Last week, Shawn and I spent the day together at the Melbourne Convention Centre. The morning speaker was Patrick Lencioni, author of ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ and ten other books.
The Wall Street Journal has described Lencioni as “one of the most in demand speakers in America”. It’s easy to understand why. He is a fantastic communicator. We talked to attendees at the lunch break – they were full of praise for his clarity, authenticity, intelligence and for the totally engaging and entertaining way he presented. It felt like he was having a conversation with the audience.
We asked people what it was about Lencioni’s presentation style that made him so good. Most people couldn’t put their finger on it. But one lady could. “He told stories”, she said.
The basic story pattern
For every point he wanted to make, Lencioni had an example (a story). He would introduce a topic, a challenge or a leadership opportunity, he used an example (sometimes several) to illustrate the topic and then he would land his point.
We call this the basic story pattern and it’s a simple formula for being able to deliver an effective business story.
Using stories to make a point
Lencioni used a combination of personal experiences, key historical events and experiences other people had shared with him. Here are some examples of how he used stories to make a business point:
- On the importance of ‘purpose’ he cited Southwest Airlines and how after 9/11 they decided not to follow the rest of the airline industry in charging for checked luggage. They stuck by their purpose of ‘democratising air travel’ and instead advertised ‘bags fly free’. They took market share from competitors and added over $1bn to their bottom line. We describe this story and how to use it in this podcast.
- On the topic of finding innovative ways to interview job candidates, he advocated putting candidates in unfamiliar/uncomfortable positions and seeing their reaction. He took one candidate from his consulting firm home for dinner. Lencioni’s twins had just been born and the candidate had had a son about six months before. Lencioni showed her his infant son’s penis and asked “does this look normal?” She was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing and assured Lencioni and his wife that all looked normal. He finished by saying “the point is, find out what they are really like.” He made a great point and got a huge positive reaction from the audience.
- On the topic of leaders needing to ‘call poor behaviour’ when they see it, he shared the story of Scottie Pippen of the Chicago Bulls during the last 3 seconds of an NBA play-off game against New York – the score was tied at 102-102 and the Bulls had one last chance to shoot and possibly win this critical match. Bulls coach Jackson called a time-out and described the play he wanted – Pippen would pass the ball to Kukoc who would take the shot. Pippen was the Bulls’ star player that year (after Michael Jordan retired) and insisted that he should take the shot. The coach described the play he wanted again but Pippen was insistent. He said he would sit out the last play if he didn’t take the shot. Coach Jackson said ‘fine, take a seat.’ He subbed in another player, the team ran the play, Kukoc made the shot and the Bulls won the game. Lencioni’s point with this story is that Pippen had put himself above the team and Coach Jackson called him on it.
Five lessons to be a better presenter
Here are five things we can learn from Lencioni that can help make our presentations memorable, engaging and impactful.
- Use stories. Find examples (stories) that illustrate the point you want to make. Practice telling those stories until they are natural. Ensure you know what a story is and what makes them work – the details are vital. Read more on this here.
- Know your point. Once you are clear on the point you are making, deliver the stories using the Basic Story Pattern shown above. Have a short and clear relevance statement that ensures the listener knows why they are listening, tell the story and land your point.
- Unlearn some of the things you have been taught about presentation skills. Talking loudly and impressively, getting your speech word-perfect, using complex and abstract words, using clear hand gestures and body movements, modulating your voice from a whisper to a shout to emphasise key points – these things do not make you a good presenter. Other presenters that day used this ‘traditional’ presentation style. But they weren’t impactful or engaging – people started walking out of one session even though the speaker was billed as a ‘world-class presenter’. In contrast, Lencioni’s audience was completely engaged from first word till the last.
- Change your mindset – if you set out to present impressively you are unlikely to be a good communicator and might not be that impressive. If you set out to communicate clearly and find examples that illustrate your key points, it’s likely you’ll end up being impressive.
- You are the channel. Many presenters overuse PowerPoint – as if that were the main channel for their message – and they, as presenter, are only a secondary channel. The best presenters know that they are the main channel and PowerPoint is only there to support them.
In our organisational lives we are exposed to a lot of presentations – many of them we simply endure. Our audiences deserve better. We can do better. What Lencioni demonstrated is not art – it’s a skill. A skill that can be developed with practice. It’s a skill worth honing.
To be an effective business storyteller requires practice. Our programs are designed to work in a business setting with lots of practical tools and tips. Find out more.
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: