Storytelling for Personal Competitive Advantage

personal competitive advantage
Tell a Powerful Story and you can increase your personal competitive advantage

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.

Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few robust storytelling strokes.

Stories involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.

That’s why we should stay tethered to our main point.

Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Storytelling and Your MIP

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

 A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging. It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!

Let this be core of your story and build around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”

Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

Your MIP Permeates Your Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare your presentation.

At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.

If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Storytelling does not mean that you rely upon emotion only.  You must have substance.

There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact.  Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

And so we gain incredible personal competitive advantage when we imbue our presentation with the drama inherent in an especially powerful story, told well.

An Especially Powerful Appearance

Presentation Appearance sends a message
Your Presentation Appearance sends a Powerful Message

Oftentimes, we don’t consider that our physical presentation appearance transmits messages to those around us.

Most certainly, the presentation appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.  This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.

Your appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message with your appearance.

You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your appearance transmits.  And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.

What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?

“Ageless Rebel” battling the “Man”?

That you don’t care?

That you’re confident?

That you are attentive to detail?

That you care about your dignity, your physique?

Bad Presentation Appearance - Personal Competitive Advantage
Presentation Appearance that Hinders your acquiring of Personal Competitive Advantage

Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?”

If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.

That price comes in the form of ceding personal competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.

Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that their appearance conveys.

Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.

Presentation Appearance – Your Destiny?

You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.

This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.

“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad.

The message received is likely much different:  “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”

The best public speakers understand the power of presentation appearance and mesh their dress with their message.

Take former President Barack Obama, for example.  He was and is a superb dresser, as are all presidents.  On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.

And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”

Politics, Schmolitics . . .  He’s a Sharp Dresser

You never saw President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up.

The messages must mesh.

The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.

Here are suggestions to ensure a minimum pleasing presentation appearance . . .

Stick-Puppet Presenter?

Stick Puppet presenting
Eliminate Stick Puppet Presenting and you’re on your way to achieving personal competitive advantage

If experience is any guide for us, we can say that approximately 90 percent of our business presentations are delivered in 2-D fashion . . . we become a stick-puppet presenter.

No, I don’t mean this literally in the sense that people become stick figures.

I mean that the typical business presentation is stripped of depth and breadth.

Stripped of humanity.  Stripped of the qualities that make it interesting, stimulating, and persuasive.

Stripped of anything that might suggest personal competitive advantage.

The potential richness, energy, vigor, and power that is provided by purposive movement is absent.

The Pitiable Stick-Puppet Presenter

We are left with cutout figures, like stick puppets.  You’ve seen stick puppets – crude, flat little figures pasted onto sticks and then used in a child’s display to convey a story.

This is truly an ineffective form of entertainment.  This is as rudimentary as it gets.

The puppets shake and move up and down as someone voices dialogue from somewhere offstage.

Today’s business presentations are sometimes no better than stick-puppet presenting delivered in 2-D fashion.

Think of this, quite obviously, as “Stick-Puppet Presenting.”

Stick-Puppet Presenter is a zombie-like figure crouched behind a lectern, gripping its sides.

Or a speaker who reads from a laptop computer and alternately looks at a projection screen behind him, reading it verbatim.

If any movement occurs, it is unconscious swaying, rocking, or nervous happy-feet dancing.

Stop stick puppet presenting for especially powerful personal competitive advantage
Move the right way for personal competitive advantage

Perhaps there is a bit of pacing back-and-forth to fulfill some ancient advice mumbled to the speaker years earlier:  “Move around when you talk!”

And so the stick-puppet presenter aimlessly wanders about the stage.

This is worse than no movement at all as it adds one more irrelevant distractor to an already deteriorating situation.

But we want movement . . . the right kind of movement.

We want to accelerate from 2-D to 3-D presenting, and one powerful step in that direction is the addition of proper movement.

The addition of proper movement to your presentation can imbue it with energy, depth, richness, and enhanced meaning.

So in the next series of posts, we’ll analyze this component – “movement” on the stage in support of your presentation.

If you want to eliminate stick-puppet presenting and receive a full-bodied explication of the transition from 2D to 3D presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Bookends

Presentation Bookends for personal competitive advantage
Use Presentation Bookends for a Powerful Presentation Structure

Bookend your presentation to give the audience a satisfying experience . . . and give yourself a powerful personal competitive advantage.

You can bookend your segment of a group presentation, too.

“Bookend?”

What are presentation bookends, and why is this so important to audience response?

Bookending brings your audience full circle.

You first hook your audience with an intense introduction, and at then at the conclusion of your presentation, you recapitulate.

This provides a sense of closure and completion for the audience.

Presentation Bookends, the How

Start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative.  This is your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

It can’t be a gimmick, or the audience will feel cheated.

Your grabber must startle and delight your audience.  An interesting fact, a controversial statement.

A powerful phrase.

personal competitive advantage with presentation bookends
Bookend your Presentation!

You then follow with your situation statement, which flows naturally from your grabber.

Your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences tells the audience exactly what they will hear.

Start to finish.

One of the best grabbers/situation statements I’ve ever heard was this pithy formulation:

“There’s a deal on the table.  Don’t take it.  Here’s why.”

That grabber is direct and is almost enough for a situation statement as well.  It pulses with power.  If you’re the one associated with the “deal on the table,” how could you not want to hear what comes next?

In fact, it encompasses the entire presentation in three especially powerful sentences.

That’s your first bookend.

Your Middle

Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.

Why three?

Because of the Rule of Three that I have spoken of in this space so many times.  We seem to be hard-wired to receive information most efficiently in threes.

Whether it’s a slogan or a fairy tale, when information is grouped in threes, we respond well to it and we remember it better.

Duty.  Honor.  Country.

I came.  I saw.  I conquered.

Especially Powerful Personal Competitive Advantage
The Rule of Three generates personal competitive advantage

“Stop.  Look.  Listen.”

“The Three Little Pigs.”

“Goldilocks and the Nine Bears.”

Wait . . . the last sentence jars, doesn’t it?  It doesn’t feel right.

Try to craft your presentation to constitute three parts.

For instance:  Product Concept, Marketing Plan, Financial Analysis.  Something like that.

This three-part presentation structure serves you well as a framework for most any presentation.

As you wind to a conclusion, you then construct your second and final bookend.

Now . . . Bookend Your Presentation!

You say these words:  “In conclusion, we can see that . . .”

Then, repeat your original situation statement.

With this simple technique, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your presentation.

Finally, say:  “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”

You come full-circle, so to speak.  With this, the audience gains a sense of completeness.  Satisfaction.

This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole.  Your audience appreciates the closure.

Rather than a linear march, where nothing said in your presentation seems to relate to anything that came before, you offer satisfying closure with your presentation bookends.

You bring your audience home.

You bring you audience back to the familiar starting point.  This drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways:

1) the outright repetition of your theme, cementing it in the minds of your listeners, and . . .

2) the story convention of providing a satisfying ending, tying up loose ends.  Giving psychological closure with your presentation bookends.

It’s an elegant technique that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.  And it can imbue you with personal competitive advantage.

Try it.

For more especially powerful tips on how to bookend your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your essential companion throughout B-School.

The Especially Powerful Rule of Three

Rule of Three in Presentations
Your Business Presentation structure can rarely do better than this powerful Rule of Three in Presentations

Apply the Rule of Three to the middle section of your presentation.

You build your talk in stages.  You argue the case for your recommendation.

Through all of this, the Rule of Three is the best method you can use.  From it you gain personal competitive advantage.

The Latin phrase for it is “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect).

Yes, apply the Rule of Three . . . and apply it ruthlessly.

Here I offer controversial advice, and not every presentation guru will agree with it.  But it forms the basis for an especially powerful presentation.

With it, you never go wrong.

Think about that for a second.  How many things in life can you say that about?  You never go wrong.

What is this Rule of Three?

For a moment, let’s consider this “Rule of Three.”  This is always a successful method in structuring the staging portion of your presentation.

This means that you select the three main points from your material.  Then you structure your show around them.

It’s that simple.

And it’s powerful.

Rule of three
Rule of Three: for especially powerful personal competitive advantage!

Think about this for a moment.

There is something magical about the number three.

We tend to grasp information most easily in threes.

Consider these examples:

Stop, look and listen – A wellknown public safety announcement

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” – William Shakespeare

Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar

“Blood, sweat and tears” – Winston Churchill

“Faith, Hope and Charity” – The Bible

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the Declaration of Independence

“The good, the bad and the ugly” – Clint Eastwood Western

“Duty – Honor – Country.  Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur

The Rule of Three in presentations is a standard structural model advocated  by many presentation coaches.  And with good reason.

It’s a powerful framework, incredibly sturdy.  Think of it as a reliable vessel into which to pour your superb beverage.

With the rule of three, you can – literally – never err with regard to your presentation structure.

Here’s an Example . . .

Offer substantiation for your thesis and ultimate recommendation in three main points.

Strip down all of your convoluted arguments, all of your evidence.

Restrict all of your keen analysis to the three major points that you believe make your case.

In the Toughbolt Corporation example above, note that in our thesis statement and ultimate recommendation, we mentioned three positive reasons for our chosen course of action:

“ . . . this presentation demonstrates that this course of action is fiscally sound, the best use of scarce resources among the alternatives, and a basis for rapid growth.”

These three factors serve as your basic Rule of Three structure for the middle of your presentation.

  1. Most efficient use of resources over other expansion alternatives
  2. Financial Analysis of the projected acquisition
  3. Projected returns and growth rate

Does this mean that other information is not important?

Of course not.

It means that you have selected the most important points that make your case and that you want to rivet in the minds of the audience.  The Rule of Three in presentations means that you select the major facts not to be “comprehensive” in your presentation, but to be persuasive in your presentation.

With respect to subsidiary points that appear in your written analysis, you have the opportunity to address those issues in a question and answer session to follow your show.

Follow the Rule of Three to gain especially powerful personal competitive advantage.

For more proven techniques like the Rule of Three in presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

A Time for Slide Magic . . .

Especially Powerful
You provide the especially powerful magic, not the PowerPoint slides

Do you ever cobble together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?

Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?

Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?

Guilty as charged?

Most of us are guilty at some point.

And the results can be heinous.

Software “Magic” Cannot Save You

The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

You pay a price for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.”  Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.

And . . . why not?

Who says this is a bad idea?

After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?

Well, I’m giving it to him.  ’nuff said.

This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document.  This is an incredibly stupid mistake, and with it you forfeit personal competitive advantage to your more careful peers.

One . . . or the Other

Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.

Presentation Magic does not exist
You Create the Presentation Magic . . . not the Software

The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.

Never let one serve in place of the other.

Prepare two separate documents if necessary.  One is your detailed written document, and the other to serve as the basis for your show.

When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens:  You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”  [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]

The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.

It’s a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.

And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.

So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show, so that you can craft an especially powerful presentation.

No Magic in Your Slide Deck

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.

Nifty slides cannot save you.

There is no PowerPoint magic.

PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.

This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story.  They bomb miserably.

Especially Powerful
An especially powerful story wins the day every time

On the other hand, Hollywood can caft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects.

For example, see the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.

You cannot craft a winning film with no story.

Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.

Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show.  They have no special properties.  They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.

Presentations coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:

“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?

Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.

Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.

Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize

Firstorient your audience to the overall financial context.

If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

You provide the Presentation Magic
Great Speakers like Malcolm X bring their own Presentation Magic to performance . . . and so should you

Secondeliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.

If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.

Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Thirdemphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen.  This puts you on your way to an especially powerful presentation that gives you Personal Competitive Advantage.

You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.

Consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power.  You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.

Want more on providing your own presentation magic?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentations

Personal Competitive Advantage
Deliver the Especially Powerful Presentation

What if you could give especially powerful presentations?

That sounds like a worthy goal, right?

Sure, it does.

But if you’re like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school students worldwide, you’ve muttered I hate presentations more than once.

And you probably have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations.

And that’s why you’re here.

Welcome to the world of especially powerful business presentations.

One in 1 Billion?

Of more than 1 billion websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.  I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.

But . . .

Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.

I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.

personal competitive advantage
Steve Jobs was an especially powerful presenter by virtue of his enthusiasm and authenticity

But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.

Think of this place as your Official College Guide to Business School Presentations.

And this place – everything about it – is designed to give you personal competitive advantage.

But . . .

What if you already feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills?

I congratulate you and at the same time encourage you.  I encourage you to continue improving.

Discover a technique used by a popular speaker.  Adopt a new stance you saw in a TED talk.  Practice that incredible gesture your friend uses when he’s excited.

In short, recognize that presenting is a skill that can always be refined, always be improved.

Perhaps you’ll find a secret or two right here.

Don’t hate presentations!

I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting  – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”

In short, you want to know what works and why.

You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.

You want to know what is just opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.

You’ll find answers here to the most basic questions.

  • What is this beast – the business presentation?
  • How do I stand?  Where do I stand?
  • What do I say?  How do I say it?
  • How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
  • How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
  • How do I pass the baton?
  • Where do I begin, and how?
  • How do I end my talk?
  • What should I do with my hands?
  • How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
  • How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
  • How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?

Centuries of Especially Powerful Presenting

Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.  You may not like the answers.

You may disagree with the answers.

Fair enough.

Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land.  Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.

Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .

Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.

They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting.

In turn, they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom.  You find those verities here.

Personal Competitive Advantage
The confidence and surety of President Reagan made him an especially powerful presenter

On the other side of things, let me hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.

The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs.  And they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.

So think deep.

Consider the personal competitive advantage that can be yours when you develop especially powerful business presentation skills.

And learn not to hate presentations by consulting my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Hook Your Audience

Especially Powerful Blast!
Hook your audience with especially powerful mind-blasting

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook  your audience for your business presentation.

But with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle to seize interest.

In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.  You must get them über-focused on you and your message.

So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?

Think of your message or your story as your explosive device.  To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.

This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”  Your “hook.”

This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.

Mind-Blasting to Hook Your Audience

This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.  Something special.

With this provocative line, you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next.  The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.

But they must step off with you from the beginning.

And you get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.

You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:

“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction.  Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be hear tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children.  And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”

That sort of thing.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you much . . .”

Ugh.

Folks in your audience are already checking their email.  In fact, they’re no longer your audience.

You’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.

So why do people talk this way?

Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.  You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.  You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.

You come to believe that a listless audience is natural.

Not at all!  The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting.  And this is the secret to hook your audience . . . and keep them hooked.

Mind-Blasting

You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention.  You must say something provocative, but relevant.  You must grab your listeners and keep them.  You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.

Something like this:

“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot.  And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling.  The letters were etched in granite and they became visible one by one.  My breath caught when I read the inscription–”

Or this . . .

“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”

Or this . . .

“I was stupid, yes stupid.  I was young and impetuous.  And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did.  I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”

Or this . . .

“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”

Or this . . .

“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . .    I thought that she must be a special woman.  And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”

Tell Me What Happens Next!

You get the idea.

Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you.  Your listeners want to hear what comes next.  Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey.  If you engage in theatrics for their own sake, you’ll earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.

So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.  And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.

Hook your audience with especially powerful mind-blasting and you can achieve a measure of personal competitive advantage denied to others . . . because they’re simply unaware of this powerful technique.

For more key elements of especially powerful presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Practice

Presentation Practice
The Right Business Presentation Practice can Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

Business presentation practice is one of the keys to an especially powerful performance.

The right kind of practice for your business presentation.

This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.

But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?

Practice is easy.

You just . . .

. . . do it.

Right?

Especially Powerful Practice Yields . . .

First, not everyone practices.

Some practice not at all.

Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.

Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you.  If you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of business presentation practice.

Here’s why . . .

The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, coherent fashion without stumble, and 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.

Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.

But you only reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense.

And if you develop keen-minded presentation practice habits, then likewise you’re on your way to developing a powerful personal competitive advantage.

This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.

Mistake #1

First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

Something in our psyche seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.

When we stumble, we want a “do-over.”

So that we can assemble a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.

But when we do this, what we actually practice is the “starting over.”  We become experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Business Presentation Practice
Especially Powerful Practice for Personal Competitive Advantage

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?

Start over?

No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have practiced only one thing – starting over.

Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them.  Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it.

Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.

Mistake #2

The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.

Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror.  It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time.

There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.

Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions.

But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror.

Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation?  That’s just bizarre.

Instead, conduct your presentation practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.

To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly.  But practice the right way.

For more on especially powerful business presentation practice and the development of personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Especially Powerful Presentation – Malcolm X

especially powerful
An Especially Powerful Presenter

Malcolm X was a great presenter, and he would sting his audiences with a superb and especially powerful technique – powerful grabber lines.

Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way.

Malcolm X could snap his audience to attention.  He compelled his listeners to sit up straight, to focus on his message.

You can do this several ways, too.

It’s up to you what method you choose, but it should fit your audience and your presentation.

One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line.  This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.

Not just another canned talk.

One of the finest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.

Yes, Malcolm X was a great presenter, and his speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful presentation call to action.

The Effects of Rhetoric

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator.  He drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.

Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.  As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats.  To feel the repetition of key phrases.

And to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.

And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases but repeating key words.

Malcolm X was a great presenter

You gain a sense of the gathering storm.

You almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.

With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.

Bad presentations launch with a peppering of routine phrases.  The speaker grips the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.

Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.

Especially Powerful Technique

Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience.  Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.

This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963.  Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course leavens our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has drawn in his listeners.  He has laid out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.

He established a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement:

America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

Great Presenter with Power and Depth

Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.

No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”  Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”

Straight to the point, and a bold point it is.  See what comes next . . .

America’s problem is us.  We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.  And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted.  Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

Has Malcolm studied his audience?  Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?

Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?

He surely has.

Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.

For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience.

Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk.  Ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.

In subsequent posts, we look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation and builds to his call for action at the end.

For more on how you can use Malcolm X’s techniques to develop especially powerful business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.  Utilize the techniques therein to build steadily your personal competitive advantage.

Especially Powerful Business in China

China - B schoolI not only travel a great many miles to special places, but also work with some of the brightest business leaders of tomorrow, endowed with the talent to deliver especially powerful international presentations.

In China, for instance.

China has already overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy, and its engine of domestic and international commerce is only just starting.

Especially Powerful Drive

With incredible knowledge resource capability and government that increasingly recognizes the power of individual initiative and the economic benefits that accrue from relaxing regulation, China is set for an economic renaissance to stagger the world when its gears fully engage.

MBA students at the Sun Yat Sen Business School in Guangzhou, who appear on this page, show a determination, drive, optimism, and coachability that should be the envy of the world.

These young people a2016-06-23 08.59.16re cosmopolitan to an extraordinary degree.  They are proficient in multiple languages, and they are eager to absorb the lessons of Western-style management.

Poised to enter middle-management as a sage class of entrepreneurial knowledge workers who embrace the proven techniques of modern industrial wealth production.

These techniques of course include especially powerful presenting, which can confer unmatched personal competitive advantage.

I’d go so far as to say that they constitute a new cadre of global executives, a new breed of 21st Century Managers, unencumbered with outdated notions held over from the industrial revolution.

A cadre imbued with the qualities of . . .

Cultural Competence

Technical Proficiency

Flexibility and Adaptability

Cosmopolitan Outlook

Team-work orientation

Personal and Professional Aligned Strategic Focus

International Presentation Advantage

A cadre who can deliver especially powerful presentations in a second or third language.  International Presentations.  Now that’s advantage to garner rarefied personal competitive advantage.

They exhibit an incredible hunger to become the best business presenters possible.  Folks who embrace the range of instruction found in The Guide to Business School Presenting . . . quite revolutionary to the Chinese education system.

The rest of the business world should take note.

China is an economic dragon on the cusp of a genuine and especially powerful Leap Forward.

Transition Between Speakers

transition between speakers
Transition Between Speakers, Smooth and Confident

The second-most-searched term to lead folks here to Business School Presentations is “How to transition between speakers.”

As a result, I offer this classic post on how you pass the baton – the transition between speakers.

Baton-passing linkages within your presentation are incredibly important – they serve as the sinews of your presentation, binding muscles and bone of your show.

They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.

Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message?  So the message isn’t lost amongst a flurry of presenters scurrying about the stage in chaotic fashion?

Don’t Lose Your Message!

It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own.  The group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.

This is a formula for disaster.

The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing.  Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.

Sports teams don’t practice this way.  Serious people don’t practice this way.

Don’t you practice this way.

Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.

Pass the Baton without Musical Chairs

This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting.

Lots of turns.

This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.

Minimize the transitions between speakers, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.

To pass the baton in a presentation is no easy task . . . it takes preparation and the right kind of practice

Don’t rush.

Again, don’t rush the transition between speakers.

Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic.  At that point, while still speaking, the speaker turns, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.

The speaker walks away while still talking.  While still citing a point.  Perhaps an incredibly important point.

Don’t rush from the stage.  Stay planted in one spot until you finish for an especially powerful conclusion of your segment.

Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion.  Your conclusion should reiterate your Most Important Point.

Introduce your next segment.  Then transition.  Then pass the baton with authority.

Transition Between Speakers – Harmonize

Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.

Each presenter must harmonize  the message with the others of a business presentation.  These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.

“On the same page” . . .  “Speaking with one voice” . . .    These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony.

This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.

It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.

This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.

Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part.  This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time.

Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.

Remember:  Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.

You can find more discussion on how to pass the baton in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your key to personal competitive advantage in business school and beyond.

Learn to give an especially powerful presentation every time.

Business Presentation Audience?

Your Presentation Audience deserves your best
Especially Powerful Response to Your Presentation Can be Yours!

Do you face a listless, distracted business presentation audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?

Texting?

Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

Your Presentation Audience Needs You to Be . . .

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes me on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Here, I identify a remedy for you – how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.

Here is what you need to be for your audience.

It isn’t your listeners’ fault if you’re monotonous, unprepared, listless, nervous, or dull.  It’s your job to entertain and energize your audience with your own enthusiasm.

Giving a business presentation is much more than just showing up in front of your long-suffering presentation audience and delivering a stilted talk.  Much more.

Respect your audience and work hard to dazzle your listeners.  They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

In addition to giving you solid counsel on your audience, I also suggest how you can energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

It’s not easy, but you can do it with several techniques developed over centuries of public speaking practice.  And in the process, you can acquire personal competitive advantage.

Please overlook my bad hair day in this video as you take in this powerful advice on How to Engage With Your Presentation Audience for an especially powerful presentation.

Have a look here . . .

Uptalk . . . Ugh

The Disease of Uptalk
Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility Question by Question

The verbal up-tic is a ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.  Its most common manifestation is Uptalk.

Once it grips you, Uptalk won’t let go . . .

It’s maddening.

Everyone who is exposed to this voice experiences doubt, unease, and irritation, many of those persons not cognizant of where this unease originates.

It screams amateur when used in formal business presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here.  I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility

If you have this affectation – if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.  But recognize that it’s not that easy.

Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.

But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling uptalk?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

Uptalk is the rhetorical scourge of the 21st century.

Uptalk is the unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt . . . and it conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

On and on.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.

This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.

The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, someone calling herself Kim Kardashian is the main carrier of this virus.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon in popular youth-oriented television.

Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalking.  Reality television females, as a breed, express themselves no other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.

And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.

For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power and personal competitive advantage.  Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.

Then come to grips with it for an especially powerful presentation.

For more on correcting the uptalk pathology and building a credible business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presenter as Hero

Business Presenters are powerfulBefore computers.

Before television and radio.

Before loudspeakers.

Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker – the earliest “business presenter.”

The Business Presenter

Public speaking was considered an art form.

Some did consider it the highest art.

Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people:  Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors.  The first saved your soul.  The second took your money.  The third saved you from prison.  The fourth transported you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.

Other professions utilized the proven skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen.

No, these were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters.

But they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking.

To suck the life from “business presenting.”

Skills of the Masters

The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over centuries.  The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument.

The knew the power of words.

How the right words could bring especially powerful vitality to a speech.

In fact, Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory.  He filled his presentations with the “wrong” ideas.

In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us.

We’ve adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to exalt our presentation message.

And yet the result has been something different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have supplanted them.  Each advance in technology creates another barrier between the business presenter and the audience.

The Business Presenter and Powerpoint

Business Presenter
Become a Powerful Business Presenter

Today’s presenters have fastened hold of the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.

The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear.

The focus has shifted from the business presenter to the fireworks.

This has led to such a decline that the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”

And in many cases, this is exactly what happens.

Almost as if the business presenter becomes a member of the audience.

PowerPoint and props are just tools.  That’s all.  You should be able to present without them.

And when you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.

In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university.  Some of them give fabulous presentations.  Most give adequate presentations.

They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.

Presentation Training – More Money

Waiters and waitresses are business presenters.

For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.

The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.

Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress.

They view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard.

Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.

Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.

Especially Powerful Dinner Presentations
Especially Powerful Dinner Presentations

As a waiter, ask yourself:  “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”

Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers.  You can become a superb business presenter.

In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.

I don’t mean for you to put on a juggling act.

Or to become a comedian . . .

Or to intrude on your guests’ evening.

I do mean to take your job seriously.  Learn your temporary profession’s rules and craft a business presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity.

Display enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions that make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.

The Hero Had Best be in Your Audience

Yes, hero.

Every business presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.  Great business presenters evoke a sense of heroism in customers.

Do this, and you win every time with an especially powerful show.

I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward.  Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation.

The reverse is likewise true.

Especially Powerful Hero
Presentation Hero? Remember that it’s the Audience

The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical.

The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.

But the principles that inform the great business presenter are the same.

And so, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking.

Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold.

Adopt the habits of the masters.

Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the great business presenters who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.

Their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful business presentations.

The key to acquiring personal competitive advantage.

For more on becoming a great business presenter, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Christmas Presentation Scrooge? Not Here!

No such thing as business scroogeWhen asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.

Indeed.

My naturally autocratic tendencies, which have held me back in the literary world for years, compel me constantly to cast a pall on the enthusiasms of my young charges.

To stifle the urge to ponderous first-person narratives sourced from an uncomfortable chair at an outdoor bistro on the Champs-Élysées.

To replace pedestrian visions from well-worn paths with clarity and precision and vision of things and places never once visited.

At this time of year, such endeavor might be considered . . . Scrooge-like.

But no.  You won’t find Scrooge in the Business School.  There is no such thing as a Business Scrooge.

Scrooge is commonplace, but not here.

It’s Time for Mind-Clearing

This is about shaking off medievalist bad habits learned over in the liberal arts college . . . about clearing the mind . . . scattering gnat-like notions to the winds . . .

Accordingly, as a business school professor, I urge my students to dispense with their fanciful flights picked up in undisciplined liberal arts courses.  To dispense with the bad and the ugly . . . and to embrace the good.

In class, my students look at me, expectantly.  Yes, we’re here – in class – now:

“You remember those idyllic scenes conjured by your imagination, back when you were young and unjaded?  High school seniors . . . or even freshmen here in university?  When college had its sheen?”

I roam the floor, the space in front of the rows of desks with their internet connections.

“Remember those scenes of professors and students out on the lawn under a late summer sun, students sitting cross-legged, perhaps chewing on blades of grass?  Your kindly bearded professor, a tam resting upon his head, gesturing grandly while reciting something beautiful?

“Perhaps a passage from Faulkner?  Perhaps a trope from Camus. Or verse from an angry beat poet?  The occasional angry finger-point at the business school with all its philistinism?  The house of Business Scrooge?”

One student speaks up.

“I saw a group out theThere's no Business Scrooge . . . but plenty of pinched brows in liberal artsre last spring!  Why can’t we do that?”

“Because it’s winter now, of course.  But wouldn’t that be nice,” I respond.

Nods around the room.

Broad smiles.

“No, it would not be nice,” I say.  “That’s not genuine.  It’s not authentic.  Just actors performing for touring visitors and posing for publicity shots.  College isn’t like that.  There is no authentic college of your dreams waiting for you to discover.  Remember the lesson of Oliver Wendell Douglas.”

“Who?”

“Oliver . . . Wendell . . . Douglas.”

I’m concerned at this lack of essential preparatory knowledge of the modern college student at a major university.

Search for the Authentic

“The star of Green Acres, the greatest television show of all time.  Don’t you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land?  See Youtube.”

Green Acres.  I explain.

It was really an allegory, a metaphor for our time.

Mr. Douglas was forever in search of the authentic.  He had an idyllic conception of the rural experience.  He abandoned his big city lawyer’s life in a quest for authentic Americana.

Instead, Mr. Douglas found a bizarre world populated by characters that could have been confected by Stephen King.

Hank Kimball.The business scrooge myth

Mr. Haney.

Sam Drucker.

Eb.

Frank Ziffle.

Homer Bedlow.

Everyone was an actor in a surreal drama staged for the benefit of Mr. Douglas’s dreams of the authentic rural life.

The unifying theme of the show was Sam Drucker’s general store, where many of the crucial insights were revealed.  Rural folk did not use oil lamps, “’cause we all got ’lectricity.”

The barrel in Sam Drucker’s general store was filled with plastic pickles.

The store was a magical place for Mr. Douglas, a crossroads for many of the strange characters who nettled him so naughtily.  For the most part, they gave Mr. Douglas exactly what he wanted to see, because in the immortal words of Sam Drucker:  “City folks seem to expect it.”

The idyllic outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature-scene.

Students seem to expect it.

High Expectations . . . Presentation Scrooge?

Expectations that inevitably collapse under the weight of real challenges, real work . . . and in the process of genuine labor, a true generosity of spirit takes root.

“I suppose that no one in this classroom has seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?  The original, not the remake.”

“And if you have, I’m betting you completely missed the theme of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism expressed by Spock throughout the film.  Never mind the obvious references to Melville’s Moby Dick?”

“Is this class Global Strategic Management, Professor?”

Again, those naturally autocratic tendencies assert themselves.

“This class is what it isBusiness Scrooge?,” not unmindful of the evasiveness.  “And it is not about outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature instruction.  It’s about  . . authentic.”

I snap my fingers.

“How many people here believe in this . . . this muse?”

Silence.  No movement.

“You know.  This writing trope.  This muse.”

I squint.

“Anyone ever heard of this muse?  Don’t hide from me.  I know you were exposed to this . . . this muse over in that heinous liberal arts college.”

Hands begin to go up.  Cautious hands.  More hands than I expect.  More hands than are comfortable.

Time to disabuse them, time to explode their fantasies.

“There is no muse.”

A simple declarative sentence, but with the unsentimental power and imperious grandeur of a Thomas Carlyle proclamation.

Puzzled looks.  A few of them distraught.  Then, anger.

“But there is.  There’s a muse . . . there is!”

“Humbug!  There is no muse!  Get that Birkenstock notion out of your callow head.”

“But my English prof said—”

“Your neo-medievalist English prof is teaching because no one publishes her bad novels and because she cannot earn a living foisting this muse-myth on folks who live and breathe and work and play in the real world.  People who build bridges, harvest corn, make tires, feed hormones to beef, fly you home over holiday break, and who serve you every day at the 7-ll.  People who pay taxes and die.”

Gasp.

My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.

The myth of business scrooge“You must know only one thing.”

Pause.

“You must know only one thing.”

The students sense something profound coming.  They won’t be disappointed.

“Yes, there is a muse . . . I am your muse.”

I smile.  A benevolent smile.  I see several people actually taking notes, writing this down.

Muse Whispers “No Business Scrooge Here”

“I am on your shoulder whispering to you in those moments when you lack inspiration.  I am your solution to the blank computer screen.”

My voice rises, I lean back and spread my hands wide, just as I have seen evangelicals do when working a crowd.

“I am the muse, the answer to your writer’s block and the source of your inspiration.”

Titters of laughter ripple through the room, and I scowl.

“You think I’m joking . . . that this is a joke?”

I pace like a panther, my hands clasped behind my back.  I stalk the room, the entire space in front of the classroom and right in front of the giant PowerPoint projection screen.

I stop and face them, squaring my shoulders and flexing my jaw.

“I want you to remember that one thing when you’re up at night and time is trickling by, and you have an assignment but no ideas and no hope . . . .”

They are silent, and they watch me.

The Incantation . . .

“I will perch on your shoulder, and I will whisper to you just four words.  I want you to remember those four words.  Just four little words – just five little syllables.”

They are magic words!  An incantation!

“A mantra to warm you on those cold nights bereft of imagination, as you trek that barren wasteland of words without order, without discipline, without a point.”

I have their attention now.  They are rapt.

Will I win them over this time?  Can I break through?

Can I help them make the leap from soaring idealism to mundane responsibility?

“Remember these words:  Love … the … Value … Chain!”

Groans.

They’ve heard this before.  They sound disappointed.

Cheated.

So many fail to see the beauty of disaggregating the firm into its functional components . . . The Value Chain.  The analytic precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens!  So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .

“I love the value chain, Professor!”

“Really?”

I’m skeptical, jaded.  I search for signs of duplicity.  But detect only enthusiasm.

“Which part of the value chain do you feel most strongly about?”

“Since I’m chronologically oriented, Professor, I’m partial to Inbound Logistics!”

There is a general murmuring and uneasiness in the class.  Inbound logistics?

I nod sagely.  “That’s fine, MBusiness Scrooges. Zapata.  It’s okay to privilege one segment of the value chain over another, if it gives you the key to identifying competitive advantage!”

A hand shoots up and a voice cries out before I can acknowledge it.

Operations!  That’s the ticket for me.”

And yet another!

After sale Service!” a voice in the back calls out.  “Professor, Customer Relationship Management has a symmetry and logic about it that outstrips anything we touched on in my basic philosophy courses!”

The dam had finally burst, and the classroom buzzed with talk of core competencies, competitive analysis, environmental scans, core products, strategy formulation processes, Five Forces analysis, and competitive advantage!

They are convinced – finally – that strategy and value chain analysis can be an art.

I even say positive things about accounting and accountants, observing that there is a bit of art and flair and imagination necessary to produce a product desired by the employer . . . or patron.  Think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel for his patron.

The Value Chain!

Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Sales and Marketing, and Service.

If ever there were a time for sentimentality and outright weeping, this was it!  For this is the key to wealth creation and the bettering of people’s lives in a thousand different ways.

It’s our cornucopia, the secret that has propelled civilization from the Renaissance to the Age of Google.

But then . . .

But then, one of the most staid literary conventions of all time reared its ugly head.  Yes, one of the worst literary devices known to fictioneers.

I woke up.

I awoke from a dream.

A Sweet, Impossible Dream

It was nothing but a sweet dream.  Students excited at the prospect of writing a paper on value chain analysis . . . on identifying a company’s core competency and developing a strategic plan to gain sustained competitive advantage based on that competency . . .

Students who loved the value chain . . . who could see the art and creativity demanded of the accountant and financial manager.

Who could see the beauty in efficient operations management.

Who would strive for efficiency because it was the right thing to do!

It was all a sweet dream.

cruel dream.

I awoke to a cold, winter world where idealistic students still sleepwalk and irresponsible students still party and wiseacre students still wisecrack with a tiresome world-weariness and faux freshness.

Who write with an undisciplined lackadaisical casualness that drives me to distraction.

It’s the little things that do this.

I close my eyes and maybe . . . perhaps I can recapture a bit of the magic.  Recapture the dream.

I look up, startled to find a group of students gathered round my desk after I have dismissed class.  They are heading home in the cold for their winter break.

“What’s this?”

“A gift, Professor.”

There is no such thing as the Business Scrooge“Thank you.”

“Won’t you open it now?”

I peel the wrap away in a crinkle of coated Christmas paper.  It’s a book.  A copy of Peter Drucker’s Management.

It’s a first edition, and I feel my eyes tearing up.

“We know how much you like Green Acres.  And Drucker’s general store.”

Smiles abound.  I cock an eyebrow, as I am wont to do.

“You do know that it wasn’t Peter Drucker’s store?  It was Sam Drucker’s store.”

“Does it really matter, Professor?”

“In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that it does not.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Why do I offer a hearty Merry Christmas instead of something ecumenically blasé?

Well, because I can.  Because I’m authentic.  Because I have authoritarian tendencies.

Because I offer others a piece of my world.

And I heartily accept Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Season’s Greetings from anyone and everyone else who cares to send ’em my way.

Now, I must go read Sam Drucker’s book on managing a general store in Hooterville.

No business scrooge here.  I’m such an idealist.

Presidential Presenting?

Given that this election year has seen a raft of awful would-beEspecially Powerful presidential presenting presidential presenting, I devote to this space the second evaluation of the two political parties’ nominees.

In this case, the winner.

President-elect Donald Trump offers one of the strangest speaking styles I’ve ever witnessed on the public stage.

It combines odd gestures, rhetorical discontinuities, and counter-intuitive inflections to flummox even the most partisan viewer.

I said in another space six months ago that Mr. Trump could be our first post-modern candidate.  Nothing has changed that would cause me to modify this observation.

His repetition, flights of fancy, strange interjections at inappropriate moments, and infuriating inability to complete a thought all combine with a menu of off-putting gestures.

Gestures for Presidential Presenting?

Mr. Trump, like all public speakers, has a go-to gesture that sustains him on the stump.  President Obama’s go-to gesture is the “lint-pick.”

He uses with aplomb and quite often.

especially powerful
The Obama Lint-Pick, his signature gesture for especially powerful presidential presenting

The “Lint Pick” is an excellent choice to exhibit precision and attention to detail.  It gives the impression to an audience that you are sharing something minute yet important.

You cull out the telling point that brings everything together, and Mr. Obama has adopted this for his personal brand.

Mr. Trump’s signature gesture is what someone in a national magazine labeled the “Dainty Mobster Thing.”

In an Atlantic article by James Parker, the author observed Mr. Trump’s “dainty mobster thing he does with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.”

Dainty Mobster is simply a version of the Lint-Pick that we’ve seen the President and many others use for years.

Especially Powerful Dainty Mobster
Signature Gesture . . . the Dainty Mobster, which is similar to the lint-pick

This version, however, is certainly something I’ve never seen anyone else use except occasionally and to a specific purpose.

Mr. Trump uses Dainty Mobster repeatedly.

When we talk about public speaking, particularly that with a high stakes element, it’s always useful to go to the film to evaluate the product.

So, let’s have a look at a speech that I annotate to call attention to speaking tics that detract from the public presentation message.

Aspiring speakers should not imitate this particular style, although unique it may be and with seemingly grandiose results.  Nor should one imitate the opposing candidate, Mrs. Clinton, as we saw in our previous post.

In fact, few political figures in our time offer styles that can teach us much of anything.  One of the few articulate speakers of a new political generation is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, but his is an occasional case.

For especially powerful speakers worthy of emulation, the finest Hollywood actors offer us a strong example of how to combine emotion with substance in a powerful persuasive performance.

But then, that’s exactly what they’re paid to do.

For more on powerful presentations, consult the book The Complete Guide to Business Presentations.

Especially Powerful Presidential Presentations

With respect to the recently concluded U.S. presidential campaign, we saw two of the least effective purveyors of presidential presentations in memory . . .

Let’s just say that both candidates could use major work to overhaul their respective presentation architectures.

And neither’s oratory will ever be mistaken for that of John F. Kennedy.

Both of them are/were just damned bad.

Could they have been any Worse?

It’s no secret why both candidates continued in their obviously grotesque styles of speaking – it’s the same reason that most CEOs persist with bad presentation habits.  There is no up-side to critique the “boss” for those in a position to critique the boss.

Not if you value career survival.

And so we see a perpetuation of bad public speaking, a base level that never improves.  Both of this year’s presidential candidates have identifiable tics and foibles that are easily correctable.

We’ll look, in turn, at each.

Here are some broad strokes for Mrs. Hillary Clinton.

Her voice is unpleasant.  It rasps and her delivery is nothing short of hectoring.  A fine line separates “exhortation” from “hectoring” and Mrs. Clinton is way over the line.

Let’s have a look . . .

Mrs. Clinton has the potential to become a competent speaker.

One key to this is for her to drop her “speaker’s persona” and to incorporate her reasonably satisfactory, natural one-to-one speaking style into her presentations in front of large audiences.

Mrs. Clinton alters her style significantly, depending on the size of audience.  She becomes robotic, and adopts a mechanical voice and style.

A transparently calculating style.

Don’t Turn into a Robot

Her “big crowd” voice is contrived and she tends to shout while using only her voice box.  The result of his inefficient and voice-degrading habit is to destroy voice quality.  You can hear this in the accompanying video.

Her gestures are unnatural and awkward, as if bolted on.

None of this is incurable.  It requires only awareness and the courage and determination to change.

If she wishes to become a better speaker, she would do well to spend time viewing film of her performances, not for content but for delivery.

The answers to her speaking dilemma can be found right here.

And here, in the Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

Next up, the foibles of the other guy . . .

 

 

Global Presentation Advantage – China Redux

Global Presentation
Global Presentation Skills can add Personal Competitive Advantage

For many, Globalization is the nefarious catchall word for many of the world’s discontents.

But in China it means progress and prosperity.

In Guangzhou, previously known as Canton, the dynamism of a global economy is on display.  Not only in the towering skyscrapers that line the Pearl River, but in the latest generation of business-savvy 20-somethings.

The MBAs in China with whom I work – to a student – display a cosmopolitan outlook and entrepreneurial spirit that was largely absent a generation ago.

This outlook is leavened with ambition.  It carries a healthy Confucian ethos, and a killer capitalist skill set . . . including business presenting designed for multi-national audiences.

Especially Powerful Global Presentations

I’m back in Guangzhou in a week to inculcate global presentation skills to an international clientele proficient in multiple languages.  They’re eager to absorb the lessons of Western-style management and embrace the proven techniques of modern industrial and technological wealth production.

These techniques of course include especially powerful presenting, which can confer unmatched personal competitive advantage – a global presentation advantage.

As I’ve contended elsewhere, these students comprise a new cadre of global executives.  They’re a special breed of 21st Century Managers, unencumbered with outdated notions held over from the industrial revolution.

A cadre imbued with the qualities of . . .

Cultural Competence

Technical Proficiency

Flexibility and Adaptability

Cosmopolitan Outlook

Team orientation

Personal and Professional Aligned Strategic Focus

A Global Presentation Advantage

Young managers who can deliver especially powerful presentations in a second or third language for a Global Presentation Advantage.

Now that’s advantage.

And with an incredible hunger to become the best business presenters possible, who embrace the range of instruction found in The Guide to Business School Presenting . . . quite revolutionary to the Chinese education system.

China is an economic dragon on the cusp of a genuine Great Economic Leap Forward.

In the coming three weeks, I’ll be posting from Guangzhou and Beijing and, one hopes, revealing presentation secrets from the Middle Kingdom.

A Kafka Presentation?

Imagination and Humor in Presenting
A Kafka Presentation can yield disturbing results!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Those four words encompass Kierkegaard and Kafka and Camus.

In those four words is concentrated an almost otherworldly existential power that is rarely seen in hundreds of thousands of mundane marketing messages broadcast every day.

They communicate the ultimate absurdity of the human condition and self-mock with relish our own marketing-based consumer lifestyle.

Do I wax too wildly over a mere commercial message, albeit one that digs such a deep philosophical foundation whose established lineage stretches to the 19th Century?

Yes, I probably do.  After all, it’s just a line from a televised candy commercial.

Yes, candy.  But what a line!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Pop Culture Immortality

It’s a line destined to go down in short-lived pop-cult history alongside “Who put the Goat in there?” [See, you already missed that one, didn’t you? Google it]

You can earn lots of money on t-shirts with “Eat both squares, please” before this narrow window of opportunity slams shut.

Actually, it’s already slammed-to, but a tiny group of Kafka aficionados might appreciate it.

Kafka presentation style
Franz Kafka

Why is the line funny?

Because of the subtlety it conveys.  The commercial message is . . . taste.   And shades of darkly humorous and powerful meaning are shoehorned into those four words.

It’s a Kafka Presentation.

Kafka?  Who?  Google for explanation.

It is an incredible feat of advertising acumen.

An instant classic.

It may not rate as highly in the pantheon of ad lore as the more mainstream and iconic phrase “Where’s the Beef?” but it has a far more deeply existential quality to it, a surreal aspect that taps into our imagination and allows us to play out the dark meaning of those innocent words.

For it is in the innocence of the words themselves that we find their ironic power.

I can think of only one other example that has similar power, but it’s far darker; it comes from the novel Hannibal:  “The skin graft didn’t take.”

Deliver a Kafka Presentation

All of which leads us to the the central question – What’s the source of creativity?   How can we tap our own creativity to construct powerful messages that communicate with humor the points we wish to make?

How can we burn our messages into the receptors of our listeners? How can creativity ignite our own business presentations, our business shows?  To deliver a Kafka Presentation?

[WARNING:  Not everyone likes a disturbing Kafkaesque experience]

existential1Commercials are presentations of a sort.  They are shows in the same way that your business presentations are shows.

So what makes an especially powerful commercial?

Advertising agencies and marketers have the bulk of the fun in business, or so it seems.   Oftentimes, their efforts are quashed out of corporate fears of giving offense or going too over-the-top.

But every once in a while . . .

This commercial surely substantiates the fun thesis as we can imagine the devious amusement these folks had assembling this subversive masterpiece.  The commercial hangs together superbly in creating a mind-burning moment for the product – Snickers.

What’s that?  You still don’t understand “Eat both squares, please?”

You will in a moment.

 

Shades of Gary Larsen and his cartoon masterpieces The Far Side!

The Far Side Reaches Televison!

I include this ad in Business School Presenting to illustrate what great creativity can produce when unleashed from the straitjacket we usually find in Business School.

Eat Both Squares Please debuted several years ago, and it quickly passed into advertising history, remembered by some . . . revered by a few.

In no way do I analyze exactly why this commercial is incredibly funny, except to note that it combines anthropomorphism with a modern focus group scenario.

It’s a Kafka Presentation, and it’s played straight, not for laughs.  And the kicker is that Kafka is known primarily for the opposite of anthropomorphism – his work Metamorphosis.

It’s a Gary Larson cartoon come to life . . .

In other words, the focus group scenario is exactly what you find in such a venue and activity.  The Kafkaesque addition of sharks gives it a kind of restrained absurdity.

The combination yields 31 seconds of brilliance.  And like most brilliant humor, it’s bound to offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Integrating humor into your presentation can be difficult, but this is one way to do it.   Certainly we cannot hit a home-run like this commercial with our own efforts every time, but if humor is a goal, this Snickers formula can work – blending the mundane with the bizarre to produce a pastiche of power that drills a concept into the audience’s collective mind.

Not only is unbridled imagination a source for especially powerful presentations, but its regular engagement offers you sustainable personal competitive advantage.  Give it a shot.

For more info on delivering the Kafka Presentation, see The Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

For Especially Powerful Business Presentations

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