Perhaps it’s human nature that leads us to search for single answers.
The search for the Global Solution has gone on as long as men have searched for the Philosopher’s Stone (and perhaps even longer, but not jotted down).
Likewise, this is the case for business presentations.
No Easy Way Out
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!
What made 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 Things?”
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 things, or it could be 150 things. 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? Surely.
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. Getting those 100 things right yield a show that’s spectacular for no single, discernible reason. It’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 things to launch you on your way to presentation power.
The next step, of course, is to actually do it. In your next presentation.
More of the 100 Things that constitute Business Presentation Alchemy here.
We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer especially powerful insights.
For me, it means sitting in on classes taught by my colleagues. It means reading outside my specialty area. It means exposure to doctrines I don’t rightly believe, but probably ought to understand.
How will this help in preparing my own classes? At this point, I can’t be certain. But I know it will. At some point.
And that’s the beauty and potential of it.
I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue in 3-dimensional fashion. They’ll be connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.
It will do the same for yours. And it will likely aid in your development into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.
For more on how to give interesting, and especially powerful, business presentations, click HERE.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be some common law tradition that speaks to the topic.
Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere
Bad business presentations can be a career-killer. Of course, no one will tell you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give them. And yet, Bad Business Presentations are given everywhere, sprouting like kudzu along a North Carolina highway . . .
. . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is.
But this is heinous myth, and this myth perpetuates itself like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you, hands gripping a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a prepared text in front of him and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence.
The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns.
You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Cobble Together a Few Slides
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation.
And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful.
Because it is painful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story. Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching.
Business “presenting” is no one’s functional discipline. So it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It’s the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” Consequently, we get the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago. I had the misfortune to witness some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
Cramped and crowded slides.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine.
Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-.
Survey respondents were asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months. They said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen enough fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this opens up magnificent opportunity for you.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.
By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
Most presentation practice is bad, but you avoid this in favor of our Third P: great presentation practice that yields a stellar performance.
Wait . . . what do you mean that some types of practice are “bad”?
How can you possibly say, Professor, that such a thing as “bad presentation practice exists?”
Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?
In fact, bad practice is pernicious.
It’s insidious, and at times can be worse than no practice at all. It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.
Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror
Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.
Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.
But what does it mean to “practice?” Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?
How do you practice?
Have you ever truly thought about it? Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your practice? Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”
Don’t practice in the mirror. That’s dumb.
You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.
I say it again – that’s dumb.
The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them. Other than that, stay away from the mirror.
Practice – the right practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success. And your ultimate triumph.
The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours. We say “practice makes perfect.” The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”
It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”
And it’s great advice.
Presentation Practice Leads to Victory
The armed forces are experts at practice. Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.
And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual missions assigned to it.
Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and uncertainty.
We gain confidence.
The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.
But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear. With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.
The danger is avoided.
Confidence replaces fear.
Presentation Practice Eliminates Fear
Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates. Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.
The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.
Your way through the minefield is clear. And the fear evaporates.
Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk? Or that you won’t be nervous? Of course not. We all do.
Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous. But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.
Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you. It ensures your focus. But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.
It is not the same as fear.
And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.
We lack confidence when we are unsure. With every practice, we gain confidence. And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .
Sear This into Your Mind
Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.
I mean this literally.
Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can. Make it as realistic as you can. If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.
You want as much pressure as possible.
One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake. Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .
When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.
This should be common sense. You must practice how you respond to making an error. How you will fight through and recover from an error. Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.
Think of it this way. Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?
Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.
Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.
It’s a different mode of communication.
Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report? How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?
They are different in the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.
It’s different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.
You operate in a different medium.
You have time constraints.
A group is receiving your message.
A group is delivering the message.
You have almost no opportunity for repeat.
You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.
In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable. You’re far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controlled.
Look at the chart below.
These differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, insignificant.
Many folks believe that there is no difference.
And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.” It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.
As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency. People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.
Numbers Trump All?
Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.” As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .
The more numbers, the better.
The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.
Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.
It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.
Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Perhaps you’ve said that? I’ve certainly heard it.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.
Business cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.
Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.
No one cares if they “interest” you.
That’s not the point.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics. But what’s an “interesting” topic?
I have found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics. They don’t recognize them as interesting.
And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.
And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.
Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.
Face it. If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic. You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.
Let’s shed that attitude.
Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.
Crank up Interest
How do you generate interest? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:
[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.
The typical start to a presentation project is . . .
. . . procrastination.
You put it off as a daunting task. Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.” Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?
Think about it.
How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it.
You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.” And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.
Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.” They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.
And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.
You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.
The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. And this result is predictable.
Your slides are crammed with information.
You talk fast to force all the points in. You run over-time.
You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.
This Time, Procrustes has it Right
Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation. This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth this way:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard. In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”
“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.
A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.
But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.
Your Procrustean Solution
Take a Procrustean approach and forge an especially powerful presentation. Consider this:
We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes.
That’s our Procrustean Bed. So let’s manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience in our presentation preparation.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
We are using our minds and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.
And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation. Pick only three major points that you want to make.
Here is your task now:
Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes. If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.
Why do we do this? Here’s why:
If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.
They turn off and tune you out. You will lose them, and you will fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.
Especially Powerful Paucity
If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. And you irritate your audience mercilessly.
Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.
The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.
You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions.
You take information and transforming it into intelligence. You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.
You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.
You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus to find the nuggets. When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?
Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?
Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.
As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”
Now, you might head-scratch and wonder how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”
A fair question.
For Especially Powerful Presentations
The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.
Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense.
You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.
This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons. Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.
And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.
When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles. And this means preparation.
It means practice.
Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
Stripped of humanity. Stripped of the qualities that make it interesting, stimulating, and persuasive.
The potential richness, energy, vigor, and power that is provided by purposive movement is absent.
Crude Stick-Puppet Presenting
We are left with cutout figures, like stick puppets. You’ve seen stick puppets. They’re crude, flat little figures pasted onto sticks and then used in a child’s display to convey a story.
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. Call this the 2-D presentation.
Stick-Puppet Presenting is characterized by 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, citing it verbatim. If any movement occurs, it is unconscious swaying. Or rocking, or nervous happy-feet dancing.
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 wanders about the stage.
This is worse than no movement at all. 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. 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.
Do you invest your topic with energy and elan, regardless of whether it’s shampoo or sugar or ship-building?
What is it that fills you with the thrill of discovery, the adrenaline of newness?
What can compare with the natural high of applying yourself to a task that excites you?
What generates those endorphins? What brings a smile to your face involuntarily? What furrows your brow?
Is it “world hunger?” Or European soccer?
Is it social injustice? Is it political theory? Is it comic book collecting? Chess? Numismatics? Tennis? Travel to exotic locations? Helping others solve problems?
Writing essays? Fashion design? Financial manipulations? Reading and then reflecting on a good book?
What’s your passion? Do you even have one?
Is your Presentation Passion buried?
Likely as not, your passion has been buried under a ton of necessity, the debris we call the business of life.
f you find that your passion is buried, then this is the time to rescue it as one of the most potent factors in delivering your most powerful presentations.
Once you explore your own visceral feelings, your passion, it becomes that much easier to invoke presentation passion in your show.
To exhibit genuine enthusiasm for the subjects of your shows.
Can you generate presentation passion? Of course you can. Will it be “artificial” passion? Of course not. Passion is passion is passion.
Unless you have passion for a subject and demonstrate that passion, you will always be at a disadvantage with respect to those who do.
If you are in competition with several other teams pitching a product or service to a company for millions of dollars – and there is no noteworthy difference in the quality or price of the service – then how does the potential customer decide?
If he sees a real passion for the work in one team, if he feels the energy of a team driven to success and truly excited about the offering, don’t you think he’ll be inclined to the team that stirs his emotions? The team that makes him see possibilities?
The team that helps him visualize a glorious future?
The team that shares his love and passion for his product or service and sees in you a shared passion for achieving something special in partnership?
Reread the previous paragraph, because it encapsulates so much of the presentation passion that is absent in presentations today, and so much of what is needed.
Centuries of Presentation Passion
Passion has served as a crucial element in verbal communication for centuries. Here are two of my favorite quotations on its power:
“True emotional freedom is the only door by which you may enter the hearts of your hearers.”
Brees and Kelley, 1931
“Earnestness is the secret of success in any department of life. It is only the earnest man who wins his cause.”
S.S. Curry, 1895
Recognize in yourself the capacity for passion. Recognize that you have the wherewithal to embrace even the most staid material, the “dullest” project.
Remember always that it is you who make it better. You who invest it with excitement.
You are the alchemist.
Many times you hear an “interesting” presentation about an “interesting” topic. It’s well-done, and it engaged you.
And you wonder why you never seem to get the “interesting” projects.
It’s your job to make it interesting
Have you ever admitted to yourself that you might be the missing ingredient? That perhaps it is your task to invest a project with interest and zest?
That what makes a project “interesting” is not the topic . . . but rather the interaction between material and presenter.
Ultimately, it is your task to transform a “case” or business situation into an interesting and cogent presentation. It’s your task to find the key elements of strategic significance and then to dramatize those elements in such a way that the audience is moved in powerful and significant ways.
And you don’t need an “interesting” case to do it.
You just need presentation passion. More on how to develop especially powerful presentation passion here.
Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your audience to the realm of how you actually appear to your audience – presentation appearance.
Likewise, let’s immediately dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like . . . it’s the message that counts.”
In a word . . . no.
This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage. Adopt the exact opposite perspective right now to achieve incredible presentation competitive advantage.
But I’d wager that most folks your age won’t, particularly those stuck in liberal arts, for better or worse.
Much more dramatic to strike a pose and deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?
Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations, both in public and in private job interviews, and gain a superior competitive advantage.
The Upshot – Presentation Appearance
Here is the bottom line. Your appearance matters a great deal, like it or not, and it is up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and the message we want to send.
“Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may – but it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.
Is that “fair?”
It certainly is fair.
You may not like it. It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.
You’re on display in front of a group of buyers. They want to know if your message is credible. Your appearance conveys important cues to your audience. It conveys one of two chief messages, with no room to maneuver between them.
First, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .
or . . .
Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.
Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job.
That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend.
But you blew the deal. Without even knowing it.
Think. How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard, careless appearance?
How many opportunities pass you by?
How many great connections do you forfeit?
Your Choice . . . Choose Well
Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket, but recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.
Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message. So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose. For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit. Simple.
But beyond your presentation, you are always on-stage.
You are always auditioning.
And you are creating your personal brand one wrinkled shirt at a time, one exposed pair of boxers at a time.
Or . . . clean, professional, sober, serious, decisive, thoughtful, and bold.
Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You.
Both of these books are worth the price and filled with stellar advice to propel you into delivering Especially Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb presentation appearance.
We’re all familiar with the droning voice of the numbing speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace of a talk and who quickly loses us in monotony – and delivers the Boring Presentation.
In like fashion, you can be visually monotonous.
Visual monotony – either of repetitive constant movement . . . or of no movement whatsoever.
We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.”
We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance. Perhaps you have seen the occasional great Stoneface, but he is a rarity today.
The Right Movement
Movement can enhance or cripple your presentation. But you must engage the right kind of movement.
Before you begin agitated hopping about the stage willy-nilly, recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for quite specific reasons. Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.
At the risk over over-alliterating, you should mesh your movements with your message.
Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do. If you move all the time, like a constant pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise, and your movements contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation.
In fact, your movements become a distraction, leeching energy and attention from your message. It, too, becomes a form of visual monotony.
The Kiss of Sleep for the Boring Presentation
Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Sleep . . . for your audience.
Those in theater know this principle well.
In his very fine Tips for Actors, Jon Jory intones that: “Your best tool to avoid this dangerous state is variety. Three lines of loud need soft. Three lines of quick need slow. A big dose of movement needs still. Or change your tactics.”
So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience and to convey a powerful and persuasive message. And avoid the boring presentation.
The secret is not Movement alone . . . the secret is keen, decisive, proper, and exquisitely timed Movement.
Class had ended, and I was giving final feedback for a group that had just presented their business case and did so without presentation drama.
Not a bad group presentation by any means, but individual students needed work, and I like to give advice that young folks can carry with them beyond the classroom and on into the workaday world.
Not just advice, mind you, but nuggets that can confer personal competitive advantage for a lifetime.
As I briefed the presenters, a colleague entered the classroom and stood by, listening in. He’s a smart man. I respect him for his knowledge of finance.
A curious fellow, too.
He took in my feedback as I advised students to eliminate a verbal gaffe called the “rising line” or the “verbal up-tic,” as I call it. I was demonstrating this awful turn of voice.
The Verbal Up-tic or “uptalk” as it is sometimes called, is a verbal pathology that afflicts at least 50 percent of young presenters and is manifested by transforming simple statements of fact into questions. The Brits call this the “Moronic Interrogative,” and you can probably guess that it is not a compliment.
By eliminating this awful verbal tic, you take a giant step toward presenting excellence.
My students packed up and left, and my colleague stepped up beside me.
“Well! All this drama! It looks and sounds like drama class.”
By now, I’m accustomed to the raised eyebrow of colleagues who look askance at some of the techniques I advocate. It goes with the territory. There is, after all, a kind of lock-step sameness in the faculty view of business presentations.
Deviations from the barebones structure are not appreciated nor are they recognized for the value they can add.
“You could well say that, Roger . . . there’s a big helping of drama here. It’s much like putting on a show. It’s why I call my presentations ‘shows’ and my students my ‘show-people.’”
Because this, in essence, is what visual and verbal communication is all about and how it differs drastically from written work.
It’s no accident that I use the word “show.” This is what we do when we give a presentation . . . when we present. We don’t deliver a presentation; we present.
The presentation is not something behind you on a screen. The presentation is not on a whiteboard or butcher paper. It’s not on a flip chart.
The presentation is you.
A large part of you is how you express yourself – your presence, your expression. We are at our best when we incorporate presentation drama into our projects, and this is the catalyst that provides the grist for our expression and enthusiasm.
By drama, I do not mean the phony excitement and angst of “relationships” gone wrong, the depression of being brought low by a downer “text,” the anxiety of the “drama queen” or the pomposity of “King Drama.”
I mean the “dramatic situation.”
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color.
You have drama inherent in any situation where there is conflict or the potential for conflict.
We in business, engaged as we are in competing to provide goods and services to our customers, are blessed with dramatic situations.
Business cases are chock full of drama – conflict, suspense, turning points, great decisions. You simply must learn to recognize them and to bring them out. It does not mean exaggerated behavior during your presentation, as noted by one of my favorite Speaking Masters of all time, Grenville Kleiser:
This is not a recommendation of paroxysms of feeling, wild gesticulation, tearing and combing of the hair with the fingers, violent pacing up and down the platform, and other manifestations of old-style oratory, happily now obsolete, but rather to suggest a power which, when properly used, will give life, variety, intensity, and color to the spoken message.
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color. These are what you strive for.
This theatrical aspect of presenting can, in theory, surely be overdone. But given the staid status of business presenting, the danger of this in business presentations is nil.
I never see overdone business presentations, but I’d surely welcome one.
You can harness dramatic techniques to your business presenting style, and a number of books delve into this. One of the finest books available on the subject is Ken Howard’s Act Natural, and I strongly urge its purchase if you are serious about taking your presenting power to a whole new level by incorporating presentation drama.
The speaking secret of expression is an advantage that should be yours and not just restricted as a privilege for those toiling in the theater or in film.
Remember that you have incredible power at your disposal in the form of expression that makes use of drama.
A curl of the lip.
A raise of one eyebrow.
Sincere furrows in the forehead.
Speaking Master Joseph Mosher gave us one key secret to expression in 1928, and we would be wise to recognize his observation of the importance of the mouth and eyes.
[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes. The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.
The secret power of presentation drama is yours for the taking. You need only seize it to develop an especially powerful presentation.
It’s nothing more than an add-on, right? Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation.
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 messaging.
What’s a Presentation Gesture?
A wave of the hand.
A snap of the finger.
A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side.
A scratch of the chin.
An accusatory finger.
A balled fist at the proper moment.
These are all gestures that can either enhance or destroy your presentation. Destroy your presentation.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This is a result of 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.”
Whether the percentage is accurate or not, undoubtedly, gestures provide energy, and accent.
They add power, 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.
Especially Powerful Presentation Mastery
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. Certainly too important to dismiss with the airy “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.”
Gesture in your presentation should be natural. It flows from the meaning of your words and the meaning you wish to convey with your words.
We never gesture without reason or a point to make. Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us to gesture.
Without emotion, gesture is mechanical. It’s false. It feels and looks artificial.
Communicating Without Words
Presentation Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication. You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose. They can imbue your presentation with power.
On rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
Yes, “majesty of epic proportions.”
For if you do not begin to think in grand, expansive terms about yourself and your career, you will 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 presentations, we are left with aimless ejaculations that can distract and leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.
Accordingly, here are several 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, and 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.
The Power of Presentation Gesture
Why would you want to “gesture?” Aren’t your words enough?
To 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 these gestures?
While its range is limited, gesture carries 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.
You attain a powerful communication moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy. Be spare with your gestures and be direct. Make them count.
Look for more detailed analysis on the gestures available to you in this space in coming days.
Your presentation voice is one key to an especially powerful business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.
Your voice and your appearance are the constants that pervade your presentation from start to finish.
Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting.
Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted.
Because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.
But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear. Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser tells us that:
“If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”
You can do many things to improve your presentation voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.
If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.
Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets.
The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago (2,000 years ago) and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.
Ready to Change your Presentation Voice
It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.
It’s an instrument with which you communicate. You can sharpen your communication skills by developing a powerful presentation voice. And because most people are oblivious of their own voices, simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality.
Working to improve it with the exercise will improve its quality dramatically.
Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way.
We have two goals.
First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp. It’s called vocal fry when it’s done intentionally to imitate reality TV personalities. That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence. Do you have this crack and rasp? If not, congratulations and let’s move along. But if you do . . .
“In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords. There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”
Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences. Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a croaking sound like folks on Disney Channel.
Second, we want to deepen your voice. Why? Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible. A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:
Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions. Deepness helps, too. It implies size, height and authority. Deeper voices are more credible.
Now, should things be this way? Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?
Deeper Presentation Voice? That’s not fair!
It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT. It’s neither fair, nor unfair. It’s simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life to fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. Have at it, and Godspeed.
If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.
It means that a deeper presentation voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female. Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you.
When you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.
Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice.
A simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue. Record your voice, and listen critically. A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you. Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.
No, your voice is not a sacrosanct. Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed.
 Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.
 George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.
 Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression – the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.
 Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf
Your ready position is the default stance you assume when giving your talk, when not emphasizing a point with movement and gesture.
Think a moment about how you stand while you give your talk.
I refer to the time when you’re not moving about the stage to emphasize this or that point.
This especially powerful ready position is your anchor, your life preserver in a storm. Your safe harbor.
Powerful . . . Confident . . . In command
When you stride to the stage, move to the command position in front of the lectern and facing the crowd.
Now, plant yourself as you would a paving stone in a garden. Plant yourself firmly, as a stone, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed, shoulders squared. Plant yourself as a deeply rooted Redwood.
Do not slouch or put more weight on one foot than on the other. Point your toes slightly outward. Neither slump, nor stiffen. Shoulders back, head up, expectant.
Do not allow your head to settle down betwixt your collar bones. This compresses your neck like a collapsed concertina. It cramps your voice box and cuts the flow of air that you need to speak.
At this point, let your hands hang loosely at your sides . . . (in a moment, we’ll give you something to do with your hands).
Walking and pointing and looking and eye-contact? Forget it for now.
Forget it all for now.
First, you must seize control of yourself and adopt your strong, basic stance and make it your habit.
You must control all of those little tics and habits and nervous gestures that leech the strength from your presentation. The tics and habits that telegraph your nervousness and lack of confidence.
What tics and habits, you say? Every young presenter has at least some of them and the ready position can help remedy the following pathologies.
Do Not cross your leg in front of you while you balance on the other. This “standing cross” is more prevalent, for some reason, among female presenters than among males. Some males have this habit as well. This is a particularly debilitating movement from both the standpoint of the audience and for you. It projects instability. And it makes you feel unstable.
Do Not cock your hip to one side – this is called a “hip-shot.” Again, this action undermines your foundation. This hip-shot posture degrades your presentation in multiple ways. It shouts nonchalance. It denotes disinterest and impatience. It cries out to the audience a breezy bar demeanor that is completely at odds with the spoken message you want to convey.
Do Not engage in little choppy steps. This side-to-side dance is common. It telegraphs nervousness.
Do Not slump your shoulders. Few things project lack of confidence like rounded shoulders. Slumping shoulders can be a reflexive response to nervousness that leads to a “closed body position.”
Again. Stand in one place, your feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward. Arms at your sides.
Your Foundation – Your Ready Position
Your goal at this point is to maintain a solid physical foundation. To project an image of confidence to the audience and to imbue yourself with confidence in point of fact. You begin to do this with your stance – solid and confident.
Now here is the most important guidance for your Foundation “Ready” position.
Stand as described, and place your left hand in your pants pocket, out of the way. This position should be your default position. Putting the hand in your pocket gets it out of the way and keeps you out of trouble. Moreover, it projects confidence.
If you have no pocket, ease your left hand a bit behind you and to the side. No, not in a military posture, but enough to disengage it. If you are left-handed, of course disengage your right hand.
And, no, it is not “unprofessional.” This position carries a multitude of positives and no negatives. You never go wrong with this position.
It imbues you with confidence and keeps you copacetic. To your audience, it projects competence, confidence, reassurance, and sobriety: “Here is someone who knows his/her stuff.”
This is your Ready Position.
Everything else you do flows from this position. Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.
Stop and think. When you are ready to make a point that is crucial to your thesis . . . When you are ready to shift subjects or major ideas . . . then—
Then, step to the left while addressing the people on the left flank. Talk to them. Then, step to the right and address those on your right. Hold open your hands, palms up. Walk toward your audience a step or two. Look them in the eyes. Speak to individuals.
Then, step back to the center and retake your ready position.
Let your movements emphasize your points. When you gesture to a portion of the audience, step toward them in a kind of supplication.
And always always, always go back to the ready postion. I have seen dozens of young speakers transformed into capable, confident speakers by virtue of this alone.
How is that possible? By removing the doubt associated with “How will I stand.”
This powerful and stable ready position imbues you with confidence, your first step toward building positive energy within yourself.
The Ready Position — it’s your safe harbor in a sea of presentation uncertainty.
You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation, and an especially powerful technique is to utilize “power posing” as the basis of your stance.
Stance is the first of our Seven Secrets to especially powerful presenting and is fundamental to projecting your strong image.
Let me preface with assurance that I do not expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk. But at the risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it is impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.
Your Foundation – Power Posing
This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”
Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing, which has been researched and popularized by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception? What is your “bearing?” How do you stand before a crowd when you speak?
Have you ever consciously thought about it?
What is my pose? Sheepish? Mincing? Unsure? Domineering? Awkward?
How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others. It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.
Whether we like this is not the point. The point is that we are constantly signaling others non-verbally.
You send messages to those around you. Folks around us take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.
What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400.
Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting. If so, just what is the message you unconsciously send to people?
Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?
Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern. Your listeners form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.
They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.
This has always been true. Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”
Defeat? Ennui? Melt-down?
Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?
Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui? Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?
Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?
Call this defeatist behavior non-power posing.
Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well. Those effects can be positive or negative.
Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well. The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.
But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.
Another effect is in play, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.
It is this: Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience.
It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you. Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.
Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness.
We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.
It cripples us.
Your emotions affect your body language. They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
Reverse the Process
But . . .
You can reverse the process.
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.
You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic, and this is the secret at the core of power posing.
Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow. Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology. It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange. Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:
Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . . [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.
Much more recently, a Amy Cuddy’s Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us. Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:
[P]osing 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.
In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence. You actually feel more powerful. This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.
In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Assume the posture of confidence. Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing. Square your shoulders.
Affix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly, firmly, and distinctly. In short, let your actions influence your emotions.
Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
So what is a confident posture?
Let’s begin with a firm foundation.
For any structure to endure, we must build on strength. And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations.
You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability. The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.
Consider the confident speaker.
To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident speaker must take a conscious effort to strike such a weak pose. Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a person, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.
The key is to adopt the confident pose and maintain it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.
The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.
Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language. It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.
This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation. It serves as the foundation for everything else to follow.
Today we launch the seven secrets of especially powerful presenting. These 7 Secrets promise to launch you to personal competitive advantage in an ever more challenging job market.
Especially powerful presentation techniques are coming to you over the next two weeks, one every-other-day, right here in your Especially Powerful Presentations Blog.
Have these secrets heretofore been hidden from you?
They certainly don’t appear in your business communication textbooks. Face it . . . has anything good ever come out of a business communication textbook?
So where do these secrets come from?
They reside in the collective wisdom of more than 2,500 years of history. This is the link that you share with every great speaker that history has seen fit to remember – you share their humanity. And this is why their secrets speak to us across the mists of time.
Cicero in 50 BC?
You in 2015 AD?
More than two millennia separate you from the Roman Republic’s greatest orator, so what could you possibly have in common with a man half-a-world away and 2,000 years ago?
Here’s the link
Perhaps Cicero spoke to the Roman Senate during the last days of the Roman Republic, while you now speak to your Business Capstone class with PowerPoint on the screen behind you . . . but you both share a core necessity.
You share the necessity to convince your audience by using a handful of reliable tools that have not changed in two thousand years.
For our purposes, the greatest orators in history are still alive with respect to their techniques, their tools, their words, and their abilities to sway audiences.
William Jennings Bryan
What could these long-gone people possibly say to you to help you become a superior presenter here in the 21st Century?
All of these orators and many more utilized the highly refined and powerful secrets of elocution, declamation, debate, and oratory to command the stage and to sway audiences. They were the superior presenters of their day.
Their techniques and tools comprise the 7 Secrets of Especially Powerful Presentations.
Tools of the Best
The best speakers of the past 50 years use and have used these Secrets – Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King.
They don’t announce that they’re using secret techniques and tricks of the trade, of course. They wouldn’t be secrets any longer.
So they let you believe that they were gifted with special talents.
Not a chance. Techniques, practice, personal branding . . . and 7 Secrets.
You begin to learn these Seven Secrets over the next 14 days.
They are the secrets utilized by every great orator until the age of television, radio, and the computer rendered them lost to the vast majority of us. They faded from use, supplanted by technology in the mistaken belief that technology had rendered you, the presenter, superfluous.
And so presenting as a skill has withered. Until now.
These secrets do not appear in today’s textbooks, and they appear only in partial form in many trade books. Many students don’t even know about them. They think great presenting is alchemy, magic, or a product of superior talent.
Many don’t reach the point at which you read these words right now. Many who read these words this second sneer at them with a world-weary sigh.
But a tiny minority reads on.
A tiny minority will join me tomorrow, and the next two weeks . . .
And that select few will begin to acquire the power, dexterity, energy, and charisma to grow into a bold presenter – at home on the stage, at ease with yourself, and facile with the material. You will become a fabulous business presenter.
With each post, the door opens on a new Secret, and you are presented with a challenge.
Master these Seven Secrets, which form the Seven Pillars of your personal speaking platform, and you will soar higher in the business world than you possibly could have imagined. And your career will soar farther and faster than you ever thought possible.
I hope that you are in that tiny minority that continues to read.
Let’s meet here in a couple of days for Secret #1.
Build an especially powerful Business Presentation with this simple structure: Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.
Every presentation – every superb story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well. Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle. The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your business presentation.
You can be innovative. You can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.
Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Build a Business Presentation to Withstand the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
It’s an especially powerful structure, and I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.
Please do so. But do so with careful thought and good reason.
And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show.
This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
It occurred to me to compile a list of the best business presentation books for readers of this blog so as to launch an especially powerful new year.
It’s really an obvious exercise, isn’t it?
“Best of” lists are always popular.
And could be better than a compendium of the best books chock full of presentation wisdom to hone our skill set?
Great advice to lift our presentation to what we all sometimes refer to as “the next level.”
And then the equally obvious thought occurred to me – that list already exists.
The Best Business Presentation Books
In fact, I’m certain that several lists are already out there making the rounds.
And so I do the next best thing in this space . . .
I’ve sifted through I offer you a take from a fellow by the name of Dan Roam. Earlier this year, Dan offered his own perspective on what makes for great presentations, and I share that with you here.
I’m a fan of anyone who wants to improve our public speaking skills and does so in an entertaining and accessible way. Dan does this well, so have a look . . . and consider his recommendations on the best business presentation books!
Yes, you can learn something about business presenting from a book.
These three books, for me, capture the spirit, the art, and the craft of especially powerful business presenting.
They advocate change.
You must actually change the way your deliver your presentations in ways that, at first, may discomfort you. This should be an obvious point, but it escapes many folks.
We say we want to improve, but almost all of us really want to keep on doing what we’re already doing . . . and be told that it’s fine.
But if our presenting is unsatisfactory, then we really must change.
And these are changes that you must accept to become an especially powerful business presenter.
The Story Factor, in particular, is strong in transforming your presentations into sturdy narratives that capture an audience and propel your listeners to action. Consult Annette Simmons for deep learning about the power of storytelling.
A fourth book does not appear on the list. Actually, it does, but only in a modified form. This is Dale Carnegie’s The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. This is an “updated” version of his classic from mid-way the last century Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business. In my view, the update strips much useful material from the book, and so I prefer the original.
You can find dozens of copies of the original classic for sale on ebay. This, in my opinion, is the most useful public speaking book ever penned.
If I were forced to choose one . . . this would be it. And My Book?
When asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.
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 such 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 the 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 there 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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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? 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 is,” 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.
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 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.”
“You must know only one thing.”
My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.
“You must know only onething.”
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.
The Muse Whispers “There is No Business Scrooge”
“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!
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!”
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 analytic precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens up! So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .
“I love the value chain, Professor!”
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, Ms. 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.
A 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 is 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.
“A gift, Professor.”
“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.”
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.