Presentation Crisis: How a Quote, Cartoon and Story Could Save Your Career

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The Six Blind Men and the Elephant saved my job.

A prop can greatly enhance your presentation. Verbal arguments aren’t enough to convince people of your message. Add a visual – a chart or cartoon. Verbal props come in several forms: quotations from famous people, anecdotes, plays, poems or even questions.

I was faced with a critical meeting to defend myself against serious charges from our auditors. My defense included a quote, a cartoon and a parable.

The auditors had submitted a report suggesting that I, as the chief supply manager, had exceeded my purchasing approval authority. I strongly disagreed and tried explaining to them the difference between our use of approval authority and implementation authority within the computer system. They did not buy my explanation – so they arranged a formal meeting to examine my alleged crimes.

The meeting included my boss and his boss – both unsupportive of my situation. The meeting dragged on with other issues raised by the auditors until…

My boss’s boss who was chairing the meeting awkwardly turned the meeting over to me with, “George, this next item is yours.”

You could feel the tension in the room skyrocket. The auditors intended to remain firm on their “observation” and everyone knew my position and anger.

I wisely decided to take a different approach this day. I started: “I offer the quotation from George Bernard Shaw who said, ‘In the right key you can say anything, in the wrong key, nothing.” To help set the right key I ask you to look at this cartoon.”

There were some raised eyebrows at this point, but no one objected to my strange approach – yet.

I paused to allow everyone to receive and review the cartoon, then continued:

“This cartoon shows the parable of the six blind men and the elephant. The six blind men went to see the elephant but being blind they had to examine the elephant with their hands. Each touched a different part of the elephant and noted their observation. For example, the first clutched the swaying trunk and said, ‘The elephant must be a snake.’ The next grabbed the tail and noted, ‘The elephant is really like a rope.’ Another fell against the side and exclaimed, ‘Oh my, this elephant is like a wall.’ Hugging the leg the next argued, ‘The elephant is like a tree.’ The fifth, while holding the tusk, stated, ‘You are all wrong, I know it is like a spear.’ And finally, the sixth felt the flapping ear and noted, ‘This elephant is surely like a fan.'”

The nervous laughter dissipated the tension in the room and now they were more relaxed and ready to listen.

Then I explained how the computer system we were using was large and complicated, like an elephant, and that we had received poor documentation about the computer system. Therefore, it was unreasonable for any visitor to fully understand the workings in a two-week period (this was the duration of the auditors’ visit). The heads nodded in agreement at this point.

Then I showed a flowchart of our approval process – emphasizing that the “approval” they were focusing on was only “an approval to print”. This was the same flowchart that they had rejected earlier. Yet now they accepted the flowchart. Why?

The bottom line is they understood my point, and the audit report was changed. I was exonerated. It is important to know that the facts were unchanged from my earlier discussions with them, but this time I packaged my message in a way that was more acceptable and they bought it.

When was the last time you had a proposal or idea turned down? Could it have gone better if you had taken more care to sell it? To deliver a powerful message understand your audience, be clear on your purpose, plan your approach – and use props!

 

© George Torok coaches executives and trains professionals to deliver winning presentations.

Reduce tension in a difficult presentation

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