Tag Archives: training

Know Your Audience

“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.

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.

Click here to learn more about Toastmasters and how it can help you hone your communication and presentation skills!

Lay Ministry in Action! ~ Acts 18:18-28

He (Apollos) began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. ~ Acts 18:26

After remaining in Corinth for quite some time, Paul departs with Aquila and Priscilla (the married tentmakers whom he met earlier during his visit to Corinth) and pays his first visit to Ephesus. After hearing him speak in the synagogue, the Jews of Ephesus ask him to stay longer, but Paul declines, promising to return later according to God’s will. Paul departs for Jerusalem, leaving Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus.

We are introduced to Apollos, a Jew from Alexandria, who arrives in Ephesus after Paul’s departure. He is a very skilled speaker who “spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately” (verse 25). Interestingly, Luke mentions here that Apollos only knew the baptism of John, which was a baptism of repentence – meaning that Apollos presumably had not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Even so, Apollos teaches accurately and very persuasively. Aquila and Priscilla invite Apollos to their home, where they “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (verse 26). With the blessing of the believers in Ephesus, Apollos departs for Achaia where we are told he “vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah” (verse 28).

There are numerous places in Scripture where we see God using people of ordinary means and background for His sovereign purpose. Here God uses an ordinary married working-class couple (Aquila and Priscilla) to advance His kingdom. How fascinating it would be to peek in at Paul’s interactions with them prior to his departure: what was their background; what did he teach them; what questions did they ask? They play a very important role here as they prepare Apollos to assume his ministry.

We laymen and laywomen must be available for ministry, just as Aquila and Priscilla were available. God can and will use us – what an honor it is to serve our Lord! We must be vigilant so as to not miss the opportunities to serve God that He may send our way.

Ponder this: What is my ministry? How might God use me in furthering His kingdom?

My prayer for today: Heavenly Father, I want to serve You, first and foremost. Tune me in to Your will for my ministry. Reveal it, open my eyes to it, and guide my footsteps that I would serve You according to Your will. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

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