For the past year, I’ve been traveling around the country delivering a soft skills course to the field office supervisors of a federal agency. The course includes a module on oral presentation skills, and my co-facilitator and I have but one objective during this module: to get the participants to take their stuffy, boring presentations and spice them up a bit. My co-facilitator created an acronym to list tools for livening up your presentation and holding the audience’s attention: IVEE, which stands for involvement, variety, examples and enthusiasm. We present and demonstrate the acronym and then we give them a dry topic to present and ask them to get up in front of the class and hold our attention.
Class after class, they get up and deliver a boring presentation. The higher they are in the chain of command, the dryer and more serious their presentation is. When we try to persuade them that their big bosses will actually appreciate a livelier style, they appeal to the concept of audience analysis and tell us their superiors will not take them seriously if they tell stories or use metaphors or try to be funny.
We had just about given up when we went to the DC area last month to deliver the course to a group of newer, lower-level supervisors at headquarters. Many of the folks in this class were brand new to supervision, or perhaps not even supervisors yet but preparing themselves for the transition. During the presentation skills module they got up and delivered the most interactive, creative, enthusiastic presentations we had ever seen! We were floored. They told stories, role-played skits, used visual images to help us remember key messages, and generally made us laugh. One participant dressed up as the “email monster” and roamed the room tossing pieces of paper at people, screaming “ping! ping! ping!”
Perhaps we should have expected it. Children are truly creative until their parents and society and the school system socialize them and thrash every bit of creativity out of their little brains. Why should new supervisors entering the corporate world be any different, especially in the federal government?