Category Archives: Charisma

Where’s Your Presentation Passion?

Presentation Passion is an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage
Imbue your business presentations with passion for especially powerful impact

If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You’re in the wrong line of work.

Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing presentation passion, you shouldn’t be presenting at all.

Remember, there is 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 Presentation 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.”

Inject Presentation 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 presentation 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.

Tough?  Yes.

Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.

Passion is your solution, a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience.

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.

Have a look at my short video on passion . . .

For more on presentation passion and professional presence consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presenting (The Secret for Higher Waitstaff Tips)

Cicero was the greatest of Roman orators
Business presentation software such as PowerPoint wasn’t available to Cicero, and this likely was one reason he was an especially powerful presenter

Before computers.  Before television and radio.  Before loudspeakers.

Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker.

The “presenter.”

Public speaking was considered close to an art form.  Some did consider it art.

Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people:  Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors.  The first trying to save your soul, the second to take your money, the third to save your life, the fourth to transport you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.

Skills of the Masters

Other professions utilized the proven communication skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen.  These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking.

To suck the life from “presenting.”

The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over the course of centuries.  The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument, the persuasive powers of words.

Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory, coupled with the “wrong” ideas.

Business School Presenting, the source of competitive advantage
Becoming a skilled presenter is the open secret to achieving personal competitive advantage and professional presence

In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us.  We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message.And yet the result has been something quite different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them. Each new advancement in technology creates another barrier between the speaker and the audience.

Today’s presenters have fastened hold of the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.

The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear.  The focus has shifted from the speaker to the fireworks, and this has led to such a decline to the point where in extreme cases the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”

And in many awful cases, this is exactly what happens.  It’s almost as if the presenter becomes a member of the audience.

PowerPoint and props are just tools.  That’s all.

You should be able to present without them.  And when you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.

In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university.  Some of them give fabulous presentations.  Most give adequate presentations.  They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.

On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income

For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.

The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.

Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress – they view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard.  Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.

Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.

As a waiter, ask yourself:  “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”

Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers.  In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.

I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening.  I do mean taking your job seriously, learning your temporary profession’s rules, crafting a presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity, and then displaying enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.

The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience

Yes, heroic.  Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.

Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you’ll win every time.

I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward.  Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation.  The reverse is likewise true.

The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical.  The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.

But the principles are the same.

And so, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking. Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold.

Adopt the habits of the masters.  Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the maestros who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.

They and their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful presentations.

The rest of the story is found here.

Put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations

Especially Powerful Business Presentations mean personal competitive advantage
Powerful Business Presentation Skills Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

You can front-load your introduction and put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations to  seize your audience from the first second of your show.

Or you can tiptoe into your business presentation so no one notices you.

Which would you choose?

You’d choose the introduction with Pow, of course!

But many people don’t.

Many folks in business school, in fact, simply don’t launch powerful business presentations for one excellent reason.

The Reason Why Many Business Presentations Sputter

Many folks don’t know how to begin a presentation.

Do you?

What?

“Of course I know how to begin a presentation.  What kind of fool does this guy think I am?”

But do you?  Really?

Does your intro have Pow?  Consider for a moment . . .

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, like so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing?  Do you back into it?

Powerful Business Presentation
Do you poke your head out instead of delivering a powerful business presentation?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?  Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?

One major problem with all of this is that you exhibit horrendous body language that destroys your credibility.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

You begin with your grabber . . . then follow immediately with your Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience are there.

What will you tell them?  The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

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

Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk, thanking the board for the “opportunity,” thanking the conference staff, thanking the bartender for generous pours.

 powerful business presentations
Personal Competitive Advantage through Powerful Business Presentations

Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?

You Need Pow!

Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign.  Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2011 and increase our market share.  By another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next year to result in a much stronger and competitive market position.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.  No metaphorical throat-clearing.

No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.

You have set the stage for a powerful business presentation.

Put the Pow into Your Powerful Business Presentation!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“As we sit here today — right now —  changes in our industry attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival . . . or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.  We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and our marketing team’s  solution to regain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.  The reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.

We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.

And we must front-load our introduction with Pow! to include our recommendation.

That’s why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To recommend action!

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.  Right at the start.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

For more on putting the Pow! into powerful business presentations, have a look here.

CLASSIC COKE . . . Bad Presenting

A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and youve seen it dozens of times.

You see it in the average corporate meeting, after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.

While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do, particularly when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.

If they dont know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss professionally not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.

Grafted to the Lectern

The speaker stands behind a lectern.  The speaker grips the lectern on either side.  The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.

You quickly recognize that the lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.

Many business examples illustrate this, and youve probably witnessed many of them yourself.  Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.

I have relayed this video of Mr. Kent before, but it bears repeating since it embodies so much of what is wrong with corporate presenting, both explicitly and implicitly.  And why so little improvement is possible if we attempt to mimic corporate drones.

Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions when he is not speaking to a group.  But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent and he reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.

He leans on the lectern.  He hunches uncomfortably.  He squints and reads his speech from a text in front of him and, when he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.

He wears glasses with little chains hanging from either side of the frame, and these dangle and sway and distract us, drawing our gaze in hypnotic fashion.

This Video rated PG-13 for excessive violence done to good speaking skills

In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University in which he begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech.

Have a look . . .

 

 

Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so.  No one will tell them so, because there’s no upside in doing it.  Why would you tell your boss, let-alone the CEO, that he needs improvement in presenting?  Such criticism cuts perilously close to the ego.

Many business leaders believe their own press clippings, and they invest their egos into whatever they do so that it becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves.  They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.

Such as business presenting.

Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman.  But he is a poor speaker.  He is a poor speaker with great potential.  And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates for their businesses.

Spreading Mediocrity

But as it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.  Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect, where those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors.  We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.

Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”

You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, reads from barely relevant slides, then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.  Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done?  This is, after all, the unfortunate standard.

But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .

You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.

A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.

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

Malcolm X Presentation Skill

The Malcolm X presentation
Malcolm X was a powerful presenter, a passionate man of strong belief and charismatic bearing, and the Malcolm X presentation is a textbook on how to sway an audience

Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way, and no better way to do it than a Malcolm X presentation.

Make it sit up straight, snap their heads in your direction.

You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose, but it should fit your audience and the topic of 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 greatest public speakers of modern times was the late Malcolm X.  His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation.  He then mobilized his audience with an especially powerful call to action.

His techniques are so powerful that he deserves a category all his own.

And so I coin what I call the Malcolm X Presentation.

The Malcolm X Presentation

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.  His charisma was unquestioned and it grew organically from the wellspring of passion that he invested in his cause and in every speech.

Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.  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.

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.

The Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation used word pictures and various other rhetorical techniques to stir his audiences to action

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.

They sputter with stale phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or giving 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.  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 will leaven 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 and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.

He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport.  He then states boldly – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

No Chit-Chat  in a Malcolm X Presentation

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 important 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.  He focused on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes.

He framed the issue in colorful language, and created listener expectations that he would 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 the Malcolm X presentation and ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.

In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.

If you want to learn more about the techniques that energize a Malcolm X presentation, as well as the secrets that other powerful speakers use in their presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Uptalk Undermines the Best Presentations

Uptalk can kill your professional reputation
Why handicap your business presentations with juvenile uptalk?

Uptalk is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.

Once it grips you, uptalking is reluctant to let go.

It’s maddening, and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It bellows amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here . . . I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

If you have this affectation – and if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.

Quash Uptalk!

But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.  But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling Verbal Up-tic?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

This is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness, a general creepiness.

At its worst, your listeners want 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.  They call it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her uptalk.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.  Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalk.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.  For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on presentation pathologies like uptalk and how to overcome them in especially powerful fashion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Don’t Lower the Bar . . . Jump Higher

Practice and Preparation
Training and Preparation make for a much more powerful performance

“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 hokum.

For example, 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.  Coaches schedule his training regimen.  He responds:

“I’m just not comfortable with all these exercises.  It’s just not me.”

Hokum, yes . . .

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.

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, we can find ourselves taking a short cut.

Personal Competitive Advantage means working hard
Quiet Charisma . . . the Oxymoron

We attempt to 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 continue to 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, 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 [here, of course, I exaggerate . . . but the point is made].

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 . . . a Lower Bar

Behavior that 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

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?

Think about it.

For more on developing an especially powerful professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Business Presenting . . . CLASSIC COKE

Coke CEO does not present well
Even the largest and most respected corporations have speaking pathologies running rampant in the senior leadership

A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and youve seen it dozens of times.

You see it in the average corporate meeting, after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.

While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do, particularly when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.

If they dont know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss professionally not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.

The speaker stands behind a lectern.  The speaker grips the lectern on either side.  The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.

The lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.

This Video rated PG-13 for excessive violence done to good speaking skills

Many business examples illustrate this, and youve probably witnessed lots of them yourself.  Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.

Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions where he is not speaking to a group.  But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent and he reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.

He leans on the lectern.  He hunches uncomfortably.  He squints and reads his speech from a text in front of him and, when he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.  He wears glasses with little chains hanging from either side of the frame, and these dangle and sway and attract our attention in hypnotic fashion.

In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University in which he begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech. Have a look . . .

Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so.  No one will tell them so, because there’s no upside in doing it.

Why would you tell your boss, let-alone the CEO, that he needs improvement in presenting?  Such criticism cuts perilously close to the ego.

Many business leaders believe their own press clippings, and they invest their egos into whatever they do so that it becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves.  They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.

Such as business presenting.

Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman.  But he is a poor speaker.  He is a poor speaker with great potential.

And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates for their businesses.

Spreading Mediocrity

But as it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.  Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect, where those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors.  We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.

Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”

You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, reads from barely relevant slides, then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.  Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done?  This is, after all, the unfortunate standard.

But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .

You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.

A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.

Embrace the notion that you can become an especially powerful business presenter . . . you might find help in this book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret #1 . . . Especially Powerful

A powerful stance imbued Kennedy with much of his charisma

Your Ready Position.

Your ready position is the default stance you assume when giving your talk, when not emphasizing with movement and gesture.

It’s a stance affirmed by more than 2,000 years of trial and error, and imbues your talk with an especially powerful ambience.

Have you thought about how you’ll stand while you give your talk?  I refer to the time when you’re not moving about the stage to emphasize this or that point.  This ready position is your anchor, your life preserver in a storm.

Your safe harbor.

Powerful . . . Confident . . . In Command

When you stride to the stage, move to the command position in front of the lectern and facing the crowd.  Now, plant yourself as you would a paving stone in a garden.  Plant yourself firmly, as a stone, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed, shoulders squared.

Plant yourself as a deeply rooted Redwood.

Do not slouch or put more weight on one foot than on the other.  Point your toes slightly outward.  Neither slump, nor stiffen.  Shoulders back, head up, expectant.

Do not allow your head to settle down betwixt your collar bones.  This compresses your neck like a concertina.  It cramps your voice box and cuts the flow of air that you need to speak. 

At this point, let your hands hang loosely at your sides . . . (in a moment, we’ll give you something to do with your hands).

Walking and pointing and looking and eye-contact?  Forget it for now.

Forget it all for now.

First, you must seize control of yourself.

You must control all of those little tics and habits and nervous gestures that leech the strength from your presentation.  The tics and habits that telegraph your nervousness and lack of confidence.

What tics and habits, you say?  Every young presenter has at least some of them and the ready position can help remedy the following pathologies.

Do Not cross your leg in front of you while you balance on the other. This “standing cross” is more prevalent, for some reason, among female presenters than among males. Some males have this habit as well. This is a particularly debilitating movement from both the standpoint of the audience and for you. It projects instability. And it makes you feel unstable.

Do Not cock your hip to one side – this is called a “hip-shot.” Again, this action undermines your foundation. This hip-shot posture degrades your presentation in multiple ways. It shouts nonchalance. It denotes disinterest and impatience. It cries out to the audience a breezy bar demeanor that is completely at odds with the spoken message you want to convey.

Do Not engage in little choppy steps. This side-to-side dance is common. It telegraphs nervousness.

Do Not slump your shoulders. Few things project lack of confidence like rounded shoulders. Slumping shoulders can be a reflexive response to nervousness that leads to a “closed body position.”

Again.  Stand in one place, your feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward.  Arms at your sides.

Your goal at this point is to maintain a solid physical foundation.  To project an image of confidence to the audience and to imbue yourself with confidence in point of fact.  You begin to do this with your stance – solid and confident.

Now here is the most important guidance I can provide you for your Foundation “Ready” position.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

Stand as described, and place your left hand in your pants pocket, out of the way.  This position should be your default position.  Putting the hand in your pocket gets it out of the way and keeps you out of trouble.  Moreover, it projects confidence.

And, no, it is not “unprofessional.”

This position carries a multitude of positives and no negatives.  You never go wrong with this position.

It imbues you with confidence and keeps you copacetic.  To your audience, it projects competence, confidence, reassurance, and sobriety:  “Here is someone who knows his/her stuff.”

This is your Ready Position.

Your Ready Position is the foundation-stone upon which charisma, confidence, and professional presence is projected to your audience.  It is a component of your personal competitive advantage that is bestowed on the presenter with superior skills.

Professional Presence means passion and confidence
Powerful poses come to us from many great figures of history, with good reason

Everything else you do flows from this position.  Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.

Stop!

Stop and think. When you are ready to make a point that is crucial to your thesis . . . When you are ready to shift subjects or major ideas . . . then

Then, step to the left while addressing the people on the left flank.  Talk to them.  Then, step to the right and address those on your right.  Hold open your hands, palms up.  Walk toward your audience a step or two.  Look them in the eyes.  Speak to individuals.

Then, step back to the center and retake your ready position.

Let your movements emphasize your points.  When you gesture to a portion of the audience, step toward them in a kind of supplication.

Always always, always go back to the ready postion.  I have seen dozens of young speakers transformed into capable, confident speakers by virtue of this alone.  How is that possible?  By removing the doubt associated with “How will I stand.”

 This powerful and stable stance imbues you with confidence, your first step toward building positive energy within yourself.

The Ready Position — it’s your safe harbor in a sea of presentation uncertainty.

To gain deeper understanding of the techniques you can use to enhance your stance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

CLASSIC: “I feel especially powerful today!”

I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”

It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.

Picture it.  This is a critical and powerful pose.

Power Personified

Then visualize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”

Several times.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Which is . . . what?

Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?

First, I don’t do cute.  Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting.

Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.

In short, much of what we call body language.

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.

But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized 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.

William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.

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 what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?

Everything.

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.  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?  Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

Turn Negative Energy into Positive

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can consciously 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 bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.

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.

Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

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 and speaks directly to us.

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.  In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and 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.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

For especially powerful guidance on delivering a sterling presentation every time, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Use Expression in Presentations

Work on your expression in presentation for personal competitive advantage
We should ensure that our expression in presentation is consonant with our words and accurately reflects our personal brand at all times

You communicate far more with your face than you probably realize, so you should be aware of how expression in presentations can enhance or degrade your business presentation.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.  Yes, there is something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Look no further than the accompanying photo to absorb the lesson of how our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it.

A thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.

The problem of bad expression has plagued speakers for centuries.  Some of our earliest writers on oratory lamented the poor expressive skills of the folks who take to the stage to speak.

Quintilian was a great Roman teacher of oratory in his time.  He’s influenced many generations of public speakers ince the recovery of his classic manuscripts in the 15th Century.

Perhaps you’ve not heard of Quintilian?  It’s time you did.

Expression in Presentation for 1,900 Years

Quintilian published his monumental Institutes of Oratory at the end of the 1st Century AD, and it continues as a powerfully influential treatise on presentations today.  It’s rich with insight and practical instruction.  Take this passage on expression:

[The teacher] will have to take care that the face of his pupil, while speaking, look straight forward; that his lips be not distorted; that no opening of the mouth in moderately distend his jaws.  That his face be not turned up, or his eyes cast down too much, or his head inclined to either side.  The face offends in various waysl.  I have seen many speakers, whose eyebrows were raised at every effort of the voice.  Those of others I have seen contracted.  Those of some even disagreeing, as they turned up one towards the top of the head, while with the other the eye itself was almost concealed.  To all these matters, as we shall hereafter show, a vast deal of importance is to be attached.  For nothing can please which is unbecoming.

Expression in Presentation
We still feel Quintilian’s influence after 2,000 years; his personal brand remains relevant

Would that our modern instructors of presentations would take a moment to share even the most modest of insights offered by great orators such as Quintilian.  He remains relevant and incisive after 1,900 years.  On the need for coordinated and thoughtful expression, and a great many other timeless techniques.

That’s staying power.  And a heckuva personal brand.

And as he notes with respect to expression, nothing can please which is unbecoming.  Your facial expression should reflect your spirit.  It should reveal your heart and your soul, and if it does, you will be in no danger of appearing “unbecoming.”

Your face should transmit sincerity and earnestness consonant with your words.  So I urge you in your presentations to smile often . . . frown sparingly . . . stare never . . . question occasionally . . . and show sincerity throughout.

To continue exploring the power of expression in presentations, as well as your personal brand and personal competitive advantage, consult my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Passion for Competitive Advantage

presentation passion
Imbue your business presentation with presentation passion to fire the imagination of your audience

If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing, and likewise if you don’t display presentation passion when you deliver your business presentation, well . . .  you probably shouldn’t be presenting at all.

You’re in the wrong line of work.

Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic . . .   

I have a pet peeve about this particular issue.  Folks who can’t “get excited” about their topic.

Because they think their topic is “boring.”

No Inherently Interesting Topics

Remember, there is no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.”  Interest is something you do.  It’s why you get paid the big bucks.

As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.  In fact, some of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever seen have been engineered around what some people might call uninteresting topics.

Instead of wincing at the topic at issue, the team invested themselves in the presentation enterprise to bring excitement and enthusiasm to their show.  And passion.

Because presentation passion is a powerful technique at your disposal.  It’s rarely used enough.

It’s rarely used at all, in fact, in business presentations. 

Because passion might be, well . . . “unseemly.”

And yet it can accomplish much in taking your business presentation to heretofore unreachable heights.

Presentation Passion is the Key

Presentation passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting.

Have a look at my short video on passion . . .

You needn’t contort your face or demonstrate spasms of activity to demonstrate passion.  Just be genuinely excited with the matter at hand.  If you’re not, consider moving on to activities less demanding of the passionate investment.

For top-notch presenting, you cannot do without it.

For more on investing your business presentations with presentation passion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Passion – Your Secret Weapon

Presentation Passion means power
Presentation Passion means developing a professional and charismatic presence in delivering your business presentations

In our battle to fight through the white noise of life to communicate with others, we often ignore the most powerful of weapons at our disposal – Presentation Passion.

Passion, emotion, earnestness, brio, energy.

Sure, we pay occasional homage to emotion and to “passion.”

But more often than not, it’s only lip service.

You don’t really believe this stuff, do you?  Or maybe your fear of others’ judgments pushes out thoughts of investing your talks with something interesting.

We save our presentation passion for other activities.  For our sports teams and our politics and, perhaps, religion.  We separate our “real” selves from our work and from our “formal” exposition in front of an audience.

Maybe we construct a barrier for the audience, to prevent an audience from seeing our vulnerabilities.  Perhaps we affect an air of nonchalance as a defensive mechanism.

Nonchalance is the Enemy

Regardless of the reason, by not investing ourselves in our presentation and in our narrative, we render ourselves less persuasive.  If we purge our presentation passion, we are less effective, perhaps even ineffective.

Emotion is a source of speaker power.  You can seize it.  You can use it to great effect.

And you can learn to do this more easily than you imagine.

James Albert Winans was a Presenting Master early in the 20th century, and he offered this beautifully crafted description of passion’s power.  Brilliant discovered words from 1915:

A speaker should feel what he says, not only to be sincere, but also to be effective.  It is one of the oldest of truisms that if we wish to make others feel, we ourselves must feel.  . . .   We know we do not respond with enthusiasm to an advocate who lacks enthusiasm.  And quite apart from response, we do not like speakers who do not seem to care.  We like the man who means what he says.

Do you mean what you say? Do you even care? Or do you sleepwalk through your assignments?  Reading from a note card, reading from the slides behind you, oblivious to why you are up there?

Now, one purpose of this counsel is not simply for you to display powerful emotions in service to a cause.  You are not simply “being emotional” for its own sake.  You want to evoke emotions in your audience.  You want them to think, yes, but you also want them feel.

You want to establish a visceral connection with your audience.

Dont Purge Presentation Passion

Sometimes it may seem as if you must purge all emotion from your presentations, especially your business presentations.

It’s as if you are instructed to behave like a robot under the guise of looking “professional” or “business-like.”

We can find that we respond too readily to these negative cues.  We think that if A is “good,” then twice as much of A is twice as good.  And three times as much of A is even better.

And without presentation passion, our business presentations suffer.

The Indifferent Presenter?

So, let’s accept right now that emotion and professionalism are not exclusive of each other.  Conversely, shun indifference.

The opposite of earnestness is indifference. An indifferent man cares no more for one thing than for another. All things to him are the same; he does not care whether men around him are better or worse. . . .  There are other opposites to earnestness besides indifference. Doubt of any kind, uncertainty as to the thought or to the truth, a lack of conviction, all these tend to destroy earnestness.

You know the indifferent man or woman, delivering a presentation that obviously means nothing to him or her.  Perhaps you’ve done this.  Haven’t we all at one time or another?

Unknowing of emotion, believing that we cannot show we care?

Do you just go through the motions?  I understand why you might cop this attitude.  Layer upon layer of negative incentives weigh down the college student.  Adding to your burden is the peer pressure of blasé.  It’s perceived as “uncool” to appear to care about anything, to actually do your best.  Certainly to do your best on schoolwork of any kind.

Understand from this moment that this is wrong.  No, it is not a matter of opinion . . . it is not a “gray area.”  It is incontrovertibly wrong.

If you don’t care, no one else will.  And if you don’t care, you will lose to the presenter who does care.

Lose the job you want to someone else.

Lose the contract you want to someone else.

Lose the promotion you want to someone else.

Lose the influence you want to someone else.

It’s Time to Win with Presentation Passion

Does this seem too “over the top” for you?  Of course it does!

That’s because you’ve likely been conditioned to look askance at the kinds of rich, lusty pronouncements that embrace emotion rather than scorn it.

And that is a major part of the B-School Presentation Problem.

When was the last time a business professor criticized you for showing too much emotion in your presentation?

Have you ever heard anyone criticized for it?  For giving a presentation with too much feeling?  Or for being too interesting?

For actually making you care?  For actually being memorable for more than a few moments?

Now, think for a moment of the incredible power that might be yours if you embrace emotion and presentation passion when no one else does.

The wonder and delight of this is that it is entirely within your grasp to do so.

More on presentation passion and personal competitive advantage here . . .

How to Conclude a Presentation

How to conclude a presentation with Power and Grace
These Magic Words can conclude a presentation that spirals down out of control at the end

Let’s toss out a life preserver on how to conclude a presentation, because everyone needs a life-preserver at some point in his speaking career.

I’ve tossed this rescue device out many times to students in trouble during a business presentation.

At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble, and having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.

Your Life Preserver to Conclude a Presentation

Occasionally we must be reminded of this quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.

When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .

When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .

When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .

Grasp for two words.

Your life-preserver.

“In conclusion . . .”

That’s it.  Just two words.

Conclude a Presentation with Pith and Power

These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well.

These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe.  As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.

Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.

Here is what you do.  Confidently tack on another phrase . . .

“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”

“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”

“In conclusion, this means that . . .”

See how it works?  You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control?

“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path.  It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .

. . . stop!

You’re done.

But you’re not done building your Personal Competitive Advantage by improving your business presentation skills . . . consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on how to conclude a presentation.

Get Rid of Presentation Stage Fright

presentation stage fright
The audience won’t bite . . . in fact, 99 percent want you and your business presentation to succeed

After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.

When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.

It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.

Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.

It’s almost paradoxical.  When we have it, it’s invisible.  When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.

Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.

Or so we think.  Let’s back into this thing called confidence.

Take the Trip Test

Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up?  You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .

. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking?  Do you feel shame of some sort?  If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others?  Even strangers.

Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?

Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.

Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.

This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent.  It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.

Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.

Presentation Stage Fright Begone!

For many, the audience is your bogeyman.  For some reason you fear your audience.  But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.

And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.

They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.

Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed.  They want to be entertained.  Please entertain us, they think.

They are open to whatever new insight you can provide.  And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers.  They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.

And so confidence is yours for the taking.

Seize Confidence for Yourself

Confidence is not a thing.

It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought.  It’s a state of mind, isn’t it?  It’s a feeling.  When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.

What does it really mean to be confident?  Can you answer that direct question?  Think about it a moment.

See?  We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action.  Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.Presentation Stage Fright

Is it certitude?

Is it knowledge?

Is it bravery?

Is it surety?

Think of the times when you are confident.  You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument.  It could be an activity.

Why are you confident?

Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty.  For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful.  That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.

It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience.  It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.

This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages.  It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you.  And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.

George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .

The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness.  To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake.  Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously.  Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.

The solution to presentation stage fright?  How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?

Reduce your uncertainty.

Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps:  Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.

They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement.  They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.

Principles, Preparation, Practice

The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.

Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.

When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty.  You are possess the facts.  You are prepared.  You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice.  You rehearse.

There is, of course, an element of uncertainty.  There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.

By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.

So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest.  Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.

And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.

For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:

Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel.  For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . .  But do not fear them.  They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck.  They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand.  . . .  Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.

And banish stage fright forever.

Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.

Develop Your Voice for Presentation Power

Develop your voice for advantage
Develop your voice for personal competitive advantage

The suggestion to “develop your voice” can anger some people.

Many people are fearful or resistant to adjusting their voices, for all sorts of odd reasons.

They think it’s “cheating.”  Or “unnatural.”

They revere “spontaneity” and believe that their voices are, well . . . natural.

More than likely, they have neglected the development of their voices.

Time to Develop Your Voice

For some reason, folks who neglect voice development now revere this product of their benign neglect as somehow . . . natural.

As if there is some far-off judge who weighs and measures the “naturalness” of voice.

As if there is some kind of purity benchmark or standard.

But there is no such standard for “naturalness.”

Only pleasant voices.  And unpleasant voices.  And lots of voices in-between.

Moreover, the variety of voices, from bad to good, has been with us eternally.  George Rowland Collins noted in 1923 that

“Nasality, harshness, extremes of pitch, and other unnatural vocal qualities distract the audience.  They impede communication; they clog the speaker’s transmission.  They hinder the persuasion of any audience, be it one or one thousand.”

There is nothing holy or sacrosanct or “natural” about the way you speak now.  It is not “natural” in any meaningful sense of the word, as if we are talking about breast augmentation versus the “natural” thing.

Your voice today is “natural” only in the sense that it is the product of many factors over time.  Most of these factors are unintended.  Negative factors as well as positive.  Factors you’ve probably never thought of.

So in that sense, why would you have any problem with changing your voice intentionally, the way that you want it changed?  Why not develop your voice in ways that you choose?

There is no “Natural Voice”

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad; and there are all sorts of voices in-between.  You can develop your voice to become a first-rate speaker, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Let me share with you 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 ignorance and neglect.

They eat away at your credibility.  They are easily corrected, but first you should recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power and credibility.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Verbal Grind – 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 verbal grinding into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  It is manifested by a crackle and grating on the last word or syllable, as if the air supply is being pinched off.

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.  Almost as if a dog is growling in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

Develop your Voice for Advantage
Develop your Voice for Power and Impact

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.  People don’t ever talk this way.  People do not talk like this, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Verbal Up-tic – This is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal” or “uptalk.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalk 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.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them.  The last half is to consciously develop your voice for power and impact.

Interested in more on how to develop your voice?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.