It can happen to anyone.
It's Friday morning. You're sitting in your office enjoying a hot cup of coffee, lining up the day's important tasks.
"Hey," your coworker (or supervisor) interrupts. "You know how the investors are coming in for that meeting on Monday? You think you could throw together a few slides about that thing you worked on last month?"
What happens next? What's that feeling called? Even if fleeting, is there even an appropriate name for the introspective spiral of self loathing that precedes signing up for such a blatant waste of your time and talent? Your internal monologue probably sounds something like this:
I don't really know... I'm not really even on the investors' radars... I don't think I'm the right... But all the VP's are going to be in the room... Good chance for me to prove my... NO. This is a bad idea... I haven't even thought through... But I've been looking for ways to brag about that project... And this would get me right in front of that group... I really was the closest to that work... I mean, it's like my baby... So, yeah, I could probably put something together... I'll just shuffle everything else off my plate for today... And spend a couple hours on it over the weekend... And come in early on Monday... Okay... I'll do it.
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
Flash forward to Monday morning, after a "couple" of hours were more like 16, and "coming in early" on Monday actually meant leaving the house somewhere around the time most bars close. Not to mention, even though you were "closest to the work," suddenly your "few slides" have turned into a 90-page deck, designed by committee.
Have you done your best work? Have you represented your project, your strategy, yourself well? Is this exposure to investors worth the effort it took to finish in time?
But "No" wasn't really an answer, was it?
This isn't easy. Nobody really wants to say no, especially when we're addicted to decks. Not only is the feeling of making slides familiar, warm and tempting, we long for the opportunity to showcase our value and prove our worth. A recent survey by BNET (now part of CBS MoneyWatch) suggested that doing something meaningful – not money or recognition – was the most motivating thing about work.
Self-image notwithstanding, what happens when we decline our coworkers' requests? According to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life?, we want to be viewed as team players, go-to people and other expressions of yes-ness. But it's vital to the success of our organizations and our personal development. Exercised correctly, it can demonstrate high standards, discipline and upward momentum.
While "No" isn't the most comfortable answer, it's one used frequently by those who want their "yes" to be more meaningful.
Turn down a deck without being a jerk.
Come back now to Friday morning. Same coworker. Same investors. Same crap sandwich, and your weekend is the meat. Want to say "no" but don't want to lose the trust of your colleague? Try this on for size:
I'd love to work on this with you. Thanks for thinking of me. I'd like to get a better understanding of this meeting, so we share the most important results and keep the investors engaged.
See what you just did there? You've now framed your purpose around the most effective content, AND you're not in it alone (thanks to "we" and "with you"). Now, keep going along this line of questioning. Evoke Campfire Method techniques and ask your colleague to study the 4 vital dimensions with you.
What do we know about the audience?
- What problems do they expect to be solved by this team? Will they see this work as the solution?
- What do the investors' itineraries look like? What will they be doing immediately before and after we share this?
What do we know about ourselves?
- Why are we the right people to share this information?
- What strengths do we have as presenters? And what weaknesses should be avoided?
What is the environment like?
- Can you tell me more about the meeting agenda?
- In which conference room will the meeting take place? How are chairs and tables set up in there?
- Is there a projector or TV in that room?
What story will demonstrate the problem and propose the solution?
- Are we clear on our project's purpose, benefit and action requested?
- Is our idea the hero? What is the villain, and how will we illustrate the conflict?
- Can this be articulated clearly enough in a conversation?
- Would it be better communicated in an email, memo, 1-sheeter or any other medium?
- Does it really require slides?
Your answers to these questions will likely lead you down a wildly different path than toward a traditional presentation. You may discover the investors have sat through an entire day of slides and the last thing they want is even one more, let alone 90. You may learn the conference room TV is broken, lending your content to better effectiveness in a tangible, printed format. You may learn that simply structuring your content increases your confidence in it and allows you to casually mention it in the break room rather than awkwardly commandeering the stage during the meeting.
How good does that feel? How nice is it to have your weekend back? How great do you feel for adding value by making your content stronger and its development more efficient? Now your internal monologue sounds something like this: