Reflections on Annual Meetings

I have just completed a busy season of coaching clients for their Annual Meetings. These are the meetings my clients hold to gather their investment partners (LPs and GPs) to thank them for their support and to tell them how their investments are being handled.

Usually, my clients are given a few short minutes to detail 12 months of strategy, successes, and challenges, all while trying to instill confidence in their personal leadership, and the company’s direction as a whole. 

To add to the fun, these presentations take place in auditoriums or ballrooms before large audiences, including company leaders and a slew of colleagues. In other words, the stakes are high, and the tension is, too.  Sometimes, my clients are speaking solo, other times they are sitting in chairs having a panel discussion with three or four others about a topic.  

Here are the usual questions and dilemmas we encounter:

  1. How do I stick to my message and still sound as if I’m speaking naturally?
  2. How can I do justice to this complicated transaction in 3 minutes?
  3. Should I use notes? 
  4. Should I memorize my speech?
  5. What’s the best way to move on a stage?
  6. Why can’t I just stand behind a  podium??

The answer to all of these questions is, it depends.  It’s unwise to use absolutes when talking about people presenting.

It depends on who you are and what you need to show up and be relaxed, confident and conversational. Some people need notes, others get bothered by the restriction of trying to say the same words again and again.

It depends on what your audience really needs to hear – today – to move the trust forward.

It depends on whether you are comfortable with public speaking.

It depends on who is in the room.

Despite these variables, one thing stays the same: the power of preparation. Speakers need to plan on spending as much time on rehearsal as they do on writing the message.  A well-written speech is not a guarantee of a good in-person presentation.

One of my recent clients told me, “I’d written my speech, and it was a good speech on paper. Then I delivered it to you, and you said, in a nice way, of course, that it made no sense.  You didn’t know what I was trying to tell you.”

We worked together to figure out the key messages that the audience needed to “walk away” with and when my client stated those messages simply and cleanly – his energy and personality came through, along with the business story.

I always say, the annual meeting is an invitation to your investors to come and meet the people behind the deals, to sit at the table and have a conversation with some of the best minds in the business.

We really need to stop reading the Encyclopedia to our listeners.  You know what I mean, we arrive eager to show how much we know about a topic, a company, or a situation. We prepare pages and pages of data and charts and then we attempt to go through everything we know.

How much better to start any meeting with a few insightful questions, and then choose a direction based on that initial dialogue?  Business is built on rapport and understanding and both of those are enhanced by conversation more than lecturing. Translating this to a large forum presentation, it’s good to start with some version of “here’s what’s changed, and what you need to know right now” and then deliver it in a conversational manner.

In the case of an annual meeting, the audience will not be talking back to you (out loud) but they are responding to you.  It’s also important to remember that they are not listening to you as a collective, but as individuals, each one having a “conversation” with you in that moment.

The best annual meetings are the ones where the investors feel informed, but not overwhelmed, valued, and maybe even inspired. The main idea is for your guests to make connections and augment relationships, not to have them walk away with pages and pages of notes.

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