Taking My Own Advice

Folks who manage community or engagement in an organization often have to give lots of advice. I am frequently asked to provide guidance around best practices, engaging teams, and strategic communication. Sometimes I have the answer, and sometimes I don’t.

When it comes to presentations, however, I generally have the answer. I have been coaching community members on their public speaking for five years. I have been formally trained in it, and I am passionate about it, so I always incorporate it into my job.

Most of the presentations I coach are technical in nature, and I spend most of the coaching working with the speaker on adjusting their content to meet the audience’s needs. The biggest mistake I see in presentations is the speaker is so close to the content, they often assume what the audience knows about their topic, and they assume incorrectly. So the content doesn’t provide a base for the audience to get their bearings before they are launched into a narrative they can’t follow.

To save the speakers time and energy, I wrote a short guide to help them mold their story before meeting for the first coaching. The guide helps them come to their rehearsal with a fleshed-out narrative. Then my feedback is generally only making small tweaks to their content.

My guide asks the speaker to include a 101 slide at the top of their presentation to share the background on their topic, definitions, and acronyms used to get everyone in the audience on the same page. This exercise also forces our speakers to reexamine their audience’s makeup to make the content more accessible.

I coach presentations more than I give them, and I found myself struggling this past week with a presentation I need to deliver on Tuesday. My team only has 25-minutes for the presentation, and we have a lot to cover. To add to the stress, it’s a presentation for the director and above leaders in our organization of 900+ people.

We built the deck and asked for some feedback, and the most helpful advice we received was that a lot of leaders who we work with don’t fully understand what our community function does and why it matters. If you work in community, this is probably a familiar piece of feedback. Our co-worker asked us to add something at the beginning of the presentation to get everyone on the same page to dispel the confusion.

There’s the rub.

I hadn’t even followed my own guidelines on building a presentation.

Shame on me. 

It took me over 24-hours to realize that I needed to take my own advice and build a Community 101 slide for my presentation. I was utterly embarrassed by my misstep. The 101 slide has been my mantra for a year now, and it didn’t even occur to me that I needed one. How did I miss this?

People not taking their own advice is not a new concept, and apparently, there is a psychological reason for it called fundamental attribution error. However, it doesn’t make me feel better about my misstep. It just lessens the blow. 

Our deck is now updated with a 101 slide, and can you believe it? It’s more cohesive! Even in my slight embarrassment, it’s terrific to get the confirmation that the advice I have been giving others is worthwhile. And now, with the barrage of presentations I have to give in the next few weeks, I am happy I am getting the opportunity to finally put my money where my mouth is.

Published by April Lee Uzarski

Pittsburgh-based lover of adventure, and anything fun.

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