We always encourage those who avoid giving presentations to consider changing their ways and proactively seeking out opportunities to present. It’s not really about getting in your public speaking skills practice, though that can be valuable. In fact, it’s not about practice at all. It’s about leadership and human behavior. Here’s why:
In every business, there are people who legitimately understand various issues, trends and initiatives more than their superiors. There are probably some folks who are truly smarter than their bosses, though not nearly as many as are willing to claim so. And there are even some people who wonder why the big boss or head honcho always asks that individual with little day to day experience with an issue for solutions when they could ask the folks who live the issue every day.
The reason is that leadership is not about answers. It’s not about expertise (though sometimes that helps build influence). Leadership is not even about the size of your audience: you’ll find over and over again that it’s easier to build a volume of followers than to gain the trust of a few key people.
Leadership is about influence. It’s about being the go-to guy or girl for more and more things. It starts small—owning your own space or just a specific thing in your space—and gets bigger with time. If you cultivate and maintain your influence, eventually you end up in the strategic planning role that everyone wants but few ever bother to work toward. That’s because it’s easier to be resentful that no one asked our opinion about something than it is to create opportunities to own our space and broker relationships to build influence.
So when we tell people to seek out opportunities to present, we do it because the formality of a presentation is a great opportunity to display your knowledge, expertise, and commitment to progress. Few will deny you the chance to address a business issue if they feel you’re taking it seriously, but doing so does put pressure on you to make an excellent presentation that speaks to the bottom line for your audience.
If there’s something wrong with the business you work for, and you know how to fix it, why not approach a few senior managers and ask for 15 minutes to present your solution? What you’ll find is that, after the presentation, those senior managers will come to you with everything that needs attention on that issue. They call it delegating, but you can call it influence. Do that job well, and then rinse and repeat for everything else you can see that needs fixing.
And just so we’re clear, this isn’t true just for internal situations. It works if you want to be the go-to expert on anything in an industry or community. He who takes the initiative to present himself as the de facto leader on an issue often is the leader on that issue.
Question: Who needs your leadership right now, and what solutions could you present to them?