I recently had the privilege of working with Polar Bears International (PBI), an organization devoted to studying and conserving polar bears. Due to global warming, polar bears are losing their habitat. Why? Sea ice, which bears depend upon, has been declining dramatically as the Arctic heats up — at about twice the rate of lower latitudes!
Ice has been forming later in the fall than it used to, and winter ice has become thinner and breaks up earlier and more easily than in the past. Because of this, researchers say, the bears can’t effectively get to and capture seals (their main food source) when they need to.
The bears can't adapt to these changes as rapidly as they're taking place. Sadly, the cubs are suffering the most, as their survival rate continues to decline. In one area of Alaska, the Beaufort Sea, the population has declined 40% in just the past 10 years.
What does communication training have to do with polar bears?
Scientists, researchers, and staffers at PBI frequently present to a broad range of audiences — including other scientists, government agencies, and the public.
Their communication challenges are the same as any other presenter: to present complex information and data in ways anyone can understand, and to suggest ideas and solutions that others will buy into and adopt.
Because the situation is so dire for the bears, and time is of the essence as the earth warms, it's critical that the folks at PBI be successful in their efforts to convince others to take action.
So, they asked me to help them learn how to present information in more persuasive and engaging ways.
Of the presentation challenges scientists and staffers at Polar Bears International face, three stood out. Because most presenters will identify with them, I thought I'd focus today's blog on how to overcome these three challenges.
1. Too Much Information
People typically don’t have time to discuss every little bit of information they have on a topic — especially one they're passionate about. But, because they fear leaving it out will hurt their audience’s understanding of the topic, they try to cram everything in. This will backfire on you every single time.
What can you do about it?
First, try to distinguish between “nice-to-know” and “must-know” information. Ask a colleague for their feedback if you're too close to the topic to be objective. Then, you can always make "nice-to-know" information available to the audience after the presentation, and let them know that during the presentation.
2. Complicated Data
Technical and scientific data is very often complicated and can only be fully understood by those with the relevant background and training.
Communication roadblocks occur when people try to present this complicated data to audiences who may not have the necessary background but must, nonetheless, be able to grasp the ideas illuminated by the data.
How can you effectively present complicated data to lay audiences?
Use very clear and simple graphics to help your viewers see the relationship of the data to the message or point you're trying to convey. Also, use analogies (or any mental models that work) where they would be helpful to explain complicated information in a way your audience can relate to.
3. Need to Influence and Make Change Happen
As a presenter, you may need to influence others in a very subtle manner (e.g., consider this information as you plan for next year) or in a more direct way (e.g., I need your buy-in on the funding for this project by the end of business today).
Regardless of where your need to influence falls on the continuum, study after study has shown that stating your “ask” up front, in the first few minutes of the presentation, increases your chances of getting it done.
Giving back is important to us. It was an honor for Mandel to be able to help PBI become more effective in the important work they do. Every year, we're privileged to be able to contribute our services to organizations around the world doing great work to make life better for humans and our animal friends.
In 2015, we were lucky to be able to give back to organizations advocating for wildlife conservation, our veterans, and our local communities. We do it because it's good corporate citizenship — and it also makes us feel good!
If you want to feel good too, I highly recommend it. And, as it turns out, contributing your organization's talents and services to organizations in need could benefit your bottom line. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, "There is a direct link between empathy and commercial success." Check it out.
I want to thank you for reading this. Thank you for considering the plight of the polar bear. I hope 2016 is a better year for them and a more peaceful and joyful one for us all.
If you're interested in finding out more about the threats to Polar Bears please go to the Polar Bears International website: http://www.polarbearsinternational.org/
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