10 mistakes managers need to avoid when staff are presenting to them

A previous article I wrote called ‘7 mistakes to avoid when presenting to senior management’ attracted an enormous amount of interest with over 29,000 views.

Whilst I’m delighted with the response it came as no real surprise to me, purely in light of the fact that it’s by far the greatest cause of anxiety professionals tell us they face every day in our presentation training workshops. I’m hopeful that the article went some way to helping many professionals in offering the guidance, advice and support needed to relieve much of that unease.

Presenting isn’t a ‘one way street’ of course as there are always two parties involved; the presenter and the audience. With that in mind it feels inappropriate to rest the entire challenge of presenting on the shoulders of the speaker when their managers are involved; they have to share some of the responsibility as well.

Personally, I would seriously question any professional who tells you that they don’t feel some level of nervousness when they are presenting to management because experience suggests to me that Mark Twain was probably right when he said:“There are two types of speakers: Those who get nervous and those who are liars.”

Having operated at the highest management level for many years I believe that management have a significant role to play in greatly reducing the angst their people feel when presenting to them. A highly effective way of doing so is to become mindful of the common mistakes so many managers make when their staff are presenting to them; I’m ashamed to say that even though it was a very long time ago I made many of these mistakes myself.

Thankfully, I learned my lesson and can now share them with you in the hope that you will too.

Mistake 1 – They can read my mind!

Despite what you may have seen on television when you were a child and possibly grew up thinking to be true, it isn’t; no one can actually read your mind and know what it is you are thinking.

That means that having spent several days preparing to present to you accompanied by just as many sleepless nights worrying about it, when it suddenly dawns on you that what they are presenting isn’t actually what you,their manager wanted, guess whose fault it is?

That’s right, it’s yours.

Why would you allow a fellow human being and colleague to suffer the pain and indignity of trying to second guess exactly what it is you want from them in the presentation you’ve made such a big deal about, when you haven’t actually told them what you want?

It’s not only a mistake; it is unfair, cruel and mindless.

Tell them in advance exactly what you want and expect from them, why you want it and why it’s so important that they can’t just send you and email.

Mistake 2 – They have 20 minutes so they must fill it

At Mindful Presenter we hold the belief that most business presentations are far too long.

Just because you have 20 minutes available, don’t expect them to speak for that long. We teach people to present their entire message with absolute clarity, confidence and impact in just 90 seconds; so don’t make them pad out a whole presentation just to accommodate your schedule. By all means give them the luxury of 20 minutes but don’t make the mistake of expecting or making them create something that could be shared in a fraction of the time just to fit into your day.

Mistake 3 – Let them finish

I’ve long held the personal belief that most people don’t really listen too well. In my view they do something entirely different; they wait to speak.

Often, the worst culprits who are desperately waiting to speak are management. Remember, the person presenting to you has spent an exhaustive amount of time, energy and effort crafting a presentation designed to tell you everything you need to know. Why would you interrupt them every 90 seconds to ask them to tell you what they are just about to tell you.

Have a little patience and let them finish.

Mistake 4 – Look how important I am

There is nothing more intimidating than your manager sitting with his or her hands clasped behind his or her head rocking and swivelling in their executive chair whilst you are presenting to them.

It’s a mistake and it’s rude.

Make them feel comfortable, be attentive, make eye contact, smile and sit up straight.

Mistake 5 – Suddenly you are the expert

You select, recruit and pay someone to do a specific job because you believe they have a level of expertise and value to you and then the moment they open their mouth to share their ideas, you become the expert.

You don’t have to believe, accept or even trust everything they say but at least remember that you employed them for a reason, one of which was that they may know more than you do on a topic.

Mistake 6 – Be who I want you to be, not who you really are

This one causes me a great deal of personal angst.

I want you to present and speak to me in exactly the same way that I would present and speak to others; in other words, you need to be just like me.

That’s a big mistake and the route to not only totally destroying any prospect of authenticity but cloning people to be just like you. The highly effective managers and leaders encourage, empower and inspire people to be nothing other than their real selves and to speak to them in the same way they would a member of their own family.

Mistake 7 – Impress me

I’m the boss remember, and as much as I care about the business because that’s what I’m paid for, what is far more important is my ego. Therefore your sole job is to impress me.

Mistakes don’t get much bigger than that.

Mistake 8 – Know everything

One of the most troubling issues we hear every week in our presentation skills workshops is ‘my manager expects me to know everything, there is no scope to say, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that.’

Like so many of these mistakes we have referred to so far we don’t believe they are issues relating to presentation skills, we believe they are leadership issues. No one can know everything and we need to give people the permission and respect they deserve to be quite comfortable saying “I’m sorry I don’t know the answer to that, but I will find out”.

Mistake 9 – Don’t challenge me

Being the boss certainly doesn’t mean you have the monopoly on all of the ideas and answers in the business. When some brave soul occasionally stands up to challenge your thinking or way of doing things we owe it to them to listen carefully.

In fact, it’s something managers should actively encourage and support.

Mistake 10 – Being professional means you have to be deadly serious

Unless you are making people redundant or informing them of the death of a colleague, I can’t think of many other things you have to be so deadly serious about.

Far too many business presenters take their topic so seriously that it impedes the impact they wish to have.

Sometimes we just have to lighten up and relax a little, regardless of the topic.

Presenting to your boss or indeed anyone in a more senior position to you, isn’t an easy thing to do and ironically many managers judge the quality of their staff’s presentation skills when it’s something they are not very good at themselves.

You can make the mistakes so many managers continue to do as you perform your role to find out for yourself, or you can learn from these.

For read more great tips from Maurice De Castro, check out his free guide on how to be a brilliant presenter. Download the free eBook: 20 Habits of Truly Brilliant Presenters.

20 habits of truly brilliant presenters

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About the author

Maurice De Castro is a former corporate executive of some of the UK’s best loved brands. Maurice believes that the route to success in any organisation lies squarely in its ability to really connect with people. That’s why he left the boardroom to create a business helping leaders to do exactly that. Learn more at www.mindfulpresenter.com More blog posts by Maurice DeCastro ››
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  • Andrew D

    I’m not management but I do present to our management and our clients’ management occasionally and I found this really insightful – it’s good to get a glimpse of how the other half lives. I’m lucky to have friendly management where I work, and have a good relationship with them, but some of our clients are certainly guilty of some of the things on this list. Forewarned is forearmed, after all!


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