Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially if you offer criticism.
Especially where it concerns criticism of current company policy.
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.
Presentation Attitude for Self-Preservation
Honesty is important, sure.
But a tremendous gulf separates honesty and candor. Let’s 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.
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.
In the audience may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place. They could be emotionally invested in a specific strategy.
They might be financially invested in it.
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.
Wound an Ego, You Pay a Price
Most times it pays to use a scalpel.
With lots of consideration and skill.
We’re easily wounded where our own projects are concerned, right?
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 doomed yourself.
Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize 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 without being abrasive. When you do, 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.
To deliver an especially powerful business presentation means that you must become the center of attention. In fact, you become the message itself, a sincere proponent of a position that you convey to an audience in animated and convincing style.
And yet this center-of-attention is the last thing that many business students want to be.
Many presenters would rather become part of the audience.
And some actually do.
They pivot to show the audience their backs. Then they edge backward toward the audience, almost becoming part of the assembled listeners.
They assume the role of Slide-Reader-in-Chief.
Everyone reads the slides together . . . if they’re legible at all to the audience. And this is an awful presentation, and you know it’s an awful presentation, and yet you do it anyway.
Why? Why not change that?
Let’s break out of the presentation paradox prison today and adopt techniques that can hone our skills to a scalpel-like edge. This won’t happen overnight, so let’s adopt one new thing each week and practice it to start building a personal competitive advantage.
You choose which technique out of many. My recommendation?
We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer especially powerful insights.
For me, it means sitting in on classes taught by my colleagues. It means reading outside my specialty area. It means exposure to doctrines I don’t rightly believe, but probably ought to understand.
How will this help in preparing my own classes? At this point, I can’t be certain. But I know it will. At some point.
And that’s the beauty and potential of it.
I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue in 3-dimensional fashion. They’ll be connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.
It will do the same for yours. And it will likely aid in your development into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.
For more on how to give interesting, and especially powerful, business presentations, click HERE.
One of the biggest disappointments I experience as a presentation coach is watching potential go unrealized because of stubbornness against presentation change.
An inability to change.
A disinclination to accept coaching.
A refusal to recognize improvement is needed.
No Presentation Change . . . No Improvement
And possibly the worst tendency of all: A proclivity to redefine what one already does as somehow acceptable rather than to change behavior in ways to become truly excellent at a skill.
This last proclivity – redefinition – pops up in the expected ways. Unfortunately it appears quite often, especially in our current zeitgeist, which is loath to offer criticism of any sort and is equally eager to validate any behavior that carries “strong feeling.”
If that “strong feeling” can be attributed to “culture” in some way, then there is almost no hope for improvement. None.
How can there be improvement when shortcomings can be redefined as “difference,” coupled with wheedling others to “respect difference.”
So poor presenting is transformed into someone else’s problem. The entire audience’s problem, in fact.
But What About . . . ?
Several years ago, in a lecture on “charisma,” I had just related the elements of charisma to an audience. I had given examples and had launched into a doable program of how most any speaker can develop charisma. That’s when a young woman asked me: “What about ‘quiet charisma?'”
“You know, quiet charisma.”
She was serious.
“No, I don’t know,” I said.
“There is no such thing. You have something in mind, obviously, and you are attempting to describe it, certainly, but whatever else it is, it is not charisma. Moreover, it is the exact opposite of the type of behavior we have talked about for the past 30 minutes.”
The young woman wanted charisma . . . but she did not want to develop the traits of charisma.
She wanted charisma, perhaps, but she wanted it on the cheap.
She wanted to be told that what she was already doing was charisma. She wanted to hear that her current performance was somehow “okay.”
She wanted me to redefine her own behavior as “charismatic” when it, in fact, was not.
This type of phony validation is all too frequent in our modern world of nonjudgmental-ism, where for some, improvement is almost an impossibility because every suggestion is viewed as an insulting challenge to someone’s humanity.
And So We See No Presentation Change. None.
Instead, the result is soothing assurance akin to the awarding of a T-Ball participation ribbon . . . to everyone, regardless of performance.
Unfortunately for the precious and rough-hewn, the business world is not as charitable as is the local T-Ball league.
That, and recognition that all of us can improve by embracing tested techniques, some of them proven over the course of two thousand years. In fact, great business presenting is a journey that never really ends, because we always must try new methods while steadily sharpening our mettle on the ones we embrace.
In other words, we must be willing to change what we do to reflect acquired knowledge.
Don’t seek phony validation, which is like wearing a medal for valor without demonstrating valor. Seek, instead, the wisdom that leads to especially powerful presentation change.
Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way. Malcolm X was a great presenter, and he used this technique better than most.
He could snap his audience to attention. He compelled his listeners to sit up straight, to focus on his message.
You can do this several ways, too. It’s up to you what method you choose, but it should fit your audience and your presentation.
One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line. This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.
Not just another canned talk.
One of the finest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X. Yes, Malcolm X was a great presenter, and his speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.
The Effects of Rhetoric
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator. He drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye. As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases.
And to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.
And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm. You almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.
With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.
Bad presentations launch with a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document. Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.
Especially Powerful Technique
Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience. Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.
This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course leavens our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has drawn in his listeners. He has laid out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.
He established a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
Malcolm X was a Great Presenter with Power and Depth
Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.
No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.” Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”
Straight to the point, and a bold point it is. See what comes next . . .
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
Has Malcolm studied his audience? Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?
Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.
For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience. Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk. Ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.
In subsequent posts, we look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation and builds to his call for action at the end.
If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing . . . and if you don’t have public speaking passion, you probably ought to reconsider.
You’re in the wrong line of work.
Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing public speaking passion, it’s likely that you shouldn’t be presenting at all.
Remember, there’s no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.”
As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.
You Provide the Public Speaking Passion
Interest is something that you do. You invest your presentation, regardless of the topic, with power, zest, verve, bravura, and excitement.
One powerful technique at your disposal is “passion.”
This means to embrace your topic. Regardless of whether you personally believe it to be interesting. Your task is to take a topic – any topic – and turn it into a masterpiece of public speaking passion.
Whether your subject is floor polish, chocolate milk, or bed linen, you create a presentation that holds your audience rapt.
You seize your audience by the metaphorical lapels, and you don’t let go.
Because Presenting Isn’t Easy
Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.
Passion is your solution. Public Speaking Passion is a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience. To make your listeners feel.
To compel your listeners to act.
Passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting. In fact, there is so little of this done today, that demonstrating presentation passion can become an important component of your personal brand and the source of personal competitive advantage.
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.
Her now-famous 2010 Harvard study of MBAs demonstrates conclusively that we can, indeed, control our emotions to a certain extent with regard to our delivery of business presentations.
In short, we can make ourselves feel confident and powerful . . . just by striking a powerful pose.
This is heady stuff, and Dr. Cuddy herself explains the process in the video below.
Power Posing Works
Dr. Cuddy’s findings are revolutionary to the extent that she substantially confirms a theory of emotions developed more than a century ago and since discarded for supposedly more au courant notions. Psychologists William James and Carl Lange conceived of a new way of understanding our emotions and how they work.
They reversed the prevailing dynamic this way . . .
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright.
Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that, and 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 engage in power posing and create our own confidence?
Power Posing can Create Confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
And Dr. Amy Cuddy’s research proves it. Have a look . . .
Dr. Cuddy offers powerful instruction for us in the realm of nonverbal communication and in the area of self-motivation and inculcation of power-generating behavior.
But . . .
There are aspects of this video that are instructive in verbal communication as well.
As a caveat, lest we learn other less salutary lessons from the video, I call attention to aspects of Dr. Cuddy’s unfortunate verbal delivery.
This is not to gratuitously disparage Dr. Cuddy, for I am one of her biggest fans, and I advocate her approach to power posing whenever and wherever I speak.
Let’s learn a few things about verbal delivery from the video.
Three Tics to Eliminate
First, her voice often collapses at the end of sentences into a growl-like vocal fry. This results from pinching off the flow of air before finishing a sentence, delivering the last syllables in a kind of grind.
Second, Dr. Cuddy engages frequently in uptalk. This is a verbal tic that pronounces declarative sentences as if they are questions or as if they are statements in doubt. It consists of running the last word or syllable in a sentence up in tone instead of letting it drop decisively. The difference to the ear is dramatic, with uptalk conveying self-doubt, indecision, a quest for validation.
Third, Dr. Cuddy unconsciously laces her talk with words such as “like” and “you know” as filler. Perhaps to maintain a steady drumbeat of verbiage? Who knows the reason people use these crutches.
Eliminate these fillers from your own talks to gain power and decisiveness. Instead of fillers, use silence. Develop the technique of pausing instead of filling every second of your talk with noise.
And so . . . learn the lessons of power posing and engage them in your presentations to imbue them with energy. But eliminate the verbal tics that can leech away that energy from your talk.
Can there be such a thing? How might it differ from “regular” charisma?
Yes, there is such a thing as business charisma. And it differs not at all from our generally accepted expectations.
In fact, charisma is a quality accessible to everyone who determines to possess it.
Who would not want to acquire the qualities of personal magnetism, a seeming aura that radiates enthusiastic goodwill, a mesmerizing speaking style, and a kind of restrained hyper-kinetic internal fuel cell that you sense could move mountains if unleashed?
Business charisma is charisma in the service of a particular set of goals outside of the expected set of occupations usually associated with charisma – acting, television personalities, rock stars, flamboyant sports personalities, and effusive lecturers whose material seems more tractable to audience interest.
But Business Charisma?
Business Charisma – Yours for the Taking
The caddish among us might believe it oxymoronic for those of us in business to exude charisma. Or that it’s at least so rare as to be hailed as an outlier when it appears . . . read: Steve Jobs.
But . . . Business is the natural soil for charisma to grow and thrive. We have drama . . . conflict . . . power . . . wealth . . . empire . . . generosity . . . deception . . . good versus evil . . .
The great issues of the day often turn on business. And on its leaders.
Business charisma is yours for the taking, and you can do many things to develop your own charismatic style.
See this fine book by Olivia Fox Cabane, for instance.
“I’m just not comfortable doing that. It’s just not me.”
This is what passes for sage wisdom in some quarters in reaction to new ideas, new methods, different techniques, and sometimes just good advice.
What if we were to apply this to another field . . . say, sports?
Think of players with enormous potential.
Players with the raw material to become great, if they would apply themselves.
Look at the big offensive lineman, who could end up starting for the football team, perhaps even take his performance to the next level of competition.
So the coaching staff schedules his training regimen designed to turn that potential into high performance results. He responds:
“I’m just not comfortable with all these exercises. It’s just not me.”
You won’t hear that comment often in the locker room or on the battlefield, but we hear it all the time in other venues of life.
Hokum, yes . . .
I think you know that the future isn’t bright for the player or soldier or businessman with this kind of precious attitude.
Of course not.
Developing new skills, new abilities, new strengths is uncomfortable. It means changing our behavior in sometimes unfamiliar ways. And instead of meeting the challenge by training hard, we can find ourselves taking a short cut.
We redefine our goals to encompass what we already do, so that we no longer have to stretch or strive to meet the original tough goals. We may find ourselves redefining what it means to excel. We lower the bar so as to meet our lower expectations rather than strive to excel to achieve a lofty and worthy goal.
We move the goal posts closer.
Several years ago, I was delivering a lecture on how to develop charisma. A young woman, who was surely not a charismatic speaker offered this gem “What about people who have quiet charisma?”
“I’m sorry. What did you say?”
“I mean people who don’t exhibit these characteristics you’ve been talking about, but show a quiet charisma.”
Those characteristics that I had referred to are personal magnetism, an almost tangible aura that radiates enthusiastic goodwill, a mesmerizing speaking style, and hyper-kinetic energy.
This person expressed that she was extremely “uncomfortable” with the techniques that, in fact, would help her become more charismatic in delivering her presentations. But rather than experience that discomfort, she chose instead to appeal to me to redefine charisma to include her own behavior.
Unambitious Goals . . . and a Lower Bar
Her behavior, of course, was the exact opposite of charismatic. She wanted to move the goalposts closer. She wanted to lower the bar.
Oxymoronic “quiet charisma.” Charisma on the cheap. Easy charisma.
There’s no such thing.
I told her to do what she pleased. But what she described did not constitute charisma, and no amount of wishing or redefining would make it so.
To reach a worthy goal, we may have to step outside of what is sometimes called our “comfort zone.” I prefer to think of it as enlarging our comfort zone rather than stepping outside of it.
Any time we begin to rationalize and redefine our goals, it is time to pause and reflect. Are we selling ourselves short?
Are we fooling ourselves?
Are we telling ourselves that we possess “quiet charisma” instead of doing the hard work and practice necessary to achieve the real thing?
Passion captures much of what makes for an especially powerful business presentation.
Business is Passionate, so Capture it
In earlier times, they used the word “Earnestness” to capture the same powerful concept as passion.
Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory. It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”
What was true then is surely true today. Michelle Bowden is a presentation guru who embraces presentation earnestness.
And yet, “earnestness” – or business passion – is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.”
If you appear too interested in your business presentation, that puts you at risk . . . you think. If you “fail” then you face utter humiliation. Or so you believe.
Better to pretend you don’t care, eh?
Showing Too Much Interest?
So the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool, so that no defeat is too damaging. Sleepwalk your way through your presentation.
No business passion for you!
And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else.
For your friends, for your sports contests, for your facebook status updates, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .
But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.
Is mediocrity acceptable to you? Do you settle? Do you want to simply muddle through your presentations, part of an ocean of undistinguished colleagues who also seem not to care?
Leave Mediocrity to Others and Embrace Business Passion
Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. Shurter was a keen observer of presentations, and he recognized the key role played by business passion in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”
Wrap your material in you. And recognize that we in business are blessed with the stuff of great stories, epic stories of conflict. Of victory and defeat. Of triumph and tragedy. Of power and business passion.
This means giving a business presentation that no one else can give. A presentation that no one else can copy. Why? Because it arises from your essence, from your own core.
It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject. It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life. It could be their business or their product. Or their service. You should make it yours and put business passion into your presentation.
In the process, you craft your persona, your powerful personal brand that differentiates you from the great hoi-polloi of undistinguished speakers. And you achieve remarkable personal competitive advantage.
Embrace your topic with earnestness, and you will shine as you deliver an especially powerful business presentation.
I should say potential power. For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited.
That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.
Forfeiture of Power
Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.
What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions. It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice. It’s what they sense on a subliminal level. That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.
Here, Paulson describes the impact of professional presence. Entire books have been written on how to develop professional presence, and I reference one here by Peggy Noe Stevens.
Professional presence is the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message. A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.
You become part of the message. You exert your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful professional presence.
You become charismatic.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background. Now we have naked information overflow. We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with this. They don’t mind becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background. And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.
Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena. They don’t want to be compared to you and your extraordinary presentation skills. They would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms. Terms other than professional presence.
Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.
You become like everyone else.
The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker. That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public. Without that champion – without that powerful professional presence – a presentation is an empty shell.
It becomes an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
The Secret of Professional Presence
Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool. Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, and convincing.
Gone is Quintilian’s ideal orator: “The good man, well-spoken.”
We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.
This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter. A presenter commanding the facts and delivering compelling arguments. A presenter using all the tools at his or her disposal.
This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.
You can fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd. Or you can seize the moment. You can develop your presentation skills to contribute to a charismatic professional presence.
Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter with a premium personal brand? Why not seize the incredible personal competitive advantage of professional presence?
Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your business presentation audience to how you appear to your audience . . . an important source of personal competitive advantage.
Your appearance can cultivate this advantage. So right now let’s dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like . . . it’s the message that counts.”
This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage. You can adopt the exact opposite perspective right now and steal a march on the competition. Most folks your age won’t go that route, particularly those stuck in liberal arts.
It’s much more dramatic to deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?
Take the Smart Fork
Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations. Present a superior appearance in both public and private job interviews to gain a personal competitive advantage.
Here is the upshot. Presentation appearance matters a great deal. It’s up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and to the message we want to send.
“Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may. But it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.
Is that “fair?”
It’s fair for Personal Competitive Advantage
It certainly is fair! You may simply not like it. It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.
But here’s the deal . . . You’re on display in front of a group of buyers. They want to know if your message is credible. Your appearance conveys cues to your audience. It can convey one of two chief messages, with little wiggle room between them.
First, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: Sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .
Or . . .
Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are: Slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.
Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job. So it pays to burnish your personal brand all the time to achieve the much-coveted personal competitive advantage.
That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit was awful. It might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend. But you blew the deal. Without even knowing it.
Don’t Eliminate Yourself from Contention
How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard appearance? How many opportunities pass you by? How many great connections do you forfeit?
Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket. But recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.
Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message. So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose.
For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit. Simple.
Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You.
Both of these books are worth the price. They contain the right kind of advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.
You can improve your speaking voice to become a first-rate business presenter, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.
Some folks get skittish and think the voice they have now is somehow “natural” and should not be tinkered with.
No, your voice isn’t “natural” in any meaningful sense. In fact, its qualities are likely the result of years of chaotic development and influence from many factors.
Why not seize control of that development process and begin to improve your speaking voice today?
Improve Your Speaking Voice
Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad. And all sorts of voices fit in-between.
Here are some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.
Let’s call them “verbal tics.” They are nothing more than bad habits born of unconscious neglect and chaotic voice development over years of influence from sources as disparate as television, radio, parents, and peers.
They eat away at your credibility. Recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power. They are easily corrected.
Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .
Vocal Fry – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence. The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word.
Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark. Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his vocal fry into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.
This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.” Vocal Fry is manifested by a creaking and grating on the last word or syllable.
It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade. As if a frog is croaking in the throat. As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.
When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.
Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.” This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.
The last syllables of a word are lost in breath. The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.
The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room. It deflates the audience. In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.
Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like. Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.
It’s an affectation, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.
Uptalk – This heinous affectation is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.” Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked. If you could choose only one thing to change to improve your speaking voice, this would be it. Uptalk is so corrosive to credibility that correcting this one pathology can transform a weak presentation and how it is received by a skeptical audience.
It radiates weakness and uncertainty and conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.
Sentence after sentence in succession spoken as if questions.
You create a tense atmosphere with the verbal up-tic that is almost demonic in its effect. This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.
At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.
In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians. The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.
Speech coach Susan Miller superbly describes these speech pathologies and offers remedies for both vocal fry and uptalk here.
These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting. Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them
Here’s a presenter who carefully follows the Three Ps of business presenting and quite obviously succeeds at his performance in a Gangnam Style Presentation.
The Three Ps, of course, are: Principles . . . Preparation . . . and Practice.
The presenter calls himself Psy.
In this Gangnam Style presentation, Psy engages the Seven Secrets of presenting – the principles of Voice, Expression, Gesture, Appearance, Stance, Passion, and Movement – for a stunning performance. Note that the acronym formed by those seven words is appropriate to this particular presentation:
Applying the Three Ps
Moreover, while Psy exhibits incredible professional presence, he doesn’t rely solely on his charisma to carry his presentation. He and his support team prepared meticulously for this performance, and they’ve obviously practiced much.
The presenter engages his audience, gives them exactly what they expected to receive, and encourages audience participation.
He exhibits tremendous focus on his main point, repeating his main point several times so that it isn’t lost – otherwise known as his song’s chorus – and he uses the same repeated choral movement to emphasize visually his song’s chorus.
View this Gangnam Style Presentation with these precepts in mind.
The comparison to superb business presenting is by no means a reach.
When you present, you give your audience a show. Accordingly, you should prepare your show according to principles almost identical to those used by any stage performer.
You might not expect the kind of crazed enjoyment of your business presentation exhibited by the audience in the video (and I congratulate you if you achieve it). But you can apply the precepts of presenting to meet your audience expectations, engage your listeners, and drive home your main point with repetition and focus.
Deliver a Gangnam Style Presentation
You can thoroughly prepare and practice your presentation, just as any worthy stage performer does. Respect for your audience and your message demands no less than that you employ the Three Ps of business presenting.
Do this consistently, and you increase your personal competitive advantage tremendously as someone known for capable and competent business presenting.
In short, much of what we call body language. Power Posing.
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 is 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, and 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.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive with Power Posing
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. 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.
No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation, but judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your speaking voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.
This results from many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.
It is sometimes called the puberphonic voice, and this is not meant as a compliment.
Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon speaking voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.” This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.
This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit. Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.
Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations. They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations. If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be. They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?
One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak. As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.
Reality TV Infests Everything
Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way. They surround us.
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 a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence. A voice fry that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I often hear this cartoon speaking voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms. Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords. What do I mean by this?
Let’s have an example. Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.” It was heinous.
I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.” Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it. And apparently “totally” so. Ya know?
“Like. Like. Like. Totally! Like. Like. Like. Totally! It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever. Ya know what I mean?”
She fired them out in machine-gun fashion. A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying. Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre. It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.
A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.
The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks. Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone. No resonance came from the chest. Her cartoon speaking voice rasped on the ears.
Every sentence spoken as a question.
Dum-Dums . . .
Two major problems surface here. First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating. Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”
Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.
“Like. Totally! Ya know?Ummm. Like. Totally! It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know? Ummm. Whatever.”
Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.
Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this. And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility. Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill empty air with dum-dums.
Dum-dums result from lazy thought and lazier speech. It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.
Exaggeration? No, it’s a voice you hear every day.
Listen for it. Maybe it’s your voice.
Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption
In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a lowest common denominator stripe.
If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying. The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who wait to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.
Cartoon Speaking Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show. You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way. You are toast before you open your mouth.
Badly burned toast.
But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.
If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions: Why do I talk like this?
Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way? Why do all of my sentences sound like questions? Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?
Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!
Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone. But you don’t have to do it!
Nope, don’t change a thing!
If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on! Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers. Relish it. Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.
Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!
But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.
You make a conscious choice. Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences. You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?
Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.
When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.
Personal presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.
I should say potential power.
For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited in a shameless squandering of personal competitive advantage.
Forfeiture of Personal Competitive Advantage
That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit. Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.
What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions. It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice. It’s what they sense on a subliminal level. That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.
Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.
It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message. A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.
Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow and pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, communicating with and persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays. And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.
Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena, and they would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.
Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage. You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.
The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker. That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public. Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.
It becomes a bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
Rise of the Automatons
Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool. Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker. Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.
Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator: “The good man, well-spoken.”
We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.
This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.
This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.
Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd. Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™
Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?
One surefire way to gain personal competitive advantage is to pledge to become an especially powerful business presenter. In fact, it’s an open secret, very much like a football laying on the field, waiting to be picked up and run for a touchdown.
Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”
Rather than mere provocation, the question addressed the issue of your presentation voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.
“Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely unaddressed. For many reasons. Pride. Ego. Sensitivity.
As such, it remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
Your Presentation Voice
Your voice can be a sensitive issues.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
The result can be awful.
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 Presentationi 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, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
High-pitched. Small. Weak. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.
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. A voice that can even hurt your social life.
Cartoon Presentation Voice
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a daytime television show. This ABC Network television program, an abysmal offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain. Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication. They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
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 presentation 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.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.
It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back.
It’s also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed 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 in especially powerful business presentations?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
For instance, the Power Zone of presentation charisma . . . a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.
It always amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.
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.
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 contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.
In my presentations to various audiences, I am often 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.
Presentation charisma is yours for the taking. It’s entirely up to you.
Ideological Objections to Presentation Charisma
The latest batch of objections I heard sprang from one woman’s ideology. 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.
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 if it sounds otherwise.
She 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 do that 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. 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.
Your Comfort is Irrelevant to Presentation Charisma
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 presentation 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.
And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.
But some folks scowl 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.
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 toward the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma. The path toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.