May 2020
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May 2020
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The ‘new normal’ isn’t face-to-face

By Odyssey Consultants Limited  
May 22, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread globally, companies have moved from in-person presentations, meetings and pitches to telephone calls and video conferences. The shift to work from home practices and swift adoption of video-conferencing show that companies are trying to operate full steam ahead wherever possible.

We have to adapt rapidly and re-think approaches and expectations. We need to become more skilled at conducting business in a virtual setting. Video conferencing isn’t a replacement for face-to-face meetings, but it’s helping to keep the wheels of business moving amid global travel restrictions and social distancing.

It’s vital for those presenting on video conference platforms to showcase their unique personalities and demonstrate how their businesses and teams have their heads in the game, especially in the midst of so much change and uncertainty. It’s time to innovate and sharpen our skills on how we present and pitch using technology.

Clients seek people with whom they can envision having a trusted commercial relationship. New requests for proposal will be issued, pitches will be won, and new business mandates will be awarded. The current environment will show new ways to succeed that would not have been considered if not for this global disruption.

Pitch preparation requires discipline and dedication. It’s not enough to just have comprehensive slide decks and hope for the best when it comes to the actual delivery by telephone or video conference. The core elements that make a winning pitch are amplified in a virtual setting. Companies which are serious about making a solid impression with their clients must consistently hone their communication techniques by adopting best practices.

‘Virtual’ chemistry

In order to make a connection with people on the other side of the tablet or computer screen, there must first exist great chemistry among people in one’s own team.

Presenters need to demonstrate the power of real collaboration and must genuinely get along among themselves before they can extend the same to their clients and prospects.

Chemistry – or lack thereof – is demonstrated by how team members interact: how much they like and support one another, and how passionate they are about a client’s business.

Solid team collaboration brings timely feedback, sharper responses and creative engagement. Winning teams demonstrate partnership, not just proposals.

Each team member needs to clearly express his or her own natural enthusiasm and authenticity when presenting the business proposition to the client via video conference, in a manner that exudes trust and confidence. The best teams exude trust, whether face-to-face or over a video call.

A solid team will come across as well prepared, show a sense of natural cadence, and know intuitively when their teammates are ready to ‘pass the baton’. During these difficult times, clients seek reassurance, thoughtful leadership, practical and emotionally-connected solutions from their service providers. They also want to feel that those pitching to them speak with one voice and actually care about their needs as a client.

Back-up plans

The inability to meet in person means we must work with technology well in advance by ensuring that the chosen platform works and that a back-up plan is prepared ahead of time. Test both the technology and the back-up platform.

In one recent example, 18 precious minutes were wasted when a 60-minute pitch was stalled by an intermittent and unstable connection when using a well-respected platform. The presenting team had not planned ahead for strong internet connections for all team members.

The fact that they failed to plan a contingency platform or swiftly move to a teleconference solution revealed lack of preparation. Those wasted minutes meant that certain sections of the presentation had to be skipped and the client couldn’t ask more than three questions.

The presenting team’s leader also came across as anxious and frustrated when the technology failed, which didn’t go unnoticed. Even worse, the client saw the hiccup as a lost opportunity for the presenters to demonstrate their ability to successfully operate remotely, especially when there was a large mandate at stake.

All participants must be familiar with the technology platform and understand system requirement details as early as possible when making virtual pitches.

Familiarity with sharing screens, using headsets, adjusting audio levels or activating video and audio mute functions may sound like basic requirements and common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not always common practice.

Technical glitches such as varying internet bandwidths are not uncommon in any virtual meeting scenario, but lack of preparation and contingency plans will negatively impact the overall experience.

It’s best to have a dedicated support team that’s as familiar with the team’s message flow and slides as they are with the technology interface to attend both ‘dry run’ pitch rehearsals and the actual event. Where possible, have someone from the IT team to test the system with key participants and to be on standby for troubleshooting.

Basic video conference etiquette must always be observed. Dress as appropriately as in the office when working from home. For client pitches, the team must agree on appropriate attire. Avoid bright white shirts, shiny jewellery, compact pinstripes, printed shirts, bright colours or anything that might catch the light on camera.

Unfortunately, far too many presenters are woefully unprepared to set up the right workspace, including checking for good lighting, cleaning the camera lens, tidying the background and removing distractions.

Remember to test camera functions and set the right position. And use only one audio source – either the computer or the phone should be on mute – so as to reduce the risk of feedback.

There is no excuse for losing a prospective mandate simply due to poor connectivity and inadequate planning. Test the technology early and allow for another live test one hour before the start of the actual call. Things can change. So be prepared, be dynamic, be resourceful.

Focussed messaging

Clients and audiences can tell in the first few minutes whether or not they like a presenter and have confidence in them. Therefore, presenters need to captivate their audiences across the screen or telephone with a clear and succinct opening.

Communicate the main point early. A good rule of thumb is to cut presentation and pitching time by half, allowing plenty of time for engagement, questions and feedback.

Simplicity matters even more in a virtual setting. It’s best to keep slide decks brief so as not to drown the audience in too much visual content.

There is no substitute for practice and mock pitches. Mock pitches, when done properly, allow you to rehearse your entire pitch in a remote setting with colleagues or a trusted external adviser dialing in to listen.

In one scenario, a fixed income portfolio manager was invited to play the role of an institutional client when a multi-asset investment team within the same firm rehearsed their client pitch. The portfolio manager was able to offer constructive feedback to the presenters. This proved especially useful when he raised a series of perceptive questions that the pitching team members hadn’t considered.

Conversations, not monologues

Presentations over teleconferences and video conferences are meant to be two-way conversations, not one-way monologues. Far too many teleconferences have listeners activating the mute function and then dis-engaging completely if they have no role to play.

One advantage of being in a virtual setting is that team leaders can send private messages on separate devices to their colleagues to alert them to something important. For example, if a presenter is taking too much time going over a particular point, a well-timed yet discreet message to the next presenter would allow them to change tack, or remind others to trim their own messages.

Clients and audiences will almost always disconnect if a presenter drones on without pause, doesn’t check in with listeners, or solicit responses. Engaging your client will invoke a conversation. They will feel more connected and involved in active listening if they are able to take part in what you have to share.

It might take some work to re-design your approach for this, but both parties will benefit. Remember that clients and audiences tend to be engaged when the delivery comes across as a confident, authentic conversation. This is why clients prefer gaining deeper insights by asking questions and seeking answers.

As in any crisis, teams that show resilience and sound character will emerge and be counted. After all, the presentation is about the client and for the client.