Mind-Blasting!

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook and hold 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.”  Your “hook.”

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.  Something special.

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

“Thank you, 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!  The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting.

Mind-Blasting

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

Something like this:

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

Or this . . .

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

Or this . . .

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

Or this . . .

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

Or this . . .

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

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

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

How to Engage Your Audience

How to engage your audience
It’s your job to know how to engage your audience

Do you face a listless, distracted audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?

Texting?

Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation?  This is called the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.

The problem is probably you.

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

How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to engage your audience, an audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you.  He reveals the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.  How to engage your audience for power and impact.

He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.

Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books.  You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com

There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation.  Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement.  Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories.  Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.

For more on especially powerful presentations and how to engage your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Are You a Prisoner of Uptalk?

The Disease of Uptalk
Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility Question by Question

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

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

It’s maddening.  And it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It screams amateur when used in formal business presentations.

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

Uptalk Destroys Your Credibility

If you have this affectation – if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.  But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.

But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling uptalk?

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

Uptalking.

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

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

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

You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.  At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Someone calling herself Kim Kardashian is the main carrier of this virus.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.

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

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

For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.  Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

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

You and Great Business Presentations

Great Business Presentations
Cicero Gave Great Business Presentations

You and the great orators of history have something in common . . . and it’s more than your essential humanity.  You have the commonality of potential for great business presentations.

You have the potential for greatness of expression.  For power and impact in your presentations.  You just have to know what to do, and then seize the moment.

At the risk of committing hyperbole, I suggest here that your rightful destiny as a superb presenter awaits you.  No one can stop you from realizing that destiny . . . except yourself.

Interview on Great Business Presentations

I sometimes receive the humbling honor of getting to chat with bright people on interesting topics.  Such was the case when Soundview Executive Summaries suggested an interview on the great presenters of history.  Soundview is a superb company that prepares summaries of the great business books of our time.  The company delivers them to busy folks in a variety of formats.  And I am all for anything that spreads great ideas in ways that people can access them easily.

Join me here as I chat with Andrew Clancy of Soundview Executive Summaries.

This interview, conducted on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, sums nicely my views on modern business presenting and is the second of a three-part series to appear here in the coming days.

The Message:   If we neglect the speaking masters of the past 2500 years . . . we are all the poorer for it.

Look and listen . . .

So much more can be said, of course.  A wealth of oratorical wisdom awaits those with the gumption to discover it.  My own book collection on the subject of great business presentations now exceeds 1,000.  Some folks might consider that obsessive.  I suspect that it is.

But in this world of obsessive behavior, I am quite happy with my own.

If you find yourself not obsessed, but just a wee bit interested in how to deliver Great Business Presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Especially Powerful Voice

As a business presenter, you obviously want to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can.  Doesn’t this make sense?  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?

Well, some people don’t think so. If you don’t want to accept this advice, then don’t. Leave yourself at a disadvantage vis-à-vis others who are more flexible and less precious. If you see this state of affairs as perfectly fine, then leave your voice unmodified. Celebrate your certitude and stop reading now.

And in doing so, surrender incredible competitive advantage to others with less precious attitude.

But if you open yourself to the possibility of improvement, then read on.

Weak and Raspy?

A weak, raspy voice calls out weakness. It erodes the image of confidence that you want to project.

You have several options to deal with this. You surely have the option to accept your voice as-is. You can accept it as the willy-nilly product of years of neglect and nonchalance. You can enshrine that product as somehow “natural” and superior to a voice that is well-trained to communicate clearly.

Again, if you bristle at the notion that you should “change” your voice to suit the ear, then don’t change it. It’s that simple.

But if you want to improve, then the time to start improving is right this second, and you can do so by training.  Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser observed in 1935 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.”

Let’s consider 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.  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.”

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?

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 is simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper 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. And when you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

If your voice is already deep, congratulations and move along. If not, and you’d like to add some depth, have a look at the next section.

Two Basic Changes

Let’s start by acknowledging that there are many things you can do to improve your 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 and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.

This site has no such ambition of transforming you into Barack Obama. Rather, I want to help you quickly and effortlessly to make the major changes necessary to dramatically improve your voice for business presentations. To 1) make you aware of major flaws and 2) to correct these flaws, if you have them.

The quality of business presentations is generally so low in the United States that even minor improvements in your voice technique and quality yield major returns in personal competitive advantage.

What about my voice?  Professor Ridgley’s voice?

Am I satisfied with it? Do I consider it “resonant” and top-notch? No, not by a long shot. And so I work on it . . .

I begin each day with resonating exercises in the privacy of my home, where no one can hear me run my not-so-deep register. I stretch and develop my vocal cords. Daily, I attempt to deepen my voice, to increase its resonance and pleasant qualities. And so should you.

Begone Crack and Rasp!

The goal is to rid ourselves of the crack and rasp and to deepen the voice. We can achieve both of these goals with a single exercise. The goal of exercises is to move your voice down a bit in its routine pitch. Sure, you’ll vary your pitch during your talks. Sometimes you speak higher and sometimes lower, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. But we want to move the “average” pitch down as much as we reasonably can. At the same time, the same exercise helps us push more air across the vocal cords and eliminates the crack and rasp.

This exercise requires that you be somewhat familiar with the voice of James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars Trilogy from the 1970s and early 1980s. I do this exercise myself, and I conduct it en masse in my classes when I detect that students are expressing themselves less than enthusiastically. You, however, will do this exercise alone.

Find a place where no one can hear you or see you. This is to get you into a stress-free mind-set. Of course, you shouldn’t worry what other people think of you, but just in case . . . move to a private area where you can express yourself freely. And loudly.

Now, envision yourself as Darth Vader. And say this, in your best Darth Vader voice:

“I feel especially powerful today!”

It’s okay. Go ahead and say it.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Say it loudly, but not with your voice box. You do not want to strain your vocal chords. Stay under control and focus on using your chest as a resonating chamber. Push air from your abdomen. Say it in various ways. Say it with your voice emanating from your chest. Boom it out. Deepen your voice as much as possible and picture it coming from deep inside your chest, from the deepest recesses of your very heart. Unleash the beast within you, clearly and forcefully. Project your voice.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

These are power words. The words are no mistake, nor are they random. And it is not a joke. If you think it’s a joke and “not worth my time,” then move along. Others will learn, and they will be pleased that you abandon the task and drop by the wayside. The competition thins.

Power words.  Power words spoken honestly and with gusto help you to slough off the muck of your daily life. Power words scrape the barnacles from your internal compass. Like a Brillo pad, they scrub away the affectations and the hesitations that infest your inner core.

Power words, powerfully spoken. Power words shatter this crust.

Athletes use power words often, to invest themselves with confidence at crucial times in a contest. With these power words, you invest yourself with energy and confidence. With power words, you tap your inner chi, the strength that is generated within you. Too many external events in our lives can sap our strength and energy . . . our very life force. You can rejuvenate that strength. You can draw energy from others.

Several weeks of this simple exercise and you will feel your voice changing, gaining smoothness and depth.

Is this the only thing you can do to improve your voice? No, of course not. You can work with a voice coach to improve your voice’s quality in a number of ways. But most of us will never meet a voice coach, let alone work with one. In the absence of a coach we can make these minor adjustments that pay incredibly large dividends to us as presenters.  And to ask you again a crucial question, doesn’t it make sense 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 become the clearest, most elegant, especially powerful presenter you can, when so much of your success hinges upon it?

“You don’t catch hell because . . .”

Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.

Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.

He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.

His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus feat.  It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners. Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations. He said things directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.

He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.

And once he had audience attention, he kept it.

Holding the Audience in your Grasp

One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora. It’s a technique that you can use as well.  Here’s how it works.

A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences.  With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect.  In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.

I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963.  Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect.  The speech was called  Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit.  Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

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

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

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

What comes next?

Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose. He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully. His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences.  When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell.  You catch hell because you’re a black man.  You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

 Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora:  “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964.  This time his anaphora was slightly different:  “We’re not brutalized because–”  And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect. The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.

Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners. You sense his control of the event.

So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?

Just this.

A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons.  He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power. These techniques can be yours. You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.

For instance, the anaphora of repetition. You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.

But you may Hesitate

You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face.  Yes, he did.  The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death.  But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same. They are verities handed to us over centuries.

And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from?  The CEO of Coca-Cola?  Hardly.

A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you. You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters. Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.

Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies. We’ll look at them in future posts.

The Malcolm X Presentation . . . Seize your Audience

Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation Electrifies an Audience

Like snapping a towel to skin . . . you want to sting your audience with a Malcolm X presentation.

Make that audience sit up straight, snap their heads in your direction.

You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose.

But it should fit your business presentation audience.

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

His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, how to mesmerize it throughout the presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.

The Malcolm X Presentation

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

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

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

You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

A Source of Inspiration and Technique

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

With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.  You hear a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Put a stop to all of that nonsense with the “grabber” line, a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.  Not just another canned talk.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.  Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.

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

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

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

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

In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has captured his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, embraced his audience.  He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

No Throat-clearing . . .

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

No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”

Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases:  “Very serious problem.”

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

Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation Delivers Power and Impact

America’s problem is us.  We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.

And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

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

Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?

He surely has.

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

For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience.  Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk and ask yourself how he crafted it.  And how it works.

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

Consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on how to engage Snap! for a powerful Malcolm X presentation.

Wrestle Your Voice into Submission

Do you have a case of Bad Voice?

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Voice.”

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.

Your voice.

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 on their Own . . . 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, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?  High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.

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.

Cartoon Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.  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.

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.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You are holding yourself back.  It is also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed 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?

For more on developing an especially powerful voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

A Personal Career Strategy that Works

personal career strategy that works
Craft a Personal Career Strategy

You must develop a Personal Career Strategy, or you’ll find yourself buffeted by chance and the caprice of the market.

Here’s why.

Corporate Recruiters have their pick of recent graduates with similar backgrounds, similar experience, similar ages, and similar education.

That’s the group of undistinguished candidates clustered at the bottom of the graph to the right.

Nothing makes these candidates stand out .  .  .  they all look the same.  Same age, same experience, same education.

None of them appear in the High-Demand Skill Zone, where corporate recruiters seek their stars.

The High Demand Skill Zone

The key to career success for every graduate is to position himself or herself in the High Demand Skill Zone.  You do this by crafting a prudent personal career strategy and then implementing it over a prolonged period.

A personal career strategy is a plan – a blueprint – that charts your course and explains not just where you want to go, but how you will get there.

The idea of incorporating strategy into business was broached more than 40 years ago and was defined as “the goals of the firm and the pattern of policies and programs designed to achieve those goals.”

Likewise, your personal career strategy can be loosely defined as “Your goals and the patterns of policies and programs you design and implement to achieve those goals.”

 So what advantage do you gain by crafting a personal career strategy and then pursuing it?

The Advantage of a Personal Career Strategy

Well, first understand that you must determine your mission and your objectives in life.  These are issues that require deep thought and consideration.  Then, and only then, can you craft a meaningful professional strategic plan.

Whatever your professional goals, recognize that you need a personal career strategy to succeed over the long term.  As such, you will find yourself pursuing one of four generic strategies.  The details of each, of course, vary from person to person.  .  .  but these four strategies run the gamut of what is available to you.

The four generic strategies are: Low-Cost, Niche Low-Cost, Differentiation,  Focused Differentiation.  These personal strategies closely parallel the strategies available to businesses competing for customers in the open market.

Low Cost

Differentiation

Niche Low CostYour Personal Career Strategy

Focused Differentiation

No single universal strategy satisfies everyone’s career needs and wants.

This is because the same job market presents different opportunities for different people.  Any of the above strategies for business and personal success can be more effective than others in helping you reach your ultimate goals in life, depending on your ambition.

The appropriate personal career strategy must be matched against the type of goal you’ve set for yourself and the type of compensation you believe most appropriate for you, whether money, time, or psychic or spiritual satisfaction.

Let’s plot these four strategies on a 2×2 matrix and combine them with the axes of Supply and Demand.  This indicates the types of majors that can be found in each quadrant.

Hire Me . . . I’ll Work for Less.

Most candidates reside in the bottom left quadrant – the Low-Cost Strategy.  This is the default strategy that engages many young graduates, who believe they cannot move into the other, more attractive quadrants.  Graduates here compete for positions with other similarly aged, educated, and experienced candidates and thus compete with other candidates on price (salary)  .  .  .  someone equally qualified is always available in the recruitment pool who will take less salary.

In fact, that is the implied mantra:  Hire me, I’ll work for less. 

When you’re trapped in the Low Cost quadrant, you are a commodity.  You’re a generic product who differs little from your competitors.  You are like wheat, or cement, or aspirin, or corn, or a cheap watch.

As a commodity, you must compete on price, and this is a terribly unprofitable place to be.  Obviously, this is not a strategy that anyone willingly pursues unless you are, as they say, doing what you love to the neglect of every other consideration.

You can move out of the Low Cost quadrant in one of two directions.  Let’s look first at the Niche Low Cost Strategy.

Niche Low Cost Strategy:  because positions in this quadrant typically pay less, are in less demand, and are tightly focused on a candidate’s specific qualities and skills that uniquely qualify a candidate for the position.  Typical majors that fall in this quadrant might be Latin, Ornithology, Greek Philosophy and such like.  Earning potential is not generally increased by such a strategy, but the rewards can be great in other areas. 

But doing what you love does not necessarily eliminate the possibility for you to become financially successful.  If your goal is to become a competitive candidate and to combine personal and professional satisfaction with the highest possible financial remuneration, then there is a particular strategy that you ought to pursue.

Let’s look at the options.Personal Career Strategy for Advantage

For you to increase your earning potential, you must change from a Low-Cost strategy.  And the first step is to differentiate yourself in some way from your competitors that is also in high demand by our society, particularly potential employers. 

You want to re-position yourself in one of the two right-side quadrants by pursuing a Differentiation Strategy.  If we were talking about products, you would want to transform yourself from a Timex to a Rolex

What are some ways to move into this quadrant?

Your goal, of course, is to separate yourself from the pack of your competitors and mark yourself as a premium candidate.  You want recognition as differentiated in a spectacular way that increases your value to a firm and, thus, your earning potential.

Not just any differentiator will do.

It should be 1) a quality or skill that appeals to you, and 2) a quality that puts you into the quadrant that provides you with the greatest reward, however you define that reward. 

But it stands to reason that not all differentiators are created equal.  Some skills increase your earning potential.  Others do not.

You could position yourself in ways that are unusual but not in great demand by the job market.  This means you are pursuing a Niche Low Cost strategy, which is the upper left A Personal Career Strategyquadrant.  This means that your acquisition of unusual skills does not change your commodity status.

Why not?

Simply because a skill is unusual and rare does not make it, de facto, a high demand skill.  A skill may be difficult to obtain, require lots of study and training, be in a state of low supply, and yet still be in low demand.

Examples of this type of differentiating skill or college major might be a facility with Greek Philosophy, Latin, or Ornithology.  The supply of candidates with such skills is low, but they also remain in low demand as well.

Again, forms of compensation other than monetary can rightly influence the decision to pursue a Niche Low Cost strategy.  The psychic rewards of working for a good cause motivates some people far more than monetary compensation.

Emotional satisfaction or the satisfaction provided by lenient and flexible work hours cannot be underestimated.

From another perspective, military personnel often forego lucrative careers in the private sector and receive compensation in the form of giving sacrificial service.

But if your goal is financial gain as well as the rewards of a particular type of work, then you must pursue a Differentiation strategy or its variant, the Focused Differentiation Strategy.  Each strategy arms you with valuable skills possessed by fewer candidates.  The Differentiation Strategy puts you into competition with others possessing similarly differentiated skills that are in high demand by recruiters.  Your chances improve greatly at obtaining the position you desire at an attractive salary.

But for you to become a highly sought candidate in the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand SkillZone, you should pursue a Focused Differentation Strategy.  The numbers of candidates is few and corporate demand is high.  You can do the math.

Your goal is to pursue a course of action that puts you squarely in the corporate recruiter’s High-Demand SkillZone.

Many graduates mistakenly believe that now, at the launch of a career, it’s too late to differentiate themselves.  Perhaps even you believe that all of the methods of differentiation are closed to you because of choices made long ago.

Some folks differentiated themselves four years ago by matriculating at a “name” school, which pays off at graduation as a point of differentiation that at least some corporate recruiters believe is important.  That choice was made years ago and cannot help you now.

Nor would you want to rely upon it, since its effect dissipates quickly, like ice cream on a hot sidewalk.

Choose your Personal Career Strategy Carefully

Folks who rely on school reputation as a differentiator soon find that school reputation is a superficial point of difference that pales beside other more substantial differentiators such as High Demand Skills and Qualities.

There are ways to differentiate yourself now in meaningful ways.  In fact, the most important differentiator is at your fingertips.

And the only obstacle to your acquiring it is you.

You can pursue a Differentiation Strategy right now, because there is one highly sought skill that you can obtain rapidly.  And it’s exactly what corporate recruiters want. 

Outside of narrow functional specialties, corporate America wants graduates with superior presenting abilities more than any other skill – more than strategic thinking, work ethic, analytical ability, or leadership ability.

The ability to present well is rare in the business world.  This is true for many reasons, not least of all ignorance, hubris, and ego.

Put it all aside, open your mind and heart, and you can become the superior presenter you were meant to be.

It’s what this website, and this book, are all about.

Personal Career Strategy