I recently heard from the marketing director at a pre-IPO company. "The CEO can't tell our company story," she said. The CEO is visionary, passionate, and competent, but he's not skilled in the art of communication and public speaking. Fortunately, there are some easy fixes. 

Communication skills are critical for the success of an IPO roadshow, when founders sell their ideas to investors and bankers. I learned the value of these presentations when I sat down with the CEO of a Silicon Valley semiconductor company that was preparing to go public. The CEO was a brilliant man, but didn't inspire an audience.

I spent two days with him. On the third day, we invited the IPO's bankers back into the room to watch the presentation. What happened next changed my life and career. Everyone applauded and cheered. One banker jumped out of her chair to give me a hug.  The company went public, its founders became millionaires, and the underwriting firm did well too. One of the bankers sent me an email and wrote, "I don't know what you did, but the CEO was a hit." I know what I did. And now you will too.

1. Start with a Twitter-friendly headline.

Giving a presentation to sell an idea, a product, or a company isn't like reading a novel. Your audience doesn't want to wait for the ending. Tell them the big idea up front. I learned this tactic from the billionaire venture capitalist, Michael Moritz, the chairman of Sequoia Capital. Moritz told me about the first time he met Sergey Brin and Larry Page. They summarized their company in one sentence: Google organizes the world's information and makes it accessible to everyone. To this day, entrepreneurs who cannot express themselves in one sentence when they pitch Sequoia will be asked to go back to the drawing board until they can. 

I call this a Twitter-friendly headline because I think Twitter is a good exercise. It's hard to express to your big idea in a sentence of 140 characters or less. But keep working on it until you can.

2. Build in a wow moment.

People don't remember many facts, features, and information about a product. They remember how the product made them feel. They remember the moments that stand out. This is where the fun begins. Think creatively about bringing your product or service to life.

For example, when I prepared the CEO for his IPO, I asked him to tell me something about the product that would surprise me. The CEO showed me a computer chip the size of a fingernail and said, "You wouldn't believe the sound this generates." 

In the final presentation, as investors walked into the room, they heard music playing softly. The music grew louder as the presentation was set to begin. "All of the music you're hearing is come from this small mobile device," the CEO began. "Our product makes it possible. I'll hold it up, but you'll have a hard time seeing it from where you're sitting. Tell you what, look at your pinky finger. Our chip is the size of your fingernail. I'll pass it around as I tell you more."

You could say we had them at hello.

3. Refine your body language.

IPO founders often make the mistake of thinking their product or financial metrics sell themselves. Studies show that even investors--who you would think care only about numbers--make snap judgments about a company's leaders in as little as 30 seconds. They're forming impressions about the speaker from their gestures, posture, facial expressions, and verbal delivery. According to a study featured in the Wall Street Journal, "Wall Street is hardly a beauty pageant. But a new study suggests that when it comes to taking a company public, appearances can matter."

Record yourself giving a presentation in front of friends or peers. Watch it, preferably with someone else who might catch habits you overlook. Are you making eye contact with people in the room? Too many speakers stare at their slides. Does your posture convey confidence and authority? Too many speakers slouch. Are you smiling? Too many speakers look gloomy, stressed, or anxious. If you don't look excited about your company, nobody else will be.

The IPO pipeline is growing with companies set to go public in the second half of 2018. Now you know what the CEOs will be doing behind the scenes to prepare themselves for the biggest paycheck of their lives. 

Published on: Apr 30, 2018