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
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
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
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
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
"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
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