“I never get an interesting topic”

Interesting topic?
“I never get an interesting topic”

“I never get an interesting topic.”

Perhaps you’ve said that?

I’ve certainly heard it.

In fact, I hear this lament more often than I would prefer.  It embodies much of what is wrong with individual and group presentations.

There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic.   Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.

Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience.  Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.

That’s your job.  In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.

Interesting Topic?  That’s Your Job

Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you.  No one cares if they interest you.

That’s not the point.

Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.

Persuades the audience.

And gives to you an especially powerful http://www.ihatepresentations.com/crafting-your-personal-competitive-advantage/.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting topics,” wouldn’t we?  But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?

I’ve found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.  Some folks don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.

So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.

The Nail – A Powerful Presentation Topic

business presentation interesting topic
You make the business presentation topic about nails interesting . . . it’s your responsibility, in fact

The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.

The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone.  The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”

It’s hip.  And familiar.

Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.

But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.

The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.

How do you generate interest?  How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.

It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.

In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.

The Beast:  The Interesting Topic

And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?

Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100?  I always thought so.

But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price.

Instead, it has to do with . . . .  Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.   The name, by the way, dates from the 15th Century, the same century as the invention of the Gutenberg printing method.

Now that’s a “killer app” with staying power.

Sound like an interesting topic?

For more ways to develop your acumen with regard to your business presentation topic, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Business Presentation Opening

The Presentation Opening
The Presentation Opening sets the tone for your Business Presentation

Of course you know how to begin a business presentation with a powerful presentation opening.

The Presentation Opening is surely easy.

Right?

But do you really know how to launch a powerful presentation?

Consider for a moment . . .

Don’t Tiptoe

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 what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.

Craft a superb presentation opening
Grab Your Audience with The Presentation Opening

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.

“Random facts?”

“Yes!” she said brightly.

And she was quite ingenuous about it.

She had recited a litany of “random facts,” and she thought that it was an acceptable way to begin a business case presentation.  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 hodge-podge 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?

The Right Presentation Opening

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.

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.

An Especially Powerful Situation Statement

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:

Craft a powerful presentation opening for energy
Especially Powerful hooks and grabbers for your presentation opening

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2009 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.

For more on crafting an especially powerful presentation opening, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

The Presentation Soft Skills Myth

Business Presentation Soft Skills for Personal Competitive Advantage
Bust the presentation soft skills myth

Let’s explode the presentation soft skills myth right now.

When higher education folks label something a “soft skill,” students automatically drop that “soft skill” to the bottom of the learning priority list.

It becomes something to “pick up along the way.”  And if you don’t actually learn the “soft skill,” well . . . so what?

It is, after all, a “soft skill.”

This is hokum of the worst sort, but it’s the attitude of many young people, including my daughter, who ought to know better.  One of those “soft skills” is the set of skills required to deliver an especially powerful business presentation.

Business Presentation Soft Skills Myth

One reason that you see so many bad business presentations is this pervasive presentation soft skills myth.

These skills are apparently so “soft” that one of my former colleagues believes he can inculcate adequate presentation skill in, as he says, “30 minutes.”

Such is the myth of the soft skill.

This suggests that skill at business presenting is somehow “softer” than, say, accounting.  It therefore needs less attention or development.

It must be somehow “easier.”  It must be simply a matter of opinion.

It’s probably something that can be “picked up along the way.”

Many people believe this.  It can needlessly limit the early careers of young people, who form a wrong impression of the craft of speaking publicly.

Public Speaking – excellent public speaking – is tough.

To deliver a superb business presentation is one of the tougher tasks, because it often requires coordination with others in a kind of ballet.

The Reality of Business Presentation Skills

Adopt Especially Powerful Business Presentation Soft Skills available
Powerful Business Presentation Soft Skills can confer personal competitive advantage

And it requires practice, just like any other discipline.

But invariably, the “soft skill” label moves it down the priority list of faculty and college administrators and, hence, of the students they serve.

I can quickly gauge the attention on business presenting skills at an institution by simply watching a cross-section of presentations.

To be generous, student business presentations are usually poor across a range of dimensions.

They come across most often as pedestrian.  Many are quite bad.

But this is not to say that they are worse than what passes for presenting in the corporate world.  They’re usually as good – or as bad – as what is dished out in the “real world.”

The Great Embarrassment

The great embarrassment is that the majority of business students have untapped potential for becoming competent and especially powerful business presenters.

And yet they falter.

They never realize that potential, because they never progress out of the swamp of poor business presentation skills.

Some students pass through the business school funnel with only cursory attention to business presentation skills.  Perhaps I’m too demanding, and the degree of attention I’d like to see just isn’t possible.

But . . .

But the craft of business presenting needs only the proper focus for it to transform young people into capable and competent presenters.

And some institutions get it right.

Business Presentation Soft Skills for an Especially Powerful Personal Brand
Grab those Presentation Soft Skills, so-called, and create a powerful personal brand!

I’m blessed to serve an institution that takes business presentation skills seriously.

My school’s winning results in case competitions demonstrates this commitment to preparing business students to excel in the most-demanded skill that corporate recruiters seek.

A coterie of professors, particularly in finance, recognizes the power bestowed by sharp business presentation skills.

And they emphasize these skills far beyond the norm in most schools.

Administrators, too, insist that students pass through rigorous workshops that inculcate in students the presenting skills to last a business lifetime.

Presentation Skills = Powerful Brand

The results can be phenomenal.  Merely by exposure to the proper techniques, students gain tremendous personal career advantage.

By elevating business presentation skills to the same level of the sub-disciplines of, say, marketing, operations, or risk management, B-Schools can imbue their students and faculty with the appropriate reverence for the presentation enterprise.

One result of this is the molding of young executives who tower over their peers in terms of presenting skills.

And especially powerful business presentation skills are in high demand by corporate recruiters.

This highly refined skill of delivering stunning business presentations becomes part of a powerful and distinctive personal brand.

A brand that cannot be copied easily and so becomes part of a personal competitive advantage that can last a lifetime.

There is much to be distilled from 2500 years of recorded presentation wisdom, and we can hardly consider this treasure house of knowledge presentation soft skills.

The wisdom and power are there, waiting to be tapped.  It remains for us to seize it, explode the presentation soft skills myth, and make it our own for enhanced personal competitive advantage.

For more on especially powerful business presentation skills, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.