What Makes a Presenting Team Seem Like a Team?

One of the things that many business people say when they’re interviewing business partners is  “We’re looking for the best team.” 

So the question is this: how can you come across as a great team during a 30-45 minute presentation?

In doing many of these presentations I’ve learned a few things.

1.  It’s not something you can declare.  You can say “we are a team” all you want, but if you don’t present like a team, then you’re not going to seem like a team.  Of course, you should give examples of where you have all worked together in the past. But that is no substitute for presenting like a well-oiled machine.

2.  Be well-rehearsed.   The most import thing is simply to rehearse the presentation carefully so that everyone plays their roll well during the presentation. Good teams deliver presentations that don’t go over the time limit because one of the team members has spoken too long.   That long-winded speaker reveals that the group didn’t practice much together. How can you come across as a good team if you didn’t rehearse?

3.  Each presenter must fulfill an important and distinct role for the client.  On a football team, every player has a role. There is no duplication of purpose.  On a good presenting team, each player must address a different issue that is important to the client.  In construction presentations, often I’ll see two firm principles present because “we want to show the client that we care.”  One firm principle is enough.   The estimator should address the budget. The project manager should address the schedule. The superintendent should address issues of safety and site logistics. 

4.  Everyone should appear to like each other. While it’s  a hard quality to quantify, you want to give off the sense that everyone knows each other well.  During the presentation, everyone should be watching the other presenters carefully. You don’t want to be looking at your shoes or, worse, thumbing your Blackberry. When you hand off to a team member, you should find a nice thing to say about him. “Now I’d like to turn it over to Jack, our superintendent. Jack and I have worked together for 15 years. I call him The Captain because of the way he runs a job site. No one is better.” And smile at your colleague as you do that introduction.

5.  Everyone should speak with passion. When all the team members speak with enthusiasm, they give off a sense of unity of purpose.  If some of the members of the team are excited and others seem bored, there is the sense that some of the team members are committed when others aren’t.

6. No second guessing during Q&A. One of the easiest ways to show that you’re not a team is to second guess your colleague as they answer questions. If someone answers a question, then everyone needs to act like that’s the team answer. No second guessing allowed. Period!  If someone gives out wrong answers and you second guess them, it says a lot that’s bad about your team. First, it says that you didn’t prepare for the questions. Second, it says that you don’t really trust each other.

Public Speaking Tip from John Updike

“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people’s patience.”

Those are the words of John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize winning author who died Tuesday.

Of course, he wasn’t talking about public speaking.

But don’t you love it anyway?  And it certainly applies.

Free Webinar on “How to Win a Pitch”

howtowin-cover1Do you want to learn how to create and deliver presentations that win business? 

Consider attending my upcoming free webinar on Feb 2 at 2 pm EST. During the program, I will discuss the ideas in my new book “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals that Will Distinguish You from the Competition.” To buy the book click here.

During the webinar, you will learn:

  • How to grab your prospect’s attention and hold it through the presentation.
  • How to keep your message simple and persuasive.
  • How to Deliver the message with the kind of style that inspires confidence.
  • How to rehearse as a team.

To register for the webinar click here.   Instructions on how to log in to the webinar are provided when you register. 

The program is free. 

Don’t let the times confuse you. When you register, it will say 11-12 am Pacific Time.  Of course that translates to 2-3 pm EST.

How Hard Is It to Be a Listener?

So much time is spent focusing on how difficult it is to be a good speaker. And I focus a lot of my energy on that topic. But really, to be a good speaker, you need to understand how difficult it is to be a listener.

So let’s see if we can catalog all the challenges of listening to a presentation.

1. It’s hard to sit in once space for a long time without moving.

2. You don’t know what  is most important.

3. You’re used to seeing everything presented on television in a highly dramatic way.  Presentations aren’t nearly as interesting by comparison.

4.  You don’t know where the presentation is going to end up.  As a result, you get confused trying to figure that out.

5. You have other things competing for your attention like emails, voice mails, and other work.  That’s distracting.

6. You have a question for the speaker that is sticking in your head that won’t go away. That’s distracting.

7. There’s no coffee left.  That’s distracting.

8.  The kids are not doing well in school.  That’s distracting.

9. You don’t like your job.  That’s distracting.

10.  You don’t understand why you should care.

11. Once the presentation is over, you’re not sure what you’re expected to do next.

12. You’re not having fun.

13. You’re distracted by the speaker’s odd mannerisms.

How to succeed in a job interview

The New York Times today has a story about 75,000 layoffs announced yesterday worldwide.  And there doesn’t seem to be any way to spin that in a positive light. That’s just scary.

But for those folks who are now finding themselves without work, I hope that they will take the chance to do more than just polish off the resume and start the grind of interviewing for positions.  Interviews are a fine chance to work on honing communication and selling skills. And nothing will make you more successful in winning jobs and, just as important, succeeding at the job once you’re hired.

You need to improve both what you say during the interviews and how you say it.

In terms of what you say, it’s important to talk to prospective employers about your skills in terms of the value you provide.  You should enter an interview with a value statement followed by a plan to provide that value.

Here’s an example. I worked last week with a gentleman who had been laid off. He was a computer systems consultant. When I asked him what he did, he went into a long complex explanation of his expertise. I stopped him and asked him to tell me in simple terms the value he provided to a company.  After much discussion we settled on this, “I help design payroll systems that will save your organization money.”  

From there, he went on to lay out a simple plan for the value he provides.  He said there are three steps. First, he analyzes the existing system. Second, he prioritizes the challenges in light of business needs. And third, he executes a solution. He then had stories illustrating how he did each of the three steps. When prospective employers hear such clean explanations, they are able to say, “Wow, this person knows how to communicate.”  It’s impressive and unusual.

Another part of  preparing what to say in an interview is to prepare a list of questions you expect to get and rehearse the answers. We advise our clients to come up with no less than 20 possible questions.  Make sure that you’re ready with short answers, not long rambling explanations.  If someone asks you the time, don’t tell them how to build a clock. And make sure that you find a way to use the questions to tell the overall business value that you provide along with your plan for executing that value.

Next, you have to work on how you deliver your messages.  Most important is energy.  Most people speak in a rather flat monotone. But we urge people to interview with energy, smiling, gesturing and displaying excitement about the opportunity. Speak to your interviewer like you’re talking to a close friend about something you’re passionate about.  That style connects you with your friends. It will help you connect with prospective employers.

Layoffs stink and they’re frightening. But they also give you a chance to focus on how you present yourself and your value.  If you’re without a job, take this opportunity to hone how you present your ideas. You’ll enjoy the benefits long after this hard time has passed.

For a Quick Pitch, Try the “Three Ons”

Sometimes I go to a session and learn something great from a client.  That happened last week when working with a senior vice president for communication for a large manufacturing firm.

We were talking about how to quickly pull together your thoughts when you’re put on the spot in a meeting.  For example, how do you respond when the CEO says, “Tell me about the project you’re working on.”

“I always rely on the ‘Three Ons’,” my client told me.

Using the “Three Ons”, your report out would go like this.

“The project is going well but we are having some challenges. I want to talk about three issues: Are we on budget? Are we on schedule? And are we still on scope?”

First, are we on budget?  [Explain budget related issues.]

Second, are we on schedule? [then explain schedule and timing issues.]

Third, are we on scope? [Then explain anything related to the scope of the program and whether it has needed to be changed.]

It’s a great tool because the three point structure allows you to roll out your ideas simply and in an orderly manner. That makes it easy for your listeners to digest. 

Being able to think quickly on your feet (or seat) isn’t about being truly quick-minded. It’s about having a plan for how to respond when the time comes. 

Three “Three Ons” is one for your bag of tricks.

Pres. Obama Takes Helm in Rough Waters

Sir. Ernest Shackleton
Sir. Ernest Shackleton

When President Barack Obama strode before the nation yesterday and delivered his inaugural speech, I kept thinking about the incredible challenges that that he and all of us face.  Few speeches have been delivered with so many crises looming and with so many lives and livelihoods at stake.


And as he stood there in his dark blue overcoat delivering his pep-talk to the nation, he reminded me of Ernest Shackleton, the Irish explorer and leader.  I thought both have much to teach us about how we should carry ourselves in times of crisis.


Shackleton led the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which is recounted in Alfred Lansing’s incredible book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”.  The goal of the expedition, from 1914-1917, was to sail to Antarctica and walk across.  But the expedition failed when the ship, aptly named the Endurance, became trapped in ice near Antarctica. The ship was eventually crushed and sank.  From there, the crew wandered the bottom of the earth for months, drifting on ice floes, eating penguins and sea lions as they fought for survival.  Eventually the crew found themselves rowing to Elephant Island where they perched on a rocky wind-battered beach.


Setting out on a challenging mission


Realizing that they wouldn’t be able to survive there for long, Shackleton chose a few men for a rescue mission. They boarded a small boat and rowed 800 miles across the Antarctic Ocean to South Georgia.   They crossed icy mountains on a treacherous three day trek and found a whaling station. Shackleton then commandeered a whaling boat back to Elephant Island and rescued the remaining crew. All the men survived.


Years later, a reporter asked Shackleton whether, when he left Elephant Island, he believed he would be able to return and complete the rescue. The reporter expected Shackleton to admit that he had no hope.  But he said that he never allowed himself any doubt. “Optimism,” he said, “is the true moral courage.”


Shackleton knew that in times of crisis, leaders must maintain and air of confidence and optimism. In his diary, he wrote about how he knew that the morale of his men depended on his own positive demeanor. During the months a sea, he organized soccer matches and nightly skits. If he had doubts, he never allowed them to show.


Never allowing doubts to show


President Obama yesterday seemed to be the embodiment of Shackleton’s spirit of optimism in crisis. To be sure, Obama wasn’t ignoring the serious challenges that we face. But to look at him and hear his words, you couldn’t see anything other than confident resolve.


The stock market is plunging. People everywhere are getting laid off. Houses are being repossessed.  Bombs are falling in the Middle East. The ice caps are melting.


And there stands our new President speaking without a hint of doubt and laying out plans to address all of it. “Starting today,” he said, “we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.”


His confident demeanor made me feel confident. 


Leaders are always being watched


The lesson, for me, is that leaders must remember that they are always being watched. If you’re the managing partner of a law firm, the owner of a small company, the leader of a business unit, or simply managing your first business project never forget that people are watching you and taking their cues on how to feel about the situation from how you stand, walk, and speak.


Just something to keep in mind as we navigate today’s treacherous seas.

Hey Mr. President, Keep It Tight Today

When I visited Washington DC last summer, I stopped by the Lincoln memorial and read his second inaugural address. Of course it was still wonderful. I get goose bumps every time I read it.

But the thing that struck me most this time was its length.  It couldn’t have taken five minutes to deliver.   That brevity gave it incredible power. It was like the President was leading the nation in a short, fervent prayer.

Here is a speech for President Obama that was written by two readers of Slate magazine. I think it’s excellent. One of things I like most is that it’s short.

I favor short speeches not just because I’m easily bored.  It’s just that short speeches almost always have more impact than long ones.  

Surely that is what our nation needs today.