How to Start Your Presentation

Powerful presentations require powerful openings -- a grabber, or a hook
Blast into the mind . . . start your presentation with a hook or grabber, a lead sentence that seizes your audience’s attention.

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook and hold your audience as you start your presentation.

And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.  In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.

Get them über-focused on you and your message.

So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?

Start your Presentation with Explosives

Think of your message or your story as your explosive device.  To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.

This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.

This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.  Something special.

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

But they must step off with you from the beginning.  You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you very much . . .”

You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:

“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction.  Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be here tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children.  And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”

That sort of thing.

Folks in your audience are already checking their email.  In fact, they’re no longer your audience.  And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.

Why do people talk this way?  Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.  You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.

You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.

You believe that a listless audience is natural.

Not at all!  The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting as you start your presentation!

Mind-Blasting

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

Something like this:

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

Or this . . .

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

Start your Presentation
The opening of your business presentation should be explosive . . . metaphorically speaking, of course

Or this . . .

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

Or this . . .

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

Or this . . .

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

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

So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.

And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.

For more on how to start your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Encore! Your Especially Powerful Expression

Expression is an especially powerful technique that can imbue your presentation with gravitas and deeper meaning

Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?

Many folks are seemingly oblivious to their own expressions or to a lack of expressiveness.  Their faces appear dull and lifeless.

Nondescript.

In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize.  This can be an especially powerful source of  personal competitive advantage.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.  Yes, there exists something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool

Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection.  The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.

Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”

Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker.  These are the qualities that bring success.

[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.

Consider these expressions:  A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt.  The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism.  Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.

Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message

These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience.  They increase the power of your message.  They ensure that your message is clear.

Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating.  The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view.  It’s an important component of charisma.

Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.  Let’s watch how . . .

For more choice nuggets on expression, reference The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your source for enduring Personal Competitive Advantage.

Uptalk is not the Rage Virus, but . . .

Eliminate uptalk from your speaking style
Fix this one voice pathology of Uptalk and vault yourself into the upper echelon of folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about

While it does seem to be spreading like a virus, Uptalk does not spell the end of civilization.

No, the rapid spread of this debilitating voice pathology is not as alarming as, say, the spread of the Rage virus in the film 28 Days Later . . .

But . . .

Uptalk does show an incredible degradation of the language and of clear ideas, confidently expressed . . . especially in business presentations.

And as with most obstacles, there is an opportunity buried inside this one.

This infestation of uptalk offers you an valuable opportunity.  For this opportunity to work for you to its maximum, you must keep it to yourself so that the gulf and the contrast between you and them is as great as can be.

If you can overcome your own tendency toward uptalk, which is a hoi-polloi kind of thing, you will have lifted yourself above the horde of uptalking babblers that seems to increase daily.

You can do this by training yourself to speak with a forthright confidence.

The Uptalk Pathology

Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.

As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.  Looking for others to nod in agreement.

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

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

Poet and social commentator Taylor Mali has this to say about this voice pathology . . .

 

 

Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.

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

Uptalk  =  “I don’t know what I’m talking about”

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

In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix this.

In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology.  If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.

For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

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

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations without uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

More on Those Pesky Slides . . . CLASSIC Video!

PowerPoint is a great tool for our business presentations . . . when we use it correctly

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

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

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

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

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use.

Have a look-see . . .

You STILL can’t have my slides

No hard-copy PowerPoint slides for you . . .

In what has to be the biggest surprise for me on this blog in the year-and-a-half I’ve been writing it is that the most popular post I’ve ever done, by far, is this one.

Nope, you can’t have my slides attracted an incredible amount of views and sustained discussion on LinkedIn.

For some reason, slide posts get people worked up.

People apparently have strong opinions on the PowerPoint slides they prepare for their presentations and, then, what they choose to do with them.  Hand them out in hard-copy . . . or not.  Hand them out before a presentation  . . . or not.  These choices elicit strong feelings.

My own position is the clear and simple point that I don’t give away my slides.

Period.

Other Viewpoints?

Many folks have offered opinions counter to that . . . for what I consider spurious reasons, or reasons that may have merit on the periphery, but which interfere with the centrally important function of the presentation.

To recap . . .  My slides are not meant to be “reviewed” or read at leisure after a presentation.  I usually prepare a short compendium of main points of my talk and pass that out . . . after the presentation.

The notion that paper copies of an upcoming presentation should be passed out in advance is absurd.  Yes, absurd.

It destroys both power and purpose of the presentation . . . if your presentation is worthy of the name.

Unless the presentation is to an audience whose second language is English, there is no reasonable reason to erode your presentation’s message and power by distributing a distraction.  There is enough competition for audience attention without adding to it.

If people want to take notes, they can use a notebook.

If people want to split their attention and “follow along” on some printout, rustling and shuffling papers throughout your talk, they are destined to be disappointed . . . and may actually enjoy the pleasure of not constantly shifting back and forth from handouts to unreadable screen while listening to someone read slides verbatim.

“Following along” is not part of a good presentation.  If you do your job right, and you have prepared proper visual aids, the audience won’t need a cheat sheet to interpret what you’re saying and doing.

Would you hand out the script of a hit movie beforehand, so folks can “follow along,” or would you rely upon the strength of your visuals, the power of your delivery, and the concision of your script to convey your meaning in a memorable way?

More Generally . . .

While we’re on the issue of slides more generally (and there is much that could be said), there’s this:

If you’re addicted to delivering presentations with quickly produced “bullet point” slides, then you are mired in a highly ineffective – even failed – presentation model.  A look at a couple of superb sources is in order.

Beyond Bullet Points, by Cliff Atkinson and Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte are fabulous resources to transform the most mundane presentations into memorable moments for any audience (at least from the perspective of your visual aids, if properly utilized).

Granted, most of us believe that vast swaths of the presentation activity are open to opinion on this or that technique.  My position on the matter is that far less is open to disagreement than we like to pretend.  I watch and evaluate a minimum of 75 group business presentations and 300 individual presentations each year.

If the point is to communicate in an especially powerful manner the major points of a business presentation, there is a right way to do most of what many still believe is open to debate.

If the object of a presentation is to mimic the boss, to show one’s mastery of arcana, to anesthetize the audience, to conduct a group slide reading . . . then sure, let a thousand “techniques” blossom, and Good Luck and Godspeed!

But if the point is to focus laser-like on a major topic or broad theme and the desire is to communicate this in the most powerful and persuasive manner available, then ironclad principles – call them immutable laws – are available to guide us.

And the First Law is “Nope, you can’t have my slides.”

PowerPoint Slides? . . . No, you can’t have them

Powerpoint slides
Presentation PowerPoint slides are meant for viewing, not distribution.

My PowerPoint slides are proprietary.

I spend lots of time on them.  They have a latticework of subtle animations and overtones that bulk out the size of the file, and I practice with them a great deal to make their presence an organic part of what the audience experiences.

It takes a long time to make slides unobtrusive, you know that, right?

You should.

All of which is why my own presentations may seem to carry a bit more heft than the norm.  And so should yours.

PowerPoint slides constitute my intellectual property.  Not the specific information contained on them, although some of the unorthodox ways I present it could be considered original.

No PowerPoint Slides for You!

The slides themselves are my IP, and often I must refuse well-meaning requests for a “copy of your slide deck” as if it is just something I hand out to passersby, a sort of shareware.

In fact, some folks actually expect to get a copy of my presentation’s slides, which indicates to me how far down that sorry road we have come . . . the presentation is just a formality, really just a formal group slide reading.

Why pay attention if you’ll get a copy anyway?

Uh . . . no.

I believe that this strange tradition of passing out copies of presentation slides just prior to a talk was launched because most presentations feature slides that are virtually unreadable on the screen.  They feature dense blocks of text that assault audience sensibilities.  Hence, the tail began wagging the dog, as unreadable slides required that hand-outs be supplied so that something could be intelligible.

This, of course, has led to mind-numbing presentations, where folks in the audience shuffle and rattle paper constantly as they “follow along.”

If your audience cannot “follow along” with your presentation, the solution is not slide hand-outs.  You have a big problem presenting, and the solution is presentation training.

Stop the Paper-Shuffle!

The slide presentation, ideally, should not be a review source for an audience.  Another document should be prepared for audience review and for take-home, touching on the major points of the presentation and prepared in suitable format.

So when I receive requests for my slides from my shows on presentations, I point people in this direction.

This source has everything I talk about in my seminars . . . and more.  Much more.

More detail, more gravitas, more examples.

And it’s designed to be read at home to help you develop an especially powerful presentation.

No, you can’t have my PowerPoint slides . . . but you can have this.

Great Presentation . . . or Presentation Greatness?

Presentation Greatness and great presentations
Finding your presentation greatness means changing the way you present to achieve personal competitive advantage through great presentations

Nike has a new ad campaign that plays off the Olympics.  Its theme is “Find Your Greatness,” and it is, frankly, a great presentation on presentation greatness.

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars.  The truth is, greatness is for us all.  This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us.”

I like the positive thrust of the ad series, which places the locus of excellence inside each of us and urges us to cultivate a desire to strive and succeed, come what may.

The Hard Truth . . . Our Greatest Enemy

Key in this is often the hard truth that often we can be our worst enemy when it comes to achieving success.

Business presenting can be like that.

More often than not, the biggest obstacle to delivering a superb presentation is our self-doubt and fear of failure.  This can stymie the best of us.  It can result in half-hearted efforts that give us an “out” when we flop.

“I wasn’t even trying,” we can say with a shrug.  And thus spare ourselves the ignominy of putting our heart and effort into a presentation, only to have it “fail.”

The exasperating truth in this is that we need not fear failure.  Or even a job poorly done.  If we invest our minds and hearts in the right kind of preparation, we need not ever “fail” at delivering serviceable, even fantastic, presentations.

We all have the tools.  We all have the potential.  We can all give a great presentation.

But . . . How to Give a Great Presentation?

But it requires us to do the most difficult thing imaginable, and that is actually change the way we present.  This may seem obvious, but it’s not.  Many folks think that a great presentation exists somewhere outside themselves – in the software, in the written notes, in the prepared speech, in the audience somewhere.

The thought that we must step outside our comfort zone and actually adopt new habits while shedding the old ones is . . . well, it’s daunting.  And I hear every excuse imaginable why it can’t be done.  Usually having to do with “comfort.”

“I’m just not comfortable with that.”

Of course you’re not “comfortable” with that.  You’re comfortable with your old bad habits.

These are new habits of superb presenting, and when you adopt them as your own, you become comfortable with them.  When you do, you will be on your way to your own greatness.

You’ll be on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations.  Great presentations!

To further your journey to delivering great presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

CLASSIC COKE . . . Bad Presenting

A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and youve 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 dont 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.

Grafted to the Lectern

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.

You quickly recognize that the lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.

Many business examples illustrate this, and youve probably witnessed many of them yourself.  Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.

I have relayed this video of Mr. Kent before, but it bears repeating since it embodies so much of what is wrong with corporate presenting, both explicitly and implicitly.  And why so little improvement is possible if we attempt to mimic corporate drones.

Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions when 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 distract us, drawing our gaze in hypnotic fashion.

This Video rated PG-13 for excessive violence done to good speaking skills

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.

Spreading Mediocrity

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.

For more on especially powerful business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.