60 Second Presentations – What’s the Point?

So here you are. Sat at your regular breakfast network meeting. Full of bacon and egg and looking forward to getting to know some new people. But the Chairman rises and you know what is about to happen. Your stomach begins to churn. Your fingers start to fidget as that weekly terror of 60 second presentations is about to start. This week we will have to say who we are, what we do and what our USP is all in 60 seconds. Not only that but we have to remain calm. Speak clearly and if we go over the time get gonged out as if we’re on some cheap talent contest. Every week it is the same….60 seconds of purgatory.

OK, I’ve probably earned plenty of endorsements to my literary license there. But a question I want to ask is what is good about 60 seconds? What is the point? What is achieved? Questions I will try and answer.

I have been an active networker for the best part of 10 years. I suppose I started a couple of years after two of the main networking organisations BRX and BNI were formed in 1999. When I first heard that I would have 60 seconds to present myself to the group I thought that was ok. At least I would be able to let everyone know I was there and what I did. I was also lucky in that I had attended several training sessions on presentation skills so felt quite confident. I said my bit at the appropriate time and got precisely no response. I suppose it wasn’t surprising since no one knew me. But hang on. Isn’t networking supposed to be about getting to know people? Why didn’t my newly met confederates of trade and industry clamour to my side? Was I not a potential new resource? Were they not interested in how they could give to me so I might give back to them? I had washed.

It was because they didn’t know me and it wouldn’t have mattered what or how I’d said in the 60 seconds the response would have been the same. So why do groups still demand the round of 60 seconds, or in some organisations 45 seconds? Initially I think the idea may have been partly one of organisation. Some people will waffle for hours about nothing and need to be restricted so a flat level of 60 seconds is a good average. In a group of 30 people that will only take 30 minutes. Fair enough but would that time not have been better spent just chatting and getting to know each other? Better to chat to a few people and get to know them more than chat to many and get to know them little. To chat, or to converse, implies a relaxed state where people exchange information in a pleasing and friendly manner. It helps people get to know each other which is, after all, what networking is about. Chatting and conversing is a natural skill that we all develop in our own way. Standing and doing presentations, whether for 60 seconds or longer, is not. This I speak from personal experience. As I mentioned earlier I have received training in presentation skills and won a public speaking competition, but to include in 60 seconds what you need to convey is not, in my opinion, an efficient use of this time. To say something that is attention grabbing and interesting every week is not, for me, easy despite how passionate and keen I am on the topic of me. A subject I know intimately.

So what do I consider is wrong about these 60 second sessions?

One of the first is that despite the training available they are still so poorly done. No matter how often you tell people to specify who or what they are looking for there will still be those who try to cram in their life’s history and end up saying ” looking for anyone…..”. So 60 seconds of poor presentation can ruin an otherwise excellent sale.

One of the maxims often used in networking is that it “takes but a moment to make a first impression”. This I agree with. Why then do so many people ruin it with ill prepared 60 second presentations? If you introduce yourself poorly to the group are people going to be attracted to meeting you further? Possibly not. If you do not project confidence in those 60 seconds how can you impress confidence on others that your product or service is good? Some might argue that these 60 seconds are just window displays to the real stuff. Yes they are but how many shops will you look at twice if the window displays are dowdy and not professionally slick like the competition’s might be?

If all networkers were to be as philanthropic as some people would like then the 60 second presentation might become more of an irrelevance. That is, if people were more interested in giving or finding out what they could do to help others. But they’re not and a big part of people’s reason to go to such an event is to see what business they can gain. The 60 second presentation can ruin this because many will hear what a person does, assumes they won’t need what they have, and not make contact. Forgetting that it is who they know not what they know that matters. Assumptions and prejudgements of this nature can make may people miss thousands of otherwise golden opportunities.

Another argument in favour of the 60 second spiel refers to the elevator pitch. The idea is you have got into an elevator (or lift as we in the UK would say) and you are face to face with billionaire Bill Gates and you are going to spend a few seconds alone in his company. What could you say in that time to get him interested in you? I’d probably come out with something like “aren’t you that computer guy”? However, following what I’d learned in some networking groups I have tried to develop a slick retort when asked what I do. The response has often been a look of concern resulting in avoidance when the best reply would have been simply to say what my role or title was. I have come to the conclusion that slick elevator pitches can often seem arrogant and clever. This again can put people off.

Does the 60 second pitch ever work? Of course it does but it does have more than its fair share of space to put people off. Many people will no doubt say that they have gained thousands of pounds worth of referrals from their groups where they do 60 second presentations. I don’t doubt that but would then ask if they got the referrals because of their 60 seconds or was it because the people have then got to know and like you over a period of time? Something they may have done a lot quicker by just having a couple of good conversations.

One argument in favour of these presentations that I support is that it breaks down the barrier of introduction. English people used to be famous for their reticence of speaking to strangers unless they had been introduced. Some people might argue that by knowing what the other person does or needs is something they can then talk about. But what’s wrong in asking someone for that information? I have often heard people worry about what can they use for conversation openers. I believe it was that networking coach Andy Lopata who recommended that “Do you come here often” can be a good one. I agree and would add that “what line of business are you in” might be another.

Now I know in largish groups 60 seconds is a good way of managing the meeting. However, I have often sat in a group of 30 and when these 60 second presentations have started, realised that I was concentrating so intently on who was talking that I had forgotten about who the person was who had spoken a few minutes ago. By the end of the session could only remember properly who the last 5 speakers were and what they did.

This reinforces my argument in favour of smaller groups which you will also find I have posted on here as an article. Smaller groups allow more time for conversations. I now run a weekly breakfast meeting as part of the Business Referral Exchange (BRX) organisation. Every week we individually discuss who we are, what we do and what we are looking for. As a result there is often much more gained from the meeting than business referrals. A greater synergy developed between people. Friendships and alliances are forged and deepened much more than if we had just heard 60 seconds. A wider range of input is made available because more is learned. The source of a problem gets examined and worked on and a real solution offered instead of a quick possibility.

So what is good about these 60 seconds? At best it lets people know you’re there.

What is the point? To let people know you’re there.

What is achieved? You let others know you are there.

Is that worth wasting half an hour of the meeting time?

Will I still go to other meetings where I just have 60 seconds? Yes, but don’t be surprised if I start doing it a bit differently.

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