Don’t be a Charlie Brown grown-up

A Charlie Brown grown-up boring Peppermint Patty with "wah wah wah" talk.

Do you ever get to the end of a presentation or meeting and wonder why you were there? It’s like the Charlie Brown scenes where the grown-ups’ talk is all garbled, “Wah wah wah wah wah.”

It doesn’t matter if it is three minutes or 30 minutes, you get to the end and you’re not clear what point the presenter was trying to make. Was I supposed to learn something? Do I need to change the way I’m doing something?

During this COVID-19 crisis, people are spending hours – even lots of hours per day – on Zoom, WebEx, and Teams. Is that time well spent? Let’s take a few minutes to improve our communication.

Do you really need a meeting?

Before you schedule your meeting, think about your end goal. Are you trying to inform, persuade, or entertain? At the conclusion of the 15, 30, or 60 minutes, what needs to happen? What will be different in the lives of your audience?

For example, your organization is starting to re-open and is considering safety protocols. Let’s say you’re the one coordinating the effort. You’ve read the guidelines from the county and you need to get your team together. OK, good start, now let’s get some more clarity.

Does your team need education? Does your team need to feel comfortable with the new procedures? Do you need to troubleshoot the procedures for your particular space? These are different questions.

If most of what your team needs is information, then perhaps they should read something or watch a video ahead of time. Allowing them to do this pre-work will cut down on the time you need for the meeting itself. Providing them with a way to show they have learned the new procedures could mean you don’t need a meeting at all – or the meeting could be for answering questions about gray areas or tricky situations.

On the other hand, the meeting could be a problem-solving session where you want to want to generate ideas. You’re not sure you’ve thought of all the tricky situations and you want some input. You want the team to come up with some alternatives in case Plan A doesn’t go smoothly.

Know Where You Are Going

In either scenario, it’s good to know in advance what the purpose of the meeting or presentation is. For a meeting, a written agenda helps the presenter get clear on what needs to happen and it gives the audience reassurance that there is a plan. Another tactic is to include suggested time frames for each section. This will cut down on people going off on tangents and freewheeling conversation.

Yet even if you are only speaking for three minutes, you should still know your purpose and it should be specific. Do you need to explain your support or opposition to a proposal? Do you need to lay out a case for change? Do you need to make an ask?

Keep going back to the question – what specifically do you need your audience to know or do differently as a result of you spending this time with them?

It’s so easy to speak in generalities, to ramble, and to beat around the bush. It’s another form of Charlie Brown grown-up “wah wah wah.” However, this is not effective communication. People appreciate purposeful communication and respond positively when we take the time to do it.


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