The mistake: Putting the wrong person up there on stage.

Summary:

At a conference, the speaking gig often goes to the CEO.

However, that’s not necessarily the best person to represent your company.

The best person to represent your company is the one who can convey your message the best. The natural stage animal.

And there’s another reason to think twice before putting the CEO up on stage:

The CEO is often too busy to make the slide deck. So the CEO is often operating at only 70% efficiency up there on stage, because he (or, increasingly, she) is busy thinking about the next few slides, rather than giving everything to the slide that’s currently on the screen. The audience can feel the disconnection and senses the confusion, even if it doesn’t know exactly where the confusion is coming from. Your company ends up looking disconnected and confused, even though it isn’t.

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The full audio:

Transcript of the audio:

Matt:

Let’s move on to point four. What would you like to talk about?

Baldwin:

We’ve been to many conferences, and we’ve seen a lot of these speakers from the fund management industry. It’s almost like you have to go to the opera, where you have to bring those tiny binoculars with you so you can actually see what’s on the slides. Did you ever get that feeling?

Matt:

Oh yeah, unfortunately.

Baldwin:

I have it all the time. It’s not only in fund management. It’s everywhere. There’s two big mistakes when it comes to showcasing yourself at an event. The first one is a lot of companies don’t spend enough time on figuring out “who’s our best presenter? Who is the natural stage animal, here?” You see it all the time. The flawed rationality of showcasing yourself during a presentation at an event is typically it goes in order of pay grade or rank. The CEO is the first candidate to be on stage. If the CEO can’t make it, well maybe you’ll have the managing director or whatever, and it just goes down. That’s just completely flawed. What you should do is, “Who’s our best actor here? Who is the best presenter?” Nobody cares about the person on the stage, really. What they care about is the message. That is something that is baked into this industry. Those who figure out who their best actor in the house is, should get the lead role on the stage like that. It’s not even about the glory of the speaker. It’s about getting your message out to the audience. That’s the first thing.

As a result of this flaw, what you often have is people jump on stage and they have this typical slide deck. Again, it’s like in the previous conversation that we had, they want to convey as much information as possible. It’s from that scarcity attitude. You have a guy on stage who’s reading off bullet points on a slide, and there’s way too many graphs on there. The audience is trying to figure out whether they should listen to that person or look at the slides. It gets even worse when the two elements are speaking about the same thing. You really get confused as an audience. “Where should I look right now?” Worst of all, often because of compliance department reasons and legal reasons, a lot of these slide decks have to be vetted, and therefore, they’re often made not by the speaker but by someone else. The speaker doesn’t really own the talk. People can feel this dispassionate or disconnect that the speaker has with the material.

It’s a massively missed opportunity. You’re the presentation expert here, right? I think if anything that I’ve learned from you is that you have to evoke an emotion in an audience. Also I think you just have to give them something to really think about and work with in their mind. You can do that in 10 or 15 minutes. You can choose one or two topics to ignite that thought process in the audience. I think there’s a missed opportunity there.

Again, keep it simple when you’re on stage. Convey the kind of message or maybe ask the audience, present them with a massive question that will get their minds involved with it. Next thing you know, they’re going to be thinking about you a long time after your presentation. That’s exactly what you want.

Matt:

I want to ask you a question about something that you said a few minutes ago. You were talking about the disconnect between a slide deck that might be made by someone else, maybe in the communications department or the marketing department or something like that, and then the presenter who’s actually up on stage might not have seen it before or has spent very little time with it. If I’m a company, let’s say I’m company XYZ, and I have the option of doing that or putting the person up on stage who, he’s a great speaker but he makes terrible slides. He doesn’t have a whole lot of graphic sense at all. Is a great speaker with a bad slide deck better than a great speaker trying to speak to a slide deck that he doesn’t even understand? What are your thoughts on that?

Baldwin:

I think the problem is I guess that you’re using that opportunity to speak, again to cram in as much information as you can. That’s the thing that you really have to avoid. Regardless if your policy is not only the CEO speaks when he can or we have our best actor on stage, your best actor on stage may not be as knowledgeable about the industry trends as the CEO, but the CEO may be too busy to really internalize the talk. There’s two weights that in a way balance each other out. I think often it’s about the topic you choose. Maybe it should be just one topic or two topics, something that is also compliant. For example, as long as you’re going to be speaking about precise investment opportunities or you’re going to be giving what could be understood as an investment recommendation, of course your compliance department is going to have to know what’s going to be done there and what’s going to be on the screen.

But if you talk about things that are not per se investment recommendations but are adjacent to that … For example, let’s say you’re a European equity manager. There’s hundreds of European equity managers. You can go and talk about financial investment themes, or you can maybe zoom in on, “What is Europe’s competitive advantage in the world?” Then you can maybe present them with a little bit of research. “Look! I bet you didn’t know that for example in Europe we have the biggest manufacturing of X type of product.” You could bring something about the European industry perspective, without even saying a world about investing. Guess what? The audience is going to say, “That’s really interesting and useful. These people seem to know what’s going on with European companies. Guess what? Maybe they should be selecting companies for me to invest in.”

You don’t have to spell it out. People aren’t really that stupid. I think it’s more like how can you find something that is compliant, or doesn’t need to be involved in compliance, which can equally be brought by a CEO or by a good actor, who’s not as senior as CEO. I think that maybe is the golden combination here.

About Matt Krause

Matt began his professional life managing inventory levels for wholesale import companies and forecasting labor costs for national retail chains. Since 2006, he has been teaching professionals how to present themselves and their companies better. His clients work for companies like Citibank, Microsoft, 3M, P&G, and HP.