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.’
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
’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?
FACING UP TO FEAR
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
- 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
’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
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 %