The Always-Ready Presenter

What can go wrong?  When it comes to presentations, lots of things do. And no matter how well designed your (Powerpoint) presentation is, nor how well rehearsed you are, if you didn’t anticipate a likely problem, you won’t have a contingency plan in place to still deliver a perfect presentation. 

Today, all presentations being delivered during the pandemic are virtual, you should expect some form of technology challenge. As a veteran presenter and coach/mentor to thousands of other presenters, most can be anticipated.

Last week, an Investment Banker asked me to provide feedback on three investor presentations they were considering. After the session ended, with a few challenges (luckily none major), I started thinking about solutions for next time.

In the early days of “slide” presentations, it was likely that something might go wrong with a projector. Conference Centers usually had back up light bulbs that could be used if not extra projectors. Copies of presentations were printed not just to give as handouts after the presentation, but to substitute if the presentation couldn’t be projected for some reason. 

Today is no different. People might not be familiar with the software platform (e.g., in this case Zoom) and not know how to let someone else be a host or show a video with or without its soundtrack. Monitors might not work; computers may crash; internet connections may go down. Outside events – everything from a baby crying a dog yelping or ConEd digging up the street below – may interfere. In my case, I set up a second laptop in my home office as a back-up the very first week, and created PDFs that could quickly be emailed

If a technology problem exists, and you solve it, as a presenter you now have a secondary problem: less time to make the presentation. In the pre-pandemic world, I led an investor/public relations firm. Most of my clients were allotted 30 minutes for investor conference presentations. Early on, I learned that conference centers have fire-drills, terrorist threats, etc., and they interfere with your time slot. In the Zoom presentation world m the same thing happens: we lose time fixing the technology.  For most 30 minute slots, clients develop 25 minute presentations, and use the last 5 minutes for Q&A. So what do most people do when they now only have 15 minutes?  They squeeze the full presentation into the shortened time-frame, leaving everyone – audience and presenter – unsatisfied. The mission is to impress and influence the audience, not do a speed-racing-data-dump.

We solved this problem by creating an Always-Prepared Presenter: after the main presentation was designed a scaled-down version (usually half-the time) was designed and the presenter prepared for both. This way, if we lost 15 minutes, we could present a complete, though abridged, presentation. The presenters often left the meeting as a “star”, because he/she was only one who delivered a properly paced presentation.  The contrast with your competitors can win the day!

So, consider creating shorter versions of the presentation, to stay in control of your message and build rapport with your audience, just in case the technology creates a time problem!

Short-term, Intermediate and Long-term Success

In business and politics, the first 90-100 days is often considered a “honeymoon period” during which the new employee, including a CEO or President, is given a grace period. During the initial stages of the pandemic, almost everybody reported incredible performance by people and companies.

  •  Most employees adapted to working from home quickly; for the majority of people, productivity actually improved compared to normal
  •  Management consultants, like McKinsey, and business and popular media, reported that companies made transition to the lockdown in record time.  Three examples:
    • A hospital went from 200 telemedicine visits in 2019, to 5000 a week, a goal it had estimated would take years.
    • A company running movie theaters when forced to close down decided to retrain 1000 users and ticket sellers to work for an online grocery, and accomplished the goal in only two days.
    • Best Buy, which spent months testing curbside delivery at a handful of stores, rolled it out in every store in two days.

There are many reasons for the short-term success. CEOs with whom we work asked if this was sustainable, and we brought to their attention that it might not for lots of reasons, including one underlying the “Hawthorne Effect”. Years ago, in a study on ways to increase productivity, everything that the researchers did to improve working conditions in a factory had a positive effect on worker productivity. Wondering how it could be so good, they then started removing them; productivity continued to increase, until the removal of extra and then normal lighting made the room so dark it all came to a screeching halt. Conclusion: people who know they are being watched and want to please the observers, will do what they can to impress them. 

In the short term, we’ve watched this happen. Juggling work and family conditions (e.g., support, schooling, etc.) is stressful, but short-term we mobilized to do it. Working conditions at home weren’t ideal (e.g., our “desk” was a table sticking out of a closet), but we adapted to the conditions. However as we start planning for the next set of months, it’ll be a different reality: we are no longer in the “fight-back” mode but in the “creating a new life mode”. We need more comfort, more support from other people, to make it through the next stage. Expect lots of changes in how we manage space, time, multiple business, family and personal goals during the intermediate stage.

Leaders with whom I work are focusing now on the long-term. We’re not going back to the pre-pandemic office situation. Company leaders are trying to figure out how to allow people to adapt to the new distributed workforce model. Spatially, it means working from home, office and pods on whatever basis makes sense for the person, customer, technology, etc. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to work in an office full-time in the future, nor do they want to commute and travel for business when alternatives exist. The nature of business, family, personal expectations for life fulfilment are all playing a role in determining the after-the-pandemic world.

More important, we need to focus on long-term job satisfaction, professional growth, creativity and innovation. We need to adapt new models for increased collaboration between members of teams and teams-of-teams in a world of greater self-management and ongoing change. Steve Jobs’ last major accomplishment was leaving Apple with a new California campus designed to spur spontaneous encounters, and encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation. Shaped like a donut, people could bump-into-one-another on the way to common areas, and begin conversations that could generate new ideas, products and services.   Today’s work-from-home, ”Zoom to communicate” world, lacks that opportunity for spontaneous exchange and ideation – keys to innovation.  Long-term success depends on our ability to build structures that will address this issue.

What do you think we can do to ensure long-term success? Share your ideas!

Are You Ready for “Mission-Critical?

For over three decades, I’ve been helping leaders design, produce and deliver winning “mission-critical” presentations. It’s not easy to influence someone to win over the heart and mind of other people to make a decision you want. Yet, that’s the job of most leaders.

You need to appreciate your audience’s starting position and figure out what kinds of logical and emotional information/experiences may produce change. Then you need to understand the degree of receptivity to change based on the person’s existing perspectives and biases. The setting – place and time for the communication – also has an impact. Only then can you craft a message that’s powerful and persuasive. And when you deliver it your authenticity, humility, trust, and executive presence all play a role in whether the other party will take the desired action.

I organized all these elements into a simple framework called ADAP: Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations. I’ve had the privilege of coaching and mentoring leaders to produce winning presentations worth $100s of millions in business, advancing careers, and improving people’s lives.  

Over the past decade, I’ve learned that the most effective leaders succeed, in part, because they’re open to receiving input and feedback from others – and by doing so sharpen their ability to see the many perspectives that can impact on a situation. I invite you to polish these skills.

As a Board Chairman for Vistage Worldwide, which services 23,000 global CEOs, I’ve seen how relationships with other CEOs on their personal Peer Advisory Board, as well as interactions with others through the MyVistage online platform reinforces their ability to widen their perspectives and sharpen their decision-making. They introduce a significant challenge they face, and seek critiques and advice for a tentative course of action they are ready to take. Then, they hear from others different perspectives on the challenge and new complications; but they also get fresh ideas on how to solve the problem, and referrals to resources that can help them. The outcomes: better decisions, better results and closer relationships.

McKinsey & Co. uses its management consulting expertise to help leaders of Fortune 500, government agencies and NGOs handle mission-critical issues. As part of its effort to help them handle short-term and long-term consequences of the pandemic, they recommended that leaders “harness the real power of peer networks”.  In “The CEO Moment: Leadership for a New Era”, they note that “CEOs are communicating more, and expanding their networks, in part because only another CEO confronting the pandemic can fully identify with today’s leadership challenges.”  As one CEO put it, “I find talking to other CEOs about how they’re handling the crisis extremely helpful – this shared experience connects us and gives me added perspectives.” Another said: “From an external perspective, I’ve been a beneficiary of amazing calls with other CEOs who have been willing to share their knowledge. This has been such a growing experience”.
As we all try to resolve how to handle the pandemic, in leadership meetings and business presentations, all of us are making mission-critical decisions affecting many stakeholders. Are you harnessing the collective smarts of leaders with integrity and hunger for growth to help you make better business presentations and decisions?  If not, why not? Your competitors are!  Contact me at or

Your Life Purpose: Rethinking It?

We’re privileged to work with people through several organizational perspectives, and by integrating them,  we have a sharper understanding of what’s important to people today.   We’re seeing people of all ages challenging career and life-style decisions that are made, and looking for new answers.

Through Age Brilliantly, we work with adults of all ages who want to lead fulfilling lives in today’s life-stage and future ones, and seek more information, inspiration, tools and support from peers, experts and resources to make better planning decisions. Through Presentation Excellence, we work with executives making important business presentations to clients, investors, management and employees. Through Vistage Worldwide, we work with company CEOs (often $5-500M firms) who are challenging company practices as well as their own desires to continue in the company.

As Lauren Weber noted in “Workers Wonder: Is My Job Relevant?” Covid-19 has exposed the fragility of life and the prior assumptions we made when we made career decisions; the brutal killings by police has exposed the systemic racial biases in our society and mobilized the Black Lives Matter movement. Both are forcing people to rethink what they want for themselves and others, and how to get it.  People are asking, “Does my work matter? And do I matter?”

In Reflections In Crisis, McKinsey & Co. shares a number of interviews that may resonate with  you. Imagine you’re in the early stage of your career and family, and often spend hours commuting to work and to clients. Because you’re on the road, you engage caretakers to take care of our young children – which makes you feel guilty because you know you could do a better job if you only had the time. Then, the lockdown comes and you find a way to juggle your schedule to provide quality care for your children and get your work done, because Zoom allows you to communicate without commuting. Should you go back to the old way of life or integrate how you attend to the different Age Brilliantly essentials of life (in this case: relationships, health, purpose and passion)? (June, 2020) released a study in which 82% of the people in lockdowns reported not wanting to return to going back to work 5 days a week. (35% don’t want to return at all!) So, if you’re challenging your prior decisions, you’re not alone.

As more people share with us their perspectives, insights and decisions, we’ll share them with you. Please share your thoughts, by using the Purpose Forum on AgeBrilliantly. It’s the wisdom of our entire group that will help each of us make better decisions.

What’s Your Company Culture?

Whatever your company culture was like before the pandemic, one result is that it may change.  With social distancing limiting room and building occupancy, workers reporting that they prefer not commuting to an office ever day of the week*, and companies reporting that, on average, workers have been more productive during lockdown than they were in the office, this is a chance to also improve on the culture.

Even before the pandemics, companies were moving from centralized offices (often accompanied by hierarchical command-and control (HCC) leadership style) to distributed workforces (e.g., outsourcing, gig-workers, etc.) and adopting a “network-teams” leadership style. (The latter combines the best of the Team-of-Teams approach popularized by General Stanley McCrystal and Holacracy which was adopted by Zappos.)

The system of work over the last 90 days wasn’t planned to maximize productivity, cultural relationships, etc. It came quickly and we all learned to turn out homes into an office and little by little use the tools we had (e.g. Zoom) to keep in touch with one another building on the culture we had.  However, as we commit to a new working style, we can commit to a culture that‘s most conductive to people’s professional and personal growth, as well as team effectiveness, while increasing productivity and profits.

Last year, the national Center for the Middle Market, in partnership with Grant Thornton and The Ohio State University identified seven cultural types and evaluated the performance of companies with each type.  Analyzing them will help your company intentionally design a culture most appropriate to the corporate and individual values, behaviors and attitudes within your firm.  They are:

  1. Customer-centric. This is a “customer-first” approach to business. Companies react quickly to changing needs of their customers.
  2. Innovative and Creative. Companies with this approach are looking for new ways to create value with new products, services, processes and channels.
  3. Risk-Averse. The message in these companies is “Don’t get it wrong; make sure you’re correct.” In a post-Covid world where change is taking place everywhere else, the feat may generate paralysis. 
  4. Great Place to Work. This is the employee-centric mentality that creates a stimulating environment for employees, so they grow professionally and personally, and are engaged in their work; they are connected to others through virtual happy hours, daily huddles, and other fun challenges.
  5. Continuous Improvement. Here the focus is on steady gains in customer offerings and processes. The goal is to get better – employees, processes, products, etc. – for an ongoing Competitive Advantage.
  6. Technically Oriented. The culture seeks the highest quality products and services through engineering of all kinds. Early in the lockdown, these companies led in the adoption of collaboration and other tech tools.
  7. Highly Efficient. This culture is focused on eliminating inefficiencies and staying lean. The culture communicates to everyone the importance of now wasting scarce resources.

What’s your current culture-type?  Why? What led to the development of that culture?  Remember, there is no ONE right answer for every company, even within the same industries. The difference in cultures is noticeable in the relative tradeoffs that we inevitably make. Do we stay later at work to make sure the client gets the project on time, or do we negotiate a delay in product delivery for employee-centric activities?

Now, re-imagine your company post-pandemic. Given the new nature of your business for clients and employees, which would be most effective in the future? Why? How do you transition from the old one to the new ones?

These are the questions you and your leadership team need to explore in order to pick the best possible culture for the post-pandemic, distributed workforce era. If you need help with this process, we can schedule a conversation; contact me at or 800-493-1334.

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February 2021