Brainfood: Speaking out - Laurel Powers-Freeling, CEO, Marks & Spencer Financial Services

A US accent always perks up an audience, especially one from the financial services industry.

by Khalid Aziz, chairman of spoken communications specialist The Aziz Corporation -
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Those with an American twang are seen as being imbued with business savvy and financial probity, as surveys by my own company show. So Laurel Powers-Freeling, ex-McKinsey, non-executive director of the Bank of England, was on for a home run at an Economist's Retail Banking Conference.

But she blew it. She wasn't helped by the fact that the previous speaker had, as it were, eaten her lunch, and spent the first third of her presentation apologising for covering what he had already.

Despite an entertaining and breezy start, it soon became clear that Powers-Freeling was in deep trouble - the PowerPoints were becoming more and more dense. It was the 'Let's cobble together a slide show from previous presentations' syndrome. I fancy I counted at least three former incarnations.

A presenter is on a slippery slope when they start reading out slides line by line, mumbling and tailing off at the end of sentences. I looked around me. Several people were doing other things, some looking at their watches. Her only humorous lines seemed unintentional: 'Retailers in trouble usually have problems with their financial services arm ... I should point out that M&S is not in trouble.' An embarrassed titter ran round the room; the word 'underprepared' ran through my mind.

Key moment: The revelation that an estimated 20% of all financial services transactions in the US take place in retail outlets, not banks.

Key lesson: If you're attending a conference, check what the previous speaker is going to say.

Silver tongue or foot in mouth? ... Foot in mouth.

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