It is my privilege to not only travel a great many miles to special places, but also to work with some of the brightest young people of the latest generation who constitute the business leaders of tomorrow.
Take India, for instance.
India is a potential economic powerhouse, whose engine of domestic and international commerce is only just starting.
With incredible knowledge resource capability and government that finally recognizes the power of individual initiative and the economic benefits that accrue from relaxing regulation, India is set for an economic renaissance to stagger the world when its gears finally engage.
Drive and Initiative
The MBA students at the Welingkar Institute of Management in Mumbai, who appear on this page, show a drive, determination, optimism, and coachability that should be the envy of the world.
Inquisitive and cosmopolitan to a startling degree, these young people are poised to enter middle-management as a sage class of entrepreneurial knowledge workers, steeped in the latest management techniques and armed with the techniques of especially powerful presenting that confer unmatched competitive advantage.
I’d go so far as to say that they constitute a new cadre of global executives, a new breed of 21st Century Managers, unencumbered with outdated notions held over from the industrial revolution. A cadre imbued with the qualities of . . .
Flexibility and Adaptability
Personal and Professional Aligned Strategic Focus
And with an incredible hunger to become the best business presenters possible, embracing the range of instruction found in The Guide to Business School Presenting. . . quite revolutionary to the Indian education system.
The rest of the business world does need to take note. India is an economic giant that no longer sleeps.
Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them.
Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.
Always offer them your respect and your heart.
Does this seem obvious?
That’s the paradox.
We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game. We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.
Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”
It’s Your Fault, not Theirs
Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message. Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.
Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.
Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.
They don’t prepare. They offer standard tropes. They rattle off cliches, and they pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.
What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.
The Curse of Hubris and Contempt
But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt. Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often. The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a disdain for the audience and contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.
For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.
His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.
Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines. What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?
“Make really good slides.”
That was it.
Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean? You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?
“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.
I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit. Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times. It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.
And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.
So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned. Much can be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.
Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.
In business school, you sometimes espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness. It’s called “winging it.”
Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance. Or real nonchalance. It’s a form of defensiveness. This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day.
No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.
This kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.” It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.” Why would you waste our time this way? Why would you waste your own? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.
Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.
The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart. Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.
They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.
Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message? So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?
Don’t Lose Your Message!
It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own, and then the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.
This is a formula for disaster.
The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing. Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.
Sports teams don’t practice this way. Serious people don’t practice this way.
Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.
Pass the Baton Without Musical Chairs
This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting. Lots of turns. This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.
Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.
I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.
Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic. At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.
The speaker walks away while still talking. While still citing a point. Perhaps an incredibly important point.
Don’t rush from the stage. Stay planted in one spot until you finish.
Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion, which should reiterate your Most Important Point.
Introduce your next segment. Then transition. Then pass the baton with authority.
Harmonize your Messages
Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.
Each presenter must harmonize the message with the others of a business presentation. These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.
“On the same page” . . . “Speaking with one voice” . . . These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony. This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.
It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.
This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.
Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part. This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time. Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.
Remember: Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.
Whether the presentation 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.”
Worshiping at the Altar of Finance
Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.
In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.
For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric. This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.
Finance presentations are somehow harder, more firmly rooted in . . . well, rooted in the very stuff of business.
The Finance 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 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 Presentation Hell
In fact, many finance 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 those who might be unlucky enough to be the presenter du jour.
Finance presentations seem to offer nothing save the opportunity for public posturing and one-upmanship.
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 presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life, and we spell out several of them in tomorrow’s post . . .
If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing.
You’re in the wrong line of work.
Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing presentation passion, you shouldn’t be presenting at all.
Remember, there is no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.” As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.
You Provide the Presentation Passion
Interest is something that you do. You invest your presentation, regardless of the topic, with power, zest, verve, bravura, and excitement.
One powerful technique at your disposal is “passion.”
Inject Presentation Passion
This means to embrace your topic. Regardless of whether you personally believe it to be interesting. Your task is to take a topic – any topic – and turn it into a masterpiece of presentation passion.
Whether your subject is floor polish, chocolate milk, or bed linen, you create a presentation that holds your audience rapt.
You seize your audience by the metaphorical lapels, and you don’t let go.
Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.
Passion is your solution, a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience.
Passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting. In fact, there is so little of this done today, that demonstrating presentation passion can become an important component of your personal brand and the source of personal competitive advantage.
One of the country’s finest presentation coaches, Carmine Gallo, offers this interesting contribution to what we know about effective presentations . . . let’s call it PowerPoint Superiority.
The upshot of his Forbes column is that “PowerPoint superiority” by way of pictures is a “new” style of presenting.
I’m delighted that Carmine urges the corporate community away from the heinous habit of cluttered and wordy PowerPoint slide presentations. But he misses the mark on why this is an effective mode of presenting . . . and why it needs considerably more effort than merely posting happy snaps on the screen as a backdrop.
Here’s why . . .
PowerPoint Transformation . . .
Carmine makes an important observation, but he leaves out the utterly crucial point that it is the presenter who must change for the slide change technique to work at all, much less result in an especially powerful business presentation.
Without a significant shift in mindset and activity of the presenter, just altering what’s on the slides is nothing more than cosmetic.
You must dedicate yourself to change and the generation of positive energy. Not submit to the easy lure of “making great slides,” which won’t help you at all if you continue to engage in bad habits.
How a speaker sounds, moves, gestures, stands, and expresses herself or himself is absolutely the most important congeries of techniques that makes or breaks a presentation.
When a presenter moves from cluttered bullet-point slides to high-impact visuals, the technique of the presenter must change as well.
Before computers. Before television and radio. Before loudspeakers.
Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker.
Public speaking was considered close to an art form. Some did consider it art.
Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people: Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors. The first trying to save your soul, the second to take your money, the third to save your life, the fourth to transport you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.
Skills of the Masters
Other professions utilized the proven communication skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen. These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking.
To suck the life from “presenting.”
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over the course of centuries. The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument, the persuasive powers of words.
Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory, coupled with the “wrong” ideas.
In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us. We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message.And yet the result has been something quite different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them. Each new advancement in technology creates another barrier between the speaker and the audience.
Today’s presenters have fastened hold of the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.
The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear. The focus has shifted from the speaker to the fireworks, and this has led to such a decline to the point where in extreme cases the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”
And in many awful cases, this is exactly what happens. It’s almost as if the presenter becomes a member of the audience.
PowerPoint and props are just tools. That’s all.
You should be able to present without them. And when you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.
In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university. Some of them give fabulous presentations. Most give adequate presentations. They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.
On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income
For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.
The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.
Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress – they view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard. Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.
Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.
As a waiter, ask yourself: “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”
Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers. In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.
I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening. I do mean taking your job seriously, learning your temporary profession’s rules, crafting a presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity, and then displaying enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.
The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience
Yes, heroic. Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.
Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you’ll win every time.
I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward. Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation. The reverse is likewise true.
The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical. The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.
But the principles are the same.
And so, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking. Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold.
Adopt the habits of the masters. Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the maestros who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.
They and their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful presentations.
“Of course I know how to begin a presentation. What kind of fool does this guy think I am?”
But do you? Really?
Does your intro have Pow? Consider for a moment . . .
Do you begin confidently and strongly? Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, like so many people in school and in the corporate world?
Do you sidle into it? Do you edge into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing? Do you back into it?
Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points? Is your story even relevant? Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?
Do you shift and dance?
Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown? Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker? Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?
One major problem with all of this is that you exhibit horrendous body language that destroys your credibility.
Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement
You begin with your grabber . . . then follow immediately with your Situation Statement.
The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear. It’s the reason you and your audience are there.
What will you tell them? The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.
Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here. Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk. Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.
A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow! It focuses everyone on the topic.
Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk, thanking the board for the “opportunity,” thanking the conference staff, thanking the bartender for generous pours.
Don’t tip-toe into it. Don’t be vague. Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.
What do I mean by this?
You Need Pow!
Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:
“Good morning, how is everyone doing? Good. Good! It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity. I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia. Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation. We’re hoping that—”
No . . . no . . . and no.
Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!
Try starting this way:
“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2011 and increase our market share. By another 10 percent. A campaign to lead us into the next year to result in a much stronger and competitive market position.”
You see? This is not the best intro, but it’s solid. No “random facts.” No wasted words. No metaphorical throat-clearing.
No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.
You have set the stage for a powerful business presentation.
Put the Pow into Your Powerful Business Presentation!
Now, let’s add some Pow to it. A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:
“As we sit here today — right now — changes in our industry attack our firm’s competitive position three ways. How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival . . . or collapse. Our recommended response? Aggressive growth. We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and our marketing team’s solution to regain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”
Remember in any story, there must be change. The reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.
We must explain this change. We must craft a response to this change.
And we must front-load our introduction with Pow! to include our recommendation.
That’s why you have assembled your team. To explain the threat or the opportunity. To provide your analysis. To recommend action!
Remember, put Pow into your beginning. Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive. Right at the start.
Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
For more on putting the Pow! into powerful business presentations, have a look here.