A Hard Skill

The ability to give a great business presentation, like other communication skills, is often referred to as a “soft skill”. And use of the term soft skills is always faintly pejorative; as if soft skills are second class and less important than the “hard skills” like accounting, finance, writing code, etc. They are a nice to have but non-essential.

Most men in particular would prefer not to have any of their skill set described as soft. It has the same problem as the statement: he has soft hands. While surgeons and wide receivers may appreciate the nuance, most men equate soft with weak.

Now comes a Harvard Business Review article avowing that “[CEOs with execution strengths]…perform better than CEOs whose softer skills such as team building or listening dominate.” So presentation skills, when designated as one of the softer skills, are further condemned by association at the executive level.

This is nonsense. Giving an effective business presentation is not a soft skill. It is hard. Executive function is only effective if it can be acted upon. It can only be acted upon if it is communicated effectively: verbally and physically. It is like trying to operate hardware without software, or the other way around. You can have the most well planned, organized, efficiently functioning, detailed, robust and high quality software on the planet and it will not mean a thing if you have no hardware to run it on. The ability to present well is an execution strength.

The ability to execute decision based commands is not some soft, squishy, organic phenomenon. Clear, concise, prioritized, parallel, and synchronous communication that responds to the input requirements of an audience is not a nice to have, it is a must have if you want to be an effective executive.

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