos Meetings Quote.035

Of course, you can share the document in advance, but there’s always someone who doesn’t read it, so you need to leave them enough time in the meeting to read it. Everyone else can read it for a second time, and it’s worth doing.

This document contains all the context, background, details and ideas the participants need to know, as well as the meeting objective and the discussion points and decisions they aim to take. By reading it – ideally with a coffee – they will remember far more, and in far less time, than they would have if somebody had presented it to them orally. Then they can ask questions, discuss, and reach agreement in far less time than typical meetings take.

Forcing meeting organisers to prepare such documents – instead of their bullet-ridden slide decks – makes them think carefully about the meeting objective, and their subject. It also means that they only organise meetings they really need.

Lastly, this document is also very helpful for people who couldn’t make it or weren’t required to attend; and it makes writing up the meeting minutes so much faster.

Which brings me to point number 2:

2. Every meeting is minuted

If you’re going to take people’s valuable time, you need to have something to show for it. The initial document is a very helpful summary of the background. The meeting minutes should be annexed to this document, explaining the key points of the discussion, which decisions were taken, and which actions were agreed upon.

Providing the initial document and the meeting minutes to those who may need to be informed (even without participating) allows you to implement point 3:

3. No unnecessary participants

By always providing details of what happened in meetings, you can invite fewer people: busy managers will know that they will not miss out by not attending meetings, so it will no longer be necessary to invite people just so they stay informed about the topic.

The efficiency of any meeting is more or less inversely proportional to the number of participants: any more than six people, and productivity dives off a cliff. For some topics, two is a very good number; for others, three or four can be great. Five or six can sometimes work, but there is usually someone who participates very little in such a group.

Slide Lots of meeting participants

Therefore it is vital to invite only those people who absolutely need to be there. Anyone else interested in the topic can elect to receive the brief and the minutes.

This frees up a lot of people, meaning on average everyone spends less of their day stuck in meetings. It also makes meetings more efficient, since conclusions can be reached faster with fewer participants. And this enables you to enact point 4:

4. Meetings last 25 minutes by default

In most companies, the default meeting duration is one hour. That’s how our calendars work, and nobody seems to challenge this idea. Yet it has two major problems.

The first is that an hour is a very long time to be sat in a meeting room, unable to get on with your real work, and many subjects don’t actually need that long.

The second is that if you have a 10.00-11.00 meeting in one room, and an 11.00-12.00 meeting on another floor or in another building, then you are almost certainly going to be late for the second meeting. If your day is full of meetings, you will create a domino effect. If people are routinely late for meetings, then people without prior meetings will also arrive late to avoid wasting time, and this thoroughly annoys those people who respectfully arrive on time.

Therefore I strongly recommend setting the default meeting duration to 25 minutes – including the ten minutes or so of quiet reading time at the start. Fifteen minutes can often be quite enough to make decisions when you already have all the background information, and when there aren’t ten or more people around the table.

Thus, if your meeting is from 10.00 to 10.25, and you have another meeting planned at 10.30, you still have five minutes to get to the next meeting, even with a short stop on the way if you have an important appointment with the smoking room, coffee machine or rest-room.

If 25 minutes just isn’t enough – and while it’s a good default, some meetings do need longer – then you can have meetings lasting 55 minutes. Always leave five minutes before the top or bottom of the hour so people can get to their next meeting on time. And always ensure that anyone requesting your time justifies why they need more than 25 minutes: this ensures they only request longer when it’s really necessary.

If your company always sticks to the default 25-minute duration, with the option of 55 minutes, then you will be able to enforce rule 5:

5. Meetings start and finish on time

In some countries, this may sound obvious: it’s a simple matter of respect that participants arrive on time and that the meeting organiser ensures they leave on time.

I live in France. It’s not obvious here. In fact, last week when I suggested this to a French client as a golden rule of meetings, I was bluntly reminded with a mix of shock and amusement: “But this is France!”

Yet this same client – and everyone else in the meeting – readily accepted that they find it very annoying and disrespectful for people to turn up late without an apology, and that it would be so much better if everyone was punctual.

The trouble with punctuality is that it is either a virtuous circle, or a vicious circle. If people are almost always on time, the exception stands out, and not in a good way. Latecomers feel bad, and will do their best not to be late again.

On the other hand, if lateness is tolerated, it becomes frequent, and even those who would prefer meetings to start on time may turn up late because they know for sure that there’s no point being on time. Thus a lack of punctuality becomes a vicious circle. If allowed to perpetuate, it becomes France. (And France is certainly not the least punctual place on the planet.)

Change needs to start at the top, so if senior managers make a point of always being on time, and calling people out for being late – and if you follow Rule 4, making it possible for people to be punctual – then you can build a culture where meetings regularly start on time.

Of course, they also have to finish on time, otherwise people will be late for their next meeting. Therefore the meeting organiser needs to take responsibility for timekeeping, and ensure that the meeting is summarised, decisions and actions are noted, and participants are free to leave, on time or ideally a little before.

Bonus Rule: No unnecessary meetings

It should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway, because it isn’t that obvious in many companies – that you should only arrange meetings when you actually want people to participate and when you need something from them. Far too many meetings are just for information-sharing, and if you ask the organiser for his or her objective, it is simply: “So that people are informed about XYZ.” And naturally, they aim to present that information orally, perhaps with lots of bullet-points, giving participants hardly any chance of remembering X, let alone Y or Z.

As Garr Reynolds wrote, if the only reason for your presentation is to share information, you should distribute a handout and cancel the presentation.

Likewise, if the only reason for your meeting is to share information, cancel it, write the document, and share it. The reason people don’t do this any more is because nobody has any time to read such documents – because they spend so much of their time in meetings.

If you can cure their meeting overload, then you are giving them the gift of time, and they will have time to read such documents. Use a task manager to give them the task of reading your document so they get reminded of it; or find a spare ten minutes in their calendar and invite them to a meeting where they don’t have to go anywhere – they just have time blocked to read your document. This makes it far more likely they will read it than just sending them an email.

If you need a discussion, and to take decisions, and to establish an action plan, then a meeting can be useful. If not, it’s a huge waste of everyone’s time.

So let’s summarise these few golden rules of meetings:

  1. Information is read, not presented
  2. Every meeting is minuted
  3. No unnecessary participants
  4. Meetings last 25 minutes by default
  5. Meetings start and finish on time

And the bonus rule:

  • No unnecessary meetings

These simple rules are based on my long experience in major corporations, as well as the best practices of some of the world’s most dynamic organisations. I have absolutely no doubt that if you adopt these rules, your people will attend fewer meetings; the ones they do attend will not last as long, and will be more efficient; and that will boost your people’s productivity and pleasure at work. Maybe then your organisation will become as agile as Amazon or LinkedIn – but that’s up to you. 

Try it, and please tell me how it works for you.

The Presentation Zen Experience

February 26, 2016


Ideas on Stage is honoured to be trusted by Garr Reynolds to run the official Presentation Zen Experience workshops, and we’ve got a schedule of great courses in place for 2016 in Europe and the USA.

The Presentation Zen Experience is a two-day hands-on workshop combining Garr’s distinctive approach to presentations with Ideas on Stage’s proven methods and years of experience working with companies, schools and speakers. The result is a highly practical experience that helps participants to apply Presentation Zen to business presentations, the academic world, and major conferences.

The first day covers preparation and design, with plenty of exercises so participants apply the methods and build their own presentation; and on day two, they will refine and deliver their presentations, while learning new speaking techniques and practising approaches from Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter.

The objective is that everyone leaves the course feeling able and confident to apply the Presentation Zen approach in their own workplace.

While Garr won’t be there himself, he designed this course together with us, he is 100% supportive, and the course features much of Garr’s usual material plus specially-filmed videos of Garr, so it’s almost as if he’s with us.

To find out more, to find a Presentation Zen Experience near you and to sign up for this unforgettable workshop, visit our web site at http://www.presentationzen.eu. Places are limited and we anticipate high demand, so sign up fast and tell your friends and colleagues!

PZ IoS Garr Quote.001

Why is Ideas on Stage delivering Presentation Zen courses?

It’s a fair question. In fact, you could ask it two ways:

  • why does Garr trust us to deliver his official courses?
  • and why are we interested in delivering his courses when we already have our own ones, and are about to publish our own presentation book?

We’ve been running seminars and events with Garr since we started Ideas on Stage back in 2010, and in fact it was very much Garr who inspired us to start Ideas on Stage in the first place. We have a lot to thank him for.

From my point of view, having spent a summer in Japan when I was a student, and having studied Japanese culture at university, the application of basic Japanese principles such as restraint, simplicity, naturalness, harmony and respect to typical business presentations seems really obvious – but it needed Garr to make it seem obvious. When I first read Presentation Zen, apart from enjoying the style and design, I simply felt somehow at home. It was as if I was re-learning something that deep down I already knew, or perhaps should have realised.

Garr knows that we are keen followers of his approach (so much so that we regularly distribute his books to our clients), and he’s been a great supporter over the years, even featuring us in The Naked Presenter. He has also followed our rapid growth over the past six years, and seen us expand internationally while staying true to our quality-first principle, becoming the first truly international and multilingual specialist in the new brand of great presentations inspired by Garr, by TED and by Apple.

Garr IoS Kakemono smallSo from Garr’s point of view, being based in Japan with a regular job and a young family, it makes sense to partner with an international presentation specialist that so closely shares his approach, so he can bring Presentation Zen to a wider audience without leaving Japan.

From our point of view, our mission is to make presentations rhyme with communication, motivation and inspiration, and we believe that combining our methods and teaching with the Presentation Zen approach and brand makes for a very powerful combination, and will help us to take the Business Presentation Revolution to an even wider audience.

We also believe Ideas on Stage is ideally positioned to deliver this workshop. We bring something extra to the table, because one thing Garr doesn’t do is help other people with their presentations. We have built up years of hands-on practical experience of building and delivering great business presentations, working with hundreds of speakers (TED, TEDx, WikiStage and many other great conferences), hundreds of entrepreneurs, and dozens of leading international corporations. We also train presentation skills all the time, whereas Garr mostly delivers short and excellent keynotes, when he can get away from being a full-time professor. And it’s the real-life examples and experience of applying Presentation Zen in business and teaching that allow us to deliver a workshop that even goes beyond what you’ll find in Garr’s books.

We also have the advantage of being based in Europe and covering the main European languages, as well as working regularly with clients in eastern North America, whereas Garr is rarely on this side of the world. We can bring the Presentation Zen message to far more people, in more languages, in Europe and North America.

So the combination of Garr’s powerful approach, his feel for Japanese culture and his distinctive design skills, together with our experience with so many clients and our proven methods and techniques, all makes for a fantastic hands-on workshop.

If you follow this blog then likely you already know a lot about the new art of presenting… perhaps The Presentation Zen Experience could be a way for your friends, colleagues or boss to discover it too.

Garr and Marion Kakemono

Garr Reynolds with Marion Chapsal, Chief Learning Officer at Ideas on Stage

Presentation 2.0 – The New Art of Business Presenting

December 3, 2012

Presentation 2.0 Logo v1Most presentations suck. Ask most people to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the audience for a presentation, and they will break into a cold sweat. Presentation should rhyme with communication, inspiration and fascination – but all too often, it simply rhymes with boredom.

This means two important things for presenters. Firstly, if an audience is bored, they’re not interested, they’re not listening, and they’re not going to do what you want them to do. Secondly, if most presentations suck so badly, those presenters who make an effort can rise above the crowd, communicate better, and spread their ideas effectively.

So upgrade to Presentation 2.0, and make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. Here’s how – four disciplines which others ignore or suck at: preparation, storytelling, visual design, and delivery.

1. Preparation

Any great edifice needs a strong foundation. For a presentation, that foundation is the preparation. This is where you analyze your audience and their needs, set clear and concrete objectives, and choose a few key messages to help you achieve those objectives.

The audience might remember how you make them feel, they may remember some of what they see, but they will certainly forget most of what you say. They might recall three things. Don’t leave it to chance and hope they remember the right things – choose the three key messages you want them to remember.

Slide Fail to Prepare.027

2. Storytelling

Storytelling is the art of structuring your presentation to communicate messages effectively and interestingly; and using narrative techniques and devices to make them memorable.

When Steve Jobs pulled a Macbook Air out of an envelope, that was storytelling. It was a technique designed to communicate a key message – “The world’s thinnest notebook” – and make it stick.

I once sold a print services contract to a major Brazilian customer, but first I had to convince them they had a problem. So I demonstrated that each year, their printed pages laid end-to-end would stretch from the source of the Amazon all the way to the Atlantic (mouths gaped open) – and then back again (jaws hit floor). That’s storytelling.

If you think hard enough, you can find a way to make anything interesting and memorable.

3. Visual Design

Ever suffered “Death By PowerPoint”? Most businesspeople face it every day, so they dread the moment when someone asks to switch on the projector.

Most slides obstruct communication. They assume the audience can read and listen simultaneously, that bullet points are memorable, and that the audience doesn’t mind the presenter using slides as speaker notes. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

But it doesn’t need to be that way. A deck of slides can assist communication and make your key messages memorable. It’s just a question of good design.

A typical useless slideument

4. Delivery

A great presenter can make anything fascinating. It’s about voice, speed, gestures, comfort, eye contact, movement, humor, charisma, and above all, preparation and rehearsal.

You can learn this. We’re not born orators. As Emerson said, “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

Slide Emerson Bad Speakers.003

Working hard at each of these four disciplines will make your presentations interesting, effective, and memorable. It’ll help you stand out from the crowd. If your audience sees four boring and forgettable 1.0 presentations, and one effective and memorable Presentation 2.0, it’s clear which presenter has the advantage. Make sure it’s you.

This article was first published in SOLD Magazine, the leading worldwide monthly for sales professionals, as part of Phil’s regular Presentation 2.0 column.

SOLD: a fantastic free magazine for sales professionals

August 14, 2012

I was recently contacted by the extremely friendly people at SOLD Labs, which publishes a fairly new online magazine called SOLD Magazine. They asked whether I’d be interested in writing a regular column. So of course my first course of action was to take a look at the magazine.

I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much. I’ve spent many years in sales and rarely found any published advice that was relevant to modern selling situations. B2B and B2C sales have changed immensely in the last 15 years, mostly thanks to the advances in information technology and the professionalisation of the procurement function in major companies. The old advice about how to sell a set of encyclopedias door-to-door just isn’t relevant any more.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover an attractive magazine, full of useful and relevant advice for modern salespeople, from experienced columnists and featured experts like Shep Hyken. And it includes a section about presentation skills which is truly modern – none of the old advice about seven bullets per page or three minutes per slide.

I liked it so much that I agreed to contribute a monthly column, focusing on the Presentation 2.0 approach which we’ve developed at Ideas on Stage. My first column appeared in the July edition.

So to check out my article, and plenty of other fine articles about selling, negotiating and presenting, please click through to SOLD Magazine, and sign up free to subscribe to future issues.

I was pleasantly surprised, and I hope you will be too.


When Does Communication Become Manipulation?

June 29, 2012


One of my executive students at HEC Paris asked me this week at what point communication becomes manipulation. After all, many of the rhetorical devices and storytelling techniques used in speechwriting and presentation design are similar to those used by a hypnotist, advertiser or salesperson.

This assumes there is a continuum, with communication at one end, and manipulation at the other end – and the more devices of influence you use, the more you move towards the ‘manipulation’ end of the scale.

I disagree. Purely and simply, all communication is an attempt to influence the audience, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do so effectively. For me, the choice of how few or how many tools of influence you use is only part of the picture, and that scale is not between communication and manipulation, but between ineffective and effective communication.

An entrepreneur pitching an investor is aiming to influence that investor. Is that manipulation? The entrepreneur is doing everything possible to make an investor part with some cash, while at the beginning of the pitch the investor’s wallet is firmly closed.

A salesperson is always aiming to influence customers’ thoughts. Not only do they make you want their product or service where previously you perhaps didn’t want it (or didn’t realise you wanted it), but they also make you want their exact offering, and not those of your competitors. Is that manipulation? Or is it only manipulation if it is done well?

Let’s bring in a dictionary definition of manipulation. Dictionary.com defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to manage or influence skillfully, especially in an unfair manner: to manipulate people’s feelings.

My Chambers English Dictionary defines ‘manipulate’ as:

to turn to one’s own purpose or advantage

So the key factor is not the number of influence techniques used, but the intention of the speaker. Influencing the audience for your own selfish interests is considered manipulation, and has a negative connotation.

Political speeches are mostly about manipulation. Politicians try to influence voters, journalists and often each other, usually for their own selfish desires. (Sadly, selfless politicians like Vaclav Havel are the exception, not the rule.)

Advertising is all about manipulation, of course. Advertisers use every technique in the book to influence our thoughts, almost always for their own interests.

However, not everyone has selfish intentions. Take parents, for example.

Once, when I was a boy, I was flicking elastic bands around, and my father asked me to stop. He told me that once he had seen someone flick an elastic band which took someone’s eye out, i.e. it was very dangerous and I shouldn’t do it. The story was far stronger than just saying “stop doing that, son” – it certainly stopped me from flicking elastic bands, and I still remember the story over 30 years later. My father was using a storytelling technique to influence me – but for my benefit, so I would avoid a dangerous activity.

Now I am a father, and I use stories all the time to influence my children – for their benefit. This is far from new. Humans have been using stories for millennia to transfer knowledge and influence younger generations into avoiding the mistakes of their ancestors. The fable about the boy who cried ‘wolf’ is far more effective than just telling kids not to lie.

So while you can indeed have a continuum between ineffective and effective communication, there is another which is equally important: between altruism at one end of the scale – communicating purely for the audience’s benefit – and selfishness at the other end.

We can’t all be altruistic all the time. But we can at least aim for the middle of the scale: mutual interest.

Let’s take a look at what this means, in the Communication Influence Matrix above. In the bottom-left, you have ineffective and selfish communication – which is what poor salespeople dish out to long-suffering buyers. In the top-left, you have ineffective but altruistic communication, an example of which would be most teaching, which is for the benefit of the audience but far too often fails to be effective due to poor use of influencing techniques.

Then, in the bottom-right, you have effective and selfish communication – which could be good advertisements, or a powerful political speech for example. In the middle on the right, you have effective communication for mutual interest, which is what good salespeople will aim for. A good salesperson sincerely believes her customer will benefit from buying her product or service, and focuses on those benefits, while communicating effectively – and without forgetting her own company’s interests. Think of any Steve Jobs product launch.

And in the top-right, you have effective altruistic communication, and while I could have put public-service advertisements there, I’m proud to put my dad and his stories in that corner. One day, I hope my own children will put me there too.

Takeaways for presenters

As a presenter, work out how you can help your audience. If you are a salesperson, make your presentation not about your product or service, but about your customer’s problem and how it can be solved. You may succeed in making them want to buy your latest widget, but it will be in their interest to do so.

If you are an entrepreneur, talk about why your start-up offers a great opportunity for the investor. You’re not just going to them asking for money: you are offering them the chance to make a large pile of cash. You’re trying to influence them, of course, but in their interest as well as yours.

The trick is simply to ensure that their interests coincide with yours. If the customer is happy to solve their problem, that’s good for you because they’re using your widget to do so. If the investor is happy to invest because it’s a great opportunity, that’s also good for you because it means you have the cash to expand your company.

The audience’s own interest is the magical ingredient of any presentation. If you can always clearly act in the audience’s interest, you will never be accused of manipulation, no matter how many influence techniques you use. And if you can find a way to meet their needs while also meeting yours, then everybody wins.

Handle With CARE: 4 Keys To Convince Any Audience

May 29, 2012

I was exchanging recently with fellow presentation specialist Alex Rister, who was asking me how I go about convincing people to change. I had just given a Presentation 2.0 talk to a group of management consultants, who are usually among the worst offenders when it comes to Death by PowerPoint, and not only did they get it – they even asked me back for another session on storytelling.

Pleasantly surprised, Alex asked me for the magic keys to convince an audience to change. After some thought, this is my answer.

There are four keys to convince any audience to start, stop or continue doing something. They are all necessary. Together, they make the acronym CARE: Credibility, Action, Reason, and Empathy.


If you have no credibility in your audience’s eyes, your message will (at best) go in one ear, and out the other.

Imagine you pass a shaggy smelly tramp in the street, who is shouting “The world will end tomorrow!” Do you pay much attention? No, because he has no credibility to deliver that message. Now imagine the US President making a televised address saying exactly the same thing. Now do you pay attention? The difference is not the message: it is the credibility of the person delivering it.

Imagine you are pregnant, and a friendly lady gazes at your tummy and exclaims “Ah, it must be a boy!” Do you believe her? Now imagine a gynecologist who, after performing an ultrasound scan, announces “Ah, it must be a boy!” Do you believe her? The difference: credibility. And not only does the gynecologist know what she is talking about: she also performed a credible check to draw her conclusion. She has evidence.

Credibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. My Parisian consultants gave me credibility to talk about business communication because I have many years of management and sales experience, I’ve successfully sold major contracts up to $100M, and I teach at the world’s number one business school just down the road, quite apart from running one of Europe’s leading presentation firms.

All that was important in their eyes. Perhaps an audience in Latin America might never have heard of HEC Paris, so that wouldn’t lend me any credibility with them. Perhaps my business-to-business sales management experience wouldn’t be worth a lot when talking to a children’s charity. Perhaps my Executive MBA would actually count against me when speaking to some groups. So I don’t automatically have credibility with all audiences for all kinds of messages. But with this audience, my experience resonated with them, and they therefore listened seriously to what I had to say.

Sadly, if you are an intern with little or no experience, and you give exactly the same talk with the same slides to the same audience, you will probably fall at the first hurdle because of your lack of credibility. It doesn’t matter whether you are right. Nobody believed Ignaz Semmelweis when he suggested surgeons should wash their hands between patients in order to save lives, but he was right. Nobody believed Barry Marshall when he suggested stomach ulcers were caused by bacteria, partly because the idea was ridiculous but particularly because he was just a simple unknown researcher in Western Australia of all places. He was right, but nobody listened.

The conclusion is simple. Without credibility, your audience will not accept your request to act. Speak about subjects where you are credible, and ensure that you establish credibility in your audience’s eyes right at the start of your talk. And if the message is important but you have little hope of being taken seriously, find somebody else whom the audience will listen to and believe.


Now that you have credibility, you need to ask the audience to act. This could be to stop doing something, start doing something, continue doing something, or do something differently.

First, you need to be clear in your own mind about what action you want them to take. Complete this sentence:

“After my presentation, my audience will…”

Do you want them to buy something? Use a different piece of software? Try a different sales approach? Be careful about strange men offering to drive them home? Recycle their kitchen waste? Give to charity? Choose brands which are ecologically responsible? Reflect on how social media can drive sales? There has to be something. Find it and make this the foundation of your talk. (If you find nothing at all, cancel the presentation because it will be a waste of everyone’s time.)

Next, you need to make it clear what action you want the audience to take. Your talk should not be a cryptic crossword. Don’t leave them guessing what you expect them to do. Ask them clearly. If you want them to invest $200k in your start-up, say so. If you leave them to guess, they might guess wrong, or they might not bother guessing at all.

So you need a clear action which you are asking your audience to take afterwards, you need to spell it out clearly – and of course, you need to have credibility to ask them to take that action.


The next key is a Reason. No matter how much credibility you have, your audience will not do what you ask them to do unless they actually want to do so. The reason might be more stick than carrot – “If you don’t meet your sales quota this quarter, you’re fired!” may not be an effective motivation tool (cf Drive by Dan Pink), but it does at least give people a reason to want to sell more – but carrots usually work better, and social psychology is even more powerful. For example, the best way to get people to recycle more is to explain to them that their neighbours are recycling more than they are. (Thanks to the fantastic Olivier Oullier for this example – more of him on the blog soon.)

Whatever your reason, it will clearly need to resonate with the audience. Think carefully about what will work best for them. When selling print services, the usual pitch was an annual hard cost saving which would appeal to the CFO and usually to the CIO. One company’s CIO had a carbon reduction target. We showed him how he could save money AND save CO2 by optimizing his print environment. That was a much more powerful reason than cost savings alone, although it was specific to that CIO’s own context. What will work with your audience?

So you not only need to ask them to take an action: you also have to give them a reason for wanting to do so. A request for action without a strong reason leads to no action at all.


The final part of CARE, then, is Empathy. In order to find an action which the audience will benefit from taking, a reason they will accept, and the necessary elements to convince them that you are a credible person to deliver this message, you first have to put yourself in their shoes, and get inside their heads.

What are their needs? Their desires? Their fears? Their concerns? Their problems? Their aspirations? Their objectives? How will they react to your request to act? What would make them listen to someone asking them to do it?

Think what reasons they might have to resist taking your desired action. There is always one huge one: doing nothing (or changing nothing) is always the easiest option, so beware of the principle of least effort. There may be many other reasons as well. Don’t dismiss or reject them, even if they are plain wrong. As we saw earlier, being right doesn’t actually help you to generate action. Right or wrong, your audience is emotionally attached to their reasons to resist, and if you tell them they are wrong, they will cling on to them even more strongly.

So for each reason for resistance, you need to show that you understand that reason, and that you respect it. (Never skip that step.) Then find a way to add new information which gets them to think that perhaps they didn’t have the whole picture before. And get them to realize that in fact their reason for resistance isn’t so valid after all. It has to be their realization, not your affirmation.

Here’s an example, again from my print services experience. Selling for HP meant trying to convince customers that they would be better off with a ‘balanced deployment’ of distributed printers with some multi-function print-copy-scan devices, whereas the many copier-vendor competitors were pushing a more centralized approach, getting rid of the distributed printers and keeping only a few of these big multi-function devices (e.g. one per floor). In terms of pure hard cost-per-page, the centralized approach was usually cheaper.

So when selling ‘balanced deployment’ to an IT or facilities manager who believed that a centralized approach was the cheapest, it usually didn’t help to claim that they were wrong. It was much more effective to give them ideas like this:

“It’s true that if you reduce your devices to the bare minimum, of course it will be cheaper in terms of hard cost. The cheapest of all would be to put one big multi-function device in the building reception, and have everyone walk to it and queue up. Is that what you were thinking of? No? Of course not – in fact we’ve seen plenty of situations where companies have consolidated too much, and it has a number of bad results. First, people waste more time walking to devices, and then queueing up. Meetings get delayed because just as someone wants to print a few one-page handouts before going into the meeting room, someone else starts making 250 copies of a training manual. People near the copier complain because there are always people queueing, chatting and complaining. And when it breaks down – let’s face it, all devices break down sometimes – the impact is huge because the nearest alternative device is on another floor or even in another building. That means huge waste and loss of productivity. But that’s not all. Then, managers get fed up, and decide to buy printers on their own budgets for their teams’ convenience. One company in Switzerland ended up with just as many printers as they had before the consolidation, but the IT department had much less control, less standardization, more printer drivers to manage, and – worst of all – it ended up costing more than before. So you see, in theory it’s quite right that the centralized approach looks cheaper, but in practice, it doesn’t usually work out that way.”

Convincing through empathy means not telling people they are wrong. It means stepping into their shoes, understanding their reasons and showing respect for them, and then metaphorically putting your arm around their shoulder and guiding them gently towards your desired action.


So that’s how to handle your audience with CARE. Establish your credibility in their eyes; ask them clearly to take an action; give them a reason to take the action; and use empathy to understand how best to influence your audience, and to take them respectfully towards your desired outcome. If you CARE for your audience, they’ll CARE for your message. And that’s something you should certainly CARE about.

Top Talk: Bob Davids at TEDxESCP

May 6, 2012

Today, I rolled my lawn. It was a heavy roller and a tough job, but with plenty of effort, I managed it.

I quickly realised that it was much easier pulling the roller than pushing it. Leading people is much the same. If you push them, you don’t really know how they are going to react. But if you inspire them to follow you, then you have a far better chance of getting them to go where you want them to go.

At TEDxESCP 2012, I had the good fortune to work with Bob Davids, a seasoned American entrepreneur and leader, who gave a talk on leadership, with the potentially controversial premise that you can’t manage people – but you can lead them.

Of all the many great speakers at TEDxESCP 2012, I perhaps worked with Bob the least – partly due to schedules and partly because it was clear from our first discussion that he didn’t need much help. (One of the most important skills of an event coach is to work out where you can make the most difference, and allocate your time accordingly.)

We did discuss one important item. It was clear that he didn’t need any slides for his talk, but I asked whether there were any props he could use. He mentioned that he liked the idea of using a chain, which he picked up from General Eisenhower, and I immediately encouraged him to use that if he could.

You’ll see why in the video below. It helps people to remember one of his key messages. (I won’t spoil the surprise – watch it and see.)

Bob is a master storyteller. He speaks slowly, calmly, deliberately, and with the voice of experience. Young people would do well to listen and learn, as younger people have a tendency to speak too quickly. With Bob, you have time to digest his words and thoughts, work out what they mean for you, relate them to your own experience, and store his wisdom.

It was a pleasure to work with Bob even for a short time, and to watch him hold the audience in the palm of his hand – and indeed I have always subscribed to his vision of egoless leadership.

Watch and enjoy. And then please tell me what you thought about his talk.


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