You Control The Story You Tell

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? (Most of you have either led such meetings, or at least sat in on them.)

Do these meetings end up feeling like the same meeting over and over and over again? (Most of you are nodding.)

And do you ever end up feeling like there is an expectation to simply recycle the same approach/template/slightly-adjusted message from the last time? (You are still nodding.)

When we are giving a presentation in a standard meeting inside our company we often end up feeling like we are not in control. This is a conversation I have had, and continue to have, with more people than I can remember. 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 monthly 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 seen in the last twenty years, 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. 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 as a complete restriction on what you 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 lead the discussion. I want to hear what they think. I want to hear what they are seeing. I want their input. Because if I did not, and 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.

And I am confident that my preference in this regard 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. But that also means you are partially unrestricted. Remember that. No one expects you to just regurgitate the words on the slides, or the same information over and over and over again. Everyone hates that kind of a meeting just as much as you do. Instead, 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.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.