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How an Outsider from France Convinced TDK CEO to Put $50 Million into Startups

Sometimes, you can find the most surprising presentation and persuasion examples in unlikely sources.

Like a little Youtube video that has barely 400 views.

In the video, young French executive Nicholas Sauvage recounts— with amazing detail— how he used a 20-minute presentation to convince the CEO of TDK — Japanese corporate giant with $13 billion in annual revenue — to put $50 million into a “corporate venture capital (CVC)” program called TDK Ventures.

Now, let me tell you why this wasn’t an easy persuasion job:

And yet Sauvage managed to not just persuade CEO Shigenao Ishiguro to set up TDK Ventures, he was appointed the head of the CVC unit, and in fact has done such a good job that TDK decided to add another $150 million to the venture war chest!

How did he do it?

Before we dive into the details, let me just say how cool a case this is.

Presentations to mega company CEOs are usually closed-door affairs. You wouldn’t even hear about them, let alone learn directly from the speaker how they prepared and planned the presentation, designed the slides, and even share the actual slides with you.

But that’s exactly what Sauvage does in this video:

Let’s talk about some lessons learned.

The “Pre-Work” is Just as Important as the Presentation Itself

Before Sauvage went before the CEO, he did a LOT of homework:

He spent months doing it.

In fact, I would say this is likely as important as anything he did during the presentation.

Talking to all those experienced executives within TDK allowed him to really sharpen the business case of TDK Ventures, not to mention getting tons of tips on how to talk to the CEO.

This is something we often miss — we think the presentation itself is the real battle, when oftentimes the battle was already lost/won before we ever stepped onto the stage.

Sauvage did everything possible in the prep stage, and eventually, he was ready for the opportunity: a 20 minute presentation to the CEO.

Now stop for a moment and ask yourself… How would YOU handle the presentation?

Here’s what he did:

He had 20 minutes, but only used 7

In all my years of coaching presenters and watching presentations, I’ve rarely seen people use such a low % of their time allotted.

But this was crucial, because

If the CEO had strong concerns regarding the venture, you would NOT want to find out… at minute 18! You’d have barely 2 minutes to respond, and… game over. Instead, if you could find out their concerns at minute 7, you had a full 13 minutes to address them.

He showed only 4 slides

He didn’t just cut duration, he also cut information.

4 slides only:

Screen Capture of Nicholas Sauvage’s presentation to the CEO

The images are a little blurry, but still, you notice a few things about these slides:

They’re not beautiful, because that’s not the point

Take these slides to any slide design workshop, and they’ll bash it to hell before wholly redesigning them.

I think that would be a mistake.

Business presentations — especially for internal persuasion — aren’t aesthetic objects. They’re tools of persuasion.

Slides with stunning visuals and 3 words on them could be beautiful, for sure, but they’d likely elicit suspicion (or anger) from the CEO of a $10+ billion company, especially when you’re a young professional he’s seeing for the first time (which could’ve been the case here).

When you have little credibility, you must show substance.

The slides have to show that you’ve done the hard work of

Could Sauvage have cut down on the information even more? For sure. But I think the slides did their job — they look just corporate and “McKinsey” enough to pass the credibility test.

The content is right on point — and THAT’s the point

Thanks to all the hard pre-work he did, the slides contained the right content.

For instance, TDK already had a very active M&A division for years, going out and buying up promising companies and technologies. So Sauvage showed — visually — where the new venture unit fit relative to the M&A business, and why it would be complementary (bottom left slide).

But the visuals also helped tell the story.

As Sauvage explained in the video, there was a purpose to the visuals he used in the background: The left two have Stanford in the background because that’s where he got the idea of corporate venture fund. This is a bit random, admittedly, but it’s fine.

The other two are more interesting.

He used the visual of ocean waves to show next WAVE OF CUSTOMERS, and how TDK could capture these:

Screen Capture of Nicholas Sauvage’s presentation to the CEO

He also purposefully highlighted the words: New wave, Beyond, New, Expand, Accelerate.

Pretty good choices if you’re convincing the CEO to go for the future.

For the bottom right slide, he purposefully positioned the “smooth sailing” portion behind the “current business”:

Screen Capture of Nicholas Sauvage’s presentation to the CEO

This signified that things seemed ok now, but… danger loomed.

Behind the emerging business and tech disruption, he has giant waves that are about to swallow up the unsuspecting surfer (TDK itself, one presumes).

And he visually “positioned” TDK ventures on the “map” — out front scouting the waves of new customers, new applications, new markets, and new disruptive technologies.

This way, the CEO could instantly, and visually, understand where this new unit would be active: scouting new waves that could endanger TDK.

Nicely done.

Another cool analogy: mountains + helicopters

He also used another visual analogy — Mountains + Helicopters:

Screen Capture of Nicholas Sauvage’s presentation to the CEO

*This is double analogies vs. the waves, but whatever.

What’s this all about?

Well, if you think of TDK and the business they’re in, and you think of them like a mountain… TDK may be near the top, but where are they going to go? They’ve reached the limit.

Now, what if you could send out helicopters to “scout” other mountains of opportunities? These copters would then come back and report: “Hey, there’s another mountain of opportunity over there, we should send our people out!”

TDK Ventures is that helicopter.

And he also had another reminder for us: Visually show there the CVC fits into the company’s strategy!

What can we takeaway from this example of executive persuasion? The next time you have a chance to present in front of the CEO, what tips from here could you apply?

I think there are three.

1. Spend 80% of the energy on pre-work

If you obsess over the content, to ensure it’s in the right direction, and contains the right research and details, it will show. Big company CEOs are experienced and smart, they aren’t often fooled by slick talkers with little substance. Show them substance, and they’ll appreciate it.

Of course, pre-work also means condensing all that information down to the essential details, which enables the next point:

2. Present briefly & get into Q&A early

If you’ve got 10 minutes, use 5 and leave the rest to Q&A. If you’ve got 15, use 7 and then converse for 8.

Why? Unless you already knew the CEO super well, you’re unlikely to predict exactly what they will care about. Better find out early, so you can shift course if necessary.

3. Make it visual

CEOs get a lot of words. Written, spoken, all day, everyday. So don’t give them more of it. At the end of the day, if you can help them see — visually — what the future you propose looks like, that’s a lot more powerful than just words.

And there’s a reason all the big consulting firms use “visual diagrams” to show strategy, like the two bottom slides that Sauvage used: when you can distill a lot of information into a simple, visual diagram that makes sense, that tells the boss that you’ve the mental juice to turn complexity into simplicity.

And that is impressive as hell to any leader.

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Andrew Yang

Former presidential speechwriter. Now helping CEOs and founders tell better stories. Co-founder of Presentality