It is graduation week here at Northwestern. On Friday, several hundred Kellogg MBA students will walk across the stage and receive their degrees. There will be speeches and hugs and celebrations— it’s a fun time of the year.
Soon enough, the graduates will get to work. Some will start in a week or two, while others will travel the globe for several months. By September, most graduates will be building their career and personal brand.
Last year, I provided some financial advice to graduates. I’m not a finance professor, of course, but I’ve developed some strong opinions about matters financial. You can read that advice here.
This year my advice is a bit different. If you are a new graduate, I would like to suggest that you make it a priority to become a good presenter.
My logic is simple: if you can create and deliver strong presentations, you will have an impact on the business and build your personal brand.
To have an impact, you have to sell your ideas and get people on board. You can’t launch a new product if senior management isn’t supportive. You also need the finance group, the market research team and the sales team to sign on. Likewise, you can’t reorganize the sales incentive plan without cross-functional support.
In virtually every organization, people make decisions at meetings. Texts are not a great vehicle for decision-making; you can only write a few words. Emails are fine for communicating information, but they rarely lead to decisions. It all comes down to a meeting. A group gathers to review a recommendation. This is a presentation.
If you present well, your ideas will take hold. If you lay out things clearly, people will support you. If you don’t present well, your ideas may fall flat. People will struggle to follow the recommendation and will be reluctant to commit.
Your presentations will define your brand. If you present well, people will think you are smart and gifted. If you present poorly, they will form a very different opinion.
Remember that in many organizations, you will really only see senior management when you are presenting. It is your moment to shine. Riding the elevator with a senior executive won’t do much for your brand one way or the other. Sitting in a meeting won’t do much either. When you present, however, you have an opportunity to make a lasting impression.
As Winston Churchill wrote, “Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king.”
Here are three ways to present well.
First, seek out opportunities. If you present frequently, you will become more comfortable. You will gain experience.
Second, pay attention. When you are in a meeting, look at how the person is presenting. What are they doing? Is it effective? One of the best ways to get off to a good start is to simply copy gifted presenters at your company.
Third, track down my new book (this is the promotional part of the post!). In September, I’ll be releasing a new book on developing a powerful business presentation. It is a practical, fun book full of solid advice. A lot of it is common sense, but I’ve found that when it comes to presenting, common sense isn’t so common. I’ll be announcing more about the book later in the summer. Follow me on my blog (www.timcalkins.com) Linked In or Twitter (@timothycalkins) to get all the updates.
If you develop your presentation skills, you can capitalize on all the analytical techniques you’ve learned, have a notable business impact and build a successful career.
Good luck and keep in touch.