Are You a Presenter or a Skeptic?

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After years of presenting to senior managers of the Fortune 50 and years of presenting to VCs and investors, I have come to develop a theory about the types of people who sit at these tables in review of my proposals. I also have spent hundreds of hours reviewing business plans by entrepreneurs and students. These two roles create a competitive dance in many conference rooms. Both are necessary and both can cause trouble for any company.

There was a guy in a Fortune 50 that I worked with for several years. He was a master at shooting holes into every presentation delivered to him. This guy was impossible to sway towards any perspective; he made it his modus operandi to uncover inconsistencies, discredit analytical conclusions and articulate scenarios that would ensure failure. He was 90% right! For the vast majority of the time he “predicted” correctly the outcome of failure for the new product or initiative. It didn’t matter that the historical and academic data conclusively shows that most things fail in business anyway. He had learned that the odds were always in his favor. And the skill of his critiquing became his most valued asset at the company.

Blind is the entrepreneur to both the odds of success and the “holes” in the business plan. The serial entrepreneur is adept at crafting a story out of meager data and experience. The story begins to take on a life of its own. Assumptions become the foundation for predictions. Alignment of influences and predictability of time ensure that the story ends happily: billions of dollars for changing the world. The good presenters can weave a story that becomes as compelling as any good novel. I saw a presentation about a new golf tee (now mind you that golfers have used wooden golf tees at 2¢ a piece since they invented golf) that painted a change in not only the way you tee’d your ball, but how far it went, how accurate if would fly, and get this, how you would “feel” hitting the ball. They got $800K.

Trouble comes when a natural Skeptic thinks they are the creative type. They start to alter the Presenters vision to such an extent that even the Presenter looses faith in his/her story. If the presenter fails to heed the concerns of the Skeptic and dismisses the rational doubts to the story, the Presenter will soon enough present to an empty room. If the Skeptic becomes a Skeptic all the time, nothing new will ever get pass him/her. And help us all if the Skeptic has honed their skills to such a level that they reach the CEO level on “management skills”; they kill every idea. Consultants are sure to follow.

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