The Business Improvement Network

Presentation skills

By Dr Simon Raybould

BIN - The Business Improvement Network

What’s the most important skill the leader of any organisation can have? I’m a presentation skills trainer, so I’m bound to think it’s presentation skills, right? Actually wrong. The honest answer is that I simply don’t know - it depends on your organisation and its needs. What I do know is that no matter what the most important thing is, the ability to present it to people is the second most important. There’s no point in being brilliant at financial wizardry if you can’t explain what’s needed to the sales team. In short, while presentations aren’t the be-all and end-all of being a leader, they’re right up there with things like breathing.

So why is it that most organisation leaders are so depressignly bad at it? To be honest there are a number of possibilities, but I’m going to go out on a limb and risk giving you my personal experience based on over 10 years as a specialist presentations trainer and one of the country’s leading business presenters.  (Insert your own joke about modest right about…. here.)

Firstly, I’ve found it’s down to the fact that most leaders - yes you - are technically competent. You’re an expert at, well, whatever you’re an expert in. Accountancy? Law? Civil Engineering? Charity Fundraising? Making Toast? It takes a lot of effort to master your technical expertise - trust me, I’m with you. I get it. And that doesn’t leave a lot of time or mental energy left for the soft and fluffy stuff like actually explaining things to people and motivating them to action whatever you’ve explained to them.

The second problem you’ve got is that because you’re good at whatever-it-is you get promoted, which means that it gets hard to break some bad news to you, because you’re important. But here’s the bad news. Your presentations probably suck. But it’s hard to tell you that, sometimes, because your staff are, well, your staff. With the best will in the worlds it’s hard to tell the boss he (she) is wasting people’s time in meetings and at The Annual Get Together.

What do I mean by ‘suck’? I’m being unfair because they might not acutallysuck - what I mean is that they’re not value for money (time) in the same way as you’d not allow for your marketing team or your technical support team. Cost/Benefit applies to the soft stuff too, remember!  The issue is that you almost certainly think of a presentation as something you do. It isn’t.  A presentation is something you do so that… And there’s the rub. The vast majority of presentations are designed (badly?) to do things like “explain the new insurance policy”. What you should be doing is a presentation to “get everyone on board with the new insurance policy and using it”. Of course that means they have to know what it is, but knowing what it is isn’t the end game - it’s just means, not an end. That’s the key thing - presentations are a means, not an end.

And if your presentation is all wrapped up in the wrong things wrong thing like that, how can you hope to make it work?
It’s like giving your car a bigger engine. Good idea, right? Nope. What you mean is Giving your car a bigger engine so it goes faster. The last bit of that sentence is the killer for most leaders.

By now the penny’s either dropped or you’re thinking you’re wasting your time to read on, but even if you agree with me (of course, you’re entirely at liberty to be wrong) but the key question now is what you can do about it.
To be honest, the answer is surprisingly simple - even embarrassingly so. For a start, just by being aware of the problem you’re well on course to sorting it out. Start by asking yourself “what change is the presentation supposed to make happen?”. Then follow it up with “How will I know when this has been achieved?” and the often-overlooked “What’s the cost-benefit situation?”.

In other words, know what you’re trying to change, how you’ll know you’ve managed it and how much effort/time/money it’s worth to you. I’ve got clients who go for tender pitches of tens of millions of pounds - for them it’s well worth investing a few thousand pounds in getting their presentations absolutely right on the button. For other clients it’s less important so just an hour of your time will be the appropriate level of investment.

Now, take your answer and double it, ‘cos almost everyone lies to themselves about that last set of questions.

Why lie to ourselves? It’s the same principle as we lie to doctors about how much alcohol we drink and how much we don’t exercise!  Because if we answer honestly we suddenly realise we need to spend a lot more time on your presentations than we do, and that scares us. People who forget that just because something is the second most important skill they have doesn’t mean it’s a luxury.  It isn’t. It’s a cost-benefited necessity.

By the way, one simple tool I’ve found to get you on the right track is this… take your answer to the first question, the one about what you’re trying to change, and get it into a tweet. It’s not the tweet you create that’s important, it’s the discipline of trying to get it into a tweet. With the kind of focus that exercise gives you, it suddenly becomes a lot (lot!) easier to figure out the other questions - and then the last question you’ve not had yet. Ready for it?
Once you know what you’re trying to do, and how important it is to do it, the killer question is “Given those things, what’s the best way of doing that?”.  Don’t just rush to your computer without figuring all this out. That makes about as much sense as driving without a destination!  It might be fun, but it costs you time and money without getting you where you wanted to go.

About the author

Dr Simon Raybould is the author of Presentation Genius, the business bestseller, and one of the UK’s leading presentation trainers. Clients range from one man bands to multi-nationals. He’s so confident of his training that he makes a simple promise that if you don’t think it’s been worthwhile, it’s free. You can sign up for ongoing free support and courses at You can also subscribe to his new youtube channel at If you want to be personal, say hello:

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