How to Own the Room

Ian Schnoor, our Founder and President, recently spoke at the Financial Modeling Summit 2021 on the topic of teaching complex subjects. I had the opportunity to chat with Ian just before he delivered his address to discuss his top 5 suggestions for keeping participants engaged.

Dave: I am surprised that a modeling conference would have a segment on teaching technical subjects. I would have thought you would be there showing the spreadsheet automation techniques that our consulting team uses.

Ian: You might not expect it but good modelers know that what ultimately matters is communication and clarity. The old adage that you don’t really know something until you can teach something is very true in financial modeling. The ability to convey complex information to someone is a core skill.

Of course, at Marquee we do this in the classroom every day but it holds true with meetings or one-on-one presentations. The five key steps to engaging an audience – owning the room if you will – are the same any time you have to communicate.

Dave: I want to hear about the five steps but where did you get them from?

Ian: Lots of sources – tons of reading, educational mentors, great bankers that I have seen in pitches – I noticed that they all had a similar structure to their approach. Not the same style or subject matter – that’s unique to each person, but they all used similar techniques with great results. I used this in our Marquee courses when I started the firm and I think the attention to these techniques has led to our success and prominence as a great teaching firm.

These rules can be applied to any situation and I promise you that you will be a better communicator if you use them.

Dave: Well, I have seen you teach many times – in fact it’s one of the reasons that I joined Marquee. But I don’t recall seeing “Five Rules for Teaching” emblazoned anywhere in the office.  What’s the first Rule?

Ian: You’re right that we haven’t laid them out like that, but it’s because it has been in our DNA and we do a lot of these without really defining them. A good example is that I just used the first one and you didn’t even notice. Rule one – start every session or meeting with a promise.

Dave: The what’s in it for me approach.

Ian: Yes, but it’s more than that although you definitely want to excite people’s self-interest. You always want to paint a picture of the destination at the start and give people a “roadmap” of where you are headed. People like to know where they will finish up and what they will walk away with.

Dave: I agree you don’t have long to establish yourself with a group. Like chess, the opening is critical. What is your next technique?

Ian: Teaching is not talking. I cannot stress this enough. Anyone can read slides and ramble. That isn’t conveying information. To make sure that you are connecting with your audience or class, you need to practice three things: Challenge. Make the participants state their reasoning and ask them to apply the information you are imparting, Confirm. Ask questions designed to make the participants demonstrate understanding. Not just “Do you understand?” but “Based on these facts would you choose A or B?” That takes me to the final objective that also begins with “C”.

Dave: Concepts?

Ian: Conversation. What we are after is dialogue. That is how you facilitate a real exchange of ideas and knowledge.

Dave: What’s next?

Ian: This one is key. Energy. If you are excited then your audience will sense that this matters. If you don’t care then why should your students.

Dave: That takes me back to some great naps I had in undergrad.

Ian: Agreed. And what was also probably missing was the answer to the question that people really want answered – Why? Too much training focuses on What or How but in order to apply knowledge we need to know Why? That knowledge is the basis of real understanding.

Dave: So, we have Start with a Promise, Create Conversation, Energy and the importance of Why. What’s the final point we should keep in mind?

Ian: Tell stories. Ask people their favourite text book and they probably can’t name two. Ask them their favourite novel and they will name ten. People love narratives and it helps us connect and contextualize the knowledge we have. Stories have a great way of connecting all the items we just talked about. I use real examples all the time when I teach and it really cements the context and application of what I am teaching.

Dave: Thanks Ian. This was great. Will we be able to see your presentation after the conference?

Ian: Yes it’s being recorded and you can find the replay video below.