On the issue of voice, there is much to be said . . . but much better than the written word are examples.
Particularly examples of bad voices.
Voices of persons in the public eye, who really ought to know better.
I encourage people to take control of their voices rather than allowing them to develop in a chaotic and undisciplined way, perhaps mimicking the ignorant elite. Voice development is essential for the improvement of your business presentation delivery.
Here, I point out what makes a pleasant communicative voice and what makes for annoying, weak, distracting voices.
A voice that undermines your credibility without you being aware.
CAVEAT: Heinous Voices . . .
Here I offer two examples from reasonably well-known personages. Examples of heinous voices that irritate and grind upon the senses. They offer textbook instruction on what not to do if you are presenting.
The first video features actress Demi Moore, who is afflicted with two glaring voice pathologies.
Her first issue is a verbal grind that sounds as if she needs to clear her throat of something thick and unpleasant. Her voice gurgles and grinds along because she is not pushing enough air across her vocal cords to hold a steady, let alone mellifluous, tone.
Demi also is plagued with the infuriating verbal uptick – sometimes called the moronic interrogative – in which every declarative sentence is formed as a question, as if she isn’t sure of what she’s saying, as if she is seeking validation from you for everything she says.
The grinding and upticking go on interminably . . . truly painful to hear. It begins at the 60-second mark . . .
This second example is a young lady by the name of Danica McKellar — an actress, author, and “mathematician.” She is certainly not a public speaker, given her cartoon voice and her own verbal grind pathology.
She sounds suspiciously like a Disney Channel-trained former kid actor, possessed as she is with the tell-tale end-of-sentence rasp and shrill cartoon words sourced direct from a pea-sized voice-box.
If you find yourself afflicted with these pathologies, you can correct them with a few minor adjustments – push air across your vocal cords, use your chest as a resonating chamber, and stop inflecting your voice up at the end of each sentence.
Whether the finance business presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . or Singapore . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students everywhere—
“Finance is different.”
“We don’t do all of that soft-skill kumbaya presentations stuff.”
“For us, the numbers tell the story.”
The Talisman of Numbers
Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways. It’s as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.
For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric. This illusion of certitude exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them. They see themselves as purveyors of cold hard objective numerical analysis.
Finance presentations are somehow harder, more firmly rooted in . . . well, rooted in the very stuff of business.
The Finance Business Presentation Myth Exploded
But this is an illusion. The result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.
Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.
We all are subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the finance business presentation process.
As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.
The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.
Finance Business Presentation Hell
In fact, many finance business presentations crumble into little more than meeting “discussions” about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, picked apart by jackals with nothing on their minds except proving themselves worthier than who might be unlucky enough to be the presenter du jour.
A presenter or group of presenters stands and shifts uncomfortably while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of gotcha questions, usually couched to demonstrate the mastery of the questioner rather than to elicit any worthy piece of information.
Several finance business presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .
“Just the facts”
Exhortations of “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.
“Just the facts”
Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core. But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised. It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.
What does it mean, “Just the facts?” Which facts? Why these facts and not those facts?
Events are three-dimensional and filled with people. They require explanation and analysis. Mere “facts” are flat, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world. “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.
“The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me. “We deal in hard numbers.”
There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to find a reasonable starting-point. Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be an incomplete story. A story with distorted reality.
The end result of these presentation shenanigans is mediocrity and outright bad presentations. If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.
It may be useful. It may be boring. It may be morale-building. It may be team-destroying. It may be time-wasting.
But whatever else it is, it is not a presentation.
“Cut ’n’ Paste”
This is the heinous data dump that all of us see at some unfortunate time in our careers. PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font. The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase: “As you can see . . . ”
The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?
Slides from Hell.
The Presentation Good News!
In every obstacle exists an opportunity. Because the bar for finance business presentations is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.
This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be. Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.
But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.
All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance business presentations. Particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity. If anything, finance business presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.
A situation statement must be given.
A story still must be told.
Your analysis presented.
Conclusions must be drawn.
Recommendations must be made.
And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.
If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance business presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.
But you can push even further, delving even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully. You can rise to the zenith of the finance business presentations world because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the chance to deliver an especially powerful presentation.
“I’m just not comfortable doing that. It’s just not me.”
This is what passes for sage wisdom in some quarters in reaction to new ideas, new methods, different techniques, and sometimes just good advice.
For example, look at the big offensive lineman, who could end up starting for the football team, perhaps even take his performance to the next level of competition. Coaches schedule his training regimen. He responds:
“I’m just not comfortable with all these exercises. It’s just not me.”
Hokum, yes . . .
You won’t hear that comment often in the locker room or on the battlefield, but we hear it all the time in other venues of life.
I think you know that the future isn’t bright for the player or soldier or businessman with this kind of precious attitude.
Of course not. Developing new skills, new abilities, new strengths is uncomfortable. It means changing our behavior in sometimes unfamiliar ways. And instead of meeting the challenge, we can find ourselves taking a short cut.
We attempt to redefine our goals to encompass what we already do, so that we no longer have to stretch or strive to meet the original tough goals. We may find ourselves redefining what it means to excel, we lower the bar so as to meet our lower expectations . . . rather than continue to strive to excel to achieve a lofty and worthy goal.We move the goal posts closer.
Several years ago, I was delivering a lecture on how to develop charisma. A young woman, who was surely not a charismatic speaker offered this gem “What about people who have quiet charisma?”
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“I mean people who don’t exhibit these characteristics you’ve been talking about, but show a quiet charisma.”
Those characteristics that I had referred to are personal magnetism, a seeming aura that radiates enthusiastic goodwill, a mesmerizing speaking style, and a kind of restrained hyper-kinetic internal fuel cell that you sense could move mountains if unleashed [here, of course, I exaggerate . . . but the point is made].
This person expressed that she was extremely “uncomfortable” with the techniques that, in fact, would help her become more charismatic in delivering her presentations. But rather than experience that discomfort, she chose instead to appeal to me to redefine charisma to include her own behavior.
Unambitious Goals . . . a Lower Bar
Behavior that was the exact opposite of charismatic. She wanted to move the goalposts closer. She wanted to lower the bar.
Oxymoronic “quiet charisma.” Charisma on the cheap. Easy charisma.
There’s no such thing
To reach a worthy goal, we may have to step outside of what is sometimes called our “comfort zone.” I prefer to think of it as enlarging our comfort zone rather than stepping outside of it.
Any time we begin to rationalize and redefine our goals, it is time to pause and reflect. Are we selling ourselves short? Are we fooling ourselves?
Are we telling ourselves that we possess “quiet charisma” instead of doing the hard work and practice necessary to achieve the real thing?
A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and you’ve seen it dozens of times.
You see it in the average corporate meeting, after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.
While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do, particularly when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.
If they don’t know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss professionally not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.
The speaker stands behind a lectern. The speaker grips the lectern on either side. The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.
The lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.
This Video rated PG-13 for excessive violence done to good speaking skills
Many business examples illustrate this, and you’ve probably witnessed lots of them yourself. Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.
Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions where he is not speaking to a group. But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent and he reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.
He leans on the lectern. He hunches uncomfortably. He squints and reads his speech from a text in front of him and, when he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly. He wears glasses with little chains hanging from either side of the frame, and these dangle and sway and attract our attention in hypnotic fashion.
In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University in which he begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech. Have a look . . .
Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so. No one will tell them so, because there’s no upside in doing it.
Why would you tell your boss, let-alone the CEO, that he needs improvement in presenting? Such criticism cuts perilously close to the ego.
Many business leaders believe their own press clippings, and they invest their egos into whatever they do so that it becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves. They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.
Such as business presenting.
Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman. But he is a poor speaker. He is a poor speaker with great potential.
And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates for their businesses.
But as it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally. Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect, where those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors. We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.
Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”
You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, reads from barely relevant slides, then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form. Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done? This is, after all, the unfortunate standard.
But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .
You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.
A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.
Recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.
You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation. How you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.
It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges. You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.
The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come. Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.
The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”
Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule. Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group. You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.” You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”
This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.
Different people make different choices about the use of their time. Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.
How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group. One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.
I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group. The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold. Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.” Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.
The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people. A different 20 percent.
“But that’s not fair!”
That’s reality. Is it “fair?” Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.
Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution. Your professor knows well what you face. He wants you to sort it out. You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.
Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly. It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.
Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.
And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.
Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work. Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way. Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful presentation.
Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .
You find all sorts of problems in group work. Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.
Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you? Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?
Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.
The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation. One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability. The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.
It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables are added to the mix in the form of . . . those pesky other people.
We all prefer to control our own destinies. Most all of us want to be judged on our own work. We like to work alone. This is very much the craftsman’s view. Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.
But with group work, the waters muddy. It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.
We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.
We begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked. We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.
We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened. How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do? How will they know our contribution?
With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply. Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?
The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination. Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together. Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects. And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”
So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.
Why the Group Presentation? It’s a Complex World
The group presentation is not an easy task. It can be downright painful. Infuriating. It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.
So why do your professors require them? Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?
You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons. One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load. The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers. This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students. There are three big problems with this.
First, by definition, individual work is not group work. If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.
Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses. The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace. Frankly, this is the way it should be.
Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered. While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluate them.
I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.
Embrace Group Work
The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this: You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world. In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider. So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?
The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant. This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves. There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.
You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.
These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.
So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.
In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.
I hear this lament more often that I care to. There likely has never been more vintage whine or a greater self-inflicted wound than this one, uttered in ignorance of its true meaning.
Here are two scenarios. Both are possible.
You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.
Ugh. It’s not “interesting.”
And you find that you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you probably don’t hang out, probably don’t know . . . or even like. You groan as you don’t recognize the company or the people in the case.
Such an “Old” Case
The case isn’t dated last week, so you think it’s “old.”
You complain that you don’t understand why you’re assigned this “boring” case instead of a “modern” case on something hip . . . say, an Apple innovation or a product you heard mentioned in a commercial during the latest Kardashian reality TV offering. No, you don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to speak to you and your needs. Roll of the eyes. “Whatever.”
Never pausing to examine the central factor that your lack of understanding is the problem. Your framework is so cramped, your context so self-circumscribed, your interests so few that it’s impossible for you to situate the case in its proper place with the tools at your disposal. You complain that it’s not “relevant” and so you make no attempt to understand its “relevance.”
It’s not “interesting” to you. You never get an interesting topic.
That’s one scenario of how it goes.
Another scenario is the Embrace. Opening the heart and mind to the new.
Embrace the Case
You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.
And you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you don’t know and probably don’t hang out with . . . or even like.
You scratch your chin, metaphorically, and you roll up your sleeves (again, metaphorically) and you ask yourself questions like these . . .
“What can I learn from this process? How can I turn this whole process into an experience I can craft stories about to tell in my upcoming job interviews? How can I take this case, digest it, and make it part of my growing context of business knowledge?”
And as for the inevitable public group presentation, ask yourself:
“How can I work best with these folks in my group to produce a spectacular presentation that will then become part of my resume? How can I help mask the internal disagreements and personality conflicts so that our audience does not suspect that several of us detest each other? How can I make this presentation interesting for my audience?”
Remember that there are no inherently interesting topics. Every topic has potential for generating great interest, if you do your job right.
Because please understand . . . no one cares if the topic interests you. As a professor, I certainly don’t.
I want to know what you plan to do with the topic and the case.
Your job is to infuse the topic with power and generate interest about it for your audience.
Crown Cork and Seal is an example of such a case that many students don’t find “interesting.” It’s a classic case that almost every MBA student must read and analyze.
The Crown Cork and Seal case is about making and selling tin cans. And how a firm with resources identical to the other major can manufacturers managed to outperform the industry by a stretch.
Quintilian was the greatest presentation coach to ever stride the streets of Rome during the reigns of Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian.
And Rome had quite a few presentation coaches at the time, because public speaking – oratory – was considered an art.
But Quintilian was the undisputed master of the 1st Century, and he penned one of the most important presentation works in all of history. It was published in approximately 95 AD and was called . . .
The Institutes of Oratory.
But like so many literary works in the ancient world, it all but disappeared in subsequent centuries as the dark ages engulfed Europe. Only fragments remained . . . and the legend of Quintilian.
Lost to History?
It was thought lost forever . . . but a Benedictine monk by the name of Poggio Bracciolini discovered a complete manuscript of Quintilian in a dungeon at the Abbey of St. Gall 13 centuries later in present-day Switzerland.
Bracciolini had established a reputation as a master copyist. He was elated to have discovered the ancient manuscript, and he wrote to a friend about his find in the year 1416.
There amid a tremendous quantity of books which it would take too long to describe, we found Quintilian still safe and sound, though filthy with mold and dust. For these books were not in the Library, as befitted their worth, but in a sort of foul and gloomy dungeon at the bottom of one of the towers, where not even men convicted of a capital offense would have been stuck away . . . . Beside Quintilian we found the first three books and half of the fourth of C. Valerius Flaccus’ Argonauticon, and commentaries or analyses on eight of Cicero’s orations by Q. Asconius Pedianus, a very clever man whom Quintilian himself mentions. These I copied with my own hand and very quickly, so that I might send them to Leonardus Aretinus and to Nicolaus of Florence; and when they had heard from me of my discovery of this treasure they urged me at great length in their letters to send them Quintilian as soon as possible.
Today, the manuscript that Poggio found still exists and is housed in Zürich’s Central Library.
Why should we care about Quintilian except as an historical figure? What could he possibly say to us of worth?
Presenting hasn’t changed in 2000 years. Not really. It’s still a presenter before an audience. The good news is that Quintilian solved for us almost every pathology that plagues the modern speaker.
His work influenced orators for centuries and, through the adoption by the great rhetorician Hugh Blair in the 19th Century, continues to influence us today in ways we are completely unaware of.
Here is a small sample of the wisdom of Quintilian, this from Book 7.
Let him who would be an orator be assured that he must study early and late; that he must reiterate his efforts; that he must grow pale with toil; he must exert his own powers, and acquire his own method; he must not merely look to principles, but must have them in readiness to act upon them; not as if they had been taught him, but as if they had been born in him. For art can easily show a way, if there be one; but art has done its duty when it sets the resources of eloquence before us; it is for us to know how to use them.
The treasures housed in the Institutes of Oratory are vast. It remains only for us to delve into this trove of wisdom to pluck the nuggets that can transform us into . . . well, into much better presenters than we are today.
In fact, if Quintilian would have his way, he would transform you into an especially powerful presenter, worthy of pleading from the law courts of ancient Rome to the boardrooms of modern New York City.