Thursday, December 1, 2011

Do You Think You Could Make That More Boring?

Who ever said that an investor presentation has to be boring? (I exclude from this question the lawyers, who as a default position, always feel that boring and incomprehensible is safer than exciting and interesting.)

I was at an investor conference last month and took the opportunity to sit in on several presentations. I think that most of the company presenters must have been listening to their lawyers. After about two presentations I began to tune out because most of what I heard was pretty bland and uninteresting. It was as if the presenters had all gone to the Sgt. Joe Friday school of public speaking. They were determined to give “just the facts” in the most humdrum fashion possible. (For those of you too young to remember, Sgt. Joe Friday was the principal character in the TV drama Dragnet who gave new meaning to the term poker-faced.)

Honestly, how can you expect an investor to get excited about a stock if the company CEO doesn’t show some enthusiasm when talking about the company? Yet that is exactly what I saw at the conference. This was especially true at the beginning of most presentations, when the speaker should be working the hardest to capture the interest of the audience, yet what I often heard was the recitation of bare bones facts about the company without a lot of context to help investors understand the company’s products and position within the industry.

The other major bone I have to pick about what I heard was that most companies thought their job was done when they had explained what their past activities had been. The implication of such a presentation is “Here’s what we’ve done in the past, now you can go ahead and make your own judgment about what we will do in the future without any help from us.” This is like saying that markets are static, conditions are not going to change and we are not working on any new products or markets. This, of course, is nonsense, as American companies and markets are predicated on growth and conditions change all the time. Further, financial theory 101 teaches that investors are buying your stock based upon the value of FUTURE cash flows, so why not give them some guidance about where you are going in the future? Hey, there’s a safe harbor statement about forward-looking statements in every presentation. Why not put it to good use?

All was not terrible, however. There were several successful and engaging speakers I saw at the conference. Generally, these successful speakers seemed to have two things in common. First, they got a little worked up about what their company was doing and what made their products and services unique. Secondly, they allowed some of their personality to come through. This is important because if you’ve ever read any of the surveys of investors and what they care about, quality of management is always high up the list. Yet if management is nothing more than a bland talking head, how can an investor be expected to make a qualitative judgment about them?

After all, who ever said, “I liked your presentation, but you could have been a bit more boring”?