Presentations and Communication

Presentation Quality Beats Quantity

Sometimes, people make the mistake of thinking that by adding more mediocre work, we can achieve better results.  Quantity does not compensate for quality. Unnecessary information is distractive and reduces the impact. Limits are often set for presentations (e.g., pages in a RFP or length of time for an investor pitch), both for the audience (less to read/listen), and to focus the presenter on understanding what’s necessary for a WINning presentation- one that’s focused on What’s (Really) Important Now). For me this issue comes up in training all the time.

3M did a study with Wharton many years ago showing that presentations with visuals increase recall as much as 5-fold. They also found that presenters were consistently rated as more interesting, professional, better prepared, etc. I explain to students that the real reason for the second finding probably has to do with the quality of workmanship that goes into finding just the right images to make a point. I know I spent lots of time sifting through different images to get just the right ones – and during this process, my mind is working on the nuances that I want to make and the implications that audiences can draw.

One result is that I focus clients on using only a limited number of slides when making Board presentation. In most cases, Boards have already seen the original presentation before the meeting; so rather than wasting everyone’s time and good will by repeating it, they highlight the key points in one or two slides and then focus the meeting on a discussion over one or two slides, and not a full presentation. Therefore, last week, to help a CEO get what he really wanted from the Board – buy-in for new strategic directions, we agreed that he would highlight the point he had already made, gain approval, and then discuss the real issue – strategic direction – with no more than three new “discussion-focused” slides.

Interestingly, Morten Hansen, tells a similar story about a presentation to a CEO in  Great At Work: How Top Performers Do less, work Better and Achieve More. He was asked to present to an executive committee on an issue, and the CEO told him to present the proposal in one slide.  He struggled to reduce the number to 15, then four, and with painstaking attention to one “color-coded, hourly calendar of the program”. As a result, the CEO and Hansen spent 45 minutes discussing the program in depth (instead of making a long winded presentation about it), and at the end the CEO “ remarked on how  productive the meeting had been!”

In sum, focus presentations on delivering quality discussions that facilitate the decisions you want made. Eliminate clutter; present what’s important for the decision’ less IS more…. And you’ll deliver a winning presentation!

What’s your experience? Share it with us.

 

Jerry Cahn, PhD,JD. is a NYC Vistage Chair & Chairman of the Presentation Excellence Group. He can be reached at 646-290-7664, jerry.cahn@presentationexcellencegroup.com & jerry.cahn@vistagechair.com.

What’s the Most Important Point?

How sad.  All too often, clients come to Presentation Excellence after they’ve been presenting a pitch to raise money and/or sell a company for months and not receive the level of interest they wanted. They blame market conditions and keep trying. Then, someone recommends discussing the presentation with us. We then review the material (in one case it was version 46!) and reach a completely different conclusion: the presentation that the external banker/consultants created is a poorly constructed data-dump of all the material available, with repetitive long-winded text.

Instead of producing a succinct, easy-to-grasp, exciting-to-follow presentation that highlights a key value proposition with a few mutually reinforcing ones that lead the buyer to the conclusion that “this is a deal you shouldn’t miss!”, they force the audience to navigate (or falling asleep on) page-after-page (or slide-after-slide) of clutter: too much text and numbers that don’t drive home a powerful conclusion. It’s not surprising that the “buyers” decide to pass or low-ball their offer.

Let me give you two recent examples:

  • As you may know, there are over 10 Million American business owners thinking about “retiring” from their business in the next few years. They enjoy their work, the income and the perks. Not having a plan for the next 7-10,000 days of their lives, selling for “too little” isn’t attractive. Therefore, they need to find a way to convince a buyer what the real value of the business can be, and make the “sales price” reasonable for her/himself. In this case, the presentation for selling the company placed a value on the company that seemed fair to the buyer and seller, until the buyer understood the tax implications and how much less money he’d actually get to take home. In the initial acceptable proposal for the seller, he achieved his goal of walking away with $7.6M on a total sales price of $18M. Then, the seller showed the buyer how a change in paying out for the sale could reduce the total price to only $15M and still allow the seller to net out the $7.6M. The conclusion: the seller is a savvy business person who could structure a deal that benefits both parties; imagine how much more his company may be doing that for its customers. Buying became a no-brainer.
  • As we all know, retail businesses are being hurt by e-commerce from companies like Amazon. So if you’re a supplier of apparel who mainly sells to retail stores, a buyer will look past current sales trends, even if fairly positive, and worry about the future. In this case, the company sells a unique woman’s product line. The initial presentation focused on the numbers – current and projected future sales; buyers reviewed it and screened the deal based on future retail trends. We were invited to re-frame the presentation to make the most important point – the uniqueness of its product line stand out. We did so in three ways. First, we used supportive data to show that the product was evergreen – would always be purchased by customers who would really want to try on the product: the market share of this product hadn’t dropped in years!  Second, we focused on the explosion of the market: the increased presence of baby boomers (e.g., the number of people over 65 will double to over 80 Million by 2050) and the increased use of this product by Millennials – the largest generation alive (another 80 million). Finally, given that all the bankers, consultants and buyers were men, and this is a woman’s unique product, we recommended that the head of the company, a woman, sandwich the presentation with an opening and closing of these two points by focusing on women’s usage patterns – as evidenced by their wives, daughters and mothers!. Stay tuned for the outcome.

So, before you produce a boring presentation that doesn’t compel the audience to buy into your proposition – identify the most important point and build your case around it. Attend our corporate and open-to-the public workshops or ask for one-on-one consulting so you, top, can close more deals!

It’s the Fresh Perspective that Often Wins

“What Makes a CEO ‘Exceptional’”, an article published last April in McKinsey Quarterly caught my attention as I constantly want to help the CEOs achieve more. It focuses is on what differentiated the top 5% of CEO performers among a group of 600 CEOs at S&P 500 companies between 2004 and 2014. These leaders had to guide companies through unusual circumstances, including bankruptcy proceedings and returning successful to the public markets.

The study discovered that CEOs hired externally tend to pull more strategic levers than leaders promoted from inside. Within their first years of tenure they are:

  • More likely to conduct a strategic review and initiate a cost-reduction program
  • Less likely to engage in:
    • Organizational redesign
    • Business/product launch
    • Management reshuffle

Why? These leaders may have been hired to bring fresh perspectives about marketing to the customers. They are less sensitive to “sacred cows” and “internal cultural politics”, which may restrict the vision and efforts of leaders promoted from inside. At the same time, they may not want to overload the company with changes, so they focus first on strategic shifts and then use first-hand experience with staff before making structural changes to support them. In contrast, many of the leaders promoted from within the company may have been chosen to do what they did – continue the trajectory of existing strategy and culture. (It would be interesting to see how internally promoted leader who has radically promoted new ideas compare to these other two groups.)

Thus, the issue for the Board of Directors when choosing CEOs and other senior leaders is whether they have a clear understanding of what changes are needed, now. In a VUCA world (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), with technological, demographic and global power changes that may require new conceptual frameworks (e.g., a “Blue Ocean Shift), it’s the fresh perspective that apparently wins.  Moving around the furniture on the Titanic only makes sense when you understand where you should be headed.

Organizations should hold annual Strategic Leadership Advances (SLAs) to challenge themselves on what’s needed for success in the coming year. (We don’t call them “Management Retreats” because leaders must always move forward.) Using outside facilitators to inspire fresh thinking and observe the current leadership culture makes lots of sense, if you’re seeking an exceptional result!

What are you doing to make sure that your top leaders have the fresh perspective and wind-behind-their sales to support improvements in the coming year?  Share with us!

Habits of Excellent Presenters

Reading Brendon Burchard’s most recent book, High Performance Habits, made me think about the habits developed by excellent presenters. For over two decades, we’ve served over 5000 clients who’ve presented on investment, fund-raising, marketing, sales, management and other issues. More recently, we focus on senior executives whose presentations are focused on closing large and important deals for companies involved with M&A, VC, Private Equity, etc.

Based on this experience, we see that excellent presenters develop the following five habits:

  • Competence: they immerse themselves in the material so they can build a Compelling Message. They know that “data dumps” and “long-winded wordiness” are distractions; short phrases, not full sentences, are presented; graphs, not tables full of numbers. They recognize that persuasive arguments are based on the right balance of logic and emotions.
  • Proactively Responsive: Meet the audience’s needs: When it comes to building a case, they do the necessary homework to understand the audience’s perspective: what’s their past experience on this topic? What are their current concerns (e.g., more logic or emotion)? Who else helps them make the decision? How will the setting affect their ability to process the information? Is the information succinct enough to get attention (from people whose attention spans often are limited) and have the desired impact?
  • Being Authentic: They immerse themselves in the material so they are presenting from a position of aligned values and self-confidence of the material. Demonstrate your sense of curiosity in learning the material and formatting the presentation for presentation excellence. Facilitate the audience’s development of trust in you.
  • Sharing: The goal isn’t to present “to” an audience, but to be part of a “community” in which they use their competence to share a story with the audience. The “field” includes presenter, audience, setting, context, message and possibility of a future relationship. They welcome questions, because it demonstrates that a relationship has been forged between the parties and enables the presenter to further demonstrate her/his expertise.
  • Practice: They recognize that everyone is nervous about presenting, with the only real question being how to channel it? By practicing the art of persuasive communication they harness nervous energy to make the presentation exciting, as opposed to allowing it to become a barrier between them and the audience. Handling pace, tone, body language, etc. are key to the transfer of enthusiasm – which is the ultimate goal of a presentation.

Are you an excellent presenter? Have you had the pleasure of listening to one or more? What additional habits would you include?  Please share.

The What, Why & How of Compelling Presentations

Many years ago, we developed a simple formula to help guide presenters to effective presentations: ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. Recently, someone asked us to come up with a simple three question structure for all presentations in which there is a goal of selling an idea, product or service. Here is our What, Why and How formulation.

WHAT – What does the prospect/audience want to know about the issue at hand, which explains why he/she invited you to make the presentation? Answer the questions succinctly: e.g., upgrade the ERP system or replace it with a new one that is more efficient and effective.

WHY – Why does the prospect/audience want this particular presentation?  Today, many presentations don’t lead to an immediate decision. Instead, many players need to learn what’s relevant to their domain – facts, features, benefits – as well as supportive emotions of satisfaction and relief which support the final buying decisions. Therefore, identify the stage of the decision cycle you’re in, and what is the goal (e.g., next step you want the audience to make.  Clarity of why you are making this particular presentation and what the next step (or result) will be, allow you to formulate a compelling value proposition.

HOW – How will you expertly deliver satisfaction for the prospect/audience?? How will you create Trust between the prospect and you, to facilitate being selected? How will working with you be a superior experience compared to other candidates (and there always are some)? And, how will you make sure the presentation is so engaging that the prospect/audience wants to work with you?

Next time you make a presentation, try the What, Why and How formula. Let us know how it works!

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