Presenting Is A Critical Skill for CEOs

why presenting mattersOn August 18, 2011, HP CEO Leo Apotheker presented his new plan for the company to analysts. He laid out his vision for HP and the steps he was taking to make it happen. He then answered questions. To say the presentation didn’t go very well would be putting a very positive spin on it. HP’s stock price dropped by more than 20%, wiping out $11.5 billion in market capitalization. Not surprisingly, Apotheker didn’t last long; he left HP just over a month later.

To be a successful CEO or senior business leader, you have to present well. The ability to craft a compelling presentation and deliver it with conviction is perhaps the most important skill for a successful leader.

This article highlights why presenting matters for executives so much and provides some tips for people hoping to present with more impact.

Why Presenting Matters

There are three reasons why presenting is such an important skill for executives. First, business leaders present a lot. They speak to employee groups, investors, partners and the board of directors. A typical day is filled with meetings and many of these revolve around presentations. Emails and text messages are important, too, but there is nothing like an actual presentation. More and more, it seems, people are reading less and talking more.

Second, presenting well is essential to have impact. Nothing happens in a company if people don’t support an idea. A senior leader needs buy-in from the CEO, cross-functional peers and the broader organization. Most companies don’t run like a military organization; you can’t court martial your head of sales if they don’t support the plan. People don’t blindly do what they are told to do. This means that senior leaders have to sell their ideas; people have to understand the concept and believe it will work. This means that an effective presentation is essential.

Third, presenting has a huge impact on perceptions. If you present with conviction and authority, people will be inclined to support an idea and you will look strategic and smart. If you are tentative and disorganized, the odds of success fall dramatically.

With the rise of video, a presentation can last for years. A positive or weak presentation delivered in a public setting can soon finds its way to Vimeo for people to admire or scoff at for all time.

Four Recommendations

Here are four recommendations for any executive looking to become better at creating and delivering business updates and recommendations.

Be clear on the purpose

The single most important thing to do when developing a presentation is to be very clear on the purpose. What is the goal for the meeting? Is the goal to gain support for an idea? Discuss why the business is performing well and what that means? Understand why a new product will miss the start ship deadline?

Once you are clear on the goal, you should put this on the first page, so that everyone understands it. This way there will be no confusion. Some people might then tune out; the topic isn’t relevant to them. Other people will engage. This is good. You need the right people paying attention.

Tell a story

People remember stories; as humans, we have been telling stories for thousands of years. Good presenters know this and tap into it; they don’t present information and data, they tell a story.

When developing a presentation, then, always start by finding the story. One point in the presentation should lead to the next one. Ultimately, this story should lead to the recommendation or conclusion. If a point doesn’t enhance the story, cut it. The data comes later.

Think carefully about the start. Where does this story begin? To find the start, consider your audience. What do they know? Where is a common place to launch this tale? It might be the last update, or it might be last year’s results.