Guest post by Jerry Weissman
Every corporate leader must possess a number of essential skills. High on the list are vision, creativity, commitment, reliability, and communication.
Presentations are the most mission-critical form of the latter. More than any other form of communication—written or electronic, remote, or in-person—presentations can result in instant success or failure.
Presentations have their own particular set of essential requirements. To be successful, a presentation must:
- Tell a clear, concise story
- Illustrate that story with simple slides
- Connect with the audience in a favorable, compelling way
- Provide succinct, satisfying responses to any audience questions
Here are five corporate leaders who serve as role models for these skills, with a link to a video of each one demonstrating a particular skill.
Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder and BOD member, illustrates how to be effective with a concise story and simple slides.
Because there is no second chance for a first impression, an essential element of any story is a strong, captivating introduction. When Mr. Gates spoke at the TED2015 conference last month, he came onto the stage wheeling a very large, black barrel; he explained:
When I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war. That’s why we had a barrel like this down in our basement, filled with cans of food and water. When the nuclear attack came, we were supposed to go downstairs, hunker down, and eat out of that barrel.
Having captured the audience’s attention, he quickly pivoted to the present—and his main message:
Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this. Instead, it looks like this. [Slide of microbe] If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly an infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes.
Mr. Gates went on to flesh out his message and wrap up his talk in just 8 minutes and 30 seconds—less than half TEDs 18-minute limit!
As the man who acquired PowerPoint in 1987 and ramped it up to the industry-leading stature it enjoys today, Mr. Gates (unlike so many of the millions of users who abuse the software), demonstrated the ideal proportions with his presentation: many vivid images, very few words or numbers.
Virginia Rometty, IBM Chairman and CEO. In her keynote at the National Retail Federation 2014 convention, she illustrated the importance of including three essential, but often-absent elements of any story:
Her intent, also known as the Call to Action:
I want to convince you that information is going to be the basis of competition for your entire industry.
(Readers of my book, Presenting to Win, know this as Point B)
The benefit to her audience:
It will allow you to build relationships in a way that builds trust that you never had before.
(Readers of the book know this as WIIFY or “What’s in it for you”):
The roadmap for her speech, also known as “telling them what you’re going to tell them:”
I’m going to describe three technology trends to you…I’m going to talk about big data… I’m going to briefly touch on cloud… And then third, really quick, there is a radical new era of technology. Something called cognitive, that means systems that learn.
And she did all of this within the first minute and 38 seconds!
John Chambers, Cisco Chairman and CEO, is a role model for the only way to deliver any presentation: as a series of one-to-one conversations. Mr. Chambers often implements this approach by stepping down from the stage and moving about the audience, addressing one person at a time. The technique has become his trademark as you’ll see in his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2014.
Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo Chairman and CEO, delivers her message with a controlled cadence, as you’ll see in her video recognizing International Women’s Day in 2013. As you watch, close your eyes briefly and listen to how she parses her words, making it easy for you to absorb them. More and more presentations today are delivered just that way: on the phone or on the web, where cadence is everything. When you open your eyes, you’ll discover that Ms. Nooyi looks as poised and confident as she sounds.
Meg Whitman, Hewlett-Packard Chairman and CEO, shows how to respond to a tough question—with transparency (unlike evasive politicians)—and then with a pivot to a strong, upbeat message. Readers of my book, In the Line of Fire, will recognize this powerful technique as Topspin.
In a video interview with Quentin Hardy, Deputy Editor of the New York Times, at 1:55 from the start, he asks pointedly, “Some people feel that you have walked away from consumer PC.” Ms. Whitman promptly acknowledges the challenge:
We have not walked away from consumer PC. You know, certainly, we haven’t been as successful in that business over the last year or two as we could like to be.
She then says, “But…” This all-purpose pivot word allows presenters to transition to their own message. Ms. Whitman described the revamp of HP’s PC line, then went on to deliver her Topspin:
You know the two big growth areas of this company are our enterprise server, storage and networking, as well as our software business and our service as business.
Learn from the leaders. Apply these techniques in every presentation you ever give.
About the Author
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk and many others. He has written five best-selling books on presentation skills. His most recent, Winning Strategies for Power Presentations, published by Pearson, is available now from Amazon.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco’s Board of Directors, attributed “at least two to three dollars” of the offering price to Jerry’s coaching. That endorsement led to more than 600 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.