Preparation key to landing Super Bowl

By Greg Dardis / Guest Columnist

Minneapolis was considered the underdog when it went up against New Orleans and Indianapolis in its bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl. Like so much else in business, it all boiled down to one big presentation – in this case, 15 minutes before the NFL’s 32 owners.

Going up against New Orleans, a party magnet, and Indianapolis, host of the 2012 Superbowl, was a daunting charge for the Minnesota delegation. They were allowed to select two speakers for the presentation. They chose Richard Davis, a fast-on-his-feet former tap dancer who is now head of U.S. Bancorp, and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former board chair of Carlson Companies, the Minnesota-based travel and hospitality experts.

Richard and Marilyn took a page out of the executive training playbook when they began their work: They charted out their goals.

This is an exercise we do early in our executive training. How do you want to come across during your presentation? Establishing that answer is the first step in determining how to get there. Our clients are sometimes surprised by their response. Maybe, they realize, it’s a higher priority to be perceived as warm than authoritative. Perhaps it’s most vital to convey a high degree of passion. Reflecting on this question can shake out valuable insights and focus your efforts.

Richard and Marilyn came up with a three-word answer: impactful, memorable and inspirational. Those clear-cut goals guided their work as they crafted their message, fashioned their Power Point slides and created video vignettes.

Their goals informed decisions about what to include, and just as importantly, what to leave out. Trying to cover too much ground too quickly is a common pitfall of the well-informed, well-intentioned presenter. It makes for an exhausting presentation that ultimately has little impact. When we assess PowerPoint slides for our clients, we routinely see the kind of text-dense slides that leave an audience squinting and panicked. A solid roadmap ensures that the presenter is in charge, not a slave to a bunch of slides.

Richard and Marilyn chose to keep things simple. When they were speaking, there were no words on the screen behind them, just a striking image. This allowed the NFL owners to focus on their message.

Heeding the goals of being impactful, memorable and inspirational also forced Richard and Marilyn to cut down on the number of statistics they shared. It’s tempting to front-load your audience with facts and figures, hoping the avalanche of information will create some kind of emotional momentum, but that is rarely the case.

In this situation, the NFL owners had already been given lengthy packets from each city, containing plenty of the statistics Richard and Marilyn didn’t state in their presentation. Your presentation is never the only chance to relay information. There are ample opportunities for pre- and post-sharing.

Most importantly, Richard and Marilyn were exhaustive in their preparation.

“One of the things they did right is they practiced a lot,” said Michael Langley, CEO of the Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership, who worked closely with Richard and Marilyn. “Each time they improved the presentation.”

That’s how you land a Super Bowl bid: You outwork and outrehearse the competition. By the time Richard and Marilyn arrived at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Atlanta, they could give the talk in their sleep.

Also in place: They looked the part.

“Richard wore a beautiful purple tie,” Michael said, “and Marilyn rocked a beautiful purple dress. She looked stunning. They looked great together.”

They channeled the Vikings, appeared united and looked sharp.

The duo was slated to go first out of the three presentations. They had wanted to go last and make the final impression, but reframed their thinking: They would be the ones to set a high bar. And that’s exactly what they did.

Their presentation began at 1:30 p.m. May 20; by 3 p.m. the verdict had been rendered, determined in the fourth ballot cast by the NFL owners. Minneapolis had won it.

When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made the announcement, Marilyn, Richard and their team jumped for joy, high-fiving and letting out full-throttle cheers that reverberated through the hotel.

The sweetest reward for a well-prepared, well-executed presentation is a hearty celebration.



Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit