Most CEOs I know are pretty good speakers. They present well and explain effectively. But, when they work in a team with their staff on a pitch, CEOs sometimes turn into a presentation problem.
It starts in rehearsal. The CEO doesn’t have the patience to hear each person’s section and immediately jumps in and tries to fix it. The CEO barks “say it this way”, “use these words” “don’t do that”. Worse, I’ve seen the CEO spend most of his/her time in a rehearsal on their phone reading e-mails and occasionally looking up to slam someone about something. This not only strips everyone else of confidence but all are now badly sensitized and fearful that they will say the wrong thing in the actual pitch and feel the wrath of CEO.
Think about the damage a meddling CEO can do. The prospect hires most companies because of a chemistry connection with the people. Most prospects know they’re not getting the CEO on their account. But, if the pitch team are so traumatized by the CEO, they can’t be themselves.
Or, the CEO acknowledges how important it is for the team to present, because the prospect is hiring the team. Important sections of the pitch are assigned to appropriate team members. This sort of works OK in the rehearsals, but once in front of a living, breathing prospect, the CEO takes over and starts to deliver some of the other sections in his opening. Or, when a team member is presenting, the CEO adds information…after every presenter.
All bets are off in the actual presentation. If there’s even a whiff of a poor reception from the prospect, the CEO jumps in to save the day and tries to handle the entire pitch.
When it comes to Q&A time, a key time that prospects use to gauge how well your team thinks on its feet and how deeply they really know what they are talking about, the CEO becomes the answer man. The CEO piles on in Q&A. No matter who on the team answers a question and how well it is answered, the CEO feels that he/she must add additional information to the answer. Some CEO’s simply want to control the Q&A and answer most of the questions.
One of the more common things I see is that the CEO rehearses his/her part and then goes completely off-script in the pitch, which starts a chain reaction; sort of like the lead train going off the tracks and pulling all of the other cars with it.
So, what is the role for the CEO?
-Build confidence in the team. Encourage. If things need to be changed, do it gently. Allow people to speak in their own words. Don’t micromanage the pitch. Pat everyone on the back every step of the way. Criticize off line and one-on-one, if necessary.
-The proper opening for a CEO should be to identify what the key message is for the clients and then explain that the team assembled is here because they know how to best deliver on the solution the prospect needs. The CEO needs to make an opening and then get out of the way.
-Close. The CEO should remind the prospect that the buck stops with him/her and if there are any problems, feel free to call directly.
In a pitch, the prospect should look upon the CEO as the security blanket that assures that good people will work earnestly on the account, full resources will always be applied, and that there is always a sympathetic ear close by for the client if things go awry.