Early in my career, I was staffed on a study where my job was to help a client improve their performance in a specific functional area. My specific role was to help drive the assessment – establish the baseline, conduct the required research, develop the analysis and then prepare the recommendations for the client.
I slaved over the work, eager to make a great impression. I read everything I could on the subject that was publicly available. I picked through a host of analytical frameworks, applying whatever I thought would be useful and relevant. I put in the time, working 14 to 15 hour days for months on end.
When the work was done, it had to be presented to our senior-most client. And given that I was the low man on the totem pole, that job went to the senior partner on the study.
The morning of the presentation, the senior partner sat down with me and my manager, and asked us to take him through the analysis. He had 30 minutes.
And for those 30 minutes, I walked him through the details of the study. Where we started, what we found, what our analysis told us, and what we thought should be done. He listened intently. He looked at our charts. He asked questions. At the end of the 30 minutes, he thanked us, got up and went to his next meeting.
I looked at my manager and said, “How is he going to present all this (months of) work? He doesn’t know the details of what we did?”
My manager smiled at me and said, “He’ll be fine.”
The presentation was held in the main board room and the senior client leadership was in attendance. My senior partner took his place alongside them, and I sat in the back of the room.
When our turn came, the partner got up, and he presented our work.
And I mean, he presented.
He talked through the foundation of our work. Our approach. Our analysis. Our key findings. And our recommendations. They asked him questions. He answered. They questioned specific points. He answered them.
I was ready to jump up and answer questions, if needed. But I didn’t need to.
It was as if he had sat alongside me for months, doing the work himself. It was as if he really knew his shit. Which, he clearly did.
When he was done, the seniormost client nodded and agreed to the recommendations. Next topic.
We walked out of the room, the partner shook my hand, thanked me and went off to his next meeting.
I was, as the Brits say, gobsmacked.
How did he do it? How was he able to grasp the essential elements of our work so quickly? How was he able to present so skillfully and completely to our client, as if he did the work himself?
I’ve thought about that for many years. And the answer isn’t simple. It’s complex. A myriad of reasons.
It was part content – he knew this type of work. He’d done it himself in his career. He knew what the pressure points were and what to look for.
It was part experience – this wasn’t his first rodeo. He knew the client situation well, the types of issues they were grappling with, and what they needed.
It was part confidence – he knew we could help and he knew he could convince them to fix their issues. And it came across.
And, of course, it was part showmanship. And he had it that, in spades. He commanded the audience. He owned that room.
All of these elements were critical. And all were needed. They came together to make it work. To make him convincing. To make him successful in achieving the end goal.
It was a seminal lesson. A sophisticated capability. Something to aspire to.
That experience taught me a lot. And it’s been something I’ve strived towards since then.
Content. Experience. Confidence. And showmanship.