Presenting to win

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Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

In a profile about House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), one detail was seized upon by a variety of media outlets, for good reason.

It's a story about how McCarthy, a former speaker at the American Health Care Association, noticed President Donald Trump had Starbursts for dessert, but he picked out and ate only the cherry and strawberry ones. A staffer confirmed those were the president's favorites.

McCarthy then bought a bunch of Starbursts and directed his staff to pick out the two flavors, and then delivered them to the president with his name on the side of the package.

The Post described McCarthy as being known for “relentless cultivation of political alliances.” I'd argue you can also see it as smart business.

Putting aside both how much the Starbursts anecdote reminds me of bribes for a 6-year-old child and also some ongoing concern about the president's food habits, I found myself thinking, “I'd probably do the same thing as McCarthy if I needed something.” Later, the story points out how McCarthy was able to hammer home the point of the mid-term elections in a presentation to the president that focused on charts and pictures rather than words.

“According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy's use of pictures and charts rather than a memo,” The Post reported. “It was a basic and ‘foundational' presentation that explained midterm politics to Trump, in the words of one senior White House official.”

Don't get me wrong, I'd far prefer a president, no matter what his political leanings, who spent time reading and learning about policy via expertly crafted memos, rather than watching Fox and Friends and tweeting. But I still think McCarthy, currently one of the president's favorites, shows us the difference between what you want and what you need to do to survive.

Let's take our hospital partnerships. We spend a lot of time in long-term care discussing the need to present hospital partners with data, specifically around quality scores and discharges. As referral networks shrink and skilled nursing facilities battle to keep up their census, there's a huge amount of pressure to show that medical providers should trust you and your nursing home.

But that depends on communicating with hospital executives and other partners who are willing to not only listen to you, but to read your policy brief and comprehend your data. It depends on a taxonomy where you, competent and smart nursing home administrator, work with a stellar team to present your best case to hospital counterparts. Ideally, they are as equally on the ball as you are, logic and intelligence prevail, and the best facilities survive.

Right. That scenario depends on seeing the business of healthcare as a meritocracy, where people are promoted because they worked hard rather than because of their connections, confidence or general appeal to consumers.

All of us in business fall victim to the idea that if we have the best idea, or actual facts, that we'll win the argument or be heard.

Sometimes the ability to win over people depends on, for lack of a better term, ingratiation. When it comes to presenting, as Richard Goring wrote in “How to Create Visual Presentations,” the first step is not only knowing who the audience is, but whether you are informing them or persuading them. When looking at basic design elements, we sometimes fall into the trap of focus on the basics — limiting crazy fonts and colors — at the expense of learning how to create interesting visuals. This can range from pie charts to icons to animation, or even video.

I don't disagree with some who find all of this depressing. But both in politics and long-term care, the stakes are incredibly high. Before your next meeting, it's worth asking whether a fawning attitude will be more likely to help you and your company survive.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.