Your Business Presentation Appearance . . . Please, no “Statements!”

Business Presentation Appearance, the source of personal competitive advantage
Business Presentation Appearance, a source of personal competitive advantage

Many folks don’t consider that our presentation appearance transmits messages to our audience.

You ve seen enough scruffy presenters to vouch for this yourself.

Most certainly, the 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 with your appearance.  You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your presentation appearance transmits.

And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.

Nonverbal Messages from Presentation Appearance

What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?

That you don’t care?

That you’re confident?

That you are 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 ceding competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.

Are you the “ageless rebel” battling the “Man”?

Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that presentation 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.

You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.

This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.

Business Presentation Appearance
Presentation Appearance can be a Deal-Breaker

“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.  The messages must mesh.

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 . . .

For more on presentation appearance, as well as the other six elements of your personal style, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World

Avoid Worst PowerPoint
Don’t enter the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide Contest

If you think your business presentation slides are bad (they probably are), latch on to the good news that worse slides are out there . . . in fact, this post features the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World.

But first, your personal slide curse.

Your personal revelation of your own bad PowerPoint slides starts innocently enough . . .

You click the remote and a new slide appears.  You cast a wistful look back at the screen.

You pause.

Perhaps you squint as you struggle to understand what’s on the screen.  It’s almost unreadable.

Your mind reels at the thought that well, maybe . . . this slide actually is awful and should never have been included.

Take heart!

As bad as your slides are, they likely are not as bad as what lurks in corporate America or in the U.S. government.

New York Times Features the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide

Your slides likely will never reach the bottom of the pit, the awful standard set by our friends in the U.S. government, who crafted and actually presented a monstrosity of such egregious proportions that the New York Times featured it on its front page in 2010 for no other reason than that it was an awful PowerPoint slide.

When the NYT considers your slide front page news, that is a bad slide.

The slide was actually used in a briefing to the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal.  It purported to explain U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, all on one slide.

That slide appears at the end of this post.

If you dare, scroll down to this heinous freak of design concocted in a government laboratory and completely undeserving to be shown in public . . . except on the front page of the New York Times as the exemplar of how depraved PowerPoint evil can be.

Our Bad Slides Usually Involve Numbers

We show numbers, lots of them.  And at times we are tempted to believe that the “numbers speak for themselves.”

And so we whip out the tired, useless phrase “As you can see.”

The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that it requires iron will to prevent ourselves from uttering this reflexive phrase-hiccup.

Squint at worst powerpoint
The Worst PowerPoint Makes Us Squint

The bain of “As you can see” 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 of tiny, baffling numbers.

Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.

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 helplessly at our own 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.

Satanic Spreadsheets

You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers displayed on your unreadable spreadsheet.

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.

“As you can see” 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 gives rise to the worst PowerPoint slides imaginable, because the incentive to excellence is removed.

This can’t be good.  Not for the audience, not for anyone.

All of this sounds heinous, I know.  And probably too familiar for comfort.

If the best thing you can say about your slides is that they’re not the worst PowerPoint in the world, then maybe it’s time to upgrade your expectations.

You can beat “As you can see” Syndrome with a few simple techniques that we be discuss in days to come.

Dont vie for the worst PowerPoint crown . . . the remedy can be found in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

. . . and here is the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World, as honored by the New York Times . . .

The World's Worst PowerPoint Slide
The World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide

Business Presentation Story . . . the Power is Yours

What's Your Business Presentation Story
What’s Your Business Presentation Story?

You weave the Business Presentation Story when your business presentation begins to founder.

You spin your tale when, despite your best efforts to energize the audience, to convey yourself in authentic and enthusiastic terms, to laser your talk with über focus . . . in spite of all of that, you can’t gain traction.

Here is when you reach into your quiver and pull out your Golden Arrow.

An arrow guaranteed to hit your target every time.

The Golden Arrow

When you find yourself adrift, pause thoughtfully, eye your audience with sincerity, and say this . . .

“Let me tell you a story.”

You immediately rivet attention on yourself.  Why?

Presentation Master J. K. Horner shares the reason with us from 1929:

Probably everyone has experienced the universal interest and attention which results in a dull and abstract lecture when the speaker says, ‘That reminds me of a story.’  Like a dog at the back door waiting for a bone, an audience will prick up its ears at the approach of the speaker with a story or illustration that arouses mental imagery.

Why?

Because such stories are concrete, the opposite of abstract, and tend to arouse pictures which vivify an idea, setting it out in relief with bold colors against a background of drab and hazy abstractions.

Six Most Powerful Words for Business Presentations

“Let me tell you a story” are the six most powerful words you can utter in a business presentation.

If your goal is to grip your audience, entertain them, persuade them, and move them to action, you always generate interest with these six most powerful words:  Let me tell you a story.

“Let me tell you a secret” is just as compelling, but when you think about it, it’s really the same storytelling device worded in slightly different fashion.

The story is a powerful communicative tool.  Let me say it again:  It puts incredible power in your hands, on your lips.

This power of story has been known for ages.

Stories are “windows that let the light in.”

And the story is an incredibly versatile tool.

What's your Business Presentation Story?
Tell a Business Presentation Story for Power and Impact

Presentation Master Katherine Cather observed that its emotive effect is akin to what one finds in high art: “Because the story has power to awaken the emotions and to enlarge the range of experience, it is a tool of universal adaptability.  Its appeal is like that of music, sculpture, or painting.”

We live in the 21st Century age of dazzling kaleidoscopic multimedia.

Right now, a kindergartener has at his disposal more computing power in a laptop than did Neil Armstrong in his lunar module when he landed on the moon in 1969.

In such an age, why speak of an anachronism like “storytelling?”

Why bother with a business presentation story?

Just this . . .

Business Presentation Story Tool for the 21st Century

Stories still serve as our main form of entertainment – we see and hear stories every day from many sources.

Newspapers are filled with “stories.”  Films, television shows, novels, even technical manuals regale us with stories.

You tell stories all the time.

Stories are as old as man and still hold fascination for us, even the business presentation story.

Perhaps especially the business presentation story.

In an age of pyrotechnic special effects that boggle the mind, film producers have found that without a strong story populated with sharply drawn and sympathetic characters, their films fall flat.

Some stories are more interesting than others, of course.  But even the most pedestrian of tales keep our attention far better than dry exposition of facts delivered in a monotone.  Unlike straight exposition, stories appeal to the emotions.

This is the secret of their power.

Incredible power.

The Six Most Powerful Words

If you search for a verity in the human condition, a key that unlocks the power of persuasion, then this is it – the appeal to emotion.

Katherine Cather was a master storyteller of her generation, and her masterpiece written in 1925 captures the universal appeal of this mode of communication.

We seem to have left it behind in favor of cynicism and wry gimcrackery at one end of the scale and a barren “newspeak” at the other end.  Said Ms. Cather:

Human emotions are fundamentally the same in every country and in every period of history, regardless of the degree of culture or the color of the skin.  Love and hate lie dormant in the human heart; likewise gratitude, and all the other feelings that move mortals to action.

They manifest themselves according to the state of civilization or enlightenment of those in whose souls they surge, but the elemental urge, the motive that actuates men to right or wrong doing, is the same now as it was at the beginning of time.

The story has power to nurture any one of the emotions . . . .  What is the secret of the power of either the spoken or written tale to shape ideals and fix standards? Because it touches the heart.  It arouses the emotions and makes people feel with the characters whose acts make the plot.  Mirth, anger, pity, desire, disdain, approval, and dislike are aroused, because the characters who move through the tale experience these emotions.

So use the story device to leaven your presentation with color and spice.  Hook your audience and enthrall them with the Six Most Powerful Words in the English language.

Remember that this secret is powerful because it hearkens back to an almost primal urge we have as humans to share experiences with each other, and this is the ultimate source of its appeal.

When you tap the power of story, you tap into a wellspring of history and practice as old as mankind itself.  So pull the Six Most Powerful Words from your quiver when you desperately need a business presentation story.

Learn more about the business presentation story in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Develop PowerPoint Slide Skill

Develop PowerPoint Slide Skill for Impact
Develop PowerPoint Slide Skills for Especially Powerful Impact

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 have not developed their PowerPoint slide skills.

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

Yes, brilliant.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute 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 Slide Skills a Necessity

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

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping others to hone theirs.

Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art.  You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up.  You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here.  She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it to develop your PowerPoint slide skills.

Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.

Meanwhile, if you want immediate help to develop not only your PowerPoint slide skills, but also your technique of working with your presentation projection, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.

It’s enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.

For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.

Have a look-see . . .

A Great Business Presenter . . . the Best of All Time?

Quintilian -- a Great Business Presenter
Who is a Great Business Presenter?

Quintilian was the greatest presentation coach to ever stride the streets of Rome during the reigns of Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian . . . and was a great business presenter.

Of course, Rome had many presentation coaches at the time, because public speaking – oratory – was considered an art.

But Quintilian was the undisputed master of the 1st Century, and he penned one of the most important presentation works in all of history.

It was published in 95 AD and was called . . .

The Institutes of Oratory.

But like so many literary works in the ancient world, it disappeared in subsequent centuries as the dark ages engulfed Europe.

Only fragments remained . . . and the legend of Quintilian.

Lost to History?

It was thought lost forever . . . but a Benedictine monk by the name of Poggio Bracciolini discovered a complete manuscript of Quintilian in a dungeon at the Abbey of St. Gall 13 centuries later in present-day Switzerland.

Quintilian was a great coach and great business presenter
Quintilian was a Superb Coach and Great Business Presenter

Bracciolini had established a reputation as a master copyist.

He was elated to have discovered the ancient manuscript, and he wrote to a friend about his find in the year 1416.

There amid a tremendous quantity of books which it would take too long to describe, we found Quintilian still safe and sound, though filthy with mold and dust.  For these books were not in the Library, as befitted their worth, but in a sort of foul and gloomy dungeon at the bottom of one of the towers, where not even men convicted of a capital offense would have been stuck away . . . .  Beside Quintilian we found the first three books and half of the fourth of C.  Valerius Flaccus’ Argonauticon, and commentaries or analyses on eight of Cicero’s orations by Q. Asconius Pedianus, a very clever man whom Quintilian himself mentions.  These I copied with my own hand and very quickly, so that I might send them to Leonardus Aretinus and to Nicolaus of Florence; and when they had heard from me of my discovery of this treasure they urged me at great length in their letters to send them Quintilian as soon as possible.

Today, the manuscript that Poggio found still exists and is housed in Zürich’s Central Library.

Why should we care about Quintilian except as an historical figure?  What could he possibly say to us of worth?

Timeless Secrets of a Great Presenter

To begin with, he was a great business presenter, one of the greatest of all time.

And business presenting hasn’t changed in 2000 years.

Not really.

It’s still a presenter before an audience.  The good news is that Quintilian solved for us almost every pathology that plagues the modern speaker.

His work influenced orators for centuries and, through the adoption by the great rhetorician Hugh Blair in the 19th Century, continues to influence us today in ways we are completely unaware of.

Here is a small sample of the wisdom of Quintilian, this from Book 7.

Let him who would be an orator be assured that he must study early and late; that he must reiterate his efforts; that he must grow pale with toil; he must exert his own powers, and acquire his own method; he must not merely look to principles, but must have them in readiness to act upon them; not as if they had been taught him, but as if they had been born in him. For art can easily show a way, if there be one; but art has done its duty when it sets the resources of eloquence before us; it is for us to know how to use them.

The treasures housed in the Institutes of Oratory are vast.  It remains only for us to delve into this trove of wisdom produced by a great business presenter to pluck the nuggets that can transform us into . . . well, into much better presenters than we are today.

In fact, if Quintilian would have his way, he would transform you into an especially powerful presenter, worthy of pleading from the law courts of ancient Rome to the boardrooms of modern New York City.

For more on the powerful history and techniques of presenting and secrets on how you can become a great business presenter, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Magic . . . YOU Provide it

presentation magic in pills?
There are no presentation magic pills to rescue a lame effort

For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?

Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?

Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?

Guilty as charged?

Most of us are at one point or another.

And the results can be heinous.

Software “Presentation Magic” Cannot Save You

The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.”  Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.

Why not?

Who says this is a bad idea?

After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m giving it to him.  ’nuff said.

This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document.  This is an incredibly stupid mistake.

One . . . or the Other

Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.

Presentation Magic does not exist
You Create the Presentation Magic . . . not the Software

The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.

Never let one serve in place of the other.

Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.

When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”  [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]

The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.

It’s a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.

And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.

So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.

No Presentation Magic in Your Slide Deck

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.

Nifty slides cannot save you.

PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.  This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story.  They bomb miserably.

On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story.

Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.

Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show.  They have no special properties.  They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.

Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:

“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?

Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.  Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.

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.”

You provide the Presentation Magic
Great Speakers like Malcolm X bring their own Presentation Magic to performance . . . and so should you

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.  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.

When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen, and you are on your way to an especially powerful presentation.  You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.

And, consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power.  You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.

Want more on providing your own presentation magic?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Practice – How to do it Right

Presentation Practice
The Right Presentation Practice can Yield Competitive Advantage

One of the keys to successful and confident performance is presentation practice.

The right kind of practice for your business presentation.

This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.

But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?  Practice is easy.  You just . . .

. . . do it.  Right?

Powerful Presentation Practice Yields . . . What?

First, not everyone practices.  Some practice not at all.

Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.

Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you, should you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of presentation practice.

Here is why . . .

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.

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 only 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.

Mistake #1

First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

Something in our psyche seems to urge 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 experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Presentation Practice
Presentation Practice for added power and impact

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?  Start over?

No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have 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.

Mistake #2

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.

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, conduct your presentation practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.

To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.

For more on especially powerful presentation practice and the development of personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Presentation Tips can Sabotage Your Business Presentation

Bad Presentation Tips
The Zombies of Bad Presentation Tips Never Die . . . That’s why they’re called Zombies

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and the zombies of bad presentation tips will be the only survivors.

I say this because I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.

No, we can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely.  These zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Presentation Tips

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.

The notion that the presenter actually has to change his behavior is not welcome news.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad presentation tips.

Just stop.

And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits.  All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.

Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.

Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.

But Bad Habits Die Hard

Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.

The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad presentation tips.

This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad presentation tips zombies stalk the land.

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.

For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.  Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.

No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.

It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.

And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.

Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.

Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  It’s one of the worst of bad presentation tips.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.

Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.  It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.

In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.

“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.

“ We’re special,” finance majors like to say.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”

You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6 “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what?  Oh, you counted them, did you?

I assure you that you don’t know.

You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the number of slides you use somehow dictates length of a presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips can Kill your Presentation

Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.  They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.

This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.

It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use?  Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.

You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.  And on that upbeat note, I leave you with several positive tips from the creator of the Prezi presentation package.  Peter Arvai, Prezi founder and CEO, offers sages advice here.

If you are interested in dispensing with all of these bad presentation tips and, instead, learning powerful presentation skills, I suggest you consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.