A few years ago, Hewlett Packard CEO, Leo Apotheker, laid out his vision for HP’s future and the steps he was taking to make it happen. He then answered questions. To say the presentation didn’t go very well would be putting a very positive spin on it. HP’s stock price dropped by more than 20%, wiping out $11.5 billion in market capitalization. Not surprisingly, Apotheker didn’t last long; he left HP just over a month later.
To be a successful CEO or senior business leader, you have to present well. The ability to craft a compelling presentation and deliver it with conviction is perhaps the most important skill for a successful leader.
That’s why those who are currently manager-level or mid-level employees with hopes of one day becoming a C-Suite Executive should invest early in their career in their public speaking skills. Otherwise, you might just get passed over for the job.
Here are a few tips for those hoping to start the process of presenting with more impact. And if you want more tips just like this, join me for SPEAK. A workshop where we will work together to develop your speaking skills and transform your speaking style into a one-on-one, powerful, TED-talk style.
But first… why does presenting matter?
There are three reasons why presenting is such an important skill for executives. First, business leaders present a lot. They speak to employee groups, investors, partners and the board of directors. A typical day is filled with meetings and many of these revolve around presentations. Emails and text messages are important, too, but there is nothing like an actual presentation. More and more, it seems, people are reading less and talking more.
Second, presenting well is essential to have impact. Nothing happens in a company if people don’t support an idea. A senior leader needs buy-in from the C-Suite Executive, cross-functional peers and the broader organization. Most companies don’t run like a military organization; you can’t court martial your head of sales if they don’t support the plan. People don’t blindly do what they are told to do. This means that senior leaders have to sell their ideas; people have to understand the concept and believe it will work. This means that an effective presentation is essential.
Third, presenting has a huge impact on perceptions. If you present with conviction and authority, people will be inclined to support an idea and you will look strategic and smart. If you are tentative and disorganized, the odds of success fall dramatically.
With the rise of video, a presentation can last for years. A positive or weak presentation delivered in a public setting can soon finds its way to Vimeo for people to admire or scoff at for all time.
Here are four recommendations for any executive looking to become better at creating and delivering business updates and recommendations.
Be Clear on the Purpose
The single most important thing to do when developing a presentation is to be very clear on the purpose. What is the goal for the meeting? Is the goal to gain support for an idea? Discuss why the business is performing well and what that means? Understand why a new product will miss the start ship deadline?
Once you are clear on the goal, you should put this on the first page, so that everyone understands it. This way there will be no confusion. Some people might then tune out; the topic isn’t relevant to them. Other people will engage. This is good. You need the right people paying attention.
Tell a Story
People remember stories; as humans, we have been telling stories for thousands of years. Good presenters know this and tap into it; they don’t present information and data, they tell a story.
When developing a presentation, then, always start by finding the story. One point in the presentation should lead to the next one. Ultimately, this story should lead to the recommendation or conclusion. If a point doesn’t enhance the story, cut it. The data comes later.
Think carefully about the start. Where does this story begin? To find the start, consider your audience. What do they know? Where is a common place to launch this tale? It might be the last update, or it might be last year’s results.
Set the Room
A presentation is a piece of theater; it is a performance that taps into all the senses. Words are important, but also visuals and movement. Anyone familiar with theater knows that the set matters a lot; brilliant staging can transform a production.
The same is true for a business presentation; the setting matters. Indeed, the setting will sometimes determine the type of presentation you will have to do. If a room is set up with a podium on a stage, it will be difficult to walk around and engage with your audience. Why isn’t she up on the stage and using the podium? That looks odd. If people are sitting at round tables, there probably should be some sort of group interaction.
Before delivering a presentation, an executive should consider the space. How is the room set up? Is there a podium? Where is the projector? Is there a spot for notes?
There isn’t one perfect arrangement that will work for each situation. Sometimes the formality of a podium is appropriate. Sometimes you’ll want to wander around and get close to your audience.
The key is that you want to be deliberate and thoughtful. This means you should consider the layout in advance. If you arrive five minutes before a presentation, you won’t be able to make any changes. You, or someone on your teams, need to work on the room layout in advance.
While you are at it, double check the sound and the projection system. And have a back-up plan. If a video doesn’t play (and often they don’t) what will you do?
Don’t Outsource Development
One thing executives have in common is that they are busy. As a result, it is very tempting to outsource your presentations. Instead of sitting down to write a presentation, you ask your assistant to pull it together. Some executives ask the summer intern to do it.
This is not a best practice; you need to be deeply involved in developing your presentations. The main reason is that your delivery will be much stronger if you crafted the story. When you deliver a presentation you are telling a story, so you need to know each point. You need to emphasize certain things to set up the rest of the story. There is nothing worse than watching someone present, knowing they have no idea what is coming next.
So allocate the time to craft your updates. Jim Kilts, former CEO of Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, would spend hours developing his business updates, going through fifty or sixty drafts. You may not need this sort of intensity, but it isn’t unreasonable.
The good news is that once you have a presentation that works, you can give it many times. Consider performers like Taylor Swift; they spend a lot of time getting the show right, and then repeat the show again and again. Business leaders can do the same thing.
Presenting is a sometimes an overlooked skill, but smart leaders know that sometimes, knowing how communicate to communicate your strategy and plan can be just as important than the quality of ideas.
Not a great public speaker?
I can help with that.
Join me for SPEAK. A workshop where we will work together to develop your speaking skills and transform your speaking style into a one-on-one, powerful, TED-talk style.
We have the formula to transform your speaking skills into extraordinary, memorable, and exude more confidence and poise regardless of the audience.
Walk away with improved speaking skills that will better enable you to connect with your audience authentically, as well as speak with confidence. But, there is limited seating (small class sizes of 10 for better one-on-one training), so, reserve your seat TODAY! (Lunch included.)
**Use promo code “earlybirdNY” for $100 off.
- Overcome your fear of public speaking.
- Transform nervous energy into enthusiastic excitement.
- Understand verbal and nonverbal techniques to engage your audience.
- Quickly “think on your feet” in meetings and in front of a crowd.
- Turn attention from yourself and actively involve the audience.
- Support your message with appropriate visual aids and connect with any audience and compel them into action.
- Dramatically increase your closing ratio and boost your sales.
- Improve team communication and collaboration.
BONUS: PERSONAL SKYPE COACHING
- After attending the SPEAK. Workshop, you will also receive 3 months of Skype/Facetime or in-person consulting sessions at no additional cost.
(Source Tim Calkins, Chief Executive)