Maranda Gibson just wrote a fun article on the AccuConference Blog. It’s called “How Not to Be a Jerk on Collaborative Projects.” I hope she won’t mind if I quote a few sentences:
Words like me, my, and I are possessive and indicate sole ownership. Instead, you should try using phrases like our team and other words to establish shared ownership for an idea. If everyone came up with it, it’s not your idea and you shouldn’t use the possessive.
Maranda is talking about presenting the results of a group project to a superior or to an audience. She is right… Nobody is going to appreciate you taking all the credit for work they contributed to. But now let me tell you when this advice will get you into trouble.
If you are presenting an informational or educational webinar on a particular topic as the designated expert, you need to take personal responsibility for your statements. Audiences get fidgety when they hear a speaker constantly using plural pronouns without establishing who they refer to.
I hear politicians do this all the time… “We plan to go down to Memphis tomorrow and announce our decision to run for office.” Just how many of them are running?
If you are the acknowledged focal point for the action, take it on yourself. Yes, those politicians have a large staff and several advisors, and they truly feel like it’s a group action and decision. But the voter in the audience doesn’t know or care about those other people… S/he thinks of the candidate as the one person taking the actions. By incorporating the polite inclusion of the unseen group, the politician has created cognitive dissonance in the listener’s mind. One candidate is talking as if he is multiple people. It feels wrong.
When you play the subject matter expert in an informational webinar, you need to present in the first person singular. Don’t be afraid to say “I.” It helps to make your interaction more personal and direct. It establishes a rapport and a one-to-one relationship with your remote listener. It also comes across as more believable. Consider these two versions of an introductory sentence:
- “Welcome to our webinar on behalf of Zvrbxpl Corporation. We wanted to share some tips with you on things we have found useful when working on new project installations.”
- “Hi, my name is Ken. I would like to share some tips with you on things I have found useful when working on new project installations.”
The first is probably more technically truthful. You are going to share the combined knowledge gained from many different employees working on many different projects. But it lacks the persuasive power of the second sentence. Your listeners don’t really believe that the corporation “wanted to share” anything. A corporation is a faceless, soulless entity.
The second introduction makes the talk personal. A listener can convince herself that you personally are eager to share your knowledge. You represent an individual viewpoint that complements her own individual perspective.
This is the flip side of using the singular form of address for your audience. Just as it is important to make them feel that you are speaking directly to them as individuals, you need to reassure them that you believe and take responsibility for your statements as an individual. Once you position your talk as “this is between you and me,” you benefit from increased attention and responsiveness.
Positioning the information as coming directly from you can easily violate Maranda’s advice. I’m not talking about presenting work results to your mutual superiors. You need to make sure that your team understands the difference between acknowledging their contributions internally and being persuasive and effective in presenting the subject points to an external audience. Certainly, share the credit inside the company… Make sure your bosses know who was involved. But when it comes time to focus on the informational content itself, be the sole keeper of the flame. It will focus your audience and make you a more compelling presenter.