What CEO’s and sales people have in common

In the 1990’s I was working for a large print manufacturing company that was considered “old economy.” Ink on paper was falling out of fashion fast and the board of directors decided to make a major change in the direction of the company.

So they hired a new CEO. A digital print expert lured away from a competitor and who came with the promise of transforming our company. A few weeks after his arrival the sales teams and executives of the Northeast were gathered into the large ballroom of a hotel to meet the new leader.

After a brief introduction this tall well dressed professional stood in front his excited audience, took the microphone and pulled an index card out of his breast pocket. He then looked down and in a monotone voice began to read his speech to us. People turned to look at one another and the expressions on their faces all said the same thing – “are you kidding me?”

He had lost the room in about fifteen seconds.

At about the same time IBM had just hired a new CEO named Lou Gerstner. IBM was in dire straits at the time and many thought it could not survive as constituted. Gerstner was lured away from another company with the idea that he would turn IBM around and save what was once one of the greatest companies in the world.       

On the day that he was introduced to about 200 of IBM’s top executives Gerstner walked past the lectern that held his notes. He stood in front of his audience, looked them in the eye and talked to them about how they were going to turn IBM around.

The printing giant’s transformational CEO was unsuccessful and he later left amid controversy over what many felt was an undeserved golden parachute. On the other hand Lou Gerstner restored confidence, set a new strategic vision, persuaded investors and brought IBM back from the brink and then some.

CEO’s are making, what are in effect sales presentations all the time – to their employees, shareholders and the media. I’m not saying that presentation skills alone made the difference between these two CEO’s but when one of your key objectives is to persuade and inspire confidence then your presentation skills are critical. And whether you are a sales person competing for a new account or a CEO competing for investment dollars, the one who can persuade and inspire confidence has a significant competitive advantage.


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