Presentation Practice – The 1st “P”

Ensure Good Presentation Practice
Proper Presentation Practice Means an Especially Powerful Presentation

There is good practice and there is bad presentation practice.

Extremely bad presentation practice.

But how can you say, Professor Ridgley, that there is such a thing as “bad presentation practice?”

Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?

Bad practice is pernicious. It’s insidious.

It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.

How so?  Just this . . .

Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.  Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.

But what does it mean to “practice?”

Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?

How do you practice?  Have you ever truly thought about it?  Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your presentation practice?

Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror

Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”  Don’t practice in the mirror.  That’s dumb.  You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.

Let me say it again – that’s dumb.  The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them.

Other than that, stay away from the mirror.

Practice – the right presentation practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success.  And your ultimate triumph.

The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours.  We say “practice makes perfect.”  The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”   It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”

The armed forces are expert at practice.

Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.

Presentation Practice

And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual mission.

Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and missions assigned to it.

We gain confidence.

The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.

But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear.  With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.

The danger is avoided.

Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates.

Confidence Replaces Fear

Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.

The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.

Your way through the minefield is clear.  And the fear evaporates.

Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk?  Or that you won’t be nervous?  Of course not.  We all do.

Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous. But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.  Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you.  It ensures your focus.

But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.

It is not the same as fear.

And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.

We lack confidence when we are unsure.  With every practice, we gain confidence.  And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .

Perfect Presentation Practice

Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.

I mean this literally.  Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can.  Make it as realistic as you can.

If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.

You want as much pressure as possible.

One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake.

Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .

When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.

This should be common sense.  You must practice how you respond to making an error. How you will fight through and recover from an error.

Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.

Think of it this way.  Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?

Of course not.

And neither should you.

For the next two Ps of Business School Presenting, return in coming days or consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Give a Finance Presentation

Finance Presentations for Personal Competitive Advantage
A great finance presentation can deliver personal competitive advantage

Whether the finance presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . .  I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students on how they should give a finance presentation . . .

“Finance Presentations are different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Finance Presentation Mysteries

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language.

They seem less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort.

An income statement serves as anchor.

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.

Give a Finance Presentation for personal competitive advantage
Especially Powerful Personal Competitive Advantage is the payoff for hard work

This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis when they give a finance presentation.

But this is an illusion.

And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast.

These demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.  And the great news is that you can achieve especially powerful personal competitive advantage by virtue of your newfound presentation skills and techniques.

Let’s look . . .

How Not to Give a Finance Presentation

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.

It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand.  The group of presenters merely stands while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.

Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.

It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people.  They require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.

“Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.

“We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all.

If numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these finance presentations shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.

It may be useful.

It may be boring.

It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.

But whatever else it is, it is not a business presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.

The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”   The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium.  The result?

Slides from the netherworld.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.

Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you give a finance presentation using the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid.

Because it should be.

Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect your superb finance education.

Give a Finance Presentation for personal competitive advantage
You can accrue capital in the form of Personal Competitive Advantage by delivering top notch presentations

But how you give a finance presentation is the key to presentation victory.

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations.

They apply particularly to the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will easily outshine the hoi polloi.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentations world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

Executive Presence for the Business Presenter

Executive Presence
Especially Powerful Executive Presence

Business Presentations are filled with paradoxes, especially where executive presence is concerned.

For instance, the Power Zone of presentation charisma . . . a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.

The charisma factor of executive presence is not so difficult to achieve, nor is it so mysterious as to be unfathomable.

Yet It always amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers and developing especially powerful executive presence.

The Power Zone of Executive Presence

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.

A place where executive presence comes naturally.

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 find an excuse not to.

Disbelief . . .  Principle . . . Ideology . . .  Sloth . . . Disregard . . . Fear . . . even Anger.

They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.

No Argument Here . . . Don’t go

In my presentations to various audiences, I am sometimes 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.

You need not step into the Power Zone if you choose not to.  I care not for the reason, and explanations aren’t necessary.

Presentation charisma is yours for the taking.  It’s entirely up to you.

Ideological Objections to Presentation Charisma

Your Executive Presence

The latest batch of objections I heard sprang from one woman’s ideology.

You heard right.

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.

Just different.

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 well if it sounds otherwise.

The woman in question 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 if you choose to go that route, do it 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.

And all the ideology in the world cannot change that.

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 and executive presence.

Your Comfort is Irrelevant to Executive Presence

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 developing Executive Presence and 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.

Uncomfortable with Executive Presence?And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scoff 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 and Executive Presence.

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 to Presentation Charisma.  The path toward that rarefied world of especially powerful Executive Presence.

For more on how to develop especially powerful executive presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.


Don’t Be a Business Presentation Snipper!

Presentation snippers

I often hear business presentation sentence snippers.

Snippers have a verbal tic – they snip the ends of sentences during a business presentation.

You’ve probably heard these presentation snippers, too – they pinch the ends of sentences.

This is an unfortunate verbal tic.  Tics can drag us down.

And it’s the elimination of these verbal tics that separate great speakers from good speakers.

Don’t Be a Snipper!

If you are looking for tangible evidence of individual tics and habits that bring speakers down to the level of, well . . . to the level of sounding amateurish, this is one of those clear cases.

The phenomenon that I speak of is the staccato voicing of the last word of a sentence.

Sometimes the voice drops, just like that of a child reading sentences from a story book.  Each sentence is a great accomplishment, and the child celebrates by dropping the voice and snipping the last word.

As if each sentence is a story in itself.

Snip your sentences?For whatever reason, many folks who speak from a script or who read aloud become snippers.  They cut the last word of a sentence short.  As if in a race to get to the next sentence.

As if each sentence stands alone, unconnected to the sentences to follow.

One good source of bad speaking technique is to listen to commercials that feature “everyday people” giving testimonials.

Folks become snippers when they read from a script or speak memorized passages.

Tune in to this.

Make it a habit to listen closely to speakers you admire, but also the speakers who, for whatever reason, you do not like.  Ask yourself why you like one speaker and not another.

Why all the Snipping?

Why do people snip their sentences?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s an unconscious desire to voice the period at the end of a sentence?

Perhaps it’s to get a quicker breath to start the next sentence, so that there is a little silence as possible between sentences?

You can acquire an additional patina of professionalism by simply not doing this.  Refuse to snip.  Refuse to be a snipper.

Give full voice to every word in your sentence.  Especially the last one.  Don’t draw it out unnaturally, but certainly don’t snip it off.

Regardless, I believe that it’s incredibly important to the speaker who wishes to become a great presenter to be aware of the pathology.

But you may not agree.

This may seem unimportant to you.  Do you scoff at this?  Are you a snipper and believe that it’s something too small, too unimportant to consider?  Are you unaware whether you do this or not, and do not care one way or the other?

If so, then you handicap yourself with a bad habit whose cumulative effect over the course of any single presentation yields an impression on the audience.  That this is an amateur speaker.

If so, then continue down that path.  Good luck and Godspeed!

But your audience will be the ultimate arbiter, and it will judge you.

As with so many of the tics and habits and quirks of bad public speaking, the audience may not recognize them individually.  But they know that they’re in the presence of the mundane and of the average.

If you wish to improve your business presenting in ways great and small . . .   If you want to correct repetitive tics that drag you down, like barnacles slowing a ship, then listen to yourself.

And correct the problem.

For more on identifying and correcting bad habits, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.