Jacqui Harper MBE is one of Britain's most experienced and respected broadcasters and corporate trainers. She has anchored news and current affairs programmes for BBC TV, Sky News and GMTV...
Rutger Schellens learnt his most important lesson about business presentations from his time as a hockey coach. When communicating tactics and strategy to his young players he quickly realised that short, focused messages got the best results.
So he’s taken that winning formula into the highly competitive world of international financial markets. As the head of global financial markets for one of the top Dutch banks, he regularly uses his coaching techniques when addressing international audiences, clients and colleagues.
Rutger recalls a presentation he did to his international team. The global audience of 200 people had gathered to hear the new business strategy.
Rutger’s presentation was less than 15 minutes long so it was certainly short. It contained three core messages and he was careful to reinforce them several times.
What did he do beforehand? First of all he made time for preparation in his busy schedule. He spent a day and a half working on the presentation and rehearsing the material with conference producers.
He worked hard at extracting the main messages from his material. He established three core messages which described three initiatives. He made sure that throughout his presentation he constantly went back to those core messages.
He also thought about the best way to start his presentation. After a number of ideas he settled for a video. In this case it was a short television commercial about Rabobank’s wholesale division. It took one minute to play the humorous commercial but the laughter and goodwill lasted much longer.
The video was an ice breaker but its theme clearly connected to the core message. The central character in the video is making a presentation to an international financial audience and gets off to a difficult start. But he gradually grows in stature and by the end he is taken very seriously by his audience. This was a fitting allegory for the story of the global bank and a strong start to a presentation explaining how the strategy will fulfil the bank’s aspirations.
Half way through the presentation Rutger showed another very short video. It showed him questioning a senior figure in the bank about a key issue which was causing problems to his division. The video explained new practices which tied into Rutger’s core message about the way forward. The video was another way of reinforcing the core messages to his audience.
Four slides were created for the presentation. Yes, four. In Rutger’s experience this is where many business presenters go wrong. They use far too many slides and put too much information on them.
“You have to be very selective with what you use in a presentation. When talking about results give the audience headline numbers, probably four is the maximum. If you’re talking about strategy limit the number of key performers or indicators that you discuss. Also make sure people can see the numbers at the back!”
Once you’ve got the message clear it’s also important to work on delivery, says Rutger. For the strategy presentation he paid attention to pace. He didn’t want key points to get lost so he used deliberate pauses. For example when he played the funny video at the beginning he waited until the audience was quiet again and he had their full attention before resuming his speech.
Rutger feels that getting the delivery right helps you reach your audience. He also pays close attention to what he wears. For the strategy presentation he wore a smart dark suit and shirt but no tie. He wanted to show that he was relaxed in himself and with his subject. He also made the effort to smile and articulate his words.
The benefit of working on delivery is that it brings out the presenter’s personality. Rutger admires colleagues whose delivery gives the audience the sense that they are being themselves.
A strong delivery is best achieved through rehearsal. “When you’ve gone over the presentation a couple of times it feels more natural and you don’t need to rely on a script. This allows you to respond more freely to the audience. That is why you’re there.”
Rutger was pleased with the presentation to his colleagues because it was well received by them. He thought it was going well while he was speaking because people got involved. He sensed their energy and their reactions. After the speech many colleagues gave him positive feedback. He’s certain the success was down to the short, focused style of presentation.
It looks like those hockey lessons paid off.