Present Like a Pro

In the third installment of a continuing series on communication, Scott Wentworth addressed members of CFA Society Chicago on how to make good business presentations on April 4th.  The capacity crowd of 90 in the Vault at 33 North LaSalle Street spoke to the popularity of the topic as well as the value of Wentworth’s previous two appearances before our society.  Wentworth founded Wentworth Financial Communications in 2015 to help financial businesses (especially investment managers) demonstrate their expertise through various forms of marketing content, including white papers, blogs, and newsletters. Prior to founding the company, he served as the head marketing writer at William Blair & Company. In his previous appearances with CFA Society Chicago (2017 and 2018), Wentworth addressed business writing, the primary focus of his company. This time, he spoke on oral communication, specifically how to make effective presentations.

Wentworth began by demonstrating (without announcing) several common presentation mistakes such as reading from a script, employing busy or confusing graphics, and relying on undependable technology. His point made, he quickly moved on to a very effective presentation embedding his recommendations within it. He pointed out that presenting is not the same as public speaking. A good presenter does not need to have a commanding presence or an abundance of charisma. Of greater importance is identifying and concentrating on one main idea, and then making a compelling case supporting it to the audience. Successful presenting requires skills that can be learned such as clarity, persuasion, concision, and good preparation.

Wentworth then went on to describe in detail his five tactics for a good presentation. First is identifying the goal of a presentation. He gave as examples motivating the audience to action, changing minds, correcting a misconception, or simply gathering information back from the audience. 

With the goal set, the second tactic is to analyze the audience. Is it hostile or supportive?  Uninterested or engaged? Uninformed or well-informed? This may be a difficult step if the presenter has limited information, but may be inferred from factors such as the type, purpose or setting of the presentation. It is important because it will direct the tone of the presentation.  To address a hostile audience, the presenter should emphasize areas of agreement first and seek out areas the audience would view as “win-win”. Whereas, with a supportive audience the presenter should reinforce their enthusiasm and provide an action plan or tools that lead to tangible benefits.

Wentworth described his third tactic as crafting your story arc. He admitted this is the most difficult aspect of a presentation because it is an art, not a science. It begins with identifying the one main idea he mentioned at the outset. This idea should be boiled down to as few words as possible and repeated throughout the presentation to drive it home.  In must be articulated early in the presentation to allow for this repetition, and also to protect against the risk of running out of time. Other features of the story arc include:

  • Using empathy to demonstrate that the presenter understands the audience’s situation and can help.
  • Focusing on the benefits offered rather than features (a common trap for investment managers who often focus on a product’s defining characteristics or performance).
  • Highlighting differentiating factors
  • Making things tangible.  Avoid abstract ideas, or if they’re necessary, convert them to a more tangible concept via examples or anecdotes.

The fourth tactic is creating effective visual aids. This can lead to another common error of presenters: considering the slide deck to be the presentation. Wentworth says it is not.  Rather, slides are a visual aid, just part of the presentation along with the equally-important delivery, the message or theme, and the interaction with the audience. He followed-up with a list of Do’s and Don’ts for slides.

Slides should

  • Reinforce the main idea,
  • Illustrate statistics or relationships,
  • Explain complex ideas, and
  • Keep the audience engaged. 

Slides should not

  • Outline the full presentation (they are just an aid),
  • Serve as a teleprompter, nor
  • Be distractive (too busy). 

As an aside, Wentworth recommended that the slides a presenter uses be pared down as much as possible with the bulk of the information conveyed by the presenter directly.  He recommended to having a more detailed deck as a “leave behind” for the audience.

The final recommended tactic is to practice with purpose for which Wentworth had several helpful hints:

  1. Do a dry run alone to learn the material and time the presentation
  2. Repeat with a reviewer (e.g., a co-presenter, team member, or even a spouse)
  3. Prepare for a failure of technology and have a plan B in case of a breakdown
  4. Don’t memorize lines. You’re likely to forget them which increases tension and nervousness.

Wentworth concluded his presentation, not by asking for questions, but rather asking the audience to provide examples of roadblocks or challenges they had faced in making presentations. Many offered up cases which proved to be good illustrations of how to apply the five tactics he had outlined. The discussion naturally led into a robust series of questions that extended for over half an hour. The level of audience engagement proved that Wentworth had both talked the talk, and walked the walk in demonstrating how to make a good presentation.

Past Wentworth Financial Communications Events:

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