Presentation Skills for Leaders

PERSUASIVE PRESENTATION SKILLS AND CRITICAL MESSAGING

Do Your Leaders Know How To Connect During Union Organizing? 

When a company faces a crisis of communication, like a union organizing drive, presentation skills of leaders can be crucial to the end result. This is true in small conversations as well as large “Town Hall” type settings, where leaders interact with, and take questions from, team members. Presentation skills are rarely innate---we all must learn them, and not in the moment, but well ahead of when they’re needed.

We have talked quite a bit about media training for leaders, but engaging with employees is the crucial element in every union organizing drive. Beyond simply controlling the narrative and managing public sentiment, the employee connections made (or lost) during an organizing drive can affect the company’s culture for years to come. 

Leaders at every level must be able to effectively communicate ideas with team members, not only to influence but also to inspire. This takes more than basic verbal skills and the ability to articulate an idea. Leading teams, organizations, or projects means learning presentation skills that connect with an audience. Understanding the Verbal, Vocal, Visual and Venue elements of commanding a room can be the difference between a successful outcome and an aftermath of expensive and time-consuming crisis management.

When it’s done right, an effective presentation can be more memorable than the content presented. Often, we struggle with great ideas and achievable goals when the person describing those objectives is unable to communicate with employees in a meaningful way that inspires and motivates.

How a leader presents information to employees may be the single most important factor in communicating authenticity, credibility, and trust. But what skills does a leader need to connect meaningfully with employees, no matter the size of the group?  

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Persuasive Presentation Skills Are Different

Scott Irgang, a former Director of Labor Relations and now, Senior Consultant with IRI Consultants, stresses the importance of persuasive presentation skills for leaders: “It’s not what you learned in debate club in high school. These skills are well-honed and developed skills that give leaders meaningful tools; to be able to walk into a room, connect with an audience and inspire them to help achieve the intended goal.” 

Persuasive presentation skills include four vital components - the four “V’s” of Persuasive Presentation:

  • Verbal - Understanding what words make messaging persuasive, informative and engaging

  • Vocal - Controlling tone, inflection, volume and pace to persuade and deliver with impact

  • Visual- Making full use of non-verbal cues and body language, including posture, gestures and attire. Visuals may also include staging (lighting and sound), props, and slides 
  • Venue- Recognizing the pathway to “Owning The Room,” including understanding the audience and taking advantage of the environment to maximum effect. 

If you’re tasking a leader with developing important messaging (such as during a union organizing drive), don’t fall into the “authority trap.” Leaders can easily be led to believe that due to their title and tenure, employees will not only be open to their messaging but hang on their every word and be effortlessly persuaded. Without proper training and constructive feedback, your leaders may never have the chance to fully realize the impact they can have on the organization. 

It is a leader’s responsibility to ensure that employees are appropriately informed about what is going on within the organization. If you’re a leader, your team members look to you not only for the facts but the vision that will lead them forward. Persuasive presentations mean careful construction of the words you’ll use, delivering those words with the emphasis and power they deserve, offering lasting visuals (including your own dress and body language), and commanding the room in a way that only a persuasive leader can. 

presentation skills for leaders

Persuasive Elements and Working The “X-Ray Of The Room” 

While many parts of a presentation are overt (the words uttered, slides projected and handouts distributed), there are important invisible variables of which every leader should be aware. These factors are easy to overlook but can make or break the presentation 

  • Accurately assessing employee mindset - before they walk into the room 
  • Impact of voluntary or mandatory attendance 
  • Structure of tables and chairs 
  • Use of a microphone 
  • Impact of speaker attire 
  • Slide presentation 
  • Food and/or beverages provided
  • Temperature 
  • Lighting  

Union Organizing Can Change the Meaning of “Persuasive” Presentations 

During a union organizing effort, it is vital that leaders at all levels not only understand the law and variables at play, but know how to deliver employee messaging in a credible, effective and persuasive manner. A great message delivered poorly by an unskilled or untrained speaker could lead to unintended consequences: misinterpretation, negative emotions, and a lack of employee confidence.  

When faced with union organizing efforts, companies often turn to a trusted leader rather than an outside presenter. Employees need to hear from leaders during what is often a difficult and emotionally-charged time. But these leaders must be able to communicate in a clear, approachable and effective manner. Merely reading sentences off of a page is not a successful or winning approach. In addition to being in full compliance with the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), information prepared by an in-house communications team must be based on real-world knowledge of what works in times of turmoil. This is where a professional communications consultant can support your organization with the verbal, vocal, visual and venue coaching needed to succeed.

Effective Presentation Skills For Leaders  

If you’re not confident that you (or your leaders) can effectively persuade team members, look to a professional communications consultant. A highly skilled communications consultant can help build skills like: 

  • Analyzing the audience
  • Understanding the way employees process information 
  • Determining the true goal of the messaging 
  • Crafting effective, interesting and resonant content 
  • Mastering the content (practice, practice, practice!)
  • Establishing a venue that will maximize message delivery 
  • Offering enhancements to tone, gestures and more
  • Educating leaders on eye contact and reading employee reactions


And perhaps MOST importantly

  • How to prepare for and respond to “Q&A” exchanges and hecklers.   

A leader who doesn’t quite know how to turn nervous energy into enthusiasm can be a liability when they are faced with difficult questions during a presentation. Presentation skills for leaders need to include the ability to visualize a positive outcome. With the help of a coach, a leader can better empathize with employees and provide information and answers that not only address the current situation but inspire employees to look toward the future.

Authentically Persuasive Presentation Skills 

Great presenters know how to lean into their authentic selves, and that’s often what resonates with employees. That doesn’t mean your leaders should wing it in volatile situations where employees may challenge them. Preparedness is key, and when leaders gain the presentation skills they need, they are able to be vulnerable without losing control. A leader can admit they don’t have all the answers while still instilling confidence in coming together to find those answers.

The time for your leaders to improve their presentation skills is now, before those skills are needed. Practice is key, as is their comfort in front of a group of employees.

If you don’t want to experience the Worst Presentation Ever, and if you have a need for leaders with authentically persuasive presentation skills, IRI’s team of communications consultants can provide them with the knowledge they need.

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About the Author Scott Irgang

Scott Irgang is Senior Consultant at IRI Consultants, with labor relations, positive employee relations, union interactions, arbitration, workplace investigations, collective bargaining, employee communications, culture, engagement, managerial training and change management.

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