Here’s the difference between the two pathologies, both of which can sabotage your presentation.
No Need for Self-Sabotage
Uptalk is the bad speech habit of inflecting the voice up at the end of each sentence, as if each sentence were a question.
Uptalk is usually a 24-7 transgression. If you do it . . you do it all the time.
Uptalk is breezy, addle-pated, and weak. With uptalk, you sound air-headed, uncertain, ditzy. Whiny and pleading. Someone who doesn’t care.
You could fix uptalk easily, if you wanted to.
But at this point, if you’re still doing it, you probably don’t want to fix it.
Now look at a parallel speech pattern that sounds similar to uptalk. This pattern appears only on special occasions.
List-Talk only shows up when it can hurt you.
Break this Bad Presentation Habit Now
What is List-Talk?
You engage in List-Talk only when you deliver your business presentation.
Exactly when it does you the most damage.
List-Speak is the lilting presentation voice we sometimes assume when we give a presentation. It’s a form of “presentation voice.” Presentation Voice is an artifice some people unconsciously adopt when speaking to a group in a formal situation.
Especially when we’re attuned to reading slides instead of simply telling our story.
List-Talk creeps in. It replaces direct, declarative sentences.
List-Talk offers the lilting upswing of the voice at the end of sentences.
As if you’re reading from a mental list.
Each sentence needlessly telegraphs that there’s more to come, that you’ve not yet completed a thought.
Again. And again.
And this goes on endlessly, until you finish the last point from your slide. Only then do you mercifully let your voice drop in completion . . .
. . . only to have it go up again as the next slide materializes.
This pathology is linked to your slide. But it’s not the slide’s fault.
If given a choice, would you embrace the opportunity to develop a powerful presentation voice?
Or would you demur to take a stand for “natural” voices? Whatever the hell that is.
Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.
It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
Voices Often Develop Chaotically
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
So what’s a “bad voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched? Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be to produce a powerful presentation voice, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.
Focus on the voices.
Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.
Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice. The opposite of a powerful presentation voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Many reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
You know exemplars of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: a group of people calling themselves “Kardashians.”
Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
And yet people mimic them.
Lots of people.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player. Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.
Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.” You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning. Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.
The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood. It’s not.
An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.
This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as a noble stand for who-knows what.
This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back for no good reason. It’s also a manifestation of fear.
Clare Tree Major identified this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Delivering an especially powerful presentation means choosing . . . it means making 100 presentation choices.
Of course, it may not be exactly 100.
It could be 120.
Or perhaps 80.
Regardless, every time you deliver a presentation, you choose repeatedly.
Dozens of times.
And most often, you are unaware of the silent, invisible choices you make. Instead, your presentation simply unspools on its own, chaotic, willy-nilly . . . sometimes for the good, more often badly.
Rather than conceive of the presentation as a series of choices, many folks view the presentation as an organic whole.
As something we simply “do.”
It’s presented as something that can be conducted via a series of “tips.” You’ve seen the articles on presentation tips.
Or business presenting is discussed as a “soft skill,” something you can pick up along the way. Perhaps in one of the ubiquitous and uninspired “communications classes.”
We receive vague instructions in a communications class, a place where mystification of the presentation is perpetuated, the myth of the “soft skill” is maintained, and presentation folk wisdom reigns . . .
“Make eye contact!”
“Move around when you talk!”
“Don’t put your hand in your pocket!”
Advice that is obscurantist at its best and can be downright wrong at its worst.
Not a “Soft Skill”
The delivery of the Business Presentation is not a “soft skill.” Approximately 80 percent of the presentation process is definable as a series of choices each of us must make.
And if you choose badly, you deliver a horrendous presentation.
How can you choose wisely if you don’t even know what the choices are? Much less the wise choice at each step along the way?
We seek easy solutions, the quick fix, the “secret” to turn a drab, staid, listless presentation into one that brims with vigor, zest, and elan.
An especially powerful presentation.
Failing that, perhaps just something that can flog a bit of life into our tired efforts.
One evening, we may see a memorable, delightful, scintillating presentation.
It’s a show that engages us, that sparkles with memorable visuals and that implants core ideas and powerful notions in our minds. A great presentation!
Why was it a great presentation?
Many folks answer with one – maybe two reasons. This is akin to medieval alchemists searching for a method to transform lead into gold.
A shortcut to wealth.
And so we contrive abstractions and unsatisfactory responses:
The speaker was interesting. The topic was relevant and au courant. Torn from today’s headlines!
It was the audience . . . he had a good audience!
But none of these easy answers yield something that we can actually use . . . something we can operationalize in our show. This is because no easy answer exists.
No one reason.
No single technique.
There is no business presentation alchemy. Except in the notion that we must get lots of things right.
The superb business presenter does 100 things right, while the bad business presenter does 100 things wrong.
What are the “100 Presentation Choices?”
Is it exactly 100?
Of course not, no more than great writing consists in getting exactly 100 things right, instead of getting them wrong.
For any talk, it could be 90, or it could be 150. Or something else.
The “100 things” trope suffices to convey that great presentations are planned and orchestrated according to set principles that can be learned, and those principles consist in proven practices.
Lots of them.
Practices that replace unthinking habits.
Techniques of posture, voice, syntax, gestures, topic, presentation structure, your expression, confidence, your movement . . . all of these done well or done poorly combine to yield either an especially powerful presentation . . .
. . . or a dud.
Go to Scott’s Lessons, the book that inspired and taught Abraham Lincoln as he grew into one of America’s great orators, and you will find a wealth of powerful techniques to transform even the most mundane of speakers into a champion.
More than 100 things?
The important lesson is that great presenting is assembled from the verbal and non-verbal construction materials we select.
Lots of mistakes make for awful shows. But getting those 100 things right can yield a show that’s spectacular for no single, discernible reason.
That’s the power of synergy.
Take just one aspect of your show – the way you stand. Have you ever thought about it? Where you stand? How you stand?
If you’ve never given it thought, then you’re likely doing it wrong.
To learn how to adopt the perfect (for you) stance, go here and the secret shall be revealed. And you’ll have learned a handful of the essential 100 presentation choices to launch you on your way to deliver especially powerful presentations and to develop a personal competitive advantage.
The next step, of course, is to actually do it. In your next presentation.
More of the 100 Presentation Choices that constitute especially powerful business presentations here.
In short, much of what we call body language. Power Posing.
Especially Powerful Body Language
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.
Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message, and power posing is some of the most effective body language you can use.
But it’s essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood. It’s a secret that I’ve use with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So how does this relate to powerful business presenting?
Every way you can think of.
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language. We ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.
Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen. We get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Especially Powerful Positive Energy
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.
Consciously strike a pose that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be. This is power posing.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous that power posing can actually imbue us with power.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power and yourself with professional presence. If you want to acquire personal competitive advantage.
In our 21st Century vernacular, power posing means you should stand the way you want to feel.
Power posing – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face.
Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
They have a latticework of subtle animations and overtones that bulk out the size of the file, and I practice with them a great deal to make their presence an organic part of what the audience experiences.
All of which is why my own presentations may seem to carry a bit more heft than the norm. And so should yours.
PowerPoint slides constitute my intellectual property. Not the specific information contained on them, although some of the unorthodox ways I present it could be considered original.
No PowerPoint Slides for You!
The slides themselves are my IP, and often I must refuse well-meaning requests for a “copy of your slide deck” as if it’s just something I hand out to passersby. Like shareware.
In fact, some folks actually expect to get a copy of my presentation’s slides, which indicates to me how far down that sorry road we have come . . . the presentation is just a formality, really just a formal group slide reading.
Why pay attention if you’ll get a copy anyway?
Uh . . . no.
I believe that this strange tradition of passing out copies of presentation slides just prior to a talk was launched because most presentations feature slides that are virtually unreadable on the screen.
They feature dense blocks of text that assault audience sensibilities.
Hence, the tail began wagging the dog, as unreadable slidesrequired that hand-outs be supplied so that something could be intelligible.
This, of course, has led to mind-numbing presentations, where folks in the audience shuffle and rattle paper constantly as they “follow along.”
If your audience cannot “follow along” with your presentation, the solution is not slide hand-outs. You have a big problem presenting, and the solution is presentation training.
Stop the Paper-Shuffle!
The slide presentation, ideally, should not be a review source for an audience. Another document should be prepared for audience review and for take-home, a document that touches on the major points of the presentation and prepared in suitable format.
So when I receive requests for my slides from my shows on presentations, I point people in this direction.
This source has everything I talk about in my seminars . . . and more. Much more.
More detail, more gravitas, more examples.
And it’s designed to be read at home to help you develop an especially powerful presentation.
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 skill.
The article is so bad that I actually recommend that you read it to get the perspective of someone 1) who doesn’t know how to make a cogent argument, and 2) who obviously understands nothing about PowerPoint or how to use visual aids in delivering presentations.
His “argument” is akin to offering criticism of a bad high school football team as a reason to eliminate the NFL. Moreover, his lead sentence is a textbook exercise in the straw man argument . . . such argument as exists at all.
PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But not for those such as the hapless fellow writing in Business Insider.
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 Skill 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 in PowerPoint skill.
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.