Business presentations: In the spotlight - Some people would rather die than give a presentation. RACHEL MILLER reports on the consultancies offering assistance to the shy marketer

It’s part of their role that many marketers still dread, but there is no hiding place - business presentations are now an integral part of a marketer’s job.

It’s part of their role that many marketers still dread, but there

is no hiding place - business presentations are now an integral part of

a marketer’s job.

’People are judged not just on what they do but on how they put it

across,’ explains Cristina Stuart, managing director of SpeakEasy

Training. ’Once upon a time, the written word was very important but now

business is more informal. For instance, in a meeting, the person who

puts across an idea is seen as its author and if you don’t say anything,

you may be seen as having nothing to contribute.’

Many companies now expect a large proportion of their staff to be able

to talk confidently to groups of people. ’We put a lot of emphasis on

presentation skills. Everyone at Microsoft does presentations,’ says

Jonathan Hulse, Microsoft office products manager. ’We have to be able

to talk to customers, suppliers, journalists or internal audiences. We

are a very lean company and presentations are built into the culture. It

is part of evangelising the product.’

Developing the necessary skills mainly comes down to a combination of

practice and training, says Hulse. But initially, he says: ’It is a case

of sink or swim and you tend to get thrown in at the deep end.’

If you are nervous of presenting to a group of people, you are not


Making a presentation strikes fear into the hearts of many a marketer,

according to a survey by the Aziz Corporation. It found that 79% of

sales and marketing directors said that they find public speaking the

most daunting business activity (see box).

’I have been to so many presentations where the staging and the lighting

is slick but the weak link is the speaker,’ says Khalid Aziz, chairman

of the Aziz Corporation.

’We meet a lot of people who are holding down very high-powered jobs in

major businesses who can talk about the principles of marketing but who

need help with their own personal presentation skills. A lot of

marketers fall into a rut, use too much marketing-speak and ignore the

basics. Some speakers get locked into the comfort zone, where they trot

out the same old stuff to different audiences.

’Face-to-face communication is a powerful business tool that can

inspire, motivate, persuade, impress and reassure. People buy from

people. The written word simply does not have the same impact.

’Sales and marketing directors who want to make a real impression should

address this imbalance by making a greater effort to speak directly to

customers, shareholders and employees.’

The Aziz Corporation and SpeakEasy Training are communication

consultancy firms which teach presentation skills.

SpeakEasy’s client list includes British Airways, British Gas, the

Department of Trade and Industry, House of Fraser Stores, the House of

Lords and the Inland Revenue. ’There is a growing recognition that staff

have to be trained in presentation skills, particularly in the field of

marketing,’ says Cristina Stuart, of SpeakEasy.

SpeakEasy has three main roles, explains Stuart: training new staff to

bring them up to the standard of their colleagues; visiting businesses

before major pitches as an ’impartial outsider’ to give polish to the

presentation; and working with senior executives one-to-one.

One problem is that senior directors can become complacent and junior

in-house training managers can find it awkward to advise them. ’It is

difficult to tell the chairman he is rattling his coins or that he has

dandruff on his shoulder,’ says Stuart. ’As an outsider, we are

well-placed to help.’

Personal development

But can you really turn a tongue-tied executive into an effective

communicator in a matter of days? ’It can be taught,’ says Stuart. ’We

work with a person and how they are. The fear is that you are going to

try to turn them into an extrovert or make them aggressive, but that is

not our approach.

Our objective is to enhance what they already are.’

Aziz agrees. ’It takes quite a lot of guts to go through one of our


People often think they are going to have their trousers taken off. But

we don’t break you down in the morning and build you up in the

afternoon. We build up confidence step by step.’

And the technique works, he says. ’There are a tremendous number of

people who have gone from caterpillars to butterflies. We can guarantee

that if you are uneasy about speaking in public, our training will help

you to feel good about it, not just to feel more comfortable


John Winkler is a successful speaker and managing director of

consultancy Winkler International. ’I was taught,’ he says. ’Everyone

can improve, but there will always be some whose nerves get the better

of them. Lack of confidence is the biggest hurdle. You can destroy

yourself in your own mind.’

As well as self-confidence, Winkler says good speakers must know their

subject, know their audience and practice, practice, practice. ’With

presentation, style is 50% and content is 50%. Style without content

will only win once, but content without style will never win.’

One of the audiences that many marketers fear most is the media. ’The

proliferation of TV and radio means there is now a huge demand for copy,

pictures, interviews and soundbites, and there is also a lot more

interest in the inner workings of firms,’ says Chris Bramwell, training

consultant at Personal Presentation.

Personal Presentation teaches clients from organisations as diverse as

BT, Thomas Cook and Westminster City Council. Established in 1990 by

actress Julia Goodman, all of its trainers are actors.

’You can’t have tennis lessons from someone who’s not a good tennis


The importance of actors is that they are professional performers,’ says


Bridging the gap

’Actors understand that there is a gap between the speaker and the

audience and that you have to do a certain amount of work to bridge that

gap. And whether you are addressing colleagues or clients, there is

always a certain amount of selling to do. Actors spend their lives at

interviews and are constantly having to present themselves to new


Like actors, some speakers use props to enhance their performance but

these need to be handled with care. ’Technology can be useful, provided

you don’t rely on it too much,’ says SpeakEasy’s Stuart.

’It is the person that must be persuasive, not the PC. People often hide

behind their visuals but if that is all you are presenting, you might

just as well have sent them in the post.’

Aziz says: ’We like using technology, where it is appropriate, but too

often people over-do the visuals to the detriment of the message.’

He warns against simply summarising a speech onto slides, as the speaker

often ends up reading out his points from the screen when the audience

can read them for itself.

Even at Microsoft, where with its PowerPoint software the medium is the

message, the presenter presides over the technology, not the other way

around. ’You need to balance the human and the technological,’ says

Jonathan Hulse.

’Some people abuse the technology and just read off bullet points. But

you need to build a rapport with the audience. The important thing is to

respect the audience and to tailor the content to them. You have to

think about the structure of your presentation, continue to focus on

your objective, vary your intonation and use humour where appropriate.

And it is important to have a good finale, a call to action.’

For marketers who want to succeed, the call to action is clear: they

must improve their communication and presentation skills. So, when the

spotlight comes down on you, will you look like a frightened rabbit

caught in the headlights, or will a star be born?


Research by the Aziz Corporation shows that the vast majority of

marketing directors (77%) consider public speaking to be the most

daunting part of their job.

Its survey revealed:

- The level of fear is directly related to the audience, with 89% of

sales and marketing directors being worried about addressing a large

business audience and 81% fretting at the prospect of appearing in a

television interview.

- Briefing a government minister and addressing a shareholder meeting

are considered nerve-racking by about half of respondents.

- In contrast, just 13% are nervous about addressing employees at a

social gathering.

’For sales and marketing directors, making sales presentations,

sometimes to large groups, is an essential part of the job,’ says

Corporation chairman Khalid Aziz.

’Many are also responsible for large sales forces, for whom sales

presentations are part of the daily routine. It is a real cause for

concern that sales and marketing directors find public speaking both

daunting and difficult.’


Which business activities do you find a little or very difficult?

Speaking to a large audience                  66%

Preparing business plans                      40%

Managing employees                            38%

Reviewing financial data                      31%

Staff assessments                             19%

If undertaking the following, would you feel either very worried or a

little nervous?

Speaking to an audience of 500 businessmen    89%

TV interviews                                81 %

Briefing a government minister               51 %

Addressing a shareholder meeting             49 %

Presenting to the board                      40 %

Addressing employees at a social gathering   13 %


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