Presenting Is A Critical Skill for CEOs

Set the room

A presentation is a piece of theater; it is a performance that taps into all the senses. Words are important, but also visuals and movement. Anyone familiar with theater knows that the set matters a lot; brilliant staging can transform a production.

The same is true for a business presentation; the setting matters. Indeed, the setting will sometimes determine the type of presentation you will have to do. If a room is set up with a podium on a stage, it will be difficult to walk around and engage with your audience. Why isn’t she up on the stage and using the podium? That looks odd. If people are sitting at round tables, there probably should be some sort of group interaction.

Before delivering a presentation, an executive should consider the space. How is the room set up? Is there a podium? Where is the projector? Is there a spot for notes?

There isn’t one perfect arrangement that will work for each situation. Sometimes the formality of a podium is appropriate. Sometimes you’ll want to wander around and get close to your audience.

The key is that you want to be deliberate and thoughtful. This means you should consider the layout in advance. If you arrive five minutes before a presentation, you won’t be able to make any changes. You, or someone on your teams, need to work on the room layout in advance.

While you are at it, double check the sound and the projection system. And have a back-up plan. If a video doesn’t play (and often they don’t) what will you do?

Don’t outsource development

One thing executives have in common is that they are busy. As a result, it is very tempting to outsource your presentations. Instead of sitting down to write a presentation, you ask your assistant to pull it together. Some executives ask the summer intern to do it.

This is not a best practice; you need to be deeply involved in developing your presentations. The main reason is that your delivery will be much stronger if you crafted the story. When you deliver a presentation you are telling a story, so you need to know each point. You need to emphasize certain things to set up the rest of the story. There is nothing worse than watching someone present, knowing they have no idea what is coming next.

So allocate the time to craft your updates. Jim Kilts, former CEO of Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, would spend hours developing his business updates, going through fifty or sixty drafts. You may not need this sort of intensity, but it isn’t unreasonable.

The good news is that once you have a presentation that works, you can give it many times. Consider performers like Taylor Swift; they spend a lot of time getting the show right, and then repeat the show again and again. Business leaders can do the same thing.

Presenting is a sometimes overlooked skill but smart leaders know that how you communicate your strategy, plan and ideas is just as important, perhaps more important, than the quality of the ideas.

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