“Did you know that workers’ compensation claims cost our company over $24 million last year!?” I asked incredulously. And, with that opening line, I lost my audience.
I had the best of intentions. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to achieve buy-in. I wanted my audience of operations vice presidents and warehouse managers to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose and a committed resolve to run their distribution centers in the safest manner possible. Unfortunately, I only achieved one of my three objectives, and that only in part: They all left the meeting.
This squandered opportunity underscores an often overlooked component of successful communication: the need to tailor the message to the audience. Truth is, we did have an opportunity to reduce workers’ compensation costs. Achieving the buy-in of the operations professionals who ran the warehouses and loaded the trucks was essential to our success. And, in this instance, I failed.
I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority.
Fast-forward one year. After the debacle of the year before I had to battle to get the risk management team a spot on the operations meeting agenda. Quite frankly, I understood management’s hesitance; my presentation the year before used an hour of valuable time and achieved nothing. I told them I had learned my lesson. I joined Toastmasters to learn to organize my thoughts, tailor my presentation to the audience in the room, and deliver my message with confidence and authority. I showed them a draft of my new presentation as I told them this year would be different. And it was.
“I want you all to close your eyes,” I said. “Picture in your mind the best order selector in your warehouse; you know, the one with the near-perfect pick rate and lowest error rating. I know that each of you already has that person pictured in your mind. Now, picture him at home because he hurt his back at work. He’s off for six months. Open your eyes.”
I had their attention. I asked, “How many of you have had this experience in your operation at least once during the past year?” Many raised their hands. I asked them, one by one, “How was your warehouse impacted by that employee’s prolonged absence from work?” All of a sudden, a discussion broke out! Operations VP’s and warehouse managers shared how overall pick rates deteriorated and overtime costs increased. Several even talked about reduced morale and reduced bonus payouts. “If I could show you three simple things you can implement now to help avoid this disruption going forward, would you consider them?” I now had their full attention. I had a room full of risk management deputies. Mission accomplished.
During that second presentation, I never talked about money. I didn’t preach the virtues of prevention as a means of reducing retained loss costs. Why? Because this audience couldn’t care less about those things. That is not the world in which they live and breathe every day.
I had the honor of addressing the attorneys and paralegals of Vernis & Bowling at their 2014 firm retreat in Orlando, FL.
That presentation, now some 20 years in the past, was the catalyst for some amazing results. And, for me personally, it launched a true appreciation for and enjoyment of public speaking.
I offer this glimpse into my career learning process in the hopes that you might consider (or reconsider) each slide in that PowerPoint deck you’re about to present. Persuading a Board, a C-Suite, mid-management colleagues, and operations professionals to support any given objective will typically require a different approach tailored to each of those groups. To whom are you presenting? I’m sure the content is important to you, but is the content important to them? How can you make your objective meaningful to your audience? Will your supporting facts resonate with them?
After several years of absence, I rejoined a local Toastmasters club two years ago. I believe strongly that well-honed communication and presentation skills are an essential component to any leader’s success. I know they have contributed hugely to mine.
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