Many things separate a good collaboration from a bad one—a clear storyline or message and delivery with confidence—but most bad interactions have something in common. In bad ones, the person delivering the information puts themselves at the center of structuring, designing, and delivering. Good ones are about the recipients, colleagues, or collaborators, and what will work for them.
Attention hog warning signs
You may be taking this approach without even realizing it.
Attention hogs often think like this:
- How can I create what I need quickly and easily?
- What content matters to me, and so should go in the communication?
- How can I create slides or supporting materials with minimal effort?
- What storyline and structure makes sense to me?
- How can I deliver the information quickly and get it over with?
For example, many MBA students I teach want to learn how to design presentations more quickly. They are sometimes disappointed to learn that’s not the right question to ask, as it’s a question that focuses on them and their time.
Instead, they should ask how to create more effective presentations that will persuade their audience. That shift in perspective puts the recipient of the information at the center and is the beginning of a mindset that leads to success.
Attention hogs forget that the purpose of a presentation is not to give a presentation. It is to move the listeners to act or think differently. The best presenters are the ones that drop this narcissistic view and instead become altruistic presenters. They create and deliver a presentation with a mindset that always puts the audience and their needs front and center.
Here are some steps you can take to do that in any situation:
Find the overlap between your goals and others’ needs
Of course, information exchange and collaboration are not 100% about others. You still have a goal for your part of the process. But by starting from the perspective of what works best to persuade those you’re working with, you can identify that overlap between your goals and what they care about. That overlap is where success lies. It cannot be done without understanding the other people.
Empathize and know their ‘WIIFM’
Narcissists lack empathy, so start designing what you’ll say by empathizing with your audience and their needs. Put yourself in their shoes. What do they care about? What concerns them? What are their hopes and fears? Work this into your understanding of their needs and design around what they care about.
“What’s In It For Me?”–WIIFM–is something you already know. The benefits you get from collaborating, be it a sale, a promotion, inspiring others, are what’s in it for you. But have you put yourself in the audience’s shoes and asked, “what’s in it for me,” from their perspective? What do they hope to gain out of sitting through the presentation?
Ask yourself, “What’s their WIIFM?” By doing so, we shift our mindset to be centered on others.
Structure around questions that matter to everyone
In addition to knowing their hopes, concerns, and reasons for being there, we need to get more specifics. Each person involved has some questions about your topic, based on those hope and concerns. These questions might represent uncertainties or opposing viewpoints you need to overcome or a lack of knowledge about the issue. Address those needs by answering those questions through your presentation.
To build this into presentation design, I devised the acronym QAM: Question, Answer, Message.
- What Questions might the audience have about my topic?
- What are the Answers to those questions?
- What Messages will communicate those answers in a way that aligns with my presentation goals?
It’s important to note the difference between the Answers and Messages. The answer might be a data point, a simple fact, or even a “Yes” or “No,” but we still need to convert that into a message.
You have now discovered that overlap between what the audience cares about and your purpose. Once you have those messages, you can build your content and overall structure to achieve your goals.
Kill your darlings
One last step: Review everything you’ve created in your presentation and ruthlessly edit it, no matter how much you love it. Kill your darlings. Ask yourself if the content is necessary to advance your goal or those needs or questions of people you’re working with. If it any of it fails on these points, cut it out. Editing and simplifying from the perspective of what is best for the audience will go a long way.
More work is needed to be audience-centric, but it’s worth it. Skip the easy, narcissistic approach, and embrace the altruistic approach. You will create a better experience, deliver an impactful presentation, and move your colleagues to collaborate more effectively.