It’s 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 finest business leaders of tomorrow.
And the new cadres of great MBA business presenting.
Take India, for instance.
Today, I fly to Mumbai for two weeks of working with MBA students at the Welingkar Institute of Management.
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 that will stagger the world when its gears finally engage.
MBA students at Welingkar, many of whom appear on this page, show a drive, determination, optimism, and coachability that should be the envy of the world. My lecturing has also taken me to Lonavala, to the iFEEL institute, where equally motivated young people pursue their graduate degrees.
Powerful MBA Business Presenting
Inquisitive and cosmopolitan to a startling degree, these young people are poised to enter middle-management as a sage class of entrepreneurial knowledge workers.
They are steeped in the latest management techniques.
They are armed with the techniques of especially powerful MBA business 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 notions held over from the industrial revolution.
And, of course, they see the power inherent in superb MBA business presenting.
They constitute a cadre imbued with the qualities of:
They make us think, make us uncomfortable, and they challenge conventional wisdom.
Often they remind us that arguments have two sides . . . and the other side, while sometimes uncongenial to us, can be logical, cogent, and powerful.
How do we handle such topics when we present them?
With relish and gusto . . . with élan and brio.
What follows is a powerful rallying cry to business, penned by marketing legend Theodore Leavitt.
An especially powerful presentation topic it is.
The Proper Role of Business – Powerful Presentation Topic
Business will have a much better chance of surviving if there is no nonsense about its goals – that is, if long-run profit maximization is the one dominant objective in practice as well as in theory.
Business should recognize what government’s functions are and let it go at that, stopping only to fight government where government directly intrudes itself into business. It should let government take care of the general welfare so that business can take care of the more material aspects of welfare.
The results of any such single-minded devotion to profit should be invigorating. With none of the corrosive distractions and costly bureaucracies that now serve the pious cause of welfare, politics, society, and putting up a pleasant front, with none of these draining its vitality, management can shoot for the economic moon.
It can thrust ahead in whatever way seems consistent with its money-making goals.
If laws and threats stand in its way, it should test and fight them, relenting only if the courts have ruled against it, and then probing again to test the limits of the rules.
And when business fights, it should fight with uncompromising relish and self-assertiveness, instead of using all the rhetorical dodges and pious embellishments that are now so often its stock in trade.
Practicing self-restraint behind the cloak of the insipid dictum that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has only limited justification. Certainly it often pays not to squeeze the last dollar out of a market especially when good will is a factor in the long-term outlook.
But too often self-restraint masquerades for capitulation.
Businessmen complain about legislative and other attacks on aggressive profit seeking but then lamely go forth to slay the dragon with speeches that simply concede business’s function to be service. The critic quickly pounces on this admission with unconcealed relish – “Then why don’t you serve?”
But the fact is, no matter how much business “serves,” it will never be enough for its critics.
Boldness is Needed
If the all-out competitive prescription sounds austere or harsh, that is only because we persist in judging things in terms of Utopian standards. Altruism, self-denial, charity, and similar values are vital in certain walks of our life – areas which, because of that fact, are more important to the long-run future than business.
But for the most part those virtues are alien to competitive economics.
If it sounds callous to hold such a view, and suicidal to publicize it, that is only because business has done nothing to prepare the community to agree with it. There is only one way to do that: to perform at top ability and to speak vigorously for (not in defense of) what business does . . . .
No Knuckling Under to Criticism
In the end business has only two responsibilities – to obey the elementary canons of everyday face-to-face civility (honesty, good faith, and so on) and to seek material gain. The fact that it is the butt of demagogical critics is no reason for management to lose its nerve – to buckle under to reformers – lest more severe restrictions emerge to throttle business completely.
Few people will man the barricades against capitalism if it is a good provider, minds its own business, and supports government in the things which are properly government’s. Even today, most American critics want only to curb capitalism, not to destroy it. And curbing efforts will not destroy it if there is free and open discussion about its singular function.
To the extent that there is conflict, can it not be a good thing? Every book, every piece of history, even every religion testifies to the fact that conflict is and always has been the subject, origin, and life-blood of society. Struggle helps to keep us alive, to give élan to life.
We should try to make the most of it, not avoid it.
Lord Acton has said of the past that people sacrificed freedom by grasping at impossible justice. The contemporary school of business morality seems intent on adding its own caveat to that unhappy consequence. The gospel of tranquility is a soporific.
Instead of fighting for its survival by means of a series of strategic retreats masquerading as industrial statesmanship, business must fight as if it were at war.
And, like a good war, it should be fought gallantly, daringly, and, above all, not morally.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about hand-wringing over presentation stage fright, well . . .
. . . if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we confront the battle within ourselves as we face the challenge of our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt. And we want self-confidence to win.
But confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have confidence, it’s invisible. And when we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.
Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by. Or so we think. Let’s back into this thing called confidence.
Confidence Conquers Presentation Stage Fright
Think for a moment of what I call the “Trip Test.”
Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up? You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .
. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking?
Do you feel shame of some sort? If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others? Even strangers.
Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you? Recognize this trip test as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.
Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do. Consciously purge yourself of the debilitating need for approval.
The fear of judgment.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent. It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.
Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.
For some reason you fear your audience. The audience is your bogeyman.
But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say. And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.
They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way. They are pulling for you.
Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed. They want to be entertained. Please entertain us, they think.
They are open to whatever new insight you can provide. And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers. They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.
And so confidence is yours for the taking.
Confidence is not a thing.
It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.
What does it really mean to be confident? Can you answer that direct question? Think about it a moment.
Seize Confidence for Yourself!
We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action. Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.
Is it certitude? Is it knowledge?
Is it bravery? Is it surety?
Think of the times when you are confident. You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument.
It could be any familiar activity.
Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty. For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful. That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.
Many people do fear speaking before an audience, rational or no.
And it’s been that way since public speaking gained enough stature to warrant the first school of public speaking in 450 BC under the Greek scholar Corax of Syracuse.
Centuries of Presentation Stage Fright
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It’s paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.
George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .
The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness. To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake. Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously. Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.
The solution to presentation stage fright? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?
Reduce your uncertainty.
Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps: Principles, Preparation, Practice. Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.
They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement. They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.
Principles, Preparation, Practice
The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion.
Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.
When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty.
You possess the facts. You are prepared. You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice. You rehearse.
There is, of course, an element of uncertainty. Uncertainty grips you, because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety.
But that’s fuel for your creative engine.
By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.
So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest. Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.
And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.
Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel. For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . . But do not fear them. They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck. They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand. . . . Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.
And banish presentation stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting here.
Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that the bad business presentation must reign in corporate America?
. . . or in the business school classroom?
Is there a Law of Bad?
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect that there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself. Bad business presentations can be a career-killer.
But of course, no one tells you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give them.
And yet, these monstrosities sprout everywhere.
Ubiquitous Bad Business Presentations
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they’re everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides.
The VP alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him.
He rarely looks at you.
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.
You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation courses.” But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago.
I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak?
No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.
By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power.
Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially if you offer criticism.
Especially where criticism of current company policy is concerned.
Especially when your team must convey bad news.
For instance, that the current strategy is “bad.” Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.
In student presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude. A harsh attitude. This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is valued.
Honesty is . . . well, it’s refreshing.
Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation
Honesty is important, sure.
But a tremendous gulf separates honesty and candor. And we must be clear on the difference between the two.
Honesty means you tell the truth . . . Candor means you spill your guts about everything that’s on your mind in the bluntest way possible.
If you say in your presentation that the current strategic direction of the company is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.
In that way.
Remember that you can express honesty in many ways. Presentation prudence suggests that we learn a few of them. Use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.
These may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place. They could be emotionally invested in a specific strategy. They could be financially invested in it.
Wound Someone’s Ego, You Pay a Price
Anyone can use a sledgehammer.
But if you use one, know that the receiving end of that sledgehammer isn’t pleasant and that you should expect reciprocation somewhere down the line.
And so . . . most times it pays to use a scalpel.
With lots of consideration and skill.
Remember that as much as we would like to believe that our superiors and our clients are mature and want to hear the “truth” – warts and all – human nature is contrary.
We’re easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.
So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely and needlessly doomed yourself.
Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize is at stake, whether a multi-million dollar deal. Or simply credibility and good judgment.
It takes skill and finesse to fine-tune your work.
To deliver a fine-tuned presentation.
Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive and persuasive without being abrasive. When you do, then you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.
That is, after all, why they’re called skills.
Your presentation will effervesce . . . it will join the ranks of the especially powerful.
So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy. Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.