The art of rhetoric

For chief investment officers, effort invested in improving your message delivery manner goes a long way.

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By  Sathya Ashok Published  April 2, 2008

How important are soft skills? Is it enough that you are a brilliant strategist and a well-heeled businessman? Or is it necessary that you possess certain additional skills that make you stand out in a crowd?

I consider these questions almost every time I attend a conference and listen to a speech that is delivered badly.

Most conferences and events are serious affairs. The amount of money, effort, time and resources that is invested in these functions and the calibre of the people who talk or visit the show demand that they not be taken lightly. Yet you would be surprised by how many people tend to give lackadaisical presentations or droning speeches at these gatherings.

Agreed, getting up on the podium and addressing a mass of people is never an easy task. However, is it too much to expect people at a certain level to master oratory enough to move their audiences? Is it not necessary that CEOs and CIOs stop reading speech notes at the podium and actually look into the eyes of the people around them as they speak? I am not talking exactly a Steve Ballmer-ish antics oriented delivery, but just that little bit of showmanship that makes us all, sitting in the audience, sit up and take notice.

Simply, I am saying, how you say it is as important as what you are saying.

Whether or not you agree with me will depend on how much you believe presentation is crucial to content. We can argue this point till the cows come home, but the truth remains that if you are not skilled enough to interest, and ultimately convince, your audience about the content you are presenting, however inherently great your content maybe you are still just that notch below being on the top.

This is not just restricted to conferences and speeches. Presentation and persuasion skills are essential whether you are in marketing selling a solution or in the technical department assessing a situation. In fact, CIOs of today are being increasingly forced to pick up these soft skills as they move to the boardroom and face their organisational peers in a more business-like environment. When you are fighting for budget and when you are trying to get the higher management on your side with projects, what do you think helps? Simple technical information on the immediate benefits of a product? Or the ability to predict and postulate the long-term business benefits of the solution, presented in a lucid, relaxed, confident manner that convinces your superiors to implement your suggestions? The answer is kind of obvious.

The last few years every IT publication worth its name has been propounding the rise of the new-age CIO who is no longer restricted to simple maintenance of technology investments but is involved in crucial organisational decisions that could influence, if not change, the future profitability of a firm. What they have failed to mention often is that along the way, this modern-day CIO has had to pick up some significant, though little noticed, skills that enable him to deliver his message of technology and organisational growth with power, complete knowledge and conviction. The CIO has had to become a smooth-talker.

My advice to the Middle East CIO - do not ignore these skills. Time and effort invested in improving your diction and delivering messages in a clear, crisp and eloquent manner can go a long way in not only opening up budgets for projects, but ultimately paving the way to a better career.

If you have any views on this subject, feel free to write to me at

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