“You don’t catch hell because . . . ” CLASSIC!

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 stunt.  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 spoke 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.

Occupy This!

When you deliver a presentation, one of the most important factors that figures into the success of your talk is . . . where you stand.

Don’t take the example of most afterdinner speakers or professors, who hide behind the lectern, shuffling notes, looking down, gripping the edges of the podium with white-knuckled fervor.

This is grotesque.

It induces your audience to doze, to drift, to check out.

The Abominable Lectern!

The lectern is an abomination.  If you happen to be a liberal arts student who drifted here by mistake, think of the lectern as The Oppressor or The Other.  It puts a barrier between you and those whom you address.  For many students, it is a place to hide from the audience.

I recommend using the lectern only once, as a tool . . . and this is the occasion to walk from behind it to approach your audience at the very beginning of your talk.  This is an action of communication, a reaching out, a gesture of intimacy.

Do not lean upon the lectern in nonchalant fashion, particularly leaning upon your elbow and with one leg crossed in front of the other.

Fix this now.

Move from behind the lectern and into the Command Position.  In today’s fleeting vernacular, occupy the command position.

The Command Position is the position directly in front of a lectern and 4-8 feet from your audience.  It extends approximately 4 feet to either side of you.  You are not a visitor in this space.

As a presenter or speaker, this is your home.  You own this space, so make it yours.  You must always perform as if you belong there, never there as a visitor.

Occupy it!

Occupy it now for democracy, social justice, and an especially powerful presentation.

For more sloganeering and outright good presentation advice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Presentation Audience . . . Who? Your AUDIENCE

Your presentation audience
Present what’s important to your audience

As much as some of us might seek the adulation of the crowd, it’s wise to remember that your presentation isn’t about you, although our self-indulgence can sometimes make it seem so.  It’s all about your presentation audience.

Your presentation is for your audience and you must address what it wants.  Get them to do what you want them to by demonstrating to them that it’s what they want.

Address their needs and fulfill their expectations in language they understand, with metaphors and examples that resonate with them.

Your objective must be expressed in terms of how it best connects with your audience.  Speak to their needs and fulfill them.

Dazzle ’em with their own Dreams

The good news is that your audience’s generally low expectations mean that you can likely dazzle it with a merely above-average presentation.  This is because the level of business presenting is so dismally low that audiences dread listening to them as much as you hate giving them.

No one seems happy at the prospect of this afternoon’s weekly “finance update.”

But remember this regardless of the topic of your talk, every presentation audience wants the same basic thing.  Deep down, all of us wants a chance.  Everyone wants to have a chance to be a hero.

No one wants to hear from Indiana Jones . . . everyone wants to be Indiana Jones.

Or at least we like to believe that we could do great things.

Touch Your Presentation Audience

This is a touchstone principle long known to professional speakers.  Kenneth Goode and Zenn Kaufman authored a book in 1939 called Profitable Showmanship, and their words resonate with stone-cold veracity over the subsequent 72 years, right up to today and the next quarter earnings briefing:

The audience is always on the screen, at the microphone, in the prize-fight, or in the pitcher’s box.  You, the individual member of the audience, are the hero of the day.  No selling can ever be completely successful that forgets this principle: that the prospect is the Hero of the Show. And, in fact, the only hero! . . .  The minute you slide the spotlight off him, off his crazy ideas, off his pet peeves, particularly off his whims, your show is over.  You may as well go home, for your audience is gone.  . . . The hero of the [presenting] drama is the customer – or prospect.  His vanities, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions – these are the stuff from which your plot is spun and on him – and him alone – must the spotlight shine.

If this message is difficult to digest, a mnemonic aid can help you stay focused on your presentation audience.  Dr. John Kline developed this mnemonic aid, and he calls it TOOTSIFELT.  This is a contrived acronym, which stands for:  “The object of this talk is for each listener to . . .”

This captures the spirit of your presentation.  It embodies the audience-centered approach.  If you state this question repeatedly throughout the development of your show, you will always produce a tightly scripted and targeted message.

You can learn a great deal more about focusing on your presentation audience in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Craft Your Presentation Conclusion

Your Presentation Conclusion can wrap up your presentation with power

Do you ever think of how you’ll end your presentation . . . with a carefully prepared presentation conclusion?

Do you carefully craft your conclusion so that your audience is left with the most powerful points you were trying to make?   Do you practice that presentation conclusion?

Do you ensure that your ending is concise, pithy, and especially powerful?  And if it’s not, have you ever wondered how the audience views you when you continue talking with nothing more to say?   A friendly audience quickly becomes a hostile army.

Don’t Forget to Prepare Your Presentation Conclusion

This phenomenon has lurked with us for hundreds of years, since the first school of public speaking was founded in the 5th Century B.C. by Corax.  J. Berg Esenwein sagely observed more than a century ago that:

“Few speakers discern that length does not indicate depth.  Better stop before you are done than to go on after you have finished.  Only makers of short speeches are invited to speak again.”

Grenville Kleiser, another presentation master notes the disparity between how we give the presentation conclusion only a nod when we should be lavishing on it a manic focus guaranteed to drive our main point to the hearts of our listeners . . .

It is the most vital part of a speech, the supreme moment when the speaker is to drive his message home and make his most lasting impression.  This calls for the very best that is in a man.  . . . it should be short, simple, and earnest.  [T]he temptation to make the closing appeal too long should be carefully avoided.  Whether the speech be memorized throughout or not, the speaker should know specifically the thought, if not the phraseology, with which he intends to end his address.”

I criticize public speaking adages as shortcut substitutes for learning how to be an exceptional presenter, but one pithy public speaking saying goes like this:  “Check your tie, check your fly, say your piece and say goodbye.”  Strangely enough, it’s the “goodbye” part that can be difficult for some people, young and old, male and female.

In fact, it’s common to see young speakers spiral out of control on the downside of a fine presentation.

The presentation conclusion trips them up.

Presentation Conclusions That Spiral Down

I have seen great student presentations founder at the last minute, because no one had thought it through all the way to the end.  No one had thought to prepare or to practice how they would end the presentation.  So it ended with a whimper instead of a powerful recapitulation of the main point.

Your Powerful Presentation ConclusionSo it remains as one of the most difficult tasks to convey to a young speaker – the importance of knowing when and how to stop.

Why is this important?

Because:

1) The conclusion is the last impression you leave your audience as you call them to action.

2) If not planned, your conclusion can and most likely will expand into another speech, and few things turn off an audience more.

3) This potentially powerful part of your show becomes, instead, a debilitating albatross that subtracts value.

Despite all of this, the ending remains a neglected aspect of the presentation.  Its chief pathology is the speaker’s inability to stop.  Here, I l let several of the great presentation masters speak to an issue that has plagued speakers for centuries.  William Hoffman said in 1935 that:

“It is well to have an ending in mind.  What the speaker says last is remembered first by the audience.  When he has hinted that he is about to conclude, he will spoil everything if he continues to plod along looking for a place to stop.  The audience is already in the mood to leave and is impatient with this failure to wind up the business promptly.  Annoyance is the only response to ‘one more thing,’ ‘as I said before,’ ‘I urge you once again,’ ‘I forgot to say,’ and the other pathetic delays of the speaker who is through but does not know it.”

From 2100 years ago, Quintilian tells us this about the conclusion:

“The repetition and summing up is intended both to refresh the memory of the judge, to set the whole cause at once before his view, and to enforce such arguments anybody as had produced an insufficient effect in detail.  In this part of our speech, what we repeat ought to be repeated as briefly as possible, and we must, as is intimated by the Greek term, run over only the principal heads; for, if we dwell upon them, the result will be, not a recapitulation, but a sort of second speech.”

Just as important, do not flee the stage prematurely.  Do not run off-stage as you deliver your last lines.

Do not destroy your conclusion in a flurry of movement, losing the last sentence in a turn of the head and a rush to leave the stage.  Make your Most Important Point . . . and let your conclusion sink in.

For more on delivering a powerful presentation conclusion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Rule of Three in Presentations

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

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

You build your talk in stages, and you make the case for your recommendation.  Through all of this, the Rule of Three is the best method you can use.

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

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

With it, you never go wrong.

What is this Rule of Three?

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

The Rule of Three in presentations means selecting the three main points from your material and making that the structure for your show.  Despite the fact that you may never have heard of the “rule of three,” it’s one of the most basic frameworks for public speaking, and it derives from something almost existential in the human psyche.

Think about this for a moment.  There is something magical about the number three.  We tend to grasp information most easily in threes.  Consider these examples:

Stop, look and listen – A wellknown public safety announcement

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

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

“Blood, sweat and tears” – Winston Churchill

“Faith, Hope and Charity” – The Bible

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

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

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

The Rule of Three in presentations is a standard structural model advocated  by many presentation coaches.  And with good reason.  It’s a powerful framework, incredibly sturdy.  Think of it as a reliable vessel into which to pour your superb beverage.

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

Here’s an Example . . .

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

Strip down all of your convoluted arguments, all of your evidence, all of your keen analysis to the three major points that you believe make your case.

In the Toughbolt Corporation example above, note that in our thesis statement and ultimate recommendation, we mentioned three positive reasons for our chosen course of action:  “ . . . this presentation demonstrates that this course of action is fiscally sound, the best use of scarce resources among the alternatives, and a basis for rapid growth.”  These three factors serve as your basic Rule of Three structure for the middle of your presentation.

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

Does this mean that other information is not important?  Of course not.

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

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

Follow the Rule of Three.

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

From Stick-Puppet Presenting . . . to 3D Presenting

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

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

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

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

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

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 – crude, flat little figures pasted onto sticks and then used in a child’s display to convey a story.

This is truly an ineffective form of entertainment.  This is as rudimentary as it gets.  The puppets shake and move up and down as someone voices dialogue from somewhere offstage.

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

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

Stick-Puppet Presenting is characterized by a zombie-like figure who is crouched behind a lectern, gripping its sides.

Or a speaker who reads from a laptop computer and alternately looks at a projection screen behind him, reading it verbatim.  If any movement occurs, it is unconscious swaying, rocking, or nervous happy-feet dancing.

Perhaps there is a bit of paStop stick puppet presenting for power and impactcing back-and-forth to fulfill some ancient advice mumbled to the speaker years earlier:  “Move around when you talk!”  And so the stick-puppet presenter aimlessly wanders about the stage.

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

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

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

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

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

Who is “The Business Presenter?”

Cicero was doubtless as good at business presentations as he was at arguing before the Roman Senate

Before computers.  Before television and radio.

Before loudspeakers . . .

Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker.

The “presenter.”

From the time of Corax in the 5th century B.C., public speaking soon developed into what was considered close to an art form.  Some did consider it art.

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

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

These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking.  To suck the life from “presenting.”

Skills of the Masters

The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over centuries.  The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument, the persuasive powers of words.  Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory, coupled with his unpopular ideas.

In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us.  We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message.  Yet the result has been something quite different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them, providing barriers between speaker and audience.  Each new advancement in technology creates another layer of insulation.

 

Seize every opportunity to deliver a powerful and persuasive business presentation, and you’ll find your personal competitive advantage increasing

Today’s presenters have grasped feverishly at the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.  The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear.  The focus has shifted from the speaker to limp fireworks, and this has led to such a decline to the point where in extreme cases the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”

In many cases, this is exactly what happens.  The presenter pivots, shows us his back, and edges away from the stage to become a quasi-member of the audience.

PowerPoint and props are just tools.  That’s all.  You should be able to present without them.  When you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.

In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university.  Some of them give fabulous presentations.  Most give adequate presentations.  They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.

On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income

For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.  The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.

Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress – they view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard.  Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.

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

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

Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers.  In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.

I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening.  I do mean taking your job seriously, learning your temporary profession’s rules, crafting a presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity, and then displaying enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.

The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience

Yes, heroic.  Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.  Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you will win every time.

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

The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical.  The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.  But the principles are the same.

So, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking.  Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold . . . but few bend to pick them up.

Adopt the habits of the masters.  Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the maestros who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.

They and their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful presentations.

For more on powerful presentations, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.