The Roll of Toilet Paper in presenting a strong message

U of M Seminar Developer FacilitatorWhat do a roll of toilet paper and great presenting skills have in common? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps more than you think. On Thursday, September 4th, Sam Smith, Vice President of the Prouty Project led a few dozen MNODN members in a communications seminar that challenged the audience to stretch their limits and take the next step or two toward better communication. In the end, he successfully created an environment where exploration, learning and courage were inspired and cultivated.

So what does that have to do with toilet paper? We’ll get there. Have faith.

Successfully presenting and communicating a message has everything to do with having a strong, two-pronged presentation objective. The message is defined by what the speaker wants to accomplish. The second prong of the arrow is the action the target audience should take after receiving the message. In the end, every skill, every technique, every story, should be guided by the message and the action.

A simple, but effective group lesson directed by Smith was used to illustrate his message. For the exercise, Smith asked the audience to come up with a topic, simple or silly. One group brainstormed ideas on alternate uses for toilet paper. Uncensored ideas were put on Post-it notes. The notes were grouped into three categories and the categories were named. If the Post-it messages didn’t fit a category they were tossed.

In the end, the point about toilet paper was this: The message simply was to discuss alternate ways of using toilet paper. The action was for the participants to come up with new toilet paper marketing strategies. Believe it or not toilet paper might be used as a packing material, cushion in shoes, toy for a cat or gerbil (the tube), and a safe object for throwing at friends or enemies or camouflage if printed with the right pattern.

Lessons learned: Dump it. Sort it. Name it. Put all the information out there. Put it into categories (practical uses for toilet paper, fun uses for toilet paper, physical appearance of toilet paper). If it doesn’t fit into one of three categories, discard it. If it doesn’t help support the message or the action, don’t use it.

New skills are only good if they’re transferable. Smith says skills and techniques that are effective in speaking are also useful in other areas of organizational development (OD) and organizational change (OC). Engaging the audience is useful in speaking, facilitating and coaching. Understanding the audience applies to all three areas. Using stories or humor to illustrate a point can be effective in speaking, facilitating and coaching. Challenge, encourage and listen-to the audience regardless of group size or rank of participants or purpose of presentation.

Above all be organized, prepared, practiced and ready to try new techniques. A story, joke or group project that doesn’t work in one situation might very well work in another environment. If something works, use it again. If it doesn’t work, try it one or two more times before discarding it. Finally use a clearly defined presentation objective with both a message and action to direct the presentation