Tony Compton, Managing Director
It’s about time somebody credibly demonstrated the importance of personal #presentation skills and put it on full display for the global business world to see. During this week’s premier of his new television show The Partner on #CNBC, entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis did just that.
For the past several years, Mr. Lemonis has been the host and business expert on another CNBC show named The Profit. On that show, Marcus documents his attempts to help failing businesses across the USA. Most of the companies featured on The Profit are on the smaller-to-medium size: local and regional organizations across industries that have gone astray with failing business models. More often than not, Marcus ends up investing in the failing businesses featured on his show, and assumes full control of all turnaround efforts. On occasion, Marcus walks away from difficult or reluctant owners, and businesses with seemingly little chance of survival. But to date, he has invested tens of millions of dollars in dozens of businesses across the country. As a result of his investments and increased demands on his time, Marcus Lemonis is in need of executive help. Thus, the search for, and a new TV show named, The Partner.
This week’s premier featured 10 candidates brought to downtown Chicago to start the process of competing for the opportunity to become Mr. Lemonis’ new business partner. 10 outstanding candidates with impressive, executive-level job titles from all walks of life. (On a personal note, the first episode show was set at The Drake hotel, blocks from where I studied for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and minutes from where I’ve lived for most of the past 25 years. Very familiar home territory.)
Each Partner candidate had been successful in the professional world, brought stellar credentials to the show, survived the audition process, and had a great story to tell. Problem was, most couldn’t effectively stand and deliver their story or their messages when it mattered the most: under pressure, on the first show, in the first round, in a surprise business #communication situation many were clearly not equipped to handle.
The setup was this: each candidate was told that they were to be given two-and-a-half minutes to present their case as to why they were the best person for the job. Next, Mr. Lemonis told the candidates he was going to set up for the presentations in a nearby conference room. One-by-one, the candidates made their way to the meeting room expecting a traditional job interview setting. It was anything but.
Unknown to the candidates, a surprise awaited them. Marcus had intentionally filled the meeting room with a large group of business people. There were well-dressed professionals sitting around the conference room table and standing shoulder-to-shoulder across the width of the room behind the table. I estimate the meeting room size was 15’ x 25’ – maybe 375-400 square feet. The number of people in the room was 30-40. Several brights lights from the back of the room illuminated the candidates as they each stood alone in front of the room, and at least one TV camera in the back was visible. The object was to (professionally) intimidate each candidate.
I watched as the candidates opened the conference room door. The solo reactions were priceless. From the footage shown, two or three of the candidates did an okay-to-decent job of handling the impromptu task. Most did not.
It bears repeating. All 10 candidates were stellar, executive-level candidates and have something to offer any business or professional organization. All very good people. But when it came to the first business communication challenge on the show, in this competition, most of candidates fell short of expectations. In fact, some of results were disastrous.
Here’s what I saw: one candidate walked in the room, then out, and quickly back in. Another appeared shocked. Few smiled, or even gave the impression that they were enjoying the moment. In the individual attempts to tell the group why they were the best candidate, many didn’t organize their thoughts and stumbled over their words. One looked away and employed a low vocal volume. Still another complained about the bright lights, and when asked what she would do if she was at an event representing the company in a similar meeting situation, her response was “I don’t know.” (She didn’t advance to the next round.)
It also bears mentioning that the candidates didn’t have the use of PowerPoint slides for these presentations. No slides. No props. No smartphones, computers, or laptops. Just the candidates themselves, standing at the front of the room facing the crowd, the lights, the camera, and the hiring manager – the decision maker – Marcus Lemonis.
I’m certain each had great personal and professional content, but only a fraction of the group had any skill or proven process to communicate it.
And for those who haven’t taken the time to properly enable themselves to use their own content to be effective in such a challenging situation, how could they (or anybody else for that matter) who takes a similar lackluster approach to presentation skills and personal business presence be expected to properly enable sales? Or marketing? Or customer service? Or any area of any business?
I smirk at the current deluge of ‘content, content, content’ without those who order or produce such content understanding how it’s effectively used by those in sales, marketing, service, and front-line executives when they face prospects, clients, partners, and investors in highly-competitive situations. After all, it’s not just the content, nor its delivery model that will win the day. It’s a professional’s ability to stand, deliver, and be heard first – then the quality of the content, second.
One issue is that of straightforward sales enablement. So many alleged sales enablers claim they provide meaningful content to salespeople, via innovative technology, in order to produce increased corporate revenues. But if these ‘enablers’ can’t handle a situation where they have to stand and deliver their own impromptu story to a business group, how can they call themselves sales enablers? Maybe they should enable themselves first with the personal communication skills they need to present their ideas to any audience put in front of them. Then they’ll have a genuine understanding of enabling others to be successful in front any audience, in any given situation, planned or unplanned. It’s only at that time that content – or more content – can be introduced.
Another presentation and enablement issue goes up to the executive ranks. In nearly 30 years of watching executive presentations given by CEOs, VPs, Directors, etc. I can safely say far too many of the presentations are sub-par. Below expectations. Hard to watch. Not engaging. Inexcusable. Good people, great content. Rotten presentation skills. To make matters worse, audiences are now treated to video and audio versions of sleep-inducing presentations, ebooks, and all sorts of amateurish multimedia content that clog social media feeds.
If executives won’t enable themselves to possess outstanding presentation skills, how can they assess any form of personal communication, sales effort, or team enablement via content production alone? If they can’t stand, deliver, and present themselves without the crutches of modern-day slide decks and electronics, how will they really know what works and what doesn’t in front of an audience? And what presentation support or professional development in this situation should their employees expect? (None.)
Just because somebody has a spiffy sounding executive title doesn’t mean they can effectively present. And if that’s the case, don’t talk to me about enabling anybody else. Enable yourself, first.
The ability to pass the tough presentation test put forth on The Partner requires more than a one-off, two-day generic presentation skills course taught once a year at corporate headquarters for the fortunate dozen who are able to attend. It takes continual communication practice to individually prepare for the presentation challenges of executive meetings, sales pursuits, webinars, on-camera appearances, media interviews, conference sessions, industry speeches, trade show duties, product briefings, and traditional conference calls. Lest we forget that everybody has a camera in their pocket and can live stream from any one of your corporate activities on a moment’s notice, whether or not you’re prepared, ready, willing, and able.
I know first hand that many companies won’t take the time or spend the money to effectively develop this area of employee communication performance. First, you have to know what you’re doing in this area, and today’s marketers (digital and otherwise) simply don’t know what to do. Nor do human resources departments lost in the 1980s. Some think the responsibility of presentation coaching falls to product marketing. That’s even worse. Before you know it, employees look outside the organization for presentation help, on their own time and on their own dime, because their employer has nothing to offer in this respect.
Yet we now see just how important this facet of the individual professional game is.
More, for all you Digital Marketers out there… or those that emphasize digital this, and digital that, as the opening for what’s important to lead generation, sales, and marketing, and your business in general, please take note. The candidates were not asked to keyword their way into the interview. Nor were they asked to demonstrate how well they use their Facebook skills. Not yet, anyway. They weren’t asked to Snapchat, Tweet, or show they’re chops on LinkedIn. The opening challenge wasn’t an exercise in SEO and SEM or compiling a text-heavy incomprehensible slide deck. It’s was a test to immediately put their personal communication and business presentation skills on the line, and do so in the a surprise, intimidating environment. Damn right. Pull your collective noses out of your mobile screens and pay attention to the business world around you and what it takes to personally communicate with your target audience – and your sales team.
Finally, some may ask what I would’ve done in a similar situation.
If given 2:30 to present, I would have prepared two short, scripted statements: one opening and one closing. Those statements would work, no matter the size of the audience. I would have physically prepared by breathing, relaxing, and preparing my voice. Again, these tactics work no matter the size of the audience. I’d have water available. Upon entering the room, I would have smiled. I’d smile, and stay in control and in charge of the situation. If possible, I’d introduce myself to as many in the room as possible before starting. I’d organize my thoughts, and do an amped-up voice check so that the very last person in the back of room can hear me – loudly and clearly. I’d gain my balance, establish my stance, pick the first person to look in the eyes and deliver my opening statement.
And I would only start speaking when I’m ready to start. Not one moment sooner.
I’d finish with a call to action, and with a statement with what I want the audience to do.
If you want more ideas about preparing for a planned presentation, webinar, or on-camera appearance, you’ll find them here.
But what I want you to do now is watch the premiere episode of The Partner on CNBC’s website, and share your thoughts on Marcus Lemonis’ presentation challenge.
Then consider what you’ll do to prepare yourself to meet the communication challenges of similar presentation situations. Only then should we talk about comprehensive team sales enablement – and the proper incorporation and usage of content.
Again, that’s only after are personal presentation skills are up to a sufficient level of performance and you’ve demonstrated the ability to pass any presentation test.
I’m looking forward to the next episodes of The Partner, and I hope Mr. Lemonis stays the course with emphasizing outstanding presentation skills from all of his #executive candidates, and the business leaders working within his portfolio of companies.