Do you ever have to participate in a standard, regularly-scheduled meeting within your company, where you (or someone you work with) presents updated data and information on the business/project? (I am sure your answer is “yes.” Most of us have.)
Do these meetings end up feeling like the same meeting over and over and over again, lacking context, or any interesting approach to the discussion? (Most of you are nodding.)
And do you ever think that people are simply recycling the same approach/template/slightly-adjusted message from the last time? (You are still probably nodding.)
Many of us know what all of this feels like, to listen to the same approach and style over and over and over again. This is a conversation I have had, and continue to have, all the time. And the defense to such an approach is something I hear this all the time… “We have a standard slide template for this monthly meeting, and the group (or my manager) wants everything a certain way.”
OK… I believe people when they tell me that. I believe that is true… to a point. But I also believe that in the vast majority of cases, while there might be some expectations and norms for how you might handle that standard weekly meeting, not everything is predetermined. You have some power of authorship over what you say. Let me explain…
In nearly every case that I have ever seen, these kind of standard meetings do in fact have a standard format for the data or information that is presented. Certain key information can and should be presented each time. That’s fine, and in many cases, that can be a good thing. If I am tracking something over time, having a consistent way of looking at the data or the information is valuable. It allows for an apples-to-apples comparison of progress.
But in my experience, that is where the expectations and norms often end… with the visual presentation of the material. Above and beyond the visual, the presenter is in charge of the story. The presenter has control over what to say overall, what themes need to be highlighted, what key points should be reinforced. The person who has been asked to lead the discussion, should almost always be empowered to do exactly that… lead… the… discussion.
In other words, don’t misinterpret the desire for a standard format of data presentation as a complete restriction on what you can say about the data. Standard formatting, in most cases, is a good thing. I own my business, and I love to look at certain pieces of data from my team in a consistent way. I benefit from getting comfortable with what I am looking at, where the key number on the page is, and from being able to quickly absorb something I am used to seeing.
But, but, BUT… I still want the colleague who is leading the discussion to actually lead the discussion. I want to hear what they think. I want to hear what they are seeing. I want their perspective. I want their interpretation. Because if I did not, and if I only wanted them to regurgitate what was on the page, without any extra narrative, then I would cancel the meeting, and just read the slides on my own.
My preference is that the people presenting to me give me the data in a consistent way, but that they talk me through it in an effective, interesting and valuable way. And I am 100% confident that this preference is highly typical for the vast majority of business leaders.
You have agency over the story you tell in your standard meeting. Don’t feel totally restricted. You might be partially restricted, at least in terms of the visual representation of the data. But that also means you are partially unrestricted. Remember that. No one expects you to (or wants you to) just regurgitate the words on the slides. Everyone hates that kind of a meeting just as much as you do. Produce the information in a visually consistent way, but never forget that you can choose to tell the story in the way that you think is most valuable for the group.
You are empowered. You have some, maybe not all, but some control over the story you tell. Trust me. This will not only make for a better meeting… it will also make you a more valuable colleague.
Have a great day. Stay safe.
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