Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this structure.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.
Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes; during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
Consider Your Business Presentation Structure
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle. The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation. You can be innovative. You can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a sense of ersatz “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.
Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Tested in the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material. Please do so. But do so with careful thought and good reason.
And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show.
This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build your story within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
Do you begin confidently and strongly? Or do you tiptoe into your presentation opening, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?
Do you sidle into it? Do you edge sideways 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.
A Bad Presentation Opening
I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Walmart case. The lead presenter was Janie. She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years.
She spoke in monotone. She flashed a timeline on the screen.
Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.
I wondered at what all of this might mean.
I waited for a linking thread.
I waited for her main point. As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed. The linking thread had not come.
The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point. At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.
“Janie, what was that beginning all about? How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”
“Those were just random facts,” she said.
“Yes!” she said brightly.
And she was quite ingenuous about it.
The Wrong Presentation Opening
She was reciting “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way. I do not say this to disparage her.
Not at all.
In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously.
She has since progressed to graduate school. And now she delivers powerful presentation openings.
But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation? Is it the notion that anything you say for a presentation opening is okay?
Let’s go over the beginning, shall we?
Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about. When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.
You begin with your presentation opening. Here, you present the Situation Statement.
The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear. It’s the reason you and your audience are there. What do you tell them?
The audience has 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.
Set the Stage with Your 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. Don’t tip-toe into it. Don’t be vague. Don’t clutter your presentation opening with endless apologetics or thank yous.
What do I mean by this? 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. Again, thank you for your attention and time. 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 2013 and increase our market share by another 10 percent. A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12 months from now.”
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. Just an especially powerful and direct statement of the reason you are there.
Put the Pow in Power!
Now, let’s add some Pow to it. A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:
“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment 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 what our marketing team will do about it to retain 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 very 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 intro to include our recommendation.
That is why you have assembled your team. To explain the threat or the opportunity. To provide your analysis. To provide your recommendations.
Remember, put Pow into your beginning. Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.
Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
These three quite different men shared a respect for the power of the spoken word.
The power to persuade.
What is Rhetoric? Do We Care?
Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle gave us the means to deliver powerful business presentations. The best speakers know this, either explicitly or instinctively.
We all owe a debt to Aristotle for his powerful treatise on persuasive public speaking Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the function of discovering the means of persuasion for every case. These means of persuasion are delivered as a form of art. Aristotle identified the three necessary elements for powerful and persuasive presentations – the ethos or character of the speaker, the attitude of the audience, and the argument itself.
And the value of this powerful tool?
Just this . . .
Aristotle identified four great values of rhetoric.
First, rhetoric can prevent the triumph of fraud and injustice. Second, it can instruct when scientific argument doesn’t work. Third, it compels us to act out both sides of a case. When you can argue the opposite point, you are best armed to defeat it. Finally, it is a powerful means of defense when your opponent attacks.
As modern college texts wallow in the fever swamp of “communication theory,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers us a crystalline tool of power and efficacy – a sure guide to the proper techniques in business presenting.
Modern Persuasive Presentations
Two men as different as Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs understood the power of rhetoric to inspire people to action. Dr. King for the transformation of society . . . Steve Jobs for the revolutionizing of six different technology industries.
Dr. King used one particular rhetorical technique that has become the touchstone of his legacy – his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” during his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. This technique is called the anaphora. It involves the repetition for effect of a key phrase during a presentation. Dr. King ensured that the Dream of which he spoke would be the emotive catalyst for action.
The anaphora is part of what Aristotle recognized as art in rhetoric and is an advantage that rhetoric has over straight “scientific” expository speech in calling people to action.
Dr. King recognized the emotive power of rhetoric, and it is this power that can move listeners to action when pure logic cannot.
A Different Venue
Steve Jobs, too, utilized the technique for a different purpose, a much more mundane purpose – the selling of electronics. For example:
“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”
The anaphora is just one example of an especially powerful rhetorical technique. It can imbue your business presenting with persuasiveness. And there’s more . . . so much more available to you.
It occurred to me to compile a list of the best presentation books to recommend to readers of this blog.
It’s really an obvious exercise, isn’t it?
“Best of” lists are always popular.
To recommend books chock full of presentation wisdom to hone our skill set. Great advice to lift our presentation to what we all sometimes refer to as “the next level.”
And then the equally obvious thought occurred to me – that list already exists.
The List of Best Presentation Books
In fact, I’m certain that several lists are already out there making the rounds.
And so I do the next best thing in this space . . .
I offer you a list of the 35 best presentation books compiled and judged by giants in the field . . . (and I offer my own view of what I consider to be the top three on the list). Yes, you can learn something about business presenting from a book. Quite a bit, actually.
These three books, for me, capture the spirit, the art, and the craft of especially powerful business presenting.
They advocate change. You must change the way your deliver your presentations in ways that, at first, may discomfort you. But they are changes that you must accept to become an especially powerful business presenter.
The Story Factor, in particular, is strong in transforming your presentations into sturdy narratives that capture an audience and propel your listeners to action. Consult Annette Simmons for deep learning about the power of storytelling.
A fourth book does not appear on the list. Actually, it does, but only in a modified form. This is Dale Carnegie’s The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. This is an “updated” version of his classic from mid-way the last century Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business. In my view, the update strips much useful material from the book, and so I prefer the original.
You can find dozens of copies of the original classic for sale on ebay. This, in my opinion, is the most useful public speaking book ever penned.
If I were forced to choose one . . . this would be it. And My Book?
My own just-published book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, does not appear on this superb list of 35 books. And so here I offer the most generous and self-aggrandizing interpretation possible . . . it just hasn’t circulated among the cognoscenti nearly enough to have created a buzz-worthy impact.
I know that you, as do I, eagerly await its appearance on next year’s “Best of” list.
Until then, enjoy the creme-de-la-creme of the best presentation books as exemplified on the 2012 list!
All that filler you pump into your business presentation at the beginning.
Somewhere, someone came up with the notion that you must “warm up” your audience before you launch into the meat of your talk.
Someone contrived the notion that you must thank everyone from your mother to the wait staff to the United States President.
Someone concocted the notion that you must praise the locale of your talk as if you’ve passed through the gates of paradise.
Forget all of that.
That’s nothing but throat clearing, and it’s done all for you, not your audience. You’re warming yourself up to get over your nervousness.
You’re uttering meaningless platitudes that no one can call you on. So you’re “safe.”
You think you’re safe, but you’re losing your audience, numbing them. In their minds, they’re already folding their arms and yawning.
Stop the Presentation Warm Up!
Get to the point.
Patricia Fripp is one of the nation’s finest executive and presentation coaches. She offers especially powerful advice on launching your presentation:
Don’t be polite . . . get to the point. [I told one client] “You’re polite . . . and that’s not a bad habit, but you don’t have much time. They know who you are because you’ve been entertaining them. They know where you are. Make it about them.
“When you begin, why don’t you say: ‘Welcome and thank you for the opportunity to host you. In the next seven minutes, you are going to discover why the best decision you can make for your members and your association is to bring your convention to San Francisco and the Fairmont Hotel.’ . . . ”
You may argue that those polite opening comments are necessary because the audience is still settling down and not focused on you. This may be true, but don’t let it be an excuse. Go to the front of the room and wait until you have their attention, maintaining a strong, cheerful gaze and willing them to be silent. If needed, state the opening phrase of your comments and then pause until all eyes are focused on you, awaiting the rest of the sentence.
I suggest you consult Patricia often as a source for no-nonsense presentation wisdom. She’s in the National Speakers Association Hall of Fame for a reason.
Few people like to boast, instead going to the opposite extreme of false humility. Neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.
Instead, try this . . .
Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume. Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.
Now, the recruiter is searching for something more. And that “something” is often indefinable.
The recruiter is evaluating you for other things, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.
Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.
But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.
For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield. Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake, and so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.
But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”
This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.
Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.
When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.
Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.
Digest that for a moment.
Yes, it really is that simple. But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way. It takes practice.
Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set. In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality. Translation:
I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.
Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference. Translation:
I get along with a wide range of people.
Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak. Translation:
I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.
Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems. Translation:
I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.
For an Especially Powerful Interview
See how it works?
You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task. So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past and build your story around that.
For example, you could say something like this:
“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others. I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being. This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”
Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:
“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend. That was pivotal. It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss. That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”
With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.
Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life. And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them. Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them. When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them . . . you will have achieved an important personal competitive advantage.
So always remember these key words . . .
Let me share with you what I learned about myself.
Here’s a presenter who carefully follows the Three Ps of business presenting and quite obviously succeeds at his performance in a Gangnam Style Presentation.
The Three Ps, of course, are: Principles . . . Preparation . . . and Practice.
The presenter calls himself Psy.
In this Gangnam Style presentation, Psy engages the Seven Secrets of presenting – the principles of Voice, Expression, Gesture, Appearance, Stance, Passion, and Movement – for a stunning performance. Note that the acronym formed by those seven words is appropriate to this particular presentation:
Applying the Three Ps
Moreover, while Psy exhibits incredible professional presence, he doesn’t rely solely on his charisma to carry his presentation. He and his support team prepared meticulously for this performance, and they’ve obviously practiced much.
The presenter engages his audience, gives them exactly what they expected to receive, and encourages audience participation.
He exhibits tremendous focus on his main point, repeating his main point several times so that it isn’t lost – otherwise known as his song’s chorus – and he uses the same repeated choral movement to emphasize visually his song’s chorus.
View this Gangnam Style Presentation with these precepts in mind.
The comparison to superb business presenting is by no means a reach.
When you present, you give your audience a show. Accordingly, you should prepare your show according to principles almost identical to those used by any stage performer.
You might not expect the kind of crazed enjoyment of your business presentation exhibited by the audience in the video (and I congratulate you if you achieve it). But you can apply the precepts of presenting to meet your audience expectations, engage your listeners, and drive home your main point with repetition and focus.
Deliver a Gangnam Style Presentation
You can thoroughly prepare and practice your presentation, just as any worthy stage performer does. Respect for your audience and your message demands no less than that you employ the Three Ps of business presenting.
Do this consistently, and you increase your personal competitive advantage tremendously as someone known for capable and competent business presenting.
They aren’t secrets if you know them. And they are not magical. They are quite mundane in fact, and this disappoints folks who believe that “secrets” ought to carry the heft of incantation.
The real secret of Strategic Thinking Skills is implementing a program for thinking strategically in both our personal and professional lives.
And like so many other things . . . following through on that program.
Strategic Thinking Skills for Competitive Advantage
This takes discipline, and sometimes it takes courage. The payoff is increased personal competitive advantage, and who wouldn’t want more of that?
As you develop a keen sense of strategy, you may find that your perspective on the world has undergone profound transformation as you begin to see patterns and routines, to identify categories, and to sense the broader macro-shifts in your own particular correlation of forces. You gain clarity. You begin to see the fog of uncertainty begin to clear.
By adopting combinations of techniques and tools of analysis, and by seizing a substantial role in developing your circumstances, you improve your chances of achieving your objectives.
This is the great gift of strategic thinking: clarity and efficacy of action in a forever changing and chaotic world.
In this interview on the Goldstein on Gelt show, I touch on several useful precepts of strategic thinking. It’s enough to get started for 2013 . . .