What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?
Oftentimes, we don’t consider that our physical appearance transmits messages to those around us . . . Most certainly, the presentation appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.
This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.
Your presentation appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message to your audience.
You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your appearance transmits. And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.
Are you the “Ageless Rebel” Battling the “Man”?
What’s you message? That you don’t care?
That you’re confident?
That you’re attentive to detail?
That you care about your dignity, your physique?
Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?” If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.
That price comes in the form of losing competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.
Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that their appearance conveys. Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.
Presentation Appearance as Your Destiny
You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence. That conveys a powerful professional presence.
This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.
“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad. The message received is likely much different: “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”
The best public speakers understand the power of appearance and mesh their dress with their message.
Take President Barack Obama, for example. He is a superb dresser, as are all presidents. On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.
And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”
Politics, Schmolitics . . . He’s a Sharp Dresser
You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up. Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, was also a sharp dresser.
The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.
Here are some basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .
You click the remote and a new slide appears. You cast a wistful look back at the screen.
And then you reach for the easy phrase.
That’s when AYCS Syndrome strikes even the best of us, cutting us down in our presentation prime.
AYCS Syndrome + Bad PowerPoint
“As you can see.”
The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that there must be a school somewhere that trains people to utter this reflexive phrase-hiccup.
Is there an AYCSS Academy? It would seem so.
The bain of AYCSS is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet or array of baffling numbers. Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.
And the audience most assuredly cannot see. In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.
And that’s why we reach for the phrase.
Because we can’t “see,” either.
We look back at an abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show. At that point, AYCS Syndrome attacks.
Numb and Dumb Your Audience with AYCSS
Finance students seem particularly enamored of AYCSS.
In fact, some rogue finance professors doubtless inculcate this in students.
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, of course. There are only few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation. Financial data are where you discover the firm’s profitability, stability, health, and potential.
But the results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas. It seems important, substantial.
Too often, you display an Excel spreadsheet on the screen that is unedited from your written report. You cut-and-paste it into your presentation. You splash the spreadsheet onto the screen, then talk from that spreadsheet without orienting your audience to the slide.
This is the incredibly awful technique displayed by finance students, in particular, that is accompanied by the dreaded words: “As you can see.”
You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers.
Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . . “As you can see—”
And then you call out what seem to be random numbers. Random? Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.
You have not provided the context needed for understanding. No one knows what you’re talking about. Your classmates watch with glazed eyes. Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like.
And no one has a clue. You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved. And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.
AYCS Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide. And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.
It can’t be good. Not for the audience, not for anyone.
All of this sounds heinous, I know. And probably too familiar for comfort. But you can beat AYCCS with a few simple techniques that we’ll be discussing in days to come.
One surefire way to gain personal competitive advantage is to pledge to become an especially powerful business presenter. In fact, it’s an open secret, very much like a football laying on the field, waiting to be picked up and run for a touchdown.
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, and there are few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.
With financial data, you can discover the firm’s profitability, general health, and potential. You can get reasonable answers to the question: “How are we doing?”
But . . .
. . . and it is an especially powerful but.
The results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.
Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.
A spreadsheet seems important, substantial. Everyone nods. As a presenter, you stare back at the screen behind you, at the phalanx of numbers. You wave your hand at the screen with the words “As you can see –”
And then you call out seemingly random numbers. Your classmates or colleagues in the audience watch with glazed eyes. It’s almost mystical.
Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like. Some folks shuffle papers, actually digging through a handout you mistakenly distributed beforehand.
No one has a clue as to what you’re talking about or how it actually relates to the real world.
You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved. And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question. This is quite common.
And it’s Ugly
There is a best way that makes things easier for everyone.
Three Steps: Orient, Eliminate, Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context. If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet. Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you will not talk about. You strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
If you follow this basic advice, you can improve the finance portion of your presentation immensely and be on your way to an especially powerful presentation.
Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”
Rather than mere provocation, the question addressed the issue of your presentation voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.
“Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely unaddressed. For many reasons. Pride. Ego. Sensitivity.
As such, it remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
Your Presentation Voice
Your voice can be a sensitive issues.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
The result can be awful.
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
So what’s a “Bad Presentationi Voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched?
Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
High-pitched. Small. Weak. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you. Focus on the voices. Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.
Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice. A voice that can even hurt your social life.
Cartoon Presentation Voice
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a daytime television show. This ABC Network television program, an abysmal offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain. Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication. They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player. Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.
Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.” You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning. Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.
The same is true when it comes to your presentation voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood. It’s not.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.
It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back.
It’s also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right, there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication? Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively in especially powerful business presentations?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.
Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you, how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.
He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.
Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.
Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books. You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com
For instance, the Power Zone of presentation charisma . . . a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.
It always amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.
The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator. Where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.
A place for larger-than-life presentation charisma.
Yes, you can go there. And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone.
But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma, most don’t go.
They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.
In my presentations to various audiences, I am often faced with the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not. The person who opposes what I say. Usually for spurious reasons.
And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly. I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, whatever the source.
Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional.
Presentation charisma is yours for the taking. It’s entirely up to you.
Ideological Objections to Presentation Charisma
The latest batch of objections I heard sprang from one woman’s ideology. She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . Well, based on what she believed to be right and proper. Or what ought to be right and proper.
In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else. And if the audience doesn’t like it? We, she’d then lecture her audience on why they’re wrong if they don’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.
She wanted to deliver presentations her way. She wanted to blame her audience if they didn’t respond with accolades. More . . . she wanted my affirmation that this was okay, too.
That it was just a “different” way of presenting, if not altogether superior.
She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles that build presentation charisma “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”
And I say praise the Lord for that.
Presentation Charisma from 25 centuries of Practice
I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job if it sounds otherwise.
She complained that the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable” doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”
I replied to her this way . . .
Don’t do it. Just don’t.
“Don’t do them. Don’t gesture this way. Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’ Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective. Go ahead, substitute what you know to be better. Do exactly what you have been doing all along, and emerge from this lecture hall not having been changed one iota. Not having learned a damned thing. And then . . . you can wonder at how you have’t improved. At all.”
But do that with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field. It’s there for someone else to pick up. The principles of building charisma are gender neutral, and some folks have problems with that. Too bad. That’s the way it is. Consult Alix Rister for a female perspective . . . that is to say, a professional perspective on how to build presentation charisma.
Your Comfort is Irrelevant to Presentation Charisma
Comfort? You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures? Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try? Who cooked this “comfort” thing up, and when did it gain currency?
Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?
Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.
A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold of a delivery room.
A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.
An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.
Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas? You think presentation charisma is easy and that you ought to wear it comfortably from the first minute? It’s often a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achieve a goal.
“I just don’t feel comfortable.”
Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success. Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” acting in charismatic ways. Speaking with presentation charisma. That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.
And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.
But some folks scowl at this. It requires too much of them.
Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work. Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them. Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have something akin to magic sparkles, right?
You may find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy. If you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you: “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”
Don’t fume over this or that nettlesome detail. It’s completely unnecessary. No need to argue about anything.
No one compels you to do anything here.
And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom. The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma.
I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.
If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else. Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!
But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer, then I offer congratulations as you step onto the path toward the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma. The path toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.
Self-defeating behaviors come in many forms, but negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.
This is especially prevalent in our business presentations. We sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.
We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.We envision humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.
Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school – “I hate presentations.” This is the number one culprit that leads to inevitably awful presentations. It undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.
How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a spongy foundation?
Think Like a World-Class Athlete
Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing. Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.
The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.
There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure. How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?
The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition. I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.
Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we can give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.
So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat? Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance. Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.
In my experience, it’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety. So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.
Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice. Can we foresee everything that might go wrong? No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that. We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.
Envision Your Triumph
No one can win by constantly visualizing failure. Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.
When we take the stage, we put our minds on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism. With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.
The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.
Positive self-talk is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.
This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.
The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, cogent fashion without stumble . . . and, 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.
Benefits of Business Presentation Practice
Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.
But you reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense. This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.
First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.
Something in our psyche urges us to “start over” when we make a mistake. When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.
But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.” We become very good at “starting over” when we make a mistake.
But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation? Start over? No, of course not. We don’t get to start over after evey blunder.
But that is exactly what you have practiced.
If you’ve practiced that way, what will you do when you stumble? You won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since you have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.
You’ve practiced only one thing – starting over.
Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them. Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it. Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.
The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.
Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror. It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time. There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.
Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions. But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror. This is one of the worst things you can do in your business presentation practice.
Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation?
That’s just bizarre. Instead, practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom or auditorium where you’re scheduled to present.
In short, create as much of the real situation as possible ahead of time.
To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.