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The essential skill that strikes fear into the hearts of investment bankers

public speaking

Anyone who has sat through an investment banks’ earnings conference call or, god forbid, an awards ceremony, will know that public speaking is not the forte of most people in the industry. Despite their reputation for employing elite, swaggering deal makers, a lot of investment banking employees are awkward and stuttering when it comes to speaking in public, or even suffer from glossophobia.

Mark Cowne, founder of Kruger Cowne, which has been coaching investment bankers at the likes of Barclays, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank on public speaking during the summer and aims to increase the uptake this sort of training through its newly-launched Public Speaking Academy later this year, says he’s had to sit through some painful experiences of even senior bankers fluffing their lines.

At a recent annual dinner a CEO of a large investment bank came to the stage with a bundle of notes “the size of London telephone directory”, he says, and started queuing up a Powerpoint presentation.

“The delegates had already been at a drinks reception, now they were laying into the wine and the CEO expected them to be paying attention to a ‘death by PowerPoint’ presentation,” he says. “He proceeded to start his speech by trying to gain attention by initially coughing and them tapping his water glass with his spoon. Once 60% of the audience had silenced sufficiently for him to be heard he started to read the whole speech. Head down. Eyes down. Talking into his chest. Every slide he showed had hundreds of words on it. He droned on for over an hour. Every person lost interest.”

The point of being coached in the art of public speaking is not simply to avoid embarrassment in front of your peers. Being able to present yourself effectively is important to secure more deals, gain the respect of your colleagues and, ultimately, make your way up the career ladder. Kruger Cowne works with C-level executives, M&A bankers, fund managers and traders to help improve their confidence when speaking in public.

“Many teams use coaching to develop their pitches and secure more deals,” says Cowne. “For those who are searching for career progression and new business pursuits, effective public speaking distinguishes candidates and individuals as a thought leader in their business area as well as demonstrates competence in leadership roles.”

Typically, people tend to need coaching on how to overcome tension when facing an audience, but also need to know how to pace their speech and ensure that the audience remains engaged. This is as important during a team-meeting, client pitch or, say, an awards presentation. Fundamentally, though, if you work in an advisory role it will affect your bonus potential and promotion credentials.

“Efficiency and the ability to close deals, often within timeframes limited by the markets, is what keeps finance houses successful; and often, this is down to strong communication skills,” says Cowne.

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  1. Toastmasters was essentially set-up about 100 years ago to address public speaking fear. Many large corporates and business schools run their own clubs.

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