How to put Passion in Presentations

Passion in Presentations
The passionate presentation can win the day over the staid and uninteresting

Do you put passion in presentations, or do you settle for being an emotionless automaton?

Do you save your passion for other things?  Meaningless things?

Do you even know what infuses you with passion?

Think about it.

What is Your Passion?

What is it you long to do?  What is it that fills you with the thrill of discovery, the adrenaline of newness?  What can compare with the natural high of applying yourself to a task that excites you?

What generates those endorphins?  What brings a smile to your face involuntarily?  What furrows your brow?

Is it “world hunger?”  Or European soccer?  Is it social injustice? Is it political theory?  Is it comic book collecting?

Is it Chess?  Numismatics?  Tennis?  Travel to exotic locations?  Helping others solve problems?  Writing essays?  Fashion design?  Financial manipulations?  Reading a good book?

What’s your passion?  Do you even have one?

Yes, you do have a passion.  But likely as not, it’s been buried under a ton of necessity, the debris we call the business of life.

Is your Passion buried?

If you find that your passion is buried, then this is the time to rescue it as one of the most potent factors in delivering your most powerful presentations.

Once you explore your own visceral feelings, your passion, it becomes that much easier to invoke passion in presentations.  To actually feel passion for the subjects of your shows.  Can you generate passion?  Of course you can.  Will it be “artificial” passion?  Of course not.

With a tip o’ the hat to Gertrude Stein . . . passion is passion is passion.

Passion in presentations
Passion can help you build professional presence as well as convey your presentation message in a powerful way

Unless you have passion for a subject and demonstrate that passion, you will always be at a disadvantage with respect to those who passionately embrace their subject.  If you are in competition with several other teams pitching a product or service to a company for millions of dollars – and there is no noteworthy difference in the quality or price of the service – then how does the potential customer decide?

On passion.

Put Passion in Presentations!

If he sees a real passion for the work in one team, if he feels the energy of a team driven to success and truly excited about the offering, don’t you think he’ll be inclined to the team that stirs his emotions?  The team that makes him see possibilities?  The team that demonstrates passion in presentation?

The team that helps him visualize a glorious future?  The team that shares his own love and passion for his product or service and sees in you a shared passion for achieving something special in partnership?

Reread the previous paragraph, because it encapsulates so much of what is absent in presentations today, and so much of what is needed.

Passion cannot substitute for substance . . . but when it augments substance, it wins every time.

Passion has served as a crucial element in verbal communication for centuries.  Two of my favorite quotations on its power follow:

“True emotional freedom is the only door by which you may enter the hearts of your hearers.”

Brees and Kelley, 1931

 “Earnestness is the secret of success in any department of life.  It is only the earnest man who wins his cause.”

S.S. Curry, 1895

Recognize in yourself the capacity for passion and the necessity of putting passion in presentations for power and impact.  Recognize that you have the wherewithal to embrace even the most staid material, the “dullest” project.  Remember always that it is you who make it better.  You who invest it with excitement.  You are the alchemist.

It’s your job to make it interesting

Many times you hear an “interesting” presentation about an “interesting” topic.  It is well-done, and it engaged you.  And you wonder why you never seem to get the “interesting” projects.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you might be the missing ingredient?  That perhaps it is your task to invest a project with interest and zest?  That what makes a project “interesting” is not the topic . . . but rather the interaction between material and presenter.

Ultimately, it is your task to transform a “case” or business situation into an interesting and cogent presentation.  It is your task to find the key elements of strategic significance and then to dramatize those elements in such a way that the audience is moved in powerful and significant ways.

Yes, you can do this.  You don’t need an “interesting” case to do it.

You just need passion.

More on passion in presentations in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret #6 – “Slob cool” . . . isn’t

Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your audience to the realm of how you appear to your audience.

Likewise, let’s immediately dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like – it’s the message that counts.”

In a word . . . no.

This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage by adopting the exact opposite perspective right now.  I’d wager that most folks your age won’t, particularly those stuck in liberal arts, for better or worse.

Much more dramatic to strike a pose and deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?

Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations, both in public and in private job interviews, and gain a superior competitive advantage.

The Upshot

Here is the bottom line.  Your appearance matters a great deal, like it or not, and it is up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and the message we want to send.

“Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may – but it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.

Is that “fair?”

It certainly is fair.  You may not like it.  It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.

Tough.

You’re on display in front of a group of buyers.  They want to know if your message is credible.  Your appearance conveys important cues to your audience.  It conveys one of two chief messages, with very little room to maneuver between them.

First, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .

or . . .

Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.

Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job.  That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend.  But you blew the deal.  Without even knowing it.

Think.  How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard, careless appearance?  How many opportunities pass you by?  How many great connections do you forfeit?

Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket, but recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.

Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message.  So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose.  For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit.  Simple.

But beyond your presentation, you are always on-stage.  You are always auditioning.  And you are creating your personal brand one wrinkled shirt at a time, one exposed pair of boxers at a time.  Or . . . clean, professional, sober, serious, decisive, thoughtful, and bold.

Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You.

Both of these books are worth the price and filled with stellar advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.

Secret #5 – Avoiding the Kiss of Sleep . . . With This

We’re all familiar with the droning voice of the numbing speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace of a talk and who quickly loses us in monotony.

In like fashion, you can be visually monotonous.

Visual monotony – either of repetitive constant movement . . . or of no movement whatsoever.

We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.”  We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance.  Perhaps you have seen the occasional great Stoneface, but he is a rarity today.

The Right Movement

Movement can enhance or cripple your presentation.  But you must engage the right kind of movement.

Before you begin agitated hopping about the stage willy-nilly, recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for quite specific reasons.  Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.

At the risk over over-alliterating, you should mesh your movements with your message.

Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do.  If you move all the time, like a constant pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise, and your movements contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation.  In fact, your movements become a distraction, leeching energy and attention from your message.  It, too, becomes a form of visual monotony.

The Kiss of Sleep

Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is visual monotony.  You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Sleep . . . for your audience.

Those in theater know this principle well.  In his very fine Tips for Actors, Jon Jory intones that: “Your best tool to avoid this dangerous state is variety.  Three lines of loud need soft.  Three lines of quick need slow.  A big dose of movement needs still.  Or change your tactics.”

So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience and to convey a powerful and persuasive message.

The secret is not Movement alone . . . the secret is keen, decisive, proper, and exquisitely timed Movement.

Integrate your movement with your message for an especially powerful presentation.

Not so Humbug . . .

When asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.

Indeed.

My naturally autocratic tendencies, which have held me back in the literary world for years, compel me to cast a pall on the enthusiasms of my young charges.  At this time of year, such endeavor could be considered . . . Scrooge-like.

This is about shaking off the bad habits learned over in the liberal arts college . . . about clearing the mind . . . scattering gnat-like notions to the winds. . .

Accordingly, as a business school professor, I urge my students to dispense with their fanciful flights picked up in undisciplined liberal arts courses.  To dispense with the bad and the ugly . . . and to embrace the good.

In class, half of my students are from foreign countries.  They look at me, expectantly.  Yes, we’re there – in class – now:

“You remember those idyllic scenes conjured by your imagination, back when you were young and unjaded?  High school seniors . . . or even freshmen?  When college still had its sheen?”

I roam the floor, the space in front of the rows of desks with their internet connections.  It is my stage.

“Remember those scenes of professors and students out on the lawn under a late summer sun, students sitting cross-legged, perhaps chewing on blades of grass?  Your kindly bearded professor, a tam resting upon his head, gesturing grandly while reciting something beautiful?  Perhaps a passage from Faulkner?  Perhaps a trope from Aristotelian philosophy or verse from an angry beat poet?”

One student speaks up.

“I saw a group out there today!  Why can’t we do that?”

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” I respond.

Nods around the room.  Broad smiles.

“No, it would not be nice,” I say.  “That’s not genuine.  It’s not authentic.  Just actors performing for touring visitors and posing for publicity shots.  College isn’t like that.  There is no authentic college of your dreams waiting for you to discover.  Remember the lesson of Oliver Wendell Douglas.”

“Who?”

“Oliver . . . Wendell . . . Douglas.”

I’m concerned at this lack of essential preparatory knowledge of the modern college student at a major university.

Search for the Authentic

“The star of Green Acres, the greatest television show of all time.  Don’t you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land?”

Green Acres.  I explain.

It was really an allegory, a metaphor for our time.  Mr. Douglas was forever in search of the authentic.  He had an idyllic conception of rural life.  He abandoned his big city lawyer’s life in a quest for authentic Americana.

Instead, Mr. Douglas found a bizarre world populated by characters that could have been confected by Rod Serling or Stephen King.

Hank Kimball.

Mr. Haney.

Sam Drucker.

Eb.

Frank Ziffle.

Everyone was an actor in a surreal drama staged for the benefit of Mr. Douglas’s dreams of the authentic rural life.

The unifying theme of the show was Sam Drucker’s general store, where many of the crucial insights were revealed.  Rural folk did not use oil lamps, “’cause we all got ’lectricity.”  The barrel in Sam Drucker’s general store was filled with plastic pickles.

The store was a magical place for Mr. Douglas, a crossroads for many of the strange characters who annoyed him so naughtily.  For the most part, they gave Mr. Douglas exactly what he wanted to see, because in the immortal words of Sam Drucker:  “City folks seem to expect it.”

The idyllic outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature-scene.

Students seem to expect it.

High Expectations

Expectations I feel compelled to deflate.

“I suppose that no one in this classroom has seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?  And if you have, I’m betting you completely missed the theme of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism expressed by Spock throughout the film.  Never mind the obvious references to Melville’s Moby Dick?”

“Is this class Global Strategic Management, Professor?”

Again, those naturally autocratic tendencies assert themselves.

“This class is what I want it to be.  And it is not going to be about outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature instruction.  It’s going to be . . . authentic.”

I snap my fingers.

“How many people here believe in this . . . this muse?”

There is silence.  No movement.

“You know.  This writing trope.  This muse.  Anyone ever heard of this muse?  Don’t hide from me.  I know you were exposed to this . . . this muse over in that heinous liberal arts college.”

Hands begin to go up.  Cautious hands.  More hands than I expect.  More hands than are comfortable.

Time to disabuse them, time to explode their fantasies.

“There is no muse.”

A simple declarative sentence, but with the unsentimental power and imperious grandeur of a Thomas Carlyle proclamation.

Puzzled looks.  A few of them distraught.  Then, anger.

“But there is.  There’s a muse . . . there is!”

“Humbug!  There is no muse!  Get that Birkenstock notion out of your callow head.”

“But my English prof said—”

“Your English prof is teaching because she cannot earn a living foisting this muse-myth on folks who live and breathe and work and play in the real world.  People who build bridges, crop tobacco, feed hormones to beef, fly you home over holiday break, and who serve you every day at the 7-ll.  People who pay taxes and die.”

Gasp.

“You must know only one thing.”

My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.  Pause.

“You must know only one thing.”

The students sense something profound coming.  They won’t be disappointed.

“Yes, there is a muse . . . I am your muse.”

I smile a benevolent smile.  I see several people actually taking notes, writing this down.

“I am on your shoulder whispering to you in those moments when you lack inspiration.  I am your solution to the blank computer screen.”

My voice rises, I lean back and spread my hands wide, just as I have seen evangelicals do when working a crowd.

“I am the muse, the answer to your writer’s block and the source of your inspiration.”

Titters of laughter ripple through the room, and I scowl.

“You think I’m joking . . . that this is a joke?”

I pace like a panther, my hands clasped behind my back.  I stalk the room, the entire space in front of the classroom and right in front of the giant PowerPoint projection screen.

I stop and face them, squaring my hips and flexing my jaw.

“I want you to remember that one thing when you’re up at night and time is trickling by, and you have an assignment but no ideas and no hope . . . .”

They are silent, and they watch me.

The Incantation . . .

“I will perch on your shoulder, and I will whisper to you just four words.  I want you to remember those four words.  Just four little words – just five little syllables.  They are magic words!  An incantation!  A mantra to warm you on those cold nights bereft of imagination, as you trek that barren wasteland of words without order, without discipline, without a point.”

I have their attention now.  They are rapt.

Will I win them over this time?  Can I break through?  Can I help them make the leap from soaring idealism to mundane responsibility?

“Remember these words:  Love … the … Value … Chain!”

Groans.  They’ve heard this before.  They sound disappointed.  Cheated.

So many fail to see the beauty of disaggregating the firm into its functional components.  The analytical precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens up!  So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .

“I love the value chain, Professor!”

“Really?”

I’m skeptical, jaded.  I search for signs of duplicity.  But detect nothing but enthusiasm.  “Which part of the value chain do you feel the most affinity for?”

“Since I’m chronologically oriented, Professor, I’m partial to Inbound Logistics!”

There is a general murmuring and uneasiness in the class.  Inbound logistics?

I nod sagely.  “That’s fine, Ms. Zapata.  It’s okay to privilege one segment of the value chain over another, if it gives you the key to identifying competitive advantage!”

A hand shoots up and a voice cries out before I can acknowledge it.

Operations!  That’s the ticket for me.”

And yet another!

After sale Service!” a voice in the back calls out.  “Professor, Customer Relationship Management has a symmetry and logic about it that outstrips anything we touched on in my basic philosophy courses!”

The dam had finally burst, and the classroom buzzed with talk of core competencies, competitive analysis, environmental scans, core products, strategy formulation processes, Five Forces analysis, and comparative advantage!   They are convinced that strategy and value chain analysis can be an art.  I even say positive things about accounting and accountants, observing that there is a bit of art and flair and imagination necessary to produce a product desired by the employer . . . or patron.  Think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel for his patron. 

The Value Chain!  Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Sales and Marketing, and Service.

If ever there were a time for sentimentality and outright weeping, this was it!

But then . . .

But then, one of the most staid literary conventions of all time reared its ugly head.

I woke up.

I awoke from a dream.

A Sweet, Impossible Dream

It was nothing but a sweet dream.  Students excited at the prospect of writing a paper on value chain analysis . . . on identifying a company’s core competency and developing a strategic plan to gain sustained competitive advantage based on that competency . . . students who loved the value chain . . . who could see the art and creativity demanded of the accountant and financial manager.

Who could see the beauty in efficient operations management.

Who would strive for efficiency because it was the right thing to do!

It was all a sweet dream.

A cruel dream.

I awoke to a cold, winter world where idealistic students still dream and irresponsible students still party and wiseacre students still wisecrack with a tiresome world-weariness.  Who write with an undisciplined lackadaisical casualness that drives me to distraction.

It is the little things that do this.

I close my eyes and maybe . . . perhaps I can recapture a bit of the magic.  Recapture the dream.

I look up, startled to find a group of students gathered round my desk after I have dismissed class.  They are heading home in the cold for their winter break.

“What’s this?”

“A gift, Professor.”

“Thank you.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

I peel the wrap away in a crinkle of coated Christmas paper.  It’s a book.  A copy of Peter Drucker’s Management.

It’s a first edition, and I feel my eyes tearing up.

“We know how much you like Green Acres.  And Drucker’s general store.”

Smiles abound.  I cock one eyebrow, as I am wont to do.

“You do know that it wasn’t Peter Drucker’s store?  It was Sam Drucker’s general store.”

“Does it really matter, Professor?”

“In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that it does not.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Why do I offer a hearty Merry Christmas instead of something ecumenically blasé?  Well, because I can.  Because I’m authentic.  Because I have authoritarian tendencies.  Because I offer others a piece of my world.

And I heartily accept Chanukah and Kwanzaa and Season’s Greetings from anyone and everyone else who cares to send ’em my way.

Now, let me go read Sam Drucker’s book on managing a general store in Hooterville.

I’m such an idealist.

Secret #4 – Expression and Drama

Class had ended, and I was giving final feedback for a group that had just presented their business case.

Not a bad group presentation by any means, but individual students needed work, and I like to give advice that young folks can carry with them beyond the classroom and on into the workaday world.

Not just advice, mind you, but nuggets that can confer personal competitive advantage for a lifetime.

As I briefed the presenters, a professor came into the classroom and stood by, listening in.  He’s a colleague of mine.  Smart man.  I respect him for his knowledge of finance.

A curious fellow, too.

Drama?

He took in my feedback as I advised students to eliminate a verbal gaffe called the “rising line” or the “verbal up-tic,” as I call it.  I was demonstrating this awful turn of voice.

The Verbal Up-tic or “uptalk” as it is sometimes called, is a verbal pathology that afflicts at least 50 percent of young presenters and is manifested by transforming simple statements of fact into questions.  The Brits call this the “Moronic Interrogative,” and you can probably guess that it is not a compliment.

By eliminating this awful verbal tic, you take a giant step toward presenting excellence.

My students packed up and left, and my colleague stepped up beside me.

“Well!  All this drama!  It looks and sounds like drama class.”

By now, I’m accustomed to the raised eyebrow of colleagues who look askance at some of the techniques I advocate.  It goes with the territory.  There is, after all, a kind of lock-step sameness in the faculty view of business presentations.

Deviations from the barebones structure are not appreciated nor are they recognized for the value they can add.

“You could very well say that, Roger . . . there’s a big helping of drama here.  It’s much like putting on a show.  It’s why I call my presentations ‘shows’ and my students my ‘show-people.’”

Because this, in essence, is what visual and verbal communication is all about and how it differs drastically from written work.

“Showing”

It’s no accident that I use the word “show.”  This is what we do when we give a presentation . . . when we present.  We don’t deliver a presentation; we present.

The presentation is not something behind you on a screen.  The presentation is not on a whiteboard or butcher paper.  It’s not on a flip chart.

The presentation is you.

A large part of you is how you express yourself – your presence, your expression.  We are at our best when we incorporate drama into our presentations, and this is the catalyst that provides the grist for our expression and enthusiasm.

By drama, I do not mean the phony excitement and angst of “relationships” gone wrong, the depression of being brought low by a downer “text,” the anxiety of the “drama queen” or the pomposity of “King Drama.”

I mean the “dramatic situation.”

Life. Variety. Intensity. Color.

You have drama inherent in any situation where there is conflict or the potential for conflict.  We in business, engaged as we are in competing to provide goods and services to our customers, are blessed with dramatic situations.

Business cases are chock full of drama – conflict, suspense, turning points, great decisions.  You simply must learn to recognize them and to bring them out.  It does not mean exaggerated behavior during your presentation, as noted by one of my favorite Speaking Masters of all time, Grenville Kleiser:

This is not a recommendation of paroxysms of feeling, wild gesticulation, tearing and combing of the hair with the fingers, violent pacing up and down the platform, and other manifestations of old-style oratory, happily now obsolete, but rather to suggest a power which, when properly used, will give life, variety, intensity, and color to the spoken message.

Life. Variety. Intensity. Color.  These are what you strive for.

This theatrical aspect of presenting can, in theory, surely be overdone.  But given the staid status of business presenting, the danger of this in business presentations is nil.  I never see overdone business presentations, but I’d surely welcome one.

You can harness dramatic techniques to your business presenting style, and a number of books delve into this.  One of the finest books available on the subject is Ken Howard’s Act Natural, and I strongly urge its purchase if you are serious about taking your presenting power to a whole new level.

The speaking secret of expression is an advantage that should be yours and not just restricted as a privilege for those toiling in the theater or in film.

Remember that you have incredible power at your disposal in the form of expression that makes use of drama.

A curl of the lip.

A raise of one eyebrow.

Sincere furrows in the forehead.

A smile.

Speaking Master Joseph Mosher gave us one key secret to expression in 1928, and we would be wise to recognize his observation of the importance of the mouth and eyes.

[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes.  The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.

The secret power of expression is yours for the taking.  You need only seize it to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Presentation Body Language – Gesture for Power

presentation body language
Good gestures are more than a garnish for your presentation . . . presentation body language is essential to taking your show to the professional level

What is gesture, and why worry about business presentation body language at all?

Gesture is nothing more than an add-on, right?

Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation.

The fact is that you cannot separate sincerity from your appearance.  You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume, from your nuance.

And you cannot separate your words from gesture.

So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior messaging.

What’s a Gesture?

A wave of the hand.

A snap of the finger.

A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side in a universal embrace.

A scratch of the chin.  Crossed arms.

An accusatory finger.  A balled fist at the proper moment.  These are all part of presentation body language that can either enhance or destroy your presentation.

Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual.  This results from the presence of the speaker.  An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.

presentation body language
Especially powerful presentation body language is the tool of the finest presenters

Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.”

Gestures provide energy and accent.  They add power.  They add emphasis and meaning to our words.

Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture.  At the proper time.

Entire books, in fact, have been written about gesture and the power it can bestow.  But most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered.  See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott‘s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.

Gesture is too important to leave to chance.

It is certainly too important to dismiss with the breezy trope you occasionally hear:  “Move around when you talk.”  Let’s understand exactly what it means.

In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today: “Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”

As part of your presentation body language repertoire, gesture should be natural.  It should flow from the meaning of your words.  From the meaning you wish to convey with your words.

We never gesture without reason or without a point to make.  Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us naturally to gesture.  Without emotion, gesture is mechanical.  It’s false.  It feels and looks artificial.

Communicating Without Words

Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication.

You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power.  And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.

Presentation body language
Presentation Body Language is especially powerful when coordinated with a strongly articulated message

For if you don’t begin to think in grand terms about yourself and your career, you’ll remain mired in the mud.  Stuck at the bottom.

Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words.  In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.

You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.

As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.  Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations.  Movements that leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.

Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers.  These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities.  It’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.

Control Those Fingers!

Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”

This is a habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands.  You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what.  So you develop these unconscious motions.  Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”

Tugging at your fingers. I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.

Bending your fingers back in odd manner.  This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced.  It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell.  It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.

Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement.  This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.

Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.

Presentation Body Language

Why would you want to “gesture” during your business presentation?  Aren’t your words enough without resorting to presentation body language?

Frankly, words are not enough.

Gestures add force to your points.  To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear.  A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal such presentation body language?

While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning.  It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.  Said James Winans in 1915:

Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues.  Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.

Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine in superb presentation body language.  You attain an especially powerful presentation moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy.

Be spare with your gestures and be direct.  Make your presentation body language count.

For more on presentation body language, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret #2 – Your Voice

Your voice is one key to an especially powerful business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.

Your voice and your appearance are the constants that pervade your presentation from start to finish.

Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting.

Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted.  Because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.

But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear.

“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.”[1]

You can do many things 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.

Ready for Change

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It’s an instrument with which you communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.  Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality.  Working to improve it with the exercise will improve its quality dramatically.

Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way.  We have two goals.

First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp.  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.”[2]

Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences.  Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a crackling sound like folks on Disney Channel.

Second, we want to deepen your voice.  Why?  Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible.[3]  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.[4]

Now, should things be this way?  Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?

But . . . but that’s not fair!

It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT.  It’s neither fair, nor unfair.  It’s simply the reality we’re dealt.  If you want to devote your life to fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support.  Have at it, and Godspeed.

If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.

It means that a deeper voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female.  Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you.  When you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.

Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice.  A simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue.  Record your voice, and listen critically.  A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you.  Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.

No, your voice is not a sacrosanct.  Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed.

Work to improve yours and you’re on your way to an especially powerful presentation style.


[1] Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.

[2] George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.

[3] Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression–the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.

[4] Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf

Secret #1 . . . Especially Powerful

A powerful stance imbued Kennedy with much of his charisma

Your Ready Position.

Your ready position is the default stance you assume when giving your talk, when not emphasizing with movement and gesture.

It’s a stance affirmed by more than 2,000 years of trial and error, and imbues your talk with an especially powerful ambience.

Have you thought about how you’ll stand while you give your talk?  I refer to the time when you’re not moving about the stage to emphasize this or that point.  This ready position is your anchor, your life preserver in a storm.

Your safe harbor.

Powerful . . . Confident . . . In Command

When you stride to the stage, move to the command position in front of the lectern and facing the crowd.  Now, plant yourself as you would a paving stone in a garden.  Plant yourself firmly, as a stone, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed, shoulders squared.

Plant yourself as a deeply rooted Redwood.

Do not slouch or put more weight on one foot than on the other.  Point your toes slightly outward.  Neither slump, nor stiffen.  Shoulders back, head up, expectant.

Do not allow your head to settle down betwixt your collar bones.  This compresses your neck like a concertina.  It cramps your voice box and cuts the flow of air that you need to speak. 

At this point, let your hands hang loosely at your sides . . . (in a moment, we’ll give you something to do with your hands).

Walking and pointing and looking and eye-contact?  Forget it for now.

Forget it all for now.

First, you must seize control of yourself.

You must control all of those little tics and habits and nervous gestures that leech the strength from your presentation.  The tics and habits that telegraph your nervousness and lack of confidence.

What tics and habits, you say?  Every young presenter has at least some of them and the ready position can help remedy the following pathologies.

Do Not cross your leg in front of you while you balance on the other. This “standing cross” is more prevalent, for some reason, among female presenters than among males. Some males have this habit as well. This is a particularly debilitating movement from both the standpoint of the audience and for you. It projects instability. And it makes you feel unstable.

Do Not cock your hip to one side – this is called a “hip-shot.” Again, this action undermines your foundation. This hip-shot posture degrades your presentation in multiple ways. It shouts nonchalance. It denotes disinterest and impatience. It cries out to the audience a breezy bar demeanor that is completely at odds with the spoken message you want to convey.

Do Not engage in little choppy steps. This side-to-side dance is common. It telegraphs nervousness.

Do Not slump your shoulders. Few things project lack of confidence like rounded shoulders. Slumping shoulders can be a reflexive response to nervousness that leads to a “closed body position.”

Again.  Stand in one place, your feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward.  Arms at your sides.

Your goal at this point is to maintain a solid physical foundation.  To project an image of confidence to the audience and to imbue yourself with confidence in point of fact.  You begin to do this with your stance – solid and confident.

Now here is the most important guidance I can provide you for your Foundation “Ready” position.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

Stand as described, and place your left hand in your pants pocket, out of the way.  This position should be your default position.  Putting the hand in your pocket gets it out of the way and keeps you out of trouble.  Moreover, it projects confidence.

And, no, it is not “unprofessional.”

This position carries a multitude of positives and no negatives.  You never go wrong with this position.

It imbues you with confidence and keeps you copacetic.  To your audience, it projects competence, confidence, reassurance, and sobriety:  “Here is someone who knows his/her stuff.”

This is your Ready Position.

Your Ready Position is the foundation-stone upon which charisma, confidence, and professional presence is projected to your audience.  It is a component of your personal competitive advantage that is bestowed on the presenter with superior skills.

Professional Presence means passion and confidence
Powerful poses come to us from many great figures of history, with good reason

Everything else you do flows from this position.  Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.

Stop!

Stop and think. When you are ready to make a point that is crucial to your thesis . . . When you are ready to shift subjects or major ideas . . . then

Then, step to the left while addressing the people on the left flank.  Talk to them.  Then, step to the right and address those on your right.  Hold open your hands, palms up.  Walk toward your audience a step or two.  Look them in the eyes.  Speak to individuals.

Then, step back to the center and retake your ready position.

Let your movements emphasize your points.  When you gesture to a portion of the audience, step toward them in a kind of supplication.

Always always, always go back to the ready postion.  I have seen dozens of young speakers transformed into capable, confident speakers by virtue of this alone.  How is that possible?  By removing the doubt associated with “How will I stand.”

 This powerful and stable stance imbues you with confidence, your first step toward building positive energy within yourself.

The Ready Position — it’s your safe harbor in a sea of presentation uncertainty.

To gain deeper understanding of the techniques you can use to enhance your stance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret #1 . . . Your Stance

A powerful stance can enhance your presentation

You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation.  You achieve this goal with a number of techniques, all working simultaneously and in harmony.

Those techniques comprise our backpack full of Seven Secrets.

Your first technique – or secret – is fundamental to projecting the image of strength, competence, and confidence.  This first technique is assumption of the proper stance.

Stance

Let me preface by assuring you that I don’t expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk.  But at risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it’s impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.  This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”

Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing.

How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception?  What’s your “bearing?”  How do you stand before a crowd when you speak?  Have you ever consciously thought about it?

How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others.  It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.  Whether we like this or not is not the point.

The point is that we’re constantly signaling others nonverbally.  You are sending a message to those around you, and those around us will take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400.  Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting.  What’s the message that you unconsciously send people?  Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?

Seize control of your communication this instant.  There is no reason not to, and there are many quite good reasons why you should.

Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern.  Your listeners form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.  They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.

This has always been true; speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”

Powerful Stances Abound Throughout History

Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?

Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui?  Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?  Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?

Defeat?  Ennui?  Negativity?

Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well.  Those effects can be positive or negative.

Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well.  The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.  But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.

There is another effect, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.

It is this: Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience.  It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you.  Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.

Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness.  We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.  It cripples us.

Your emotions affect your body language.  They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

Reverse the Process

Let me say this so there is no mistaking the message here.

So much depends upon your stance, psychologically and physically

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic.  Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow.

Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.

Skeptical?

A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology.  It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange.  Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:

Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous.  Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech.  On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . .  [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.

Much more recently, a Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.  In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.

The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.  Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:

[P]osing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence.  You actually feel more powerful.  This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Assume the especially powerful posture of confidence.  Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing.  Square your shoulders.  Affix a determined look on your face.  Speak loudly and distinctly.  In short, let your actions influence your emotions.  Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

So what is a confident posture?  Let’s begin with a firm foundation.

Foundation

For any structure to endure, we must build on strength.  And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations.  You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability.  The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.

Think of the confident man.

To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident man must take a conscious effort to strike such a pose.  Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a man, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.

Maintain a Powerful Stance for an Especially Powerful Presentation

That is, if he affected the confident pose and maintained it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.

Think as well of the confident woman.

How does the confident woman’s demeanor different from that of the confident man?  Virtually not at all.  The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.

Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language.  It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.

This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation.

For more on your especially powerful stance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Seven Secrets of Business Presentations

Business Presentation

7 Secrets of Powerful Business Presentations.

Could there be anything more tantalizing?

Everyone loves secrets.  Dark secrets.  Sweet secrets.  Secrets to tickle the fancy.  Secrets to gain the upper hand.

Not just one . . . but seven of them!

I offer you – beginning here and now – 7 Secrets of Power Presenting.

Seven consecutive posts of Secrets to gain the upper hand in business presenting.

These 7 Secrets promise to launch you on your way to personal competitive advantage in an ever more challenging job market.  Incredibly powerful techniques and secrets are coming to you over the next weeks, right here.

These secrets have been hidden from you.  They certainly don’t appear in your business communication textbooks.  Face it . . . has anything good ever come out of a business communication textbook?  So where do these secrets come from?

They reside in the collective wisdom of more than 2,500 years of history.  This is the link that you share with every great speaker that history has seen fit to remember – you share their humanity.  This is why their secrets speak to us across the mists of time to inform our business presentations.

Cicero in 50 BC?

You in 2011 AD?

More than two millennia separate you from the Roman Republic’s greatest orator, so what could you possibly have in common with a man half-a-world away and 2,000 years ago?

Here’s the link

Perhaps Cicero spoke to the Roman Senate during the last days of the Roman Republic, while you now speak to your Business Policies class with PowerPoint on the screen behind you . . . but you both share a core necessity.

You share the necessity to convince your audience by using a handful of reliable tools that have not changed in two millennia.  For your purposes, the greatest orators in history are still alive with respect to their techniques, their tools, their words, and their abilities to sway audiences.

Demosthenes

     Cicero

          Quintilian

               Frederick Douglass

                    William Jennings Bryan

                           Daniel Webster

                                 Abraham Lincoln

What could these long-gone people possibly say to you to help you become a superior presenter here in the 21st Century?

All of these orators and many more utilized the highly refined and powerful secrets of elocution, declamation, debate, and oratory to command the stage and to sway audiences.  They were the superior presenters of their day.  The techniques and tools comprise the 7 Secrets of Power Presenting.

The best speakers of the past 50 years use and have used these Secrets – Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Oliver North, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King.

They don’t announce that they’re using secret techniques and tricks of the trade, of course.  They wouldn’t be secrets any more.  So they let you believe that they were gifted with special talents.  Not a chance.  Techniques, practice, personal branding . . . and 7 Secrets.

Business Presentation Secrets Used by Every Orator

They are the secrets utilized by every great orator until the age of television, radio, and the computer rendered them lost to the vast majority of us.  They faded from use.  They were supplanted by technology in the mistaken belief that technology had rendered you, the presenter, superfluous.

And so presenting as a skill has withered.  Until now.

These secrets do not appear in today’s textbooks.  They appear only in partial form in many trade books.

Many students don’t even know about them.  They think great presenting is alchemy, magic, or a product of superior talent.  Many don’t reach the point at which you read these words right now.  Many who read these words this second sneer at them with a world-weary sigh.

But a tiny minority reads on.

And that select few will begin to acquire the power, dexterity, energy, and charisma to grow into a bold presenter – at home on the stage, at ease with yourself, and facile with the material.  You will become a fabulous business presenter.

Master these Seven Secrets, which form the Seven Pillars of your personal speaking platform, and you will soar higher in the business world than you possibly could have imagined.  And your career will soar farther and faster than you ever thought possible.

I hope that you are in that tiny minority that continues to read.

Let’s convene here later for Secret #1.

For more on Business Presentation secrets, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

What we do not know we do not know . . . about Presentations

“What we do not know”
“What we do not know we do not know”

In 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was widely ridiculed for his what we do not know” convolution that tended to confound his critics.

But when analyzed, his succinct turn of phrase showed that his critics had much to learn.  Just as we have much to learn about business presentations.

Rumsfeld said this:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns  the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Without going too deeply into the philosophy behind this paraphrase of earlier passages, let’s simply note that it dates back to Confucius.

Broken down, it can be stated this way:

There are things we know.

There are things we do not know.

There are things we know we do not know.

There are things we do not know we do not know.

Much insight is bound up in this matrushka doll of logic.

In fact, lurking within this formula is a key to our business success, to our differentiation, to our personal brand.

Rumsfeld’s trope is simply a call for humility and recognition that false certitude can be far more harmful than healthy skepticism.  No, we don’t know at all.

In fact, there may be a great deal of what we know that isn’t so.

Take, for example, the following two experiences of people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of their own abilities.

“These Pictures Just Didn’t Come Out”

Photography – good photography – is a skill.  The framing and composition of superb photographs is not “natural” or intuitive.

And yet, the vast majority of us believe that we can take spectacular photos.  A professional photographer who worked for me years ago was tickled by a co-worker who believed he was an excellent photographer, even as evidence to the contrary was abundant.

She told how he repeatedly engaged in a fantasy.  His latest batch of photos of a reception would come in, and his coworkers would gather ’round him.  He would thumb through the photos one at a time, and he would cast many of them aside peevishly.

“These pictures just didn’t come out,” he’d say with a shake of the head.  “They just didn’t come out,” and he would invariably imply that some mechanical malfunction had ruined his photos.

Or hazy weather.

Or bad karma.

Anything but his own lack of skill.

Through it all was his inability to actually see and understand that the “picture did not come out” because of the most obvious reason in the world:  He did not know how to take photographs.

In fact, he was terrible.

But he claimed that out-of-focus, poorly framed, underexposed, overexposed photos were the result of some external problem, not his own lack of skill.  This type of hubris borne of blissful ignorance has its counterpart in the innocence of children.

Who’s the teacher?  That depends on your perspective . . .

A tennis instructor friend of mine tells the story of working with a six-year-old child.  You have to admire the chutzpuh of children, who, in their innocence, are unaware of the larger world and oftentimes unaware of their role as students in this world, subject to the instruction of teachers.

Upon starting the first tennis lesson, the child quietly watched the tennis pro demonstrate the basic forehand.  Then, the child boasted to her:  “This is the way I hit the ball.”

And the youngster proceeded to demonstrate the proper technique to the tennis instructor as if the two of them were accomplished tennis pros simply sharing pointers with each other.

The child was blissfully ignorant of the depth and breadth of the game of tennis.  So the child speaks with a confidence and easiness that betrays that ignorance.  Honest ignorance in this case.

And what a wonderful confidence it is, the confidence of a child.  A superb tennis instructor works with this raw confidence and molds into it an actual expertise and respect for the game without destroying it.

When you hear people dismiss public speaking as “easy” or a “cinch” or something that they’ll “wing” in their next class, remember the phrases . . .

“These pictures just didn’t come out.”

This is the way I hit the ball.”

Many folks are simply ignorant of the depth and breadth of the public speaking domain.

So they wax eloquently and ignorantly about it, believing it to be something that it is not.  Easier than it is.

Especially Powerful Presenting – What we do not know

Powerful presenting is actually the judicious application of high-order skills of gesture, voice, movement, style, focus, elocution, and even intuition.  This concept is alien to the “Easy Presenting” group.  Moreover, the very nature of these skills is foreign to them.

The skill set of the advanced and effective presenter is much akin to that of the actor, and these skills would seem irrelevant to someone with only a superficial understanding of the art of presenting.

After all, business is serious, right?  Wheareas mere “acting” is . . . well, frivolous.

Acting is talent-based, right, with no role for learned techniques?  Hardly.  Acting coach Anita Jesse zeroes-in on the basic skills necessary to powerful acting, and they are as easily applied to the art of powerful presenting:

Almost any proficient actor will tell you that expertise [in acting] depends upon a short list of basic skills.  Those building blocks are concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation.

Concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation.  These are the qualities necessary to an actor’s powerful performances, and these are likewise qualities essential to the power presenter.

They are elements of Personal Presence, and they are essential to the delivery of an especially powerful presentation.

For more on learning what we do not know we do not know about especially powerful presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Do you ooze into your Business Presentation Introduction?

Business presentation Introduction

Here are sage words on the business presentation introduction . . .

Words that are so sage, they hail from 1935.

The venerable Richard Borden cautions us not to “ooze” into our introduction, and his particular 1935 coinage struck me as, yes, sage.

It also strikes me as a mighty good description of what happens at the start of many business presentations.

Oozing instead of launching.

Borden offers us much more.

Business Presentation Introductions for Power and Impact

With a collection of rare books on public speaking consisting of more than 1000 volumes reaching back to 1727, its inevitable that I come across the occasional gem to share – this one on the business presentation introduction.

And so it is that I distill the wisdom of old-time writers into chunks of advice administered in my own classes and seminars.  But occasionally, the original is so darned quaint that it carries the charm of the decade in which it was crafted.

The original can be an especially powerful tool.

Let me share some of the pithier advice that begs our attention from more than half a century ago.

Bordens 1935 volume Public Speaking as Listeners Like it could replace any dozen modern “Business Communications” textbooks, and students would be the better for the exchange.  Enjoy . . .

Use your key-issue sentence as your opening sentence.

A good conference speaker opens his comment like a knife thrower throws his knife – point first!

Conference room listeners are not leisurely listeners.  They are executives who have business on hand that they are anxious to get done.

“What do you want us to do with the pending issue – and why?”

This is the question which your listeners ask the very second you rise to your feet.  “What?  Why?”

Don’t delay your answer.  If you delay it even a few sentences, you may get an unfavorable listener reaction.  “Will he ever come to the point” is an un-uttered question which forms quickly in impatient minds.

Owen D. Young was once asked how he made such swift decisions.

“A man will come to your desk, Mr. Young,” said the questioner, “and present a fairly elaborate proposal.  Instead of saying that you will take it under advisement for several weeks, you say Yes or No – and your swift decision is usually right.  How do you do it?”

“When I tell you how I make those swift decisions,” replied Mr. Young, “you may think that I am guided by an unreliable index – but I have found it’s an index that works.  I am guided very largely by the first sentence uttered by the man interviewing me.

“I have found from experience that if my interviewer doesn’t thoroughly understand the proposal he is presenting, his first sentence will be confused.

“If he secretly doesn’t believe in the proposal, his first sentence will be evasive.

“If the details of the proposal aren’t concrete in his own mind, his first sentence will be abstract.

“On the other hand, a proposal that is opened by a sentence which is clear, compact, and concrete – is usually worthwhile.”

If you would please not only the Owen D. Youngs in your audience, but all the other conference listeners who instinctively apply the same first-sentence test, start strongly.

Don’t ooze into your speech.  Begin point first – with your thumbtack key-issue sentence.

For more pithy commentary on the foibles of oozing into your business presentation introduction, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.