You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus. The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.
You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.
Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.
We provide a comparison as a baseline.
For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone. Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.
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.
Business Presentation 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, cogent 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.
This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.
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.
But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?
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.
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.
Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.
Treat it this way, and your chances of case competition victory increase dramatically.
Case Competition Victory?
If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters wins the day most every time.
The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.
If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it wins.
If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.
You are the presentation.
By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.
You know the techniques and skills of the masters.
You’ve become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker.
You constantly refine yourself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed: Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.
Apply the Seven Secrets
When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.
Your team’s combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory. The team then creates their first draft presentation.
It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.
Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden. Or from the written material you prepare.
The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own. You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.
Your case solution is not judged solely on its substantive merit, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it. It’s judged on how well you communicate the idea.
Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation. And you must orchestrate your presentation. Work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present.
And with the new knowledge you create.
Remember that it takes much more than a handful of last-minute presentation “tips” to achieve a case competition victory at the highest level.
Phase 2 of your business case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.
Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.
It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.
In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.” It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the competition sponsor.
Business Case Competition Preparation
Your first step – your team members read the business case once-through for general information and understanding.
You inventory issues.
You define the magnitude of the task at hand.
Here, you draw a philosophical and psychological box around the case. You encompass its main elements.
You make it manageable.
You avoid time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.
Your discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.
At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you to develop your analysis and recommendations.
The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually small. So I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.
This includes your team, of course.
Victory or Defeat?
The quality of teams is high. The output of their analyses is similar.
This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.
Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material. I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.
The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.
And so we devote minimum time here on the preparation of your arguments.
Many fine books can help you sharpen your analysis. Try this one.
This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.
We’re concerned here with the key to your competition victory.
Here is your competitive edge: While 90 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Especially Powerful Presenting.
You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.
Your own business case competition preparation distinguishes you in dramatic and substantive ways. This translates into a nuanced, direct, and richly textured presentation.
One that captivates as well as persuades.
Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants
Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged. This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.
These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate. It’s a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.
Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion. This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .
1) Substance trumps: The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.
2) Mimicry: All entries utilize the same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides. This levels the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.
Remember – hold back details of your recommendations for use and explication during the Q&A period. Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.
Don’t get down into the weeds.
Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation. A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points. Deliver them with power and impact.
They should stand out. Don’t submerge them under an avalanche of well-intentioned detail.
Avoid the urge to “get it all in.”
It’s difficult to decide what to leave out of your initial presentation. But it’s as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.
The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.
No hiding behind a resume.
No fast-talking a good game.
No “national rankings.”
Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.
Business Case Competition as Crucible
In business case competitions, your team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.
Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.
They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.
Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose.
The idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit.
Then, rate how well the teams respond.
There is, of course, no direct competition between teams. Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations. There is a time limit and specific rules.
All teams operate under the same conditions.
Business Case Competitions Far and Wide
Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.
Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives. The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.
Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.
The judging panel sometimes consists of executives from the actual company in the case.
The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition. Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event.
One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.
For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.
In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.
For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.
In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.
The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand. This is much easier than you might imagine. Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations. They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.
When we talk about body language in presentations, we really mean three distinct techniques – stance (or how we consciously position our bodies on-stage), expression (how we consciously utilize our facial expressions to enhance our meaning), and gesture (what we do with our hands to communicate).
In this post, let’s focus on gesture.
Gesture a Body Language Add-on?
Is gesture just some sort of garnish for the presentation? Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation?
Has anyone ever broken down the elements of body language for you to explain what’s good and what’s bad? What adds to and what subtracts from your show?
The fact is that you cannot separate sincerity from your appearance.
You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume, from your nuance.
And you cannot separate your words from gesture.
So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior body language messaging.
So what’s a Gesture?
It’s a wave of the hand.
A snap of the finger.
A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side in a universal embrace.
A scratch of the chin. Crossed arms.
An accusatory finger. A balled fist at the proper moment. These are all part of presentation body language that can either enhance or destroy your presentation.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This results from the presence of the speaker.
An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.
Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.
It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.”
Gestures provide energy and accent.
They add power. They add emphasis and meaning to our words.
Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture. At the proper time.
Entire books, in fact, have been written about gesture and the power it can bestow. But most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered. See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott‘s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.
Gesture is too important to leave to chance.
It is certainly too important to dismiss with the breezy trope you occasionally hear: “Move around when you talk.” Let’s understand exactly what it means.
In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today: “Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”
As part of your presentation body language repertoire, gesture should be natural. It should flow from the meaning of your words. From the meaning you wish to convey with your words.
We never gesture without reason or without a point to make. Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us naturally to gesture. Without emotion, gesture is mechanical. It’s false. It feels and looks artificial.
Communicating Without Words
Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication.
You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power. And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
For if you don’t begin to think in grand terms about yourself and your career, you’ll remain mired in the mud. Stuck at the bottom.
Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words. In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present. As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.
Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations. Movements that leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.
Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers. These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities.
It’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.
Control Those Fingers!
Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”
This is a habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands.
You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what. So you develop these unconscious motions. Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”
Tugging at your fingers. I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.
Bending your fingers back in odd manner. This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced. It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell. It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.
Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement. This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.
Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.
Presentation Body Language
Why would you want to “gesture” during your business presentation?
Aren’t your words enough without resorting to presentation body language?
Frankly, words are not enough.
Gestures add force to your points. To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear. A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal such presentation body language?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning. It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language. Said James Winans in 1915:
Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues. Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.
Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine in superb presentation body language.
You attain an especially powerful presentation moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy.
These three quite different men shared a respect for the power of the spoken word.
The power to deliver the persuasive presentation.
To deliver it with power and passion.
What is Rhetoric?
Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle gave us the means to deliver especially powerful presentations. The best speakers know this, either explicitly or instinctively.
We all owe a debt to Aristotle for his powerful treatise on persuasive public speaking Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the function of discovering the means of persuasion for every case.
These means of persuasion are delivered as a form of art. Aristotle identified the three necessary elements for powerful and persuasive presentations – the ethos or character of the speaker, the attitude of the audience, and the argument itself.
And the value of this powerful tool?
Just this . . .
Aristotle identified four great values of rhetoric.
First, rhetoric can prevent the triumph of fraud and injustice.
Second, it can instruct when scientific argument doesn’t work.
Third, it compels us to act out both sides of a case. When you can argue the opposite point, you are best armed to defeat it.
Finally, it’s a powerful means of defense when your opponent attacks.
As modern college texts wallow in the fever swamp of “communication theory,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers us a crystalline tool of power and efficacy – a sure guide to the proper techniques in business presenting.
Modern Persuasive Presentations
Two men as different as Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs understood the power of rhetoric to inspire people to action.
Dr. King for the transformation of society . . . Steve Jobs for the revolutionizing of six different technology industries.
Dr. King used one particular rhetorical technique that has become the touchstone of his legacy – his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” during his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
This technique is called the anaphora.
It involves the repetition for effect of a key phrase during a presentation. Dr. King ensured that his Dream would be the emotive catalyst for action.
The anaphora is part of what Aristotle recognized as art in rhetoric and is an advantage that rhetoric has over straight “scientific” expository speech in calling people to action.
Dr. King recognized the emotive power of rhetoric. It is this power that moves listeners to action when pure logic cannot. It’s at the heart of the persuasive presentation.
A Different Venue
Steve Jobs, too, utilized the technique for a different purpose.
A more mundane purpose – the selling of electronics.
“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”
The anaphora is just one example of an especially powerful rhetorical technique. It can imbue your business presenting with persuasiveness.
And there’s more . . . so much more available to you.
When we understand the power of rhetoric and how that power is achieved, it transforms us into more capable and competent business presenters. And it can yield an especially powerful and persuasive presentation.
Perhaps not as transcendent as Dr. Martin Luther King’s, but certainly especially powerful and persuasive presentations in our own bailiwicks.
Step into the presentation. Become the animation that highlights your points of emphasis.
Don’t divide audience attention between you, the data on the screen, and a nervously darting red speck.
Instead, concentrate your audience focus on your major points, touching the screen, guiding us to the facts and figures you want us to internalize. It’s a cave painting, so run your hands over the cave wall. Show us what you want us to see with your hand.
Now, I issue a caveat here.
If the screen behind you is so high that you cannot reach it, then you might be justified in using the pointer.
But probably not.
Instead, if you want to highlight or draw attention to your points of emphasis, then utilize the highlighting animation available on most multimedia platforms.
If you’re uncertain what I mean by this, have a look at this brief video:
Nothing is more gratuitous in modern business presenting than the laser pointer. And few things more irritating than the laser pointer presentation.
Rid yourself of this awful affectation today.
Pledge never to deliver another laser pointer presentation in your business life and instead deliver especially powerful presentations invested with confidence and competence.
Here’s the difference between the two pathologies, both of which can sabotage your presentation.
No Need for Self-Sabotage
Uptalk is the bad speech habit of inflecting the voice up at the end of each sentence, as if each sentence were a question.
Uptalk is usually a 24-7 transgression. If you do it . . you do it all the time.
Uptalk is breezy, addle-pated, and weak. With uptalk, you sound air-headed, uncertain, ditzy. Whiny and pleading. Someone who doesn’t care.
You could fix uptalk easily, if you wanted to.
But at this point, if you’re still doing it, you probably don’t want to fix it.
Now look at a parallel speech pattern that sounds similar to uptalk. This pattern appears only on special occasions.
List-Talk only shows up when it can hurt you.
Break this Bad Presentation Habit Now
What is List-Talk?
You engage in List-Talk only when you deliver your business presentation.
Exactly when it does you the most damage.
List-Speak is the lilting presentation voice we sometimes assume when we give a presentation. It’s a form of “presentation voice.” Presentation Voice is an artifice some people unconsciously adopt when speaking to a group in a formal situation.
Especially when we’re attuned to reading slides instead of simply telling our story.
List-Talk creeps in. It replaces direct, declarative sentences.
List-Talk offers the lilting upswing of the voice at the end of sentences.
As if you’re reading from a mental list.
Each sentence needlessly telegraphs that there’s more to come, that you’ve not yet completed a thought.
Again. And again.
And this goes on endlessly, until you finish the last point from your slide. Only then do you mercifully let your voice drop in completion . . .
. . . only to have it go up again as the next slide materializes.
This pathology is linked to your slide. But it’s not the slide’s fault.
If given a choice, would you embrace the opportunity to develop a powerful presentation voice?
Or would you demur to take a stand for “natural” voices? Whatever the hell that is.
Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.
It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
Voices Often Develop Chaotically
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
So what’s a “bad voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched? Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be to produce a powerful presentation voice, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.
Focus on the voices.
Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.
Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice. The opposite of a powerful presentation voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Many reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
You know exemplars of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: a group of people calling themselves “Kardashians.”
Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
And yet people mimic them.
Lots of people.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player. Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.
Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.” You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning. Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.
The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood. It’s not.
An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.
This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as a noble stand for who-knows what.
This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back for no good reason. It’s also a manifestation of fear.
Clare Tree Major identified this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
Delivering an especially powerful presentation means choosing . . . it means making 100 presentation choices.
Of course, it may not be exactly 100.
It could be 120.
Or perhaps 80.
Regardless, every time you deliver a presentation, you choose repeatedly.
Dozens of times.
And most often, you are unaware of the silent, invisible choices you make. Instead, your presentation simply unspools on its own, chaotic, willy-nilly . . . sometimes for the good, more often badly.
Rather than conceive of the presentation as a series of choices, many folks view the presentation as an organic whole. As something we simply “do.”
It’s presented as something that can be conducted via a series of “tips.” You’ve seen the articles on presentation “tips.”
Or business presenting is discussed as a “soft skill,” something you can pick up along the way. Perhaps in one of the ubiquitous and uninspired “communications classes.”
We receive vague instructions in a communications class, a place where mystification of the presentation is perpetuated, the myth of the “soft skill” is maintained, and presentation folk wisdom reigns . . .
“Make eye contact!”
“Move around when you talk!”
“Don’t put your hand in your pocket!”
Advice that is obscurantist at its best and can be downright wrong at its worst.
Not a “Soft Skill”
The delivery of the Business Presentation is not a “soft skill.” Approximately 80 percent of the presentation process is definable as a series of choices each of us must make.
And if you choose badly, you deliver a horrendous presentation.
How can you choose wisely if you don’t even know what the choices are? Much less the wise choice at each step along the way?
We seek easy solutions, the quick fix, the “secret” to turn a drab, staid, listless presentation into one that brims with vigor, zest, and elan.
An especially powerful presentation.
Failing that, perhaps just something that can flog a bit of life into our tired efforts.
One evening, we may see a memorable, delightful, scintillating presentation.
It’s a show that engages us, that sparkles with memorable visuals and that implants core ideas and powerful notions in our minds. A great presentation!
Why was it a great presentation?
Many folks answer with one – maybe two reasons. This is akin to medieval alchemists searching for a method to transform lead into gold.
A shortcut to wealth.
And so we contrive abstractions and unsatisfactory responses:
The speaker was interesting. The topic was relevant and au courant. Torn from today’s headlines!
It was the audience . . . he had a good audience!
But none of these easy answers yield something that we can actually use . . . something we can operationalize in our show. This is because no easy answer exists.
No one reason.
No single technique.
There is no business presentation alchemy. Except in the notion that we must get lots of things right.
The superb business presenter does 100 things right, while the bad business presenter does 100 things wrong.
What are the “100 Presentation Choices?”
Is it exactly 100?
Of course not, no more than great writing consists in getting exactly 100 things right, instead of getting them wrong.
For any talk, it could be 90, or it could be 150. Or something else.
The “100 things” trope suffices to convey that great presentations are planned and orchestrated according to set principles that can be learned, and those principles consist in proven practices.
Lots of them.
Practices that replace unthinking habits.
Techniques of posture, voice, syntax, gestures, topic, presentation structure, your expression, confidence, your movement . . . all of these done well or done poorly combine to yield either an especially powerful presentation . . .
. . . or a dud.
Go to Scott’s Lessons, the book that inspired and taught Abraham Lincoln as he grew into one of America’s great orators, and you will find a wealth of powerful techniques to transform even the most mundane of speakers into a champion.
More than 100 things?
The important lesson is that great presenting is assembled from the verbal and non-verbal construction materials we select.
Lots of mistakes make for awful shows. But getting those 100 things right can yield a show that’s spectacular for no single, discernible reason.
That’s the power of synergy.
Take just one aspect of your show – the way you stand. Have you ever thought about it? Where you stand? How you stand?
If you’ve never given it thought, then you’re likely doing it wrong.
To learn how to adopt the perfect (for you) stance, go here and the secret shall be revealed. And you’ll have learned a handful of the essential 100 presentation choices to launch you on your way to deliver especially powerful presentations.
The next step, of course, is to actually do it. In your next presentation.
More of the 100 Presentation Choices that constitute especially powerful business presentations here.
In short, much of what we call body language. Power Posing.
Especially Powerful Body Language
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.
Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message, and power posing is some of the most effective body language you can use.
But it’s essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood. It’s a secret that I’ve use with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So how does this relate to powerful business presenting?
Every way you can think of.
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language. We ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.
Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen. We get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Especially Powerful Positive Energy
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.
Consciously strike a pose that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be. This is power posing.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous that power posing can actually imbue us with power.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power and yourself with professional presence. In our 21st Century vernacular, power posing means you should stand the way you want to feel.
Power posing – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face.
Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
They have a latticework of subtle animations and overtones that bulk out the size of the file, and I practice with them a great deal to make their presence an organic part of what the audience experiences.
It takes a long time to make slides unobtrusive, you know that, right?
All of which is why my own presentations may seem to carry a bit more heft than the norm. And so should yours.
PowerPoint slides constitute my intellectual property. Not the specific information contained on them, although some of the unorthodox ways I present it could be considered original.
No PowerPoint Slides for You!
The slides themselves are my IP, and often I must refuse well-meaning requests for a “copy of your slide deck” as if it’s just something I hand out to passersby. Like shareware.
In fact, some folks actually expect to get a copy of my presentation’s slides, which indicates to me how far down that sorry road we have come . . . the presentation is just a formality, really just a formal group slide reading.
Why pay attention if you’ll get a copy anyway?
Uh . . . no.
I believe that this strange tradition of passing out copies of presentation slides just prior to a talk was launched because most presentations feature slides that are virtually unreadable on the screen.
They feature dense blocks of text that assault audience sensibilities. Hence, the tail began wagging the dog, as unreadable slidesrequired that hand-outs be supplied so that something could be intelligible.
This, of course, has led to mind-numbing presentations, where folks in the audience shuffle and rattle paper constantly as they “follow along.”
If your audience cannot “follow along” with your presentation, the solution is not slide hand-outs. You have a big problem presenting, and the solution is presentation training.
Stop the Paper-Shuffle!
The slide presentation, ideally, should not be a review source for an audience. Another document should be prepared for audience review and for take-home, a document that touches on the major points of the presentation and prepared in suitable format.
So when I receive requests for my slides from my shows on presentations, I point people in this direction.
This source has everything I talk about in my seminars . . . and more. Much more.
More detail, more gravitas, more examples.
And it’s designed to be read at home to help you develop an especially powerful presentation.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who have not developed their PowerPoint skill.
The article is so bad that I actually recommend that you read it to get the perspective of someone 1) who doesn’t know how to make a cogent argument, and 2) who obviously understands nothing about PowerPoint or how to use visual aids in delivering presentations.
His “argument” is akin to offering criticism of a bad high school football team as a reason to eliminate the NFL. Moreover, his lead sentence is a textbook exercise in the straw man argument . . . such argument as exists at all.
PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But not for those such as the hapless fellow writing in Business Insider.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.
Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
PowerPoint Skill a Necessity
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping others to hone theirs.
Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art. You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up. You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here. She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it to develop your PowerPoint slide skills.
Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.
Meanwhile, if you want immediate help to develop not only your PowerPoint slide skills, but also your technique of working with your presentation projection, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.
It’s enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction in PowerPoint skill.
For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.
To deliver an especially powerful business presentation means that you must become the center of attention. In fact, you become the message itself, a sincere proponent of a position that you convey to an audience in animated and convincing style.
And yet this center-of-attention is the last thing that many business students want to be.
Many presenters would rather become part of the audience. And some actually do.
They pivot to show the audience their backs. Then they edge backward toward the audience, almost becoming part of the assembled listeners.
They assume the role of Slide-Reader-in-Chief.
Everyone reads the slides together . . . if they’re legible at all to the audience. And this is an awful presentation, and you know it’s an awful presentation, and yet you do it anyway.
Why? Why not change that?
Let’s break out of the presentation paradox prison today and adopt techniques that can hone our skills to a scalpel-like edge. This won’t happen overnight, so let’s adopt one new thing each week and practice it.
You choose which technique out of many. My recommendation?
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 not “communication theory.”
Certainly not a handful of “tips.”
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 of questions.
How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of 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.
Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.
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 . . .
Especially Powerful Business Presentation
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.
On the other side of things, I’d like to 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, even as 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 world class business presentation skills and the ability to deliver the especially powerful business presentation.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint software has gotten a bum rap as insufficient for your presentation visuals.
This unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or of a monstrosity.
PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
Presentation Visuals to Rivet the Audience
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint as the basis for your presentation visuals?
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use. It’s just a few minutes, but what might you learn to turn your presentation frown upside down!
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble. Having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.
Your Life Preserver
Occasionally we must be reminded of this quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
A Pithy Presentation Conclusion
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you. They’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe. Speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.
Here is what you do. Confidently tack on another phrase . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works?
You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control? To craft a presentation conclusion with punch?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness. It puts you back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
. . . stop!
But you’re not done building your Personal Competitive Advantage by improving your business presentation skills. Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presentingfor more on especially powerful techniques on the presentation conclusion.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation advice never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Zombies of Bad Presentation Advice
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much doing things the right way. It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
This is much tougher than you might expect.
This is because 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) many folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.
Not at all.
Accordingly, I instruct students to just stop what they do now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Just stop.
That’s much more difficult than it sounds.
And we don’t engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. This is not a time for a “conversation on presenting.”
All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be reasonably good.
But Bad Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice. The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.
This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.
From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.
Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.
No more strange finger-play.
No more tugging at your fingers.
No more twisting and hand-wringing. It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.
It sounds reasonable.
But it doesn’t tell you how to do it. And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.
This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.
It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it’s terrible advice.
In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.
Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning. “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.
This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.
“We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, a distortion of reality.
Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a wealth of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? You counted them?
I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.
They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted. They snap and pop, and they carry your audience along for an exciting ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of presentation advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles – especially powerful presentation advice.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.
Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook your audience for your business presentation.
And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.
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.”
This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.
This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.
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.
“Thank you, thank you very much . . .”
But they must step off with you from the beginning.
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.
Folks in your audience are already checking their email. In fact, they’re no longer your audience.
And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.
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!
So How to Hook Your Audience?
The key is to do a bit of 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. Hookthem. 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–”
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 – just to hook your audience to no good end – you 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.