What does Hurricane Katrina have to do with business presentations? Quite a lot. It was interesting to watch the television coverage of the government officials after the hurricane subsided. The governor, senator, and mayor assessed the damage and requested assistance for the people of Louisiana. As the governor spoke she appeared emotional and overwhelmed although she exhibited the most executive presence of the three officials. Expressing heart-felt feelings is honest and real. Being overly emotional signals weakness.
As the governor spoke to the press, the senator looked at her with a forlorn, scared expression on her face as she continuously bobbed her head in agreement. An occasional nod signals agreement. Constant head bobbing communicates subservience. She looked like a frightened, compliant child. While it's expected that they were in shock, an executive must be able to lead people out of chaos and to communicate a plan.
The mayor of New Orleans was later seen walking beside the President chewing gum, wearing sunglasses and a white tee-shirt with the word Desire printed on the front. He did not look like a leader. Maybe it was the only shirt he had at the time. But did he have to chew gum while on camera? And did he have to shade his eyes when the President and governor did not? Eye contact is one of the most important physical presentation skills. People connect through the eyes. His casual air did not inspire confidence. Nor did his foul language.
By not responding quickly enough, the President missed an important leadership opportunity.
Leaders are decisive and act quickly even when all the facts are not available. The people of New Orleans were left in squalor for too long.
Contrast this to the presentation of Rudolph Giuliani in New York City on September 11th. He was shocked and scared but he rose to the occasion. His body language was confident, his voice was measured, and his language was clear. He spoke from the heart but led with his head. Giuliani inspired confidence by acting quickly, keeping the people informed, and acknowledging that he didn't have all the answers.
The ability to take action, present ideas clearly and concisely, portray confident body language, and speak with confidence is what it takes to lead.
A crisis, no matter how small, requires leadership. And a leader needs strong presentation skills.