I failed recently. Twice. On the same thing. First, I failed when presenting to the Executive level at my own Company. And then I failed, even worse, when I attempted to coach a 7-year-old girls’ soccer practice. The area where I failed was not recognizing (and tailoring the content delivery to) the Altitude of my audience.
For the first mistake, I neglected to upscale my content for an Executive, and, unsurprisingly, I fell flat on my face..and then dumped from the project (sort of). Other external factors contributed to this failure, many of which were not entirely in my control, but on the same day as that mistake – I wrote the post below. A month later, I was handed the honor of coaching soccer practice for eight amazing 7-year-olds, and I failed to recognize that these were 7-year-olds and they were not in the mood for anything that was not fun. I can only hope that little Ava will forgive me one day for attempting to up-level the game of “Sharks and Minnows.”
I hope to learn from my mistakes. And I hope you can too.
If you have been consulting for a while – you’ll know this one indelible fact. Altitude Matters.
What is Altitude?
Altitude is the level of Content you present based on the recipient’s level in the Organization. For example, do you present the same way to a System Administrator as an Executive? What about the level of Executive? Do you modify your talk track for an L2 vs. an L3 or L4? You should.
Altitude refers to the level of detail and complexity of the Content presented. Presenters need to consider the level of expertise of their audience and tailor their content accordingly. If the Content is too simple or too complex for the audience, it can lead to disengagement or confusion. Therefore, a presenter may need to adjust the Altitude of their Content by simplifying or elaborating on specific points to ensure their message is understood.
The Risks with a Misaligned Altitude (and What to Do About it)
If the Content is too straightforward, the audience may become bored and disengaged, and the message may not be memorable. On the other hand, if the Content is too complex, the audience may become overwhelmed and confused, and the message may not be retained. Sometimes, the audience is mixed, so the content must be mixed.
Therefore, presenters need to consider their audience’s level of expertise, prior knowledge, and Executive level and tailor their content accordingly. In addition, presenters should balance providing enough detail to be informative and engaging while not overwhelming the audience with too much information.
Unfortunately, the best way to ensure the Altitude is correct is to be prepared to fail. In reality, the above recommendations are a great starting point – but you’ll run into L2 Executives who want the detail and don’t want to feel like they are being sold. And you’ll run into lower-level audiences not thinking about your project, so you need to elevate the Content to ensure they see the value in getting on board.
After each failure, pick yourself up and hone in on the learnings. Read more about that here.
Was the Altitude too low? Too high? Did it drag? Was the story too complex? Too redundant? What was the feedback of the recipients? Did it appear inclusive or exclusive? Did it contain too much data? Too little data? (Keep asking yourself these questions as a presenter – and you’ll learn the nuances of your audience quickly).
Lastly, remember that the presentation is only one part of the Altitude considerations. How you dress, speak, pause, adlib, and present yourself are all part of the Altitude stew when meeting the needs of a correctly tailored Attitude-appropriate presentation.
Note: I am currently taking IDEO’s Designing Strategy course to kick myself in the pants and improve my awareness and agility in delivering presentations with the appropriate Altitude.
On April 26, the day after this post, the Milwaukee Bucks lost the final game and the chance to advance to the NBA (National Basketball Association) playoffs of the NBA. Their start player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, had this to say about ‘failure’ when asked about losing the game:
“It’s not a failure; it’s steps to success,” he said. “There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played 15 years, won six championships. The other nine years was a failure? That’s what you’re telling me?
“It’s a wrong question; there’s no failure in sports.”
Or [fill in the blank].
You can see failure in anything – that is just laziness. The hard work is what Giannis chose to do when responding to the question. He chose to reject the idea of others’ definitions of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ for him. It’s something to think about the next time you hit a bump (or even better – before you hit that bump).
References and Resources
- Altitude matters in presentations, which refers to tailoring the content’s level of detail and complexity based on the audience’s level in the organization.
- Failure to recognize the altitude can lead to disengagement or confusion, or both.
- Presenters should consider their audience’s expertise and adjust the content accordingly.
- Altitude Balance is key – if the content is too straightforward, the audience may become bored, while if it is too complex, they may become overwhelmed.
- Failure, which happens, is a learning opportunity to refine the altitude – Consider factors like feedback, inclusivity, and amount of data when reviewing your areas for improvement.
- Failure should be seen as steps to success and not solely defined by others.