Presentations and Communication

To Win: Focus on Results, not Activities.

 We have a saying in our office:  “Don’t Confuse Activities with Results”. We find it applies to so many different aspects of our work, because many of us fall back to old habits thinking that larger size papers, more hours put into a project, higher costs for a project, etc.  necessarily make it better.   It doesn’t.

As a teacher, I have countless students who graduate college and start jobs for large consulting firms, investment banks, etc.,, where interns and junior associates are encouraged to work sometimes between 12-18 hours (or even longer), because the “culture” reinforces spending time of the project rather than measuring the quality of workmanship/productivity throughout the process. These young people later confess that they feel they make more mistakes and spend more time trying to check for and correct errors, because they’re sleep-deprived and not able to think things clearly.

Recently, one such person, after several months of “killing himself” and getting little positive feedback voluntarily choose to reduce his workload slightly, in order to focus on quality of results, not just throughput. Within two weeks, he received kudos from team members for offering new perspectives and insights making the work more valuable for the client and team; these results could not have been accomplished under the old regime.

Morten Hansen arrives at the same insight in his new book Great At Work: How Top Performers Do less, work Better and Achieve More. While working at a large consulting firm for several years, he often worked as many as 80-90 hours per week. One day,  he noticed that a colleague’s presentation “contained crisper insight, more compelling ideas” and wondered why. Talent might seem like an answer, but both had similar education and experience and had been selected for skills through the same rigorous screening process. One key difference is that she worked from 8 Am to 6 PM, no nights no weekends.  Was she doing better because she worked less?

This led to lots of research including a five-year survey of 5000 managers and employees in a wide-range of industries. What differentiated highest-rank performers? Top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which tasks, customers, meetings, ideas to undertake and which not. They applied “intensive, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel….Rather than simply pile on more hours, tasks, etc., they cut back.”

The researchers discovered that “just a few key work practices related to such selectivity, accounted for two-thirds of the variation in performance about the subjects. Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much.”

The results make two points: (1) individually, we can change our work habits to perform at a higher level and (2) the organizationally, we should change our cultures to not focus/reward those who engage the most hours in the most activities, but enable those who, within accepted standards of performance, produce the most excellence results.

What’s your experience in this area?  Have you ever tried to change such a culture? What tips do you recommend companies adopt to cha shift cultures focused on maximizing people’s activity time to ones  focused on excellence in results.

Presenting Personalized Purpose Increases Success

As Simon Sinek tells us, to motivate people you need to go beyond telling them WHAT they should do to giving them a WHY. And the WHY needs to be more than logical facts; it needs to have an emotional content for the audience.

Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, demonstrated this fact in a controlled study involving fundraisers. All of the university fundraiser were given call lists and were armed with reasons that people should donate: they’re raising funds for scholarships to help students who need them.  Some callers were able to share with the recipients a five minute story by a scholarship beneficiary. These recipients spent more than double the amount of time on the phone – but generated triple the donations as compared to the recipients who had no contact with the beneficiary’s story.

In other words, these callers had a double-emotional tool to help them with the calls: the callers were charged as they “felt” why their jobs existed and the recipients could identify with the beneficiary. In all probability, the success is synergistic 1+1=3, because they caller feels more involved in delivering the story.

This double-impact phenomenon is key to the success of many presenters. When a presenter designs a presentation to include personalized appeal – stories, graphic images, pictures and videos – two things happen: the audience connects better with the content and the presenter becomes feels more engaged with it as well. Again, a 1+1=3 synergy takes place because by taking the time to find just the right content to connect with the audience, the presenter’s authentic passion is heightened.

So don’t cut corners when delivering messages. As we discuss in our training/coaching programs, take the time to find compelling stories, pictures and quotes; your involvement in finding the right material increases your energy and power when presenting, and produces more winning results! What’s your experience in personalizing a presentation to make it more powerful?  Share with us.

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!

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