Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

My Day On Stage

I'm in Dubai this week participating in the annual sales meeting for my company. As well as meeting with various people, I had a twenty minute talk I was supposed to give during the general session, the last third of a one hour session being led by the CFO. Twenty minutes to tell a bunch of sales people and sales managers something about pricing that would stick with them during the coming year.

One of the reasons I love pricing is that I like struggling with complex problems and large amounts of data. I've given talks before to pricing conferences, and there my goal has been to help other people understand good ways of tackling such problems. However, in this case, I was presenting to people who were not pricing experts and who were likely to glaze over if I started throwing too many number and charts around. So I'd make a presentation that was very simple: four content slides and a sum-up. My plan was to give more examples verbally as I talked, but I really wanted to focus on my main theme. So I wanted a small number of really clear visuals on my slides, and I wanted to hit my main points repeatedly. I also expected that the CFO would run over his time slot, leaving me only fifteen minutes or maybe even ten to cover my content.

Last light I was really struggling with jet lag when I got back to my hotel room at 10:00pm. I wanted to rehearse and prepare some more notes, but that morning I'd woken up at 2:00am and not been able to get back to sleep. So I decided I'd to my prep in the morning. I set an alarm for 5:00am Dubai time and went to bed.

When that alarm went off at 5:00, was still really tired and felt able to sleep. My talk wasn't till 8:30, so I thought I'd get thirty more minutes of sleep. I reset my alarm, and dozed off again.

Some time later, I surfaced from a dream to see light peaking in from under the hotel blackout curtains. Panicked, I looked at my phone. 8:09. I vaulted out of bed, adrenaline pumping. If I moved as fast as I could, I knew I could just barely get down to the meeting room before the CFO kicked off our presentation at 8:30. But there was zero time to prep. The one thing I did besides get ready and into my suit was to send MrsDarwin a text at 8:15: "Pray for me. My alarm went wrong. My talk is in 15 minutes."

MrsDarwin, wonderful woman that she is, texted back that she was saying a rosary for me, despite the fact it was 11:15pm in the states.

Somehow I sauntered into the ballroom, trying to look calm, at 8:25 and the first person I saw was the CFO, who greeted me as if nothing was wrong (which was far as he knew was true) and offered to let me cut into the coffee line with him.

"All set?" he asked.

"Ready as I'll ever be."

"I wanted to make sure you've got plenty of time, so I've rehearsed mine and got it down to thirty minutes."

More to panic about, but I took my coffee and headed over to the A/V guys to get miced up.

During the CFO's talk I drank my coffee and tried to split my attention between listening an looking over my slides to make sure that I was clear in my mind how I would talk. And he was as good as his word, he wrapped up in thirty minutes and passed the stage over to me.

One of the many debts I owe to my late father (who as a planetarium lecturer for thirty years) is that I have a loud, clear speaking voice -- which naturally becomes louder and clearer when I get in front of a large crowd -- and I think well when talking. I was particularly focusing on speaking slowly and clearly this time because I knew that the majority of my audience were not native English speakers, and something I'd heard from co-workers of that background is that many native English speakers talk too fast when presenting and use a needlessly wide vocabulary which taxes their listeners.

So I introduced myself and my team, and then told the audience about net price. The idea of net price is that at a time when your costs are going down, if you succeed in not reducing your prices as much as your costs have gone down, you have in fact increased your prices (and thus your profit margins.) At a time when your costs are going up, you need to increase your prices enough to cover those higher costs just to keep your profits flat. If you want to increase your margins, you need to increase your prices faster than your costs are going up.

On my main slide, I had one graph which showed a recent example of costs going down while prices stayed relatively flat, and I could tell them about how this had resulted in all of them doing well on their pricing performance metric. I used examples. I talked about how this worked differently for different teams. And I tried to tell the audience very clearly what I needed them to do during the next year in order to continue to win on price.

I said thank you, I asked for questions, and while I was answering the first question the buzzer for the end of the hour went off. I'd filled my thirty minutes.

And through the rest of the day, people kept coming up to me and telling me that the presentation had been really good. Sales people. Executives. The CEO. I feel like MrsDarwin and her rosary ought to get credit for this, because I could not have come into it less propitiously that morning. You could even say I deserved to fail. But somehow I didn't.

And fascinatingly, the two things I heard most from people were "I felt like I could really understand what you were saying about pricing," and "You seemed like you knew so much detail." This from a presentation in which I spent half my time talking about one simple graph.

I think maybe if there's a lesson to be learned here (other than: set two alarms) about how to present, it's that it actually can help if your slide is simpler than what you say while you're talking about it. If the slide had a ton of detail, and you provide the quick summary, you give the impression of a big complex topic of which the audience has only skimmed the surface. If you have a simple slide, and you provide extra detail verbally to illustrate the simple point, the audience is allowed to think that they grasp the simple point and that you are someone who knows the additional detail that supports it.

But anyway. That was my day on stage. And now we'll see how jet lag treats me tonight.

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