Zombies Ahead . . . Classic!

Bad Advice Zombies never die . . . they keep leading presentations astray

The zombies of bad advice never die.We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Advice

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.  Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.

Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.  But bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.  The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.

This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.

Let’s Have a Look

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.  From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.  For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.\

Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.  No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.  It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.  And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.  Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.  Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.  In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.  “Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We’re special,” finance majors like to say.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”  You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6 “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what? You counted them?

I assure you that you don’t know.  You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.  Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.  They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.  This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

No one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.  It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in you own work with sound power presenting principles. You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.

For more on building especially powerful presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Most Important Point – Your MIP

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.  Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes.

Stories involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.  That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.  Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the MIP – the Most Important Point.

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

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

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!  Decide and make that point the focus of your story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!  Let this be core of your story and build around it.

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

Your MIP Permeates Your Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.  If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

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

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

Pow! . . . Grab ’em and Don’t Let Go!

Do you know how to begin a presentation?

Does your intro have Pow?

Consider for a moment . . .

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?  Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.

Do you back into it?

Do you start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?  Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?

Here’s an example

I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Wal-Mart case.  The lead presenter was Janie.  She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years.  She spoke in monotone.  She flashed a timeline on the screen.  Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.

I wondered at what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.  I waited for her main point.  As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed.  The linking thread had not come.

The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point.  At the end of her segment, I asked her . . .

“Janie, what was that beginning about?  How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”

“Those were just random facts,” she said.

“Random facts?”

“Yes!” she said brightly.

She was quite ingenuous about it.

Random facts.

She was giving “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way.  I don’t say this to disparage her.  In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously, and has since progressed to graduate school.

But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation?  Is it the notion that anything you say at the beginning is okay?

Let’s go over the beginning.  Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about.  When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

You begin with your introduction.  Here, you present the Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience have gathered together.  What will you tell them?

The audience is assembled to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.  Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk.  Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.

Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign.  Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing? Good. Good! It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2009 and increase our market share . . . by another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position a year from now.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.  No metaphorical throat-clearing.  No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.  State the reason you are there.

Put the Pow in Power!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.  We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do about it to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.  The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.  We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.  And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.

That is why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To provide your recommendations.

Remember, put Pow into your beginning to leverage the opportunity when the audience is most alert and attentive.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

Perfect Presentation Practice . . .

Presentation Practice

You already know that the key to successful and confident performance is presentation practice.

But what you think you know about practice may not be quite right.

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

The Right Presentation Practice

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

But it’s absolutely essential that you practice the correct way.

This means that you practice the way you perform.  This means you do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

There is something in our psyche that seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.  When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.  But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.”

We become very good at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Start Over?  Bad Mistake!

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

No, of course not.  But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we stumble?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have practiced only one thing – starting over.

Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them.  Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it.  Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.

Practice according to the principles enunciated here at Business School Presenting and according to the hard preparation you have conducted leading up to your presentation.

Practice it all for an especially powerful presentation.

For more on perfect presentation practice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Don’t Scapegoat Powerpoint! CLASSIC!

Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.

Yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.

PowerPoint isn’t the problem.  Clueless presenters are the problem.

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use.  Have a look-see . . .

Power Words for Business Presentations

Power Words for Business imbue your business presentation with impactHere I speak of Power Words for Business.

Words are the stuff of power.

Anyone who works with words for a living knows their power.  Well, let me issue a caveat.  Anyone who works with words ought to know their power.

Every profession has its power words.  Words that elicit emotion.  Power words that move people to action.

When we use the right power words for business presentations, the effect on an audience can be electric.

And this is why we should be concerned about power words for business.

Power Words for Business

Words have power.  A power that is amorphous, deceptive, difficult to master, if it is at all possible to master.

It’s necessary to respect words and their function.  To understand the visceral strength in well-structured phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that hang together seamlessly in such a tight formation that a reader cannot imagine them written in any other way.

While teaching writing is not my primary function,  I do provide fundamental instruction of a Strunk and White nature so as to raise the bar to an acceptable level.  Before you eye-roll at such a rudimentary approach, let me assure you that today’s undergraduate students desperately need the salving coolness of William Strunk and E.B. White.  If only for clarity, concision, and pith.

For the pleasure of reading Strunk and White’s masterpiece, The Elements of Style.  For it is a minor joy to read.  To re-read.

Many young people – not all, but enough – want to be creative and innovative, to think outside of that box we always hear about.  I note that they must first understand the box and what it contains before they can profitably “think outside” of it.  Because likely what they consider fresh and new and sparkling has been done before.

Cliches heard for the first time are like that.

They must understand how words fit together to convey ideas, notions, fact and fiction.  They must understand the communicative function of words as well as their evocative power.

Power words for business can imbue a business presentation with impact and energy.

Just as power words against business have been in use for decades.  So much so, they’ve become shopworn cliches.

Power Words Against Business

I urge students to recognize tendentious surliness masquerading as neutrality, entire social, political, cultural arguments embodied in single phrases – sometimes single words.  Listen for those arguments that use power words against business.

They must recognize sloganeering in their own writing and arguments.  If not, they face being caught short when challenged on a lack of depth or understanding.

Recognize sloganeering in your writing.

Example?

At the risk of agitation, let me detour into the realm of the classroom, where words that characterize well-hashed issues come freighted with all kinds of baggage.

Certain phrases can embody one-sided faux arguments.  Anti-business arguments with no substance.

Power words against business.

“Widening gap between rich and poor” is one of those tropes.  It has become a kneejerk pejorative.  Regrettably, it’s used more frequently by young people these days and some of my overeager colleagues.

They supposedly identify a “problem” that must be corrected without pausing in their feverish idealism to recognize that the gap between rich and poor is always getting wider.  This happens whether an economy is strong or weak.

It’s the nature of economic growth.

The proper question to ask is this:  “Is everyone getting richer and better off than before in a dynamic and thriving economy?”

Or is the situation one in which the poor are getting poorer with no chance or even hope of improvement?  These are two quite different situations, conflated by the trope “widening gap between rich and poor.”

Making the distinction, however, brings more complexity into the picture than some folks feel comfortable with.  The issue no longer fits on a bumper sticker.

It’s almost too much to bear the notion that “everyone is better off” while simultaneously there is a “widening gap between rich and poor.”

“Everyone is better off” is a first-rate example of power words for business presentations.

“Sweatshops” Anyone?

Single words sometimes embody entire arguments.

This relieves the user of the burden to make the point of the begged question.  In my own bailiwick, “sweatshop” is one such politically and socially freighted word.  As in the “debate over sweatshops.”  In my classes on Globalization, this “debate” is addressed forthrightly.

But in its proper terms and in its proper context.

The preening certitude of a person posturing against “sweatshops” is a sight to behold.  No gray area, no moral conundrums.  It seems as clear-cut an issue as anyone could imagine.  It’s like arguing against “dirty dishtowels.”  There is no pro “dirty dishtowel” lobby.  Just as there is no pro “sweatshop” lobby.

See how easy to get on the side of the angels?  Who other than an evil exploiter could possibly take a stand for “sweatshops?”  Right.  No one does.

A part of me envies that kind of hard-boned simplicity.  It’s borne of shallow naivete.

“Cultural Imperialism” Anyone?

Hand-in-hand with “sweatshops” comes something called “cultural imperialism.”

This is merely a pejorative reaction against the introduction of goods and services and ideas into modernizing societies.  Such “cultural imperialism” supposedly constitutes an attack on the “traditional way of life” and local culture.

In my lectures to Russian students in Izhevsk and in Ufa, BashkortoPower Words for Business Presentation impactstan, I meet this kind of attitude quite frequently, as if someone is compelling locals to drink Coca-Cola, to smoke Marlboros, to wear Italian shoes, or to dine at Chinese restaurants.

The call for preserving “traditional” ways of life smacks of condescension of the worst type.  It is, for example, an attitude that suggests that locking subsistence farmers into their pristine “traditional” circumstances as delightful subjects for exotic picture postcards is a positive.

“Traditional” is one of those power words against business.  When you hear it as part of an argument, look closely for anti-business bias.  You’ll find it.

Some students are angry and somewhat confused when I note that all that is offered is a choice.

Choice is one of those Power Words for Business.

A choice to work as one’s ancestors did, ankle-deep in dung-filled water of rice paddies, or to work in a new factory, earning more money in one day than the traditional villager might ever see in a year.

A choice to purchase goods and services previously unavailable.

A choice to live better.

Exploitation . . . or Choice?

A choice, that’s all.  An alternative.

Some people, professional activists among them, just don’t like the choice being offered, even as earlier there was no choice.  There was no chance for improvement.

Rather than offer their own range of additional choices, these folks harass those companies that provide economic opportunity, a chance for a better life.  The chance for newly empowered local workers to earn beyond subsistence wages and to then spend money at the kiosks that quickly spring up courtesy of entrepreneurs who instinctively know how the market works.

The chance to utilize the new roads built by the foreign company as part of infrastructure improvement.

So, in my classes, I refer to Nike and other firms that manufacture abroad as establishing Economic Opportunity Centers throughout the developing world.  Companies that expand the range of economic choices open to local workers.

Power Words for Business – Economic Opportunity Centers

Some students express a kind of confused disbelief that local factories contracted by Nike (Nike does not own or operate them) could in any sense of the phrase be called Economic Opportunity Centers.  But, in fact, that phrase is more accurate as to what is actually happening when compared in many caPower Words for Business ses to a subsistence farming economy that it augments.

With that point made, we shift to compromise language of a more neutral cast – Nike and many other companies that contract manufacturing with local producers are engaged in Economic Activity Abroad.

Whether that activity is in some sense “good” or “bad” depends upon whom you ask – an activist sitting in an air conditioned Washington office, hands steepled, giving an interview to National Public Radio on the evils of Globalization?  Or a young foreign worker, who now has a choice and a chance to work indoors, to earn more money than before, to better his lot and that of his family.

A choice and a chance to move up.

A choice that earlier was not available.

If we then proceed from less politically charged premises, we can then understand the actual dynamics at work, building from the ground-up.  At the end of the discussion – which is usually vigorous give and take –  an understanding emerges that economic activity abroad in the form of contract manufacturing has both positive and negative aspects.

Power Words for Business Presentations

Now, I have dipped into the hot, turbid political waters of Globalization only because that happens to be the topic at hand for me now, daily.

I have roamed a bit, but the theme that runs through this essay, I think, is the power of words – to persuade, to deceive, to communicate, to obfuscate.

Power Words against business have been used far too long without challenge.  Realize that we can harness Power Words for Business and leaven our business presentations with impact, immediacy, and positivity.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the issues I surfaced here to illustrate the theme, I believe that folks in this forum recognize more than most this especially powerful medium.

Whatever conclusions my students arrive at with regard to the debates at hand, they will have at least been exposed to the power of words for business and the subtlety of language.

Words are the stuff of power.

For more on the power of words for business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Competitive Advantage

A positive presentation attitude can make or break your business presentation
A positive presentation attitude goes far in conferring personal competitive advantage on the business presenter

Your positive presentation attitude is one of the most neglected aspects of your business presentation.

For any presentation, really.

Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially where criticism of current company policy is concerned.

Especially when your team must convey bad news, for instance, that the current strategy is “bad.”  Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.

In class presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude.  A harsh attitude.

This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is sought-after and valued.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation

Honesty is important, sure.  But there is a difference between honesty and candor, and we must be clear on the difference.

If you say that the current strategic direction of the company in your presentation is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.  Remember that there are many ways of being honest.

You must use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.  These may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place, or who are emotionally invested in a specific strategy.

Anyone can use a sledgehammer.

Anyone.

But most times it pays to use a scalpel.

Use tact in criticizing current policy for an especially powerful presentation with positive presentation attitude
Don’t attack the current policy with too much gusto in your business presentation . . . you may undermine your own case

But we must remember that as much as we would like to believe that our superiors and our clients are mature and want to hear the “truth” – warts and all – human nature is is contrary.  We are easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.

And if you wound someone’s ego, you will pay a price.

So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely and needlessly doomed yourself.  Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize is at stake, whether a multi-million dollar deal.  Or simply credibility and good judgment.

It takes skill and finesse to deliver a fine-tuned presentation.  Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive and persuasive without being abrasive.  When you do, then you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.

That is, after all, why they are called skills.

Your presentation will effervesce . . . it will join the ranks of the especially powerful.

So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy.  Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.

For more on shaping a powerful and positive presentation attitude that stays on point and helps to build your personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Win a Case Competition

 How to win a case competitionIn earlier posts, we examined the lead-in steps for your case competition preparation.

Your team is now on the cusp of delivering a business presentation to win a case competition.

Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.

Treat it this way, and your chances of winning your case competition increase dramatically.

How to win a Case Competition

If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters will win the day most every time.

The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.  If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it will win.

If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.  You are the presentation.

By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.  You know the techniques and skills of the masters.  You have become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker who constantly refines himself or herself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed:  Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.

Employ the Seven Secrets to Win a Case Competition

When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.  Here are some tips how to do this.  Their combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory.  The team then creates their first draft presentation.

It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.

Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden or from the written material you prepare.  The numbers “do not speak for themselves.”

The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own.  You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.

Your case solution is not judged on its merit alone, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it.  It is judged on how well you communicate the idea.  Powerfully and persuasively.

Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation.  And you must orchestrate your presentation so that you work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present, and with the new knowledge you create.

For more deep secrets on how to win a case competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

In Praise of Business Jargon . . .

Business Jargon

I struggle with an entire macro-profession that cultivates its jargon . . .  business jargon.

The arena is academia fused with that of the larger battlefield of the business world, and the struggle is between those of us in the noble minority (of course we must posture as such) and those legions of who wear smiling faces, furrowed serious brows, and who are imbued with the best of intentions and the zeal of those who labor in the vineyards of the professions. 

The struggle is for clear and original expression against the encroachment of weasel-words.  The struggle is for meaningful distinctions between useful locutions and the vulgarity of “jargon.”

Every profession contrives jargon and then clutches it to its breast.

It is useful, yes.  Incredibly so.

But some of the more Machiavellian among us contrive it as a second code for entry into a priesthood of the knowledgeable.

And so we have the conundrum – one man’s obfuscation is another man’s sharply drawn argument, both using “jargon.”

Who with compassion could strip a man of his outlet for facile expression, the utility of shorthand “jargon,” simply because there exist unscrupulous cads who abuse the privilege of a profession’s lexicon?

Struggling with Business Jargon

So it’s a struggle, yes, but it’s also an internal struggle.

This struggle is waged within me – I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexicon, the “business jargon” to vulnerable young minds.  Minds to which the jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it is actually already stale and reified.  It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated.

“Business Jargon.”

But business jargon does perform valuable service.  If used judiciously and properly and with clear intent to the purpose for which it was created.

If it is wielded not to obfuscate.  If it is wielded not to mind-taser the listener into a kind of numb dumbness.

For those of us in the profession that is home to our jargon, it serves as shorthand for many thoughts already thought, not simply a comfortable refuge.  Shorthand for many debates already concluded.  Many theories already expressed.  Many systems already in place.

In fact, a deep vein of rich discussion lurks beneath the glib façade of most of our, say, business jargon.

And thus “jargon” presents us with a dilemma – if it were not useful, it would not exist.  And anything that is useful can be misused.

It should come with a warning label.

A Warning Label?

I provide such a warning label.  But only half-heartedly.

Half-heartedly, because it is my first obligation to ensure that my charges remember the “jargon” that I serve up to them.

They must imbibe deeply and, at some point during a seemingly interminable semester, they must regurgitate the jargon.

They must master it.

They must drink deeply from the cup of “competitive advantage.”  They must feast heartily at the table of “core competency” and ladle large portions of “market failure” and “pioneering costs” along with a light sprinkling of what some might consider the oxymoronic garnish of “business ethics.”

In praise of business jargonMore insidious than the standard jargon is the phalanx of “new” program buzzwords that march our way in endless columns, recycling ideas of old . . . and then recycling them yet again.  “Best Practices,” “Re-engineering,” “Six Sigma,” “TQM, “Benchmarking,” “Balanced Scorecard,” and on and on . . .

For those of us who bathe regularly in the sea of “competitive advantage” and “market saturation” and “pioneering costs” and “core competencies,” we cannot exercise the luxury of contempt.

Instead, we must labor as any wordsmith must labor.

We must not ban the hammer because some use it to bash their thumb instead of the nail.

We must ensure the proper usage (use?) of our tools.

Just as any writer seeks and secures precision in language, the business writer must labor likewise to secure our business jargon from misuse and abuse.  Constant vigilance is our only guarantor against the debasing of the language, and this is true in business and in academia as it is true in the high-minded world of the literati.

High-minded?  It might be also useful to exercise constant vigilance that high-mindedness does not become high-handedness.

Humility and the hunger for clarity.

Uncommon qualities in the business and academic worlds?  Perhaps, but surely they should be considered corollary to the business jargon that seems pervasive and inescapable and that nettles us so naughtily.

Cast all of this business jargon aside and consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for entre into the high priesthood of the finest business presenters in the corporate world!

Case Competitions . . . Phase 2

Business Case Competition

Phase 2 of your case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.

Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.  It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.

In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.”  It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the company sponsoring the competition.

Case Competition First Step

Your first step – your team members read the case once-through for general information and understanding, to inventory issues, and to define the magnitude of the task at hand.  You are drawing a philosophical and psychological box around the case to encompass its main elements.  Here, you make it manageable prevent time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.

Discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.

At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you in developing your analysis and recommendations.

The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually very small, so I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.  This includes your team, of course.

Victory or Defeat?

The quality of teams is high, and the output of analysis similar.  This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.  Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material.  I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.

The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.

And so we devote minimum time on the preparation of your arguments.  Many fine books can help you sharpen analysis.  This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.

We are concerned here with the key to your competition victory.

Here is your competitive edge:  While 95 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Power Presenting.  You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.

Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants

Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged.  This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.  These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate.  It is a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.

Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion.  This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .

1) Substance trumps:  The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.

2) Mimicry:  All entries utilize Business Case Competition hones your presentation skillsthe same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides, thus leveling the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.

Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.  Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation.  Remember that you should hold back details for use and explication during the Q&A period.

A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points.

Deciding what to leave out of your initial presentation can be as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.

For in-depth training on the Case Competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Next . . . Phase 3