Being a presentation skills coach offers an unrivalled viewpoint for observing leadership behaviours. For a start, there is usually time pressure. There’s also an added squeeze when the presentation in question is for a ‘must win’ tender.
Major presentations of this type are always a team effort - both in the preparation and delivery. Members of the presentation team have different levels of experience and confidence in their abilities. And, above all, the chances of success depend heavily on the quality and quality of preparation time.
Major sales presentations, in fact, are a lot like many other business challenges. Which makes leadership behaviour (whether positive or negative) highly significant.
Preparation and Engagement The preparation process involves me working with the team to fine tune the presentation and allow team members to practise their parts and get helpful feedback.
Some senior staff want to engage with this process from the start and make it a priority to do so. For them, it’s an opportunity to work with the team to draw out their expertise and help them to develop as individuals. They accept collective ownership of the process and the outcome.
Others take a different approach. They are happy to let more junior staff get on with the nitty-gritty of pulling together data and arguments and putting them into slides and supporting documents. They probably think of this as delegation.
They have confidence in their presentation skills so don’t see it as a good use of time to be part of the rehearsal and refinement process. Then they materialise at the eleventh hour, appearing like Moses with tablets of stone and start taking the process seriously.
Directive or Collaborative? Let me give you an example of a less than helpful intervention by a leader. They appear near the end of the process and announce… “changes need to be made to the presentation!”
Yes, that’s the presentation the team has just spent days preparing and a whole day rehearsing. “This is going to be a late one - better send out for pizza.”
Time pressures then nudge the process towards being more directive and less collaborative.
At a stroke, the rest of the team is effectively told that their time is less valuable. That their input isn't quite up to scratch. Sections of the presentation they have become comfortable with presenting are being changed before their dismayed eyes.
Calm and order are usurped by disruption and stress. And what for?
Priorities and Outcomes This scenario is quite common. It’s not done consciously (at least I hope not), it’s usually a reflection of how busy senior staff are. It does, however, have an effect and it does speak about priorities.
Maybe it’s not realistic for leaders to be present for all of the preparation, but it’s massively helpful when you can be there when goals, structure, key messages and win themes are agreed. And it also helps if you keep checking in to add input and encouragement throughout the process and avoid throwing everything up in the air right at the end. As I said, it’s about priorities. And what, I wonder, can have a higher priority than winning new business, developing your team or working together to achieve a common goal?
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.