The Power of Presentation: When Style Is Substance
One of the chief responsibilities for a CEO involves the number and quality of presentations he or she makes, before fellow employees, prospective partners, existing colleagues and consumers in general. The challenge these executives face is not one of knowledge – they possess a thorough understanding of their respective industries, in complex fields like corporate finance, investment banking, manufacturing, health care and information technology (IT) – but there is a difference between knowledge of a subject and mastery of a medium, to convey that information with clarity and conviction. The medium, contained within the three essential programs of Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint), is the message – style is substance – when everything depends on the layout, design and professionalism of that presentation.
If executives recognize this fact, if they calculate the hours spent attempting to translate knowledge into intelligible information, based on the rules of business software, they will arrive at an undeniable conclusion: That, at best, their ability to craft these presentations is mediocre; that mediocrity cannot supplant excellence, all because a CEO chooses to surrender before a computer program he or she rarely uses; and that the presentation itself – the look and feel, so to speak, of the documents, files and slides – should reflect a company's brand, not its captivity or confinement because of someone's inexperience writing business presentations. Translation: Executives should not waste their time on an art they have neither the time nor inclination to learn.
As a former business consultant, and in my current role as Founder and President of Flevy.com, which offers a variety of specialized presentation templates and spreadsheets (for, say, sales projections or sophisticated financial modeling), I believe companies can save themselves the stress – and the collective expense, in hours and tens of thousands of dollars – associated with creating these presentations. Instead, I believe in the concept of making the common customizable: Taking a universal tool, honing it to a much higher caliber of performance, thanks to the efforts of top consultants and analysts — and allowing consumers, from major CEOs to first-time entrepreneurs, the convenience of personalizing these templates with absolute ease.
The Presentation Determines the Performance: Knowing the Priority of Things
This issue is important for several reasons, but it is critical because of one immutable law of business: People draw impressions from style, thus making a presentation interchangeable with the substance listed on each page, row, column or deck. So, if a CEO wants to showcase a change in strategy or highlight an impressive surge in quarterly earnings, or make the case for the production of a new (but possibly disruptive and initially expensive) consumer good, he or she must persuade by word and deed.
The words themselves may be part of a formal speech, the introductory remarks that precede or coincide (slide-by-slide) with a business presentation, or they may be the essence of the presentation, signaling a call to action. Or, the deed itself can, again, be the presentation; the words clarify the point, but the summons to life rests with the presentation — its arrangement is like a musical score, in which the individual sections and the collective whole – the orchestra – reaches a crescendo and arrives at a climactic moment of activity, signaling our rousing applause. The sounds – in this case, the sights – inspire an audience to respond with fervor and support.
Respect the Audience: Open and Close with a Performance
There is an addendum to this point, which involves respect. Meaning: The quality of a presentation, its design and credibility, is a sign of respect for your audience. If a CEO delivers a presentation without the appearance of excellence – if the slides, images, charts and graphs do not look respectable – then that CEO will (unintentionally) be disrespectful to his or her listeners and viewers. All of which brings us back to my original comment about style and substance: The two are interchangeable because one contains a message, while the other, by appearance alone, conveys a message of its authority, integrity, confidence and leadership.
Rather than face the false choice between mastering this medium or surrendering to its tyranny of details, an effective CEO should concede the obvious, download and customize a template, and bring his or her distinctive voice to the presentation. Be passionate, insightful and informative, so you can be respectful and successful. The art of the presentation is every executive’s means to achieving those goals.
Dave Tang, Founder and CEO of Flevy (www.flevy.com), the marketplace for premium business documents, where you can browse for business frameworks, financial models, PowerPoint & presentation templates, market research reports, and more.