Now More Than Ever: Personal Presentation Tips for the Digital Age

Marc H. Kalan

Over five years ago, I shared my personal presentation tips in a three-part series published in the online edition of “The Journal of Sales and Marketing Management.” Half a decade (and more) later, as the digital revolution continues its unstoppable tsunami throughout our personal and professional lives, the individual’s abilities to effectively communicate have never been more important, more self-evident, and more under siege.

As a former vice president of marketing, as a former vice president of sales, and for the past 15-plus years, as a professor of marketing, I see the need for oral as well as written communications to be severely challenged at a time when we need more effective communications in our highly fragmented and extremely challenging climate.

Today’s future business leaders reject traditional communications vehicles and information sources, perhaps reflecting the current social and political environments (is news real or fake?). Rather, they are more likely to source, use and communicate information via social media with its new rules and new – often severe – limitations and restrictions on proper grammar and spelling (e.g. Twitter length of messaging at 280 characters <up from 140>, text messaging abbreviations and alliterations, “likes and dislikes” replacing real commentary, etc.) that are leading quickly to a deterioration of individual skills and abilities. For those who matured in an earlier era, it’s LOL! (And is that “Lots of Luck” or “Laugh Out Loud”? Both seem viable to me.)

Building Communication Skills In the Digital Age

Traditionally, good writers develop from good readers; read a lot and you build grammar and vocabulary skills. Good readers make good communicators and good communicators make superior sales and marketing professionals. After all, marketing and sales are both professions where strong communication skills are tantamount.

Unfortunately, today’s students prefer to watch a YouTube video, or spend time getting information from unreliable sources like Facebook, or just share pictures on Pinterest or Instagram, none of which build communications abilities. Rather, each tends to limit those abilities by substituting simple visuals (visuals are fun of course and everyone enjoys fun) for deeper, well-thought-out points of discussion and social discourse. These are the elements of true thought, and effective business communications requires clear thinking and effective expression.

In today’s competitive climate, I teach my professional business students it’s not what you know or how smart you are. There are a lot of intelligent people (really there are), and each year, our business schools graduate more and more smart and highly technically skilled competition. In today’s complex and dynamic business environment, therefore, it’s not what you know. Today, standout individuals are evident by how effectively they communicate what they know. The differentiator is effective communication, as knowledge and analytic skills are a base requirement and only a foundation. Success in business requires much more.

My earlier articles identified a wide array of key personal skills that separate the average and mundane (and who is happy being average and mundane) from the truly superior.

Skills for Success

Recently, deans from over 50 leading business schools across the country met at the Rutgers Business School of Newark and New Brunswick attending the “Innovations in Graduate Business Education” conference. This was a major coming together of those who are tasked with leading the educations of our future business leaders, responding to the issue of what future business education in the ever-expanding digital world needs to incorporate so that future business leaders in all fields, and especially in marketing and sales, have the skills to lead in this truly revolutionary digital environment, as the information revolution continues to reshape our economy and our lives.

Entrepreneurship, innovation, technology: important topics all. Interestingly, one of the first panel topics undertaken by these leaders of business education reflects future needs, rather than current characteristics of a traditional business education. The topic: digital disruptions in business education learning and the technical/digital skills that business leaders have, desire and have identified will be needed in this era of big data and analytics. It’s no coincidence that new areas of focus such as MRIA (marketing research, insights and analytics on the graduate level) and BAIT (business analytic and information technology on the undergraduate level) are rapidly growing and popular majors at the Rutgers Business School.

None the less, the importance of personal presentation abilities were clearly identified by this audience of leading business school deans as the critical soft skills often not directly discussed, and generally not taught or emphasized (just not sexy like digital marketing), but when included in the discussion are deemed critical for future business managers and leaders, and most critically, for future business success in all fields.

Superior and even just good communication skills are not generally intuitive. But they are teachable, and it’s up to today’s managerial class to challenge all future managers and business professionals to develop these personal abilities. As we have learned, it’s what you are able to share, to present, to communicate, that demonstrates the individual’s insights and depth of understanding. As a marketing and sales practitioner of long standing, and now as an instructor of same, I could not agree more.

Marc H. Kalan is an assistant professor of professional practice in the marketing department of the Rutgers Business School of Newark and New Brunswick.