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Applying "Genchi Genbutsu" to Presentations
by Gilda Bonanno

One of the key principle of the Toyota Production System and Lean manufacturing is "genchi-genbutsu," or "go, see, and confirm." Here is a description and example of "genchi genbutsu" from Implementing Lean Software Development From Concept to Cash by Mary & Tom Poppendieck:

"Consider the Sienna. The first version of the Toyota minivan didn't sell particularly well. When Chief Engineer Yuji Yokoya set out to improve the vehicle, he knew he needed more than focus groups and voice-of-the-customer data. So he followed Toyota tradition of genchi-genbutsu, or "go, see, and confirm." He drove a minivan—usually a Sienna—for 85,000 km (53,000 miles) through every state in the United States, every province in Canada, and every estado in Mexico.


He usually traveled with a key member of the design team, including John Jula, a good-sized engineer who would redesign the seats. As he traveled, Yokoya came to understand what Sienna customers would value: more space, comfortable front seats for parents, a back designed for kids, and family pricing. The resulting 2004 Sienna more than doubled the minivan's sales and raised the Sienna to the top of a crowded pack." (Chapter 3, Implementing Lean Software Development From Concept to Cash by Mary and Tom Poppendieck)

How does the concept of "genchi genbutsu" apply to presentations?

Essentially, it means you should understand your topic from the audience's point of view. How do they view it? What do they need to know about it? 

If you don't know, then try to speak to a representative sample of the audience and understand the issue as they see it. Before you can change their mind about a topic or improve their understanding of it, it helps to know where they are starting from. 

If you are speaking to a new audience, perhaps a different division of your company or a new client, it can help to physically visit their location before you speak or at least arrive there early, so you can walk around, observe the culture and listen to the jargon. 

Also get comfortable with your physical environment. Sit in the audience's seats - literally - and see what the front of the room, your slides or the stage look like. 

And if you're a paid professional speaker, genchi genbutsu means that you don't just show up, speak and then leave - you actually spend time at the conference or company meeting people and understanding their needs. And you do more to customize your speech to your audience than just occasionally inserting the name of the client. 

Applying genchi genbutsu to your presentation will ultimately result in a presentation that is more tailored to your audience and resonates with them. And you will come across as a sincere and well-informed professional rather than as a pompous "talking head."

Gilda Bonanno is a speaker, trainer and coach who helps people from all walks of life improve their communication and presentation skills.

Copyright (c) 2013

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