Bob Keiller’s pitching and presentation masterclass 

Former CEO of Wood Group inspires Edinburgh Business School Incubees. 

“When was the last time you used a story in a business pitch or presentation?” This was the question posed to a room full of new business owners, during an enlightening pitching and presentation masterclass.

Bob Keiller, former Wood Group CEO, shared insights, practical tips and life experiences with the new businesses (“incubees”) in the Edinburgh Business School Incubator. He showed why storytelling is a very effective form of business communication and talked about: structure, process and the stories behind “stories”.

He is no stranger to Heriot-Watt, having studied his engineering degree with the university.  

Start with the audience
Bob’s wit, infectious energy and interaction left the incubees feeling the same way any successful Hollywood blockbuster would! This is “show business” after all, as Bob exclaimed, and he encouraged the incubees to be “the most energetic version of themselves!” when presenting to others. 
Every pitch or presentation must start with the audience, he insisted. Who are they and what do they really want to know? Only by knowing that can you begin to form your presentation.

What is an effective pitch?
A presentation is only effective if you communicate it in a way that makes the audience understand it. Bob urged the incubees not to “wing it”, and emphasised the importance of several rehearsals before any presentation. 

So what is an effective pitch?
Bob argued that an effective pitch is one that hits the sweet spot: it is memorable, authentic and compelling. In other words: the content is believable and relatable; the presenter is passionate and enthusiastic; and the way the presentation is told helps it get stored in one’s long-term memory.

How many presentations have you heard that you truly remember? You may remember the odd “sound bite” or an idea for a few days afterwards but then the message usually fades away and that, Bob argued, is because the presentation was not effective. 

A story about Aberdeen Airport
Bob started the day by telling a story about walking through Aberdeen Airport in 2004. A man approached him and shouted, “You’re Bob Keiller?!”. 

“Yes, I am”, Bob replied. 

The man continued, “I remember you spoke at a conference I attended eight years ago! You spoke about Wood Group and the core values you had just implemented.” The man went on to explain and describe each core value in detail. 

Bob was astonished. How had this man remembered each of the core values, in detail, eight years after the conference?! 

He asked the man, “Do you remember what the other presenters spoke about?” The man’s answer was telling, “There were other speakers?!”

Clearly there is something in the approach that Bob adopted that really worked. Was it Bob’s use of interesting props (a pot of honey and a coat hanger)? Was it his humour? Or was it a combination of these plus something else?

Bob has been on a mission to identify and codify this recipe and teach it since that fateful meeting in Aberdeen Airport. The incubees had a fantastic workshop with Bob, and took away inspiring new tactics to tell their own business stories.

Read more about the Edinburgh Business Incubator and the first cohort of businesses. We look forward to welcoming more businesses in 2019!

About Bob Keiller
Bob has worked in the oil and gas industry since 1986. In November 2012, he became CEO of Wood Group, an international energy services company with $7 billion (USD) sales, over 40,000 employees, and operations in more than 50 countries. He stepped down from Wood Group in December 2015.

Bob completed the $1 billion (USD) sale of PSN to Wood Group in April 2011. He was responsible for the creation of PSN by manufacturing a $280 million (USD) management buyout from Halliburton in 2006.

Bob has a MEng degree from Heriot-Watt University and is a chartered engineer. He was previously Chairman of the Offshore Contracting Association (OCA), co-chair of the cross-industry trade body Oil and Gas UK and former Chairman of the Entrepreneurial Exchange.

Bob’s achievements have been recognised with awards including: Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006 and 2008, Scottish Businessman of the Year in 2007, Grampian Industrialist of the Year in 2008 and Scottish Male Business Leader of the Year at the 2011 Scottish Leadership awards. He was awarded a CBE in the 2017 Queen's Birthday Honours list.

He was appointed Chairman of Scottish Enterprise in January 2016. Alongside his non-executive role in Scottish Enterprise, Bob provides mentoring and support for ambitious business leaders and Social Enterprises.

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