Monday, October 31, 2011

Stand a Little Closer to the Podium… Coaching and Investor Relations

A short while ago a friend sent me a copy of an article in the New Yorker about coaching. We’re not talking here about improving your golf swing. Rather, the author of the article suggests that people in business could stand to benefit from having someone who is an expert observe and offer constructive criticism on how they perform routine tasks. The article can be found here:

I was intrigued by the article, not only because I spend considerable time coaching first year MBA students on how to give business presentations, but also on the concept’s potential for improving investor relations activities. By its nature, investor relations involves repetitious activities that revolve around everything from how you talk on the phone, to investor presentations and quarterly earnings reporting. These are the exact type of activities that can benefit from coaching. And yet, in all my years of business, I have rarely seen anything that approaches coaching done outside of a seminar environment.

Take for example, your typical investor relations presentation given by a CEO. I’ve sat through literally hundreds of these throughout my career and most were less than memorable. Just a few things that we talk about with our students touching upon delivery, content and visuals could be pointed out to many CEOs:

Delivery – was the speaker enthusiastic when speaking to the investors? After all, if the CEO isn’t enthusiastic about the company, how can you expect investors to get excited?

Content – is the speaker able to place the company into an understandable framework that helps investors understand the value his company brings to the marketplace? I have seen any number of presentations where software and tech companies get so wrapped up in the technological aspects of their products that they fail to bring it down to the level where an investor can see how they can make money on the technology.

Visuals – how many times have you seen a screen full of bullet points that the speaker feels compelled to read? Worse yet, how about a balance sheet in 8 point type?

Business leaders of today have to be communicators, yet many of them could stand some improvement in their delivery. This is where coaching should come in, but rarely does. My guess is that most investor relations officers are loath to criticize their superiors. Which is too bad, because we can all stand some improvement. I know I’ve been practicing public speaking for over thirty years and there are still things I need to improve.

So here’s today’s practical tip: if IROs don’t want to tread on thin ice by critiquing executives, videotape them and let them review themselves. It helps if you give them a list of common errors to watch and listen for, such as vocal fillers, repetitive phrases, body language and eye contact. Then tell them to watch/ listen to the presentation four times:

First, listen and don’t watch. This lets the speaker focus on vocal qualities such as pitch, tone, speed, ums and ahhs, and if he was using his voice to tell listeners what was important.

Second, watch with no sound. This will draw attention to body language, eye contact and the annoying things the speaker may be doing with their hands.

Third, listen and watch the presentation to see if it all comes together in a coherent whole.

Fourth (for the brave), watch the presentation at double speed. This will really bring to the fore any annoying or quirky things the speaker tends to do, such as looking up at the ceiling, or performing a little dance step as he speaks.

Who knows, after watching themselves a few times, CEOs might get a little bit humbler.