Yesterday, in my office we had a session on how to make effective presentations or an engagement. Although we did discuss the “PowerPoint”, the idea was to go beyond – i.e. how do we plan our communique in view of the target audience while meeting the objectives.
Generally, in most of our engagements, we use PowerPoint slides. But showing slides should not be the only tool and in some situations, we may not use slides at all!
We may like to speak more than (or “other than”) what is on the slides, tell stories and ask questions to make the engagement more interactive. We may play an interesting video to discuss and, in some occasions, play a game or use an activity.
But despite all careful planning, you must be ready to deal with surprises as well. Here is my story.
I was asked to speak to staff of a large textile processing house in the outskirts of Dhaka in Bangladesh. The topic was Cleaner Production. I was told that the top management and heads of different departments will be attending. I prepared a set of 20 PowerPoint slides with case studies on textile industries who benefited from Cleaner Production. My case studies included stories from Bangladesh.
When I reached the process house, I was taken to a conference room with a projector. There were 20 middle to senior level management people. As I started speaking and put up my first slide, the power went off.
The room became pitch dark. There was no ventilation. A few minutes passed by. I thought the situation wont last long and the back up power will take over.
Unfortunately, there was some major snag. Phone calls happened on the mobile. Windows to the room were opened. The Managing Director (MD) said “Sorry Dr Modak, the power supply will be interrupted for at least 2 hours and we have been advised not to use the backup power for reasons unknown”
We stepped out of the room.
“Dr Modak, would you mind addressing us on the shop floor of the dyeing and printing department? We can put some chairs there. The big advantage is that the audience will also have the shop floor workers and I am sure your message on Cleaner Production will interest them and benefit all of us” The MD said.
I realized that this was rather a tough proposition, but it was made in all earnestness. I was feeling rather “powerless” however and I was not comfortable in the absence of my well-made PowerPoint slides.
But there wasn’t much time to think.
I was taken to the shop floor of the Dyeing and Printing department. There were 20 seniors sitting on the chairs and another 50 workers standing behind. There was a blackboard with few white chalks placed at the Centre.
The MD introduced me to this audience (that I was not prepared to address!) and said “Dr Modak, it will be nice if you delivered your talk in Hindi (preferably in Bollywood Hindi) so that my workers will understand what you will speak”
Wow, I realized that this presentation was going to be even more challenging. I did not know what to say! I wished I was Amitabh Bachhan.
I realized that I had to stay simple and direct – and not use any jargon. But that is easier said than done.
I saw on an industrial balance on the table top with weights stacked next. I walked towards the balance. Everybody was watching.
I asked the name of the worker standing close to the balance in Hindi. He said “I am Mohamed”
I said “Mohamed, do you use this balance to prepare the recipe for every batch on your jet dyeing machines?”
Alright then, I said looking at everybody
“Let us check out how good is this balance”
I asked Mohmed to place a 5 kg weight on the right pan of the balance. I told another worker to put 3 of 1 kg weights and one 2kg weight in the left pan telling all that we should see both the pans in “balance”
Everybody was watching – few curious and few tensed – even the MD
La Ho!. The pans were simply out of balance! This was shocking. The left pan required another half kg weight to strike the balance.
I was half expecting this result
I asked everybody “How many times do you use this balance in the 3 shifts? And each time you use, your recipe is not going to right. What does this mean to the production you do?”
This was like opening the Pandora’s box. Many started speaking.
A supervisor said, “no wonder, we have to re-dye the fabric or sometimes strip or bleach as the depth of shade does not match with the requirements”.
Few workers said that they adjust the pressure and run times of the jet dyeing machines in many occasions. It’s a bit of trial and error exercise they said.
The procurement head said that he always found the salt consumption on a higher side compared to the calculations based on recipe
I said “sure, all this must be leading to higher costs of dyeing, reducing your productivity as well as profits”
The conversations got even further animated as we started talking about costs, profits and productivity. Everybody “exploded” in Bangla and MD had to butt in and translate for me.
The can of Cleaner Production thus opened. I started with the importance of housekeeping, maintenance and rationalization – walked around the shop floor asking everyone to make suggestions to improve and write them on the blackboard with a white chalk.
We spent a good one hour and generated lots of observations/gaps and action points.
The next thing I did was to translate the benefits in environmental terms like chemicals saved, water consumption reduced, reduced wastewater load, energy recovered etc.
The senior management present on the shop floor added the necessary technical flavor by quoting numbers.
When MD accompanied me to the hotel, he apologized profusely about the inconvenience caused by the sudden power interruption. “But I want to tell you that “all” were happy with your session and understood the concept of Cleaner Production” He said.
I thought I should be the one to thank him as I realized that this extraordinary situation helped me to innovate and build my communication skills – right on the spot.
And the experience was unforgettable
Cover image sourced from https://silverfit.co.za/what-is-balance/
If you like this Post then Follow me by clicking button on top right or forward across to your colleagues.
Do share your own stories of communication on this blog