Posted By : Markus Hesse
1st October 2018
Talking in a bubble
Talking in a bubble-image

About the risk of using too many buzz words in our communication

Management and governance meetings and presentations can be fun, interesting and engaging. They also can be a painful exercise, especially when executives and senior managers communicate from inside a bubble, stringing together over-used buzzwords and reading from overloaded PowerPoint presentations, rather than engaging with the audience. Just a cliché or potential problem?

Working as a management coach provides the unique opportunity to participate in governance and senior leadership team meetings as well as status presentations in Board committees, project team meetings or staff meetings in INGOs, Foundations, Social Businesses and local CSOs. As a coach, my job is to prepare managers and Board members for their communication. Once the meeting has started, my task is to step back, observe interaction between presenter and audience and to provide feedback.

One of the most common pitfalls for any presentation is „talking in a bubble“. Using phrases and buzzwords which might be meaningful in the mind of the presenter, but either make it hard for the audience to understand the content of the matter or to see the relevance of the topic.

Phrases like “we need to work smarter not harder”, „this will be a paradigm shift“ or  „we need to create synergies with strategic partners, go for
comprehensive solutions in a participatory approach which ensures ownerships  of rights holders while keeping the big picture in view and walk the talk – but in an inclusive way, particularly for stakeholders who are excluded today“ are absolute killers for an engaged discussion. They actually make people angry. You can literally read peoples faces as they ask themselves, “Do they have a clue what is required to solve this problem?” Or even „Why am I listening to this?“.

Here are our actual top 10 for buzzword mania in social impact meetings and presentations which have the potential to get an audience angry:

      1. Sustainable
      2. Human-centred
      3. Participatory
      4. Paradigm shift
      5. Capacity Development
      6. Designated Funding
      7. Ownership
      8. Analysis paralysis
      9. Comprehensive Solutions
      10. Expectation Management

Why do managers and experts in Civil Society so often get into situations, where their mouth runs on auto-pilot, producing expressions which are commonly used, but often meaningless? Often the answer is: LACK OF PREPARATION.

Looking at the root causes and working with manager in non-profit organisations on their communication, here are a few tips you might find useful:

  1. What are the objectives of your presentation?

What do you want to get as a result of your presentation? What should the audience do? Do you seek approval? Do you want to gain support for the extra mile which people have to go? Are you presenting an achievement? Based on your objectives and target audience, your presentation should be tailor-made in regards to messaging and choice of words. Having experts and managers running from presentation to presentation and using the same presentation for different audiences and objectives, is often a recipe for failure.

  1. Sell the benefit: Build Relevance for the Audience

What is  you target group? What are your key messages? How are these messages relevant for your audience. If you want your audience to listen, talk about the effects an issue have, rather than explaining technical details. Why is it important to address a particular problem? What are the consequences for your audience?

  1. Practical Demonstration before Theory Slides

How can you best attract the attention of your audience? The answer is not a 30 minute PowerPoint movie with font size 14. The answer is a demonstration. You are talking about the positive changes that the new country eye screening programme can do? Show it. Wherever you can, let people touch, see feel your initiative and how it relates to their work. If you decide to use visual support on the screen, go for simple pictures rather than theory slides.

  1. Build simple structure, use visualisation (What? Why? How?)

Your presentation should enable the audience to understand 1. What are we talking about (avoid technical terms where possible), 2 Why is this relevant (what are the benefits for the audience)? and 3. How will the task be solved (avoid technical details, highlight concrete contributions required from the audience). Developing a simple structure takes time. It is an investment, which pays off quickly. Simplification and focus. „Here are the 18 biggest improvements of our new approach to program planning.“ Such a presentation would of course make your audiences brain explode. Professional presenters focus on key messages, which are most relevant for your target audience. Science recommends to slice presentations in 3 items. A solution could be „Our new programme methodology provides over 18 ground breaking improvements compared with the classic approach. Here are the top three…“

  1. Inspire your audience

Exceptional managers and experts close their presentations with something uplifting and inspiring. Their presentations are relevant, engaging, entertaining, and informative. So can you. It takes work, planning, and creativity, but if someone is willing to listen to your ideas it’s worth the effort to make it great.

Our coaches are mental sparing partners in the preparation of communication. Contact us for more information.

Markus Hesse

Markus is the co-founder and managing partner of Direct Impact Group, ltd. He combines experience as consultant and coach of international projects in a variety of industries for Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies with experience in executive management of international organisations. His core competencies are agile strategies and transformative change programmes. Markus Hesse’s educational background includes an M.A. in Business Coaching and Change Management. He is author for the EURO-FH university in Hamburg on change management and accredited member of the Europan Association of Supervision and Coaching.