How a Simple Storyboard Helps Command Attention and Get Results (Virtually)

Picture this: You’ve put hours of work into finalizing your recommendations for next week’s executive team meeting where the fate of your project (and perhaps your job!) will be determined. You have no more than 60 minutes to present and discuss some radical ideas about how to reallocate project resources. You’re convinced that you’ve developed a bulletproof case for change — if only everyone will listen long enough to hear it.

Since meeting time is short and you want to allow maximum time for discussion (and, you hope, rapid agreement!), you’ve posted important content to review ahead of time, along with an invitation to provide questions, feedback, ideas and potential concerns before your meeting. Most people took your invitation to heart, and by now you have a good idea where people stand. So far, so good.

You’re in the process of designing your presentation and creating your meeting agenda. Since you will be leading the meeting from a conference room with several of the senior leaders, with others participating from various locations, you know that a critical success factor will be keeping everyone absorbed, engaged and enthusiastically participating in a productive dialogue.

Joining me once again is Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts, Principal of Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts & Associates. Here we offer practical approaches for presenting important recommendations that grab and keep peoples’ attention, wherever they are.

  • Identify why your audience should be invested. Throughout the workday, we all listen to station WIIFM. Perhaps not the radio station, but the station in our heads — What’s In It For Me. Understand why your audience should care about what you’re presenting. Perhaps it will be an opportunity to generate higher earnings, create goodwill with a key client, make people look good to their superiors, make a team more productive, or jump on a wonderful opportunity. Understand what’s in it for your audience.
  • Determine the one key point you want your audience to remember. Billboard advertisers, ad agencies, marketing specialists, and the like, know that people retain short bursts of information best. Imagine that you have to write a 15-second commercial to capture the single point you want your audience to remember when your presentation is over. Condense this point into a single sentence. This key point will be the driver for your entire presentation to help you, and everyone else, stay focused.
  • Create a storyboard. A storyboard is a multi-column table. In the left column you write what you want to tell your audience. In the right column you write what you want to show your audience. (You may create a third column for an additional purpose such as noting how long each segment of your presentation should be.) Too many people jump right to creating PowerPoints when they need to make a presentation. That means the presentation becomes all about the slides rather than about the relationship between the speaker and the audience. To learn more about how to prepare a storyboard, click here.
  • Open boldly. Tell people right up front that your goal is to make this meeting more compelling than anything else they have to do in the next hour — including emailing, texting, posting, or chatting to a colleague. Present this as a shared responsibility. Let them know that you have put a lot of thought into the content, format and flow that will best help people make a well-informed decision. At the same time, remind them that they are responsible staying focused and contributing fully to the conversation. (Of course, how you word this will depend on your relationship with your audience.)
  • Keep people on the same page, literally. Many people send presentation materials out in advance to ensure that everyone has access to it during the meeting in the event of a technology glitch. This thoughtful gesture can backfire when people start flipping through your presentation material, blurting out comments and questions, which can quickly derail your agenda. There are a few ways to help prevent this. First, let people know why you’re sending this material ahead of time, and ask them to follow along with you during the meeting so everyone stays on the same page. Then at the start of the meeting, reiterate your request to have everyone follow along. Remind people that they can record any questions either in a shared virtual space, or on a piece of paper nearby, so when the time comes you’ll be ready to respond.
  • Deal with anticipated resistance right up front. When the stakes are high, and people need to make tough decisions, you can anticipate at least some resistance. Deal with this right up front. Make sure you are well prepared and collaborate with a person of influence, if you can. At the beginning of your presentation you may say, “I realize that some of you may still have reservations about [topic], but I’m hoping to show you that [key point].” Make sure you have a plan for following up with those who may need to talk through certain points, even if they say they’re on board with the decision. You may also want to make notes on your storyboard as to when you might need to go “off script” if the conversation suddenly veers off course.
  • Balancing participation near and far. Those in the room with you are likely to dominate the conversation, simply because it’s easy to forget that others are on the call. Here are a few tips for keeping participation evenly balanced throughout your meeting: Put remote folks on notice that you will be inviting everyone to participate, even if you can’t see them, dissuading multitasking. Call on remote participants first. For every comment made in the room, seek out another perspective from someone outside of the room. If just a few people are remote, print and place photos of them prominently around the room. Make sure everyone has easy access to the visuals you’re using, and call out slide #s as you move along, just in case. If you observe visual cues in the room that convey important information, pause to describe them out loud, so everyone feels part of the meeting. (Examples: Jeff just got up and drew three circles as he spoke. Anita is rolling her eyes right now. Everyone around the table is beaming.)
  • Plan to wrap up on a high note. Allocate a reasonable amount of time to discuss your ideas and reach agreement, and then work backwards to determine how to best use the time up front. (You never want to reschedule another meeting because you miscalculated the time you needed for critical conversations!) Once you’ve reached resolution (assuming the best!), be ready to spell out what comes next, when, and who’s responsible. Having a checklist handy helps make sure you’ve covered important details. (Example: “Jerry will be posting meeting notes that reflect decisions we made today, related steps, and questions that need answering. I will notify the team about our decisions here today, and will relay any significant feedback or concerns to Cindy, cc’ing all of you. You will see my 30-day progress report on our project site, and I will send a pointer to you via email.”) And before you end the meeting, make sure to thank everyone for their time and their active participation. Say it with a smile!

In a virtual world, we have very little time to grab and keep the attention of those who we most need to reach. By creating a storyboard, you can map out how best to reach the hearts and minds of your audience, using both words and visuals for maximum impact. Prepare well and you’ll dramatically increase your chances of success!


Great tip sheet by Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts for creating a can’t-miss storyboard for your next virtual presentation

Sheryl’s book, Speaking Your Way to Success

Workshops from Guided Insights to help create the capacity of teams to thrive in the virtual world


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