Do Poor Presentation Skills of an Otherwise Effective Executive Sap Shareholder Value?

A new study suggests that executives who speak at pitching sessions with competent-looking gestures and mannerisms are more likely to boost a new public company’s share price over the course of an IPO road show.

The implications underscore a need for leaders to continually improve their image and business presentation skills.

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, researchers from three prominent U.S. business schools tested reactions to more than 200 CEO presentations on video. Participants—who were restricted from hearing the pitch and knew nothing about the CEO or company—could unknowingly predict an IPO price based solely on their perceptions of the CEO.

Participants rated the CEOs on attractiveness, competence and trustworthiness. Researchers found that compared to an average CEO, a 5 percent higher rating on perceptions correlated to an 11 percent higher IPO price than expected.

Researchers concluded that “results provide evidence that basic impressions of management have a significant impact on investors’ assessments of firm quality.”

“Part of a CEO’s job is to have a presence…and convey the company’s story,” Elizabeth Blankespoor of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, one of the study’s researchers, told the Journal.

These are astounding results, providing measurable ratings of perceived presentation skills and linking them to effects in terms of real dollars.

But is any of this a surprise? It shouldn’t be, at least not for any student of Communication 101 who has studied the first televised U.S. presidential debate, which pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard Nixon (radio listeners were more likely to conclude that Nixon won the debate while TV viewers sided with Kennedy). We all know that image and confidence matter.

What is a surprise is that too many executives neglect the development of their skills of presence and presentation, especially in the face of evidence that shows how dramatically they can affect an organization’s bottom line.

We’re increasingly counseling clients that body language and verbal communication count as much as their words—though those are important, too.

Often, speech coaches hold marathon training sessions to counsel clients. Here’s another strategy I prefer: 20 minute sessions once a week for a few weeks demonstrating strong, elegant and effective aspects of presence. By practicing the learned techniques for just five minutes a day in between sessions, the executive will naturally maintain those effective elements of presence in his or her speeches. I have found this method preferable to coaching a client on which gestures to make at certain points during a speech, or where to look, or other things that seem arbitrary.

Just as important as image and presence is preparing or having assistance in crafting the story. This will naturally create a better speech, which will instinctively boost the executive’s confidence and better inspire listeners.

These new findings confirm what we know about image in business, and they should be incentive for everyone to put increased emphasis on verbal and non-verbal presentation skills.

—Ansel Oliver is a manager for client special projects at SnappConner PR.