Magazine article Management Today

How to Wow an Audience

Magazine article Management Today

How to Wow an Audience

Article excerpt

Sooner or later everyone in business has to make a public address. These presentations can often make the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure. Khalid Aziz, drawing on 20 years' experience helping business people excel with the spoken word, argues that more emphasis should be put on perfect presentation It has got to stop. The average presentation made in British business today is woeful and we just cannot go on this way. Not that it is much better in other countries, where business actually takes itself seriously. But surely in the UK, where we are justly proud of the fact that we have given our language to the rest of the world, we could do better. Why is it that the spoken word is not given the same amount of attention and promotion as the written word? Well, it's because our media, even the electronic media, continues to be dominated by arts graduates from universities where there is still a prevailing view that their charges should be saved from the world of business and all that goes with it. True, they fill the heads of their students with words, but these are predominantly written words. Where is the art of declamation? Where is the oratory? Where is there real debate in which it is permissible to adopt a view and argue it strongly even though the speaker may not necessarily agree with the standpoint he is promoting?

It is little wonder then that when graduates enter business they struggle to make themselves understood. Not that they have great role models to look up to. Usually, their bosses struggle too. 'I make good presentations and bad presentations. The trouble is I don't know why the good presentations are good or why the bad presentations are bad.' This is a lament that will be all too familiar to many a business presenter.

So why is the standard of presentations generally so low? The answer lies in the way that we are brought up. From the moment we can talk we are told to shut up and listen. At school if we do anything of value it is usually in writing. If we talk we are branded as chatterboxes. GCSEs and A-levels are conducted almost entirely in writing, and it is the same at university. If you get to do a viva voce at university it is usually a punishment for messing up a written exam!

It used to be in business that you could avoid making presentations, hiding in the undergrowth behind those more keen on making a name for themselves. After all, you were hired for your intelligence, for your technical expertise and, of course, for your management ability. Talking a lot, by definition, does not go hand in hand with strong, silent and decisive management. We have encountered scores of very senior managers who have risen without hindrance, making very few presentations - clearly risk-averse types who keep their noses clean in the hope of hanging their hat on a pension.

Take the gent in his mid-sixties who, after an illustrious career in the upper echelons of industry and the City, was cruising comfortably along with a nice portfolio of blue-chip non-executive directorships. Then one day the chairman of one of the companies he served had a brainwave. How would he like to stand up at the forthcoming AGM in his role as chairman of the remuneration committee and explain the new executive share option scheme to the shareholders? The request was given added piquancy by the fact that the company concerned was a newly privatised utility.

Unfortunately, the request did not come with a multiple-choice answer. The gent had two weeks to get his act together. He had never spoken in public before. He applied himself and did passably well. But how much better would it have been for his company (and for his stress levels) if the ability to speak in public had been just another tool in his executive armoury acquired, along with all his other executive skills, as he progressed up the corporate ladder?

As people wind their way towards the top of the business world, making their first presentation usually comes as a shock to the system. …

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