Effective communication and presentation skills have become all the more important in the aftermath of the global credit crisis, some professional trainers say. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: During a recent interview for a sales position at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), one of the candidates gave each member of the panel an individually bound copy of his presentation, before confidently talking his way through a slideshow.

"He put on a Powerpoint slideshow, and even without turning to page numbers, he knew exactly which page number corresponded to what point and was able to answer questions that [board] members were throwing at him. Here was someone who was clear in his message and someone who wanted to work for the bank," says Alan Durrant, chief investment officer of NBAD. The candidate was hired.

While not all positions formally require people to have presentation and public speaking skills, it is a competency valued by all employers.

"In a lot of areas of banking it's quite possible to build a career without needing to either present or speak publicly. We have with the NBAD lots of very good people who never present to anybody. But I do think there is a glass ceiling that people will hit unless they are comfortable presenting," Durrant says.

Career-growth role

Sameena Ahmad, managing director at Bank Sarasin Alpen (Middle East), points out that presentation skills are important for roles in sales, marketing and human resources. "Often these skills become more important as you grow in an organisation and are required to present your ideas effectively and convince people about them," she adds. Both banks have programmes which offer training on presentation skills and related topics.

It is incorrect to assume that public speaking and presentation skills are needed by "leaders and sales people only," says Andrew McNeilis, managing director, Middle East and Africa, Talent2.

"It is important to note in the modern company people at all levels are often required to participate in both internal and client facing presentations. Internally there is always a need to update management and colleagues on progress with important projects, departmental progress and the like."

As in the case of NBAD, McNeilis says it is not uncommon for a presentation to be included as part of the hiring and selection process.

It is important to separate the gift of public speaking from that of a business presentation, he says.

"Whilst similar they are different skills: public speaking being an ability to engage a varied passive audience on a range of issues and hold their attention; while sales and business presentations are often more intimate and selective. It is not uncommon for a sales process to require several presentations," he says.

Communicating and presenting effectively has become all the more important in the aftermath of the global credit crisis, say some professional trainers. John Quinn, ‘Presentologist' and owner of of Dubai-based Satellite Visual Communication, a presentation company, says organisations all over the world rely on presentations to negotiate partnerships, communicate internally, train their personnel and generate sales. "As we come out of the financial crisis and with the shift toward electronic communications channels and away from travel and face-to-face meetings, companies now face increasing pressure to deliver a presentation that can speak for them. Presentations are becoming much more of a way of actually selling yourselves."

Need to practice

Hazel Jackson, co-founder and chief executive of Biz-Group, a corporate leadership training and performance management firm based in Dubai, points out that communication and building confidence have been part of the training list for most of the big companies.

"The challenge is sometimes people go and study presentation skills or public speaking but aren't given the opportunity to practice. It's one of those skills that everybody would like to learn but unless they go out and have a chance to use it pretty quickly you lose the confidence and you lose some of the capability," Jackson says.

"The good news is that presentation skills are learnable, so if you can find a person with strong critical thinking skills and abilities, you can usually help them become a more successful presenter," says Nancy Keeshan, executive director, Duke Corporate Education, Dubai. "So whether taught in a course or provided with on the job opportunities, everyone can improve their presentation skills." Keeshan offers courses on Management Communications, Individual Effectiveness.

Both Quinn and Jackson believe one's peers are among the hardest people to present to. "They are going to judge you more. Actually it is easier to present to your clients. Your internal meeting presentation tends to have more information in them. Presentation to a client should not have everything that you are going to talk about," Quinn says.

Either way, Jackson says, people are interested in hearing the message.

"They are on your side. Remember most of the time people want you to succeed. Don't make them out to be this big judging group. You should be having a conversation with them."

Different businesses have their own difficulties with presentations. Quinn points to medical and IT among those who are "terrible at overcomplicating and having too much information".

"The best people are those who can simplify. This problem is endemic and throughout the world. There are 30 million powerpoints delivered every day in the world. 99 per cent of them have the same problem which is too much information. Ultimately it impacts on your bottomline. You communicate better and you get the deal."

Getting everyone to nod in acceptance

  • Rehearse before you make a presentation.
  • Seek feedback from trusted sources on how you performed. Ideally if you can video yourself and bear to watch it, that's a great source of feedback.
  • On the day of the presentation, don't have a big meal.
  • Check that everything has been set up correctly. Make sure the powerpoint presentation is in front of you either on a laptop or on a screen on the floor so that you don't have to keep turning round. Never, have your back to the audience. 
  •  It's better to speak naturally.
  • Body language is key. If you are uncomfortable being on stage, give yourself a podium. If you are prone to fidget or moving around too much, stand next to a table so that you can anchor one hand. Nevertheless, it's good to have some animation.
  • It is better for a new speaker not to walk up or down a stage. Keep content strong, the message clear and the supporting powerpoint interesting. The presentation must not repeat what is being said.
  • Do not start with a joke. While anecdotal or self-deprecating humour is positive, not all speakers are able to pull it off.
  • Practice your pitch, tone of your voice and emphasis, among others.
  • In the presentation on screen, do not use bullet points but add imagery.
  • A good formula is: 10: 20: 30: 10 is the number of slides, 20 is number of minutes, 30 is the minimum font size. A big font forces people not to put all their text on a slide. Also, a lot of decision-makers are seniors whose eyesight is not good.
  • Don't overload the presentation with figures and charts.
  • After 20 minutes you should start interacting with your audience.
  • Simplify your message. Ideally you should focus on three core points that the audience — colleagues, boss or clients — can take away.
  • Always have several hard copies of the presentation for the audience. It also serves as a back-up in case of a technical hitch.

Sources: John Quinn, ‘Presentologist' and owner, Satellite Visual Communication; Hazel Jackson, CEO of Biz-Group