Technical professionals are asked to provide business presentations to senior management and other decision makers. Whether we like it or not, you work for them. After all, you were asked to be there. There will be consequences on you, not them, if you do not show up. Empathy starts with understanding that the communication is not a two-way dialogue, but you are there to answer their questions. Empathy starts with asking yourself one question, “why have they asked me to present?”
Being An Expert Is Not Enough
Most technically trained professionals falsely believe that they have been asked to present in two-way communication where their role is to educate the under-informed senior managers. This misconception is neither true nor healthy for the long-term career of the technical professional.
In most cases, decisions are made before you arrive. Sometimes, like milestones or progress presentations, the decisions will be made after the meeting and without you. You are being asked to present to senior management not as part of the decision making but rather as part of the show. The burden is on you, the message sender, to meet the expectations.
Reasons We Lose Our Empathy
There are several reasons why we lack empathy we the people we work for and lose our primary focus.
You are an expert and senior management needs to know what you know to make a decision.
This is one of the few chances you have in front of senior management, so you must look valuable.
This is one of the few chances you have in front of senior management, so your department (or team) has to look valuable.
We forget that we are there to make senior management look good (or at least not bad).
Senior management wants to have a two-way conversation with you.
Keeping (or re-gaining) Empathy
The one question that keeps your focus on empathy is, "why have I been asked to present.” It is a powerfully simple question.
Why Decision Makers Do Not State Expectations
Your boss or someone from senior management should be able to answer the simple question. There are several reasons why senior management decision makers are not explicit.
The first and most obvious is “because that is how we have always done it." In other words, if we are making transportation decisions, someone from the transportation department provides information. When discussing investing in a new conveyor belt system, an operations specialist shows us the data. Many organizations simply do not question the ritual.
A second reason is that senior management relies on your boss to work out the communication specifics. Most senior managers over-delegate and forget that many of their direct reports are not themselves good communicators, much less being good at instructing someone else.
A third reason is the boss’s boss is not ready to make a decision. They do not intend to allocate resources, so the information that is being presented merely helps develop an intended course of action. This third reason is a big one in putting yourselves in their shoes as you develop your presentation.
Applying It with FINESSE
Empathy starts with one simple question, “Why have I been asked to present?” That question will lead you down a path of understanding, and maybe a few surprises, but it will keep you focused on the needs of senior management and the decision maker. Remember, you work for them.
The first E in FINESSE stands for empathy.
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