How to shine in a fund managers beauty parade

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Few professionals, such as fund managers, are hired for their presentation skills. But being able to shine on the day is vital for anyone in a client facing position.

Yet, says Mark Miller, head of marketing at Morley Fund Management and a

former investment consultant who has sat in on endless presentations, "It's

amazing how many people still just read out the slides. It's like they think

the people who are watching can't read.

What they should be doing is elaborating the benefits they can offer."

Miller has hit on two of the key points presentation skills experts try to

impress on their clients - think about the audience's needs rather than your

product, and don't be too boring.

Although a lucky minority is born with an instinctive sense of how to grab

and hold an audience's attention, most of us, say the experts, need a

little help.

Preparation is vital - however often you've done it before. "It's a matter

of knowing what the key attention grabber is for your audience," advises

Bill Muysken, head of global manager research at investment consultants

William M Mercer.

"Get in touch beforehand. Most clients are more than happy

to talk, and they feel good about having being contacted in advance."

In preparing the content, keep things simple and don't try to cram in too

much information. "Attention spans are short and your audience may be seeing

a number of presentations on the same day," advises Niall Hall of

presentations training company Westbury Consulting.

Rehearsing a presentation is also essential, says Steve Widberg of training

company 7City Learning. It helps you feel confident about the material, and comfortable handling the technology, as well as letting you time the whole exercise.

"Do it on your own in a room if you have to, even if you feel silly," says Widberg.

Getting the timing right is essential. As Muysken puts it, "No one has

ever lost a pitch by going under time, but some have lost it by going over

time."

Rehearsing beforehand, ideally in front of an audience, also lets you work

on the style of delivery and how you come across as a whole. Research has

shown that what you say forms only a tiny part of the message you

communicate.

As much as 93% of the message comes from

non-verbal cues like appearance and body language - making eye-contact,

appearing relaxed, using open gestures.

"It's interesting to see how people conduct themselves," says one investment

consultant. "I've been in pitches where the team has come in, ignored female

trustees and gone straight to who they perceive as the Alpha male and shaken

hands. Others have come in and made a point of engaging with every single

person. The first team had made a serious error before they had even opened

their mouths."

Miller of Morely Fund Management also emphasises the importance of how you come

across as a person. When conferring on pitches afterwards, he

says, trustees rarely remember details of the products being peddled.

Instead, "They'll remember that 'so and so was a nice guy' or 'he

was quite interesting'."

The single most important thing is a positive,

enthusiastic attitude, says Widberg. "I'll be presenting on auditing at 7pm

this evening and I'll do it as though it's the most interesting thing in

the world," he says.

"Praise and thanks go a long way. It sounds

naff, but it's worth saying things like, 'that's a really interesting point', or 'thank

you for your time'." You have to mean it, though, Widberg adds, because

insincerity is a real turn off.

Then there's that elusive quality Widberg calls pzazz. This is the ability

to surprise and grab the audience's attention. Some of it can come from

your personality, some can be in the content or come from the careful use of

technology. "But don't be too slick or too salesy," cautions Muysken.

What everyone agrees on is that the main object of a beauty parade is to

engage with the audience and make them feel you are interested in helping

them. The easiest mistake to make, is too focus too heavily on your product

or service.

"Some people do an excellent job without ever opening their

presentation book," says Muysken. "They spend the first fifteen minutes

talking about the client and only use their material as a reference later

on."

Miller agrees. "A presentation is for your mutual benefit. Trustees want to

see what they can get out of it, rather than hearing what you can do. It's a

different mindset."

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