5 Team Presentation Tips: Lessons from Senator Kamala Harris’ Public Scolding

Have you ever been distracted by someone giggling or picking their nose during a team presentation? It happens. Team presentations can be dynamic – or they can backfire. This week we saw a great example of things backfiring when a group of US Senators held a team press conference about the impeachment trial of President Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was speaking when he became distracted by giggling and chatter going on behind him. Senator Kamala Harris was joking around with Senator Sherrod Brown and also touching his lapel for some reason.

Senator Kamala Harris joking around with Senator Sherrod Brown while Senate Minority Leader leads a team press conference. Source: The Sun Newspaper

Cameras were rolling as Schumer turned to harshly shush Harris. He was obviously upset, and one British newspaper called it, “The Ire of Chucky”. The rebuked Senator Harris tensed up and made a mocking face like a scolded child corrected by a parent. Awkward. It was like a bucket of cold water had been thrown on the group and the press conference.

House Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was not amused by Senator Kamala Harris’ distraction during their team presentation. Source: AFP or licensors

Team Presentation Challenges

A team presentation requires several things to succeed and the first is a heightened awareness by all team members. Each person must be acutely aware that everything he or she does will communicate something to the audience. The audience will take in every verbal and nonverbal cue made by each person on the team. Collectively, all of those communication cues will impact how the audience receives or rejects the team’s message. 

Senator Kamala Harris’ nonverbal reaction to being scolded by Senator Chuck Schumer.

The High Cost of Distractions

As we coach Fortune 500 teams and others, we have seen everything that can go right and wrong during team presentations. We have had to tell people not to pick their noses during team presentations. We have coached them not to pick, yawn, scratch, doodle, check phones or go to sleep while their teammates are speaking. One of our favorite sayings is, “Energy flows where attention goes.” Someone can deliver a great message, but if one of their teammates is giggling or doing something else distracting, all of the attention leaves the speaker and goes to that person.

“Energy flows where attention goes.”

Team presentations and press conferences play an important role in all organizations. So, the next time you are planning or participating in a team presentation, use the following guidelines (below) to ensure your success.

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1. Ensure a Heightened Awareness – All team members must be reminded to be fully engaged – especially when they are not speaking! They should honor the speaker at all times. When they give the speaker their full attention, they are sending the audience a message that the speaker is worthy of their attention, too. Put the cell phones away, put the pens down and direct your attention toward the team member who is speaking.

2. Use a Central Core Message – The goal of a team presentation is to influence the audience’s thinking or actions. Therefore, each team member’s talking points, visuals and stories should support the team’s core message. When we coach groups to deliver team presentations or help with message development for presentations, we drive home the importance of this point. Each team presenter should continually drive home the group’s core message. We sometimes bring in an audience to listen when we conduct team presentations training or media training. The litmus test is this: can the audience quickly identify the core message and supporting messages? If not, then adjustments must be made.

“The litmus test is: can the audience quickly identify your core message and supporting messages?”

3. Follow a High-Level Storyline – A team presentation is one story delivered by several people. We help teams create compelling storylines and storyboards by identifying problems, dilemmas, mysteries to be solved, obstacles to overcome, etc. These types of elements are essential to the tension needed in a good storyline. Each team member then has to create a storyline within the bigger storyline. 

4. Use Engagement Strategies – You most likely know that attention spans are down to almost nothing for many people today. This is why we encourage our clients to think of presentations like a music score. You must continually build in low and high points to keep your audience interested. The high points should be spaced out just enough to keep your audience hooked. You must engage your audience’s memory and keep them tuned in and waiting for more. You should use a range of engagement tools: visuals, props, soundbites, statistics, infographics and more. Our team has identified dozens of engagement tools to keep people tuned in.

“Think of presentations like a music score. You must continually build in low and high points to keep your audience interested.”

5. Remember Passion Sells! – A successful team presentation must take all of these elements into account to influence an audience. However, it is important to remember that the ultimate key to influencing an audience is your own buy-in and passion for your message. An audience reads your buy-in or lack of buy-in in the first thirty seconds of your presentation. This means that every team member must be sold on your message! If they are not, then they should resolve this before joining the presentation. You are only as strong as your weakest link!

Key Takeaways

Once you have all of these elements in place, you should conduct as many dry runs as possible. A dry run allows you to iron out the kinks and identify any gaps in your storyline, messages and delivery skills. We also highly recommend videotaping your practice sessions, so you can evaluate the strength of your messages and nonverbal delivery as a team. It is also a good idea to throw in some distractions so all of your team members can practice their reactions. All of the Senators at Chuck Schumer’s press conference could have benefited from these reminders! But they provide a colorful case study to remind the rest of us what not to do!

Gail enjoys all things outdoors. She lives on a Texas ranch with her family, horses, chickens, dogs, cats and other critters. She loves learning new things and sharing them with clients across the nation and elsewhere. Benchmark Communications enjoys supporting local animal shelters, Habitat for Humanity and SIRE, a horse-riding therapy program for kids and adults.