“Corporate Energy. How to engage and inspire audiences” Chris Atkinson; New Leadership Press, 2016
The premise of this book is that the role of leaders is to inspire those around them, engage employees and raise levels of consciousness beyond simply turning up to work. I believe it achieves this: it is a graphic, technical and – at times – challenging body of work, but one which also maintains interest through humour, a good choice of anecdotes and some self-deprecation (this last topic is a kind of theme throughout).
The author focusses on effective, interesting and motivating presentations and meetings as a powerful way to achieve inspiration and engagement. And this, perhaps, is the book’s challenge: speak to most people in a managerial / leader role and they will almost-always claim to be proficient in presenting and meetings-management … or, put another way: it is not foremost in their list of personal-development needs. But many of you will know different, right? We've all attended the crushingly-tedious corporate presentations; the mind-numbing team meetings.
Everyone can learn from this book, believe me!
The reader is struck early on with a very obvious message: this tome is really easy to read! This is because it is well laid out, makes great use of space and graphics and maintains variety in delivery that holds attention. Hang on: doesn’t that sound just like a really good presentation?!
Atkinson, from a very early point, makes clear his views on Powerpoint-dominated approaches: in his view, they stink! And he probably talks for most of us in holding that view. And the attack on our favourite Microsoft package continues throughout the book; not because it does not have its uses, but because it is so often misused.
The clear early message of the book is that the audience is The Most Important Consideration. All attempts at messaging - and, in particular, presentations - therefore need to start with audience needs, likely audience benefits and outcomes; and end with a clear call to action. From this starting point, the most effective communications strategies can be developed to achieve the required outcomes.
The author provides some excellent detail about room layouts, managing stress, relative attention levels, body language and posture and – again – the use and abuse of technology. And that's just the first two chapters. The messages are helpful for both the budding presenter and the seasoned practitioner: they serve to remind us about audience-centricity and the need to put yourself in the shoes of attendees to your meeting or presentation. How we appear to attendees is as least as important to the message as what we say in the content.
Chapter 3 introduces the link between good presentation and employee engagement and the author uses the Utrecht University definition of engagement – encompassing energy and vigour, dedication and absorption – as the basis for explaining primacy and recency, intelligence theory and storytelling. I'm not sure whether this chapter really belongs in this book: I understand the link between presentation and facilitation and engagement, but this is a practical and action-orientated ‘how-to’ guide and – in my view – doesn’t need to justify its approach in the context of engagement.
A useful section follows, explaining and reinforcing the tools, techniques and potency of effective facilitation, drawing distinctions with the role of presenter. This is followed by a discussion about inspiration. We may not all think that we ourselves are particularly inspiring (or maybe we do …), but Atkinson provides some useful pointers about the topic and I certainly valued the definition of inspiration he shares which includes the sense fear (along with empathy and desire). He also touches on storytelling as an effective way to develop authenticity and audience empathy.
Throughout the book, there are links to the important framework afforded by purpose, vision, values and the art and benefits of effective questioning. These are all touchstones of the development of corporate sense-making and therefore the link to presentations and facilitation emphasises the importance of being able to make the messages and themes of corporate sense-making interesting, relevant and inspiring to colleagues.
As someone somewhat ‘long in the tooth’ and who has done countless presentations, meetings and facilitation events, I found this to be an immensely helpful book: it reminded me of the things I know I should be doing more of, as well as the things I know I shouldn't be doing at all!
In summary, this is a superb reference book and should really be a well-thumbed standard on the shelf of every team leader and manager, or anyone else who regularly presents or facilitates. Where it slightly disappoints is in its effort to be both about presentation as a method for raising engagement levels and about engagement itself. In my view, this book cries out to be twinned with a good book on engagement and discretionary effort.
Reviewer rating: 4 out of 5