“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.
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.
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?
A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and you’ve 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 don’t 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 you’ve 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.
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.
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.
Everything else you do flows from this position. Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.
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.
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.
Forfeiture of Power
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 describes 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. You bring into play your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful personal presence.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow. We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with 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 would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.
Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.
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 an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
The Secret of Personal 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, powerful 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.
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 incredible personal competitive advantage that personal presence provides?
One of the keys to successful and confident performance of your business presentation is practice.
The right kind of practice.
This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.
The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, cogent fashion without stumble, and 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.
Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.
But you only reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense. This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.
First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.
There is something in our psyche that seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake. When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.
But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.” We become experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.
But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation? Start over? No, of course not.
But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we stumble? We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.
We have practiced only one thing – starting over.
Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them. Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it. Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.
The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.
Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror. It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time.
There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.
Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions. But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror. Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation? That’s just bizarre.
Instead, practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.
To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.
There are two pernicious myths regarding business presentations out there that refuse to be swatted down. Well, probably more than two, but two big myths that persistently burden folks.
These myths influence two large groups of people. Without knowing it, these folks subscribe to two schools of presentation thought . . . Birthers and McTips.
The first group – the “Birthers” presentation school – believes that superb public speakers are “born that way.”
Folks in this group believes that it’s nature-not-nurture and that natural talent wins the day. Since it’s an ability you either have or you don’t, well there’s no need to even try. Just sit back and marvel at those outstanding public speakers who make it all look so easy, but who actually utilize a host of techniques to charm and dazzle you.
Techniques that would be available to you if you would only set aside the self-defeating notion that you can’t develop especially powerful presentation skills.
Supersize Those McTips?
The second group – the “McTips” presentation school – believes that public speaking is both easy and easily learned. Folks here believe that following a few presenting “McTips” or easy “McSteps” can turn them into tremendous speakers. “Make eye contact” . . . “Move around when you talk” . . . “Use your hands” . . . Presto.
This McTips view is so pernicious that it does more damage than good. It’s like a get-rich-quick scheme that scams people. And who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s a painless shortcut to one of the most universally despised activities in corporate America?
One colleague told me a while back, his fingers steepled in front of him, “I can teach my people all they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes . . . all that other stuff is just B__ S___.”
Really? And if becoming a great presenter is so incredibly easy and the product of a few tips or steps, then why does the bar stay so low with regard to business presentations? Why does our business landscape resemble a wasteland strewn with mind-numbing PowerPoint slides and populated with droning executive automatons?
Both views are not only wrong, but they can stunt your development as a top-notch business presenter.
Great presenters are neither born, nor are they easily made.
Anyone can become an especially powerful, capable speaker . . . but it takes work, practice, and courage.
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?
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.
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.
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 that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I often hear this cartoon 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. The 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 up the empty air with dum-dums.
Dum-dums are the result of 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 certain lowest common denominator stripe.
If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of 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 are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.
Cartoon 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.
You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.
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 Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions: Why do I speak 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 seem to 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 Cartoon 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.
Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?
Many folks seem oblivious to their expressions or to a lack of expressiveness, their faces dull and lifeless.
In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize. And this can be an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage.
Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message. Yes, there exists something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.
Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool
Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection. The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.
Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”
Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker. These are the qualities that bring success.
[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes. The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.
Consider these expressions: A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt. The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism. Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.
Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message
These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience. They increase the power of your message. They ensure that your message is clear.
Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating. The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view.
Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.
We are all familiar with the droning voice of the numbing speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace of a talk and who quickly loses us in monotony.
In like fashion, it is possible to be visually monotonous.
Visual monotony – either of constant repetitive movement or of no movement whatsoever.
We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.” We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance.
And we know the statue, who moves not at all and hides behind a lectern, gripping it white-knuckled.
Go ahead and move, but . . .
Yes, incorporate movement. But before you begin hopping about the stage willy-nilly, recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for specific reasons. Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.
At the risk over over-alliterating, you should mesh your movements with your message.
Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do. If you move all the time, like a constant pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise, and your movements contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation. In fact, your movements become a distraction, leeching energy and attention from your message.
It’s a form of visual monotony.
Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Death.
So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience and to convey a powerful and persuasive message. Watch this video for basic advice on movement in your presentation . . .
If you feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills, then I congratulate you and suggest that you pass Business School Presentingalong to a buddy who might profit from it.
But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this now.
One in 260 Million?
Of an estimated 260 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.
I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.
Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.
I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need. But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.
Business school students and young executives need credible and direct resources on presenting – solid advice and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”
In short, you want to know what works and why.
You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.
You want to know what is a matter of opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.
You want to know how to deliver an especially powerful presentation.
Here you find answers here to the most basic of questions.
What is this beast – the business presentation?
How do I stand? Where do I stand?
What do I say? How do I say it?
How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
Where do I begin, and how?
How do I end my talk?
What should I do with my hands?
How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of Presenting
Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.
You may not like the answers. You may disagree with the answers. Fair enough. Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure. Or not.
But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.
Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.
They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting, and in turn they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom. You find those verities here.
On the other side of things, I’d like to hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.
The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs, even as they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.
If you could have only one business presentation book to help you with your presentations, what would it be?
You have many from which to choose. Too many, in fact.
Hundreds of them.
So this question is part rhetorical and part genuine inquiry to discover what motivates, trains, and aids students and young executives in their development into capable presenters. No, not just capable presenters . . . especially powerful presenters.
I have my own answer to this question, of course, and I’ll share it with you in a moment. It’s based on reviewing a skein of presentation and public speaking books published over the course of 2,500 years. All of ’em? Close to it.
It’s an esoteric subject with a tightly circumscribed group of recognized and established authors and scholars. The mid- to late 1800s was the golden age for modern oratory and presenting. This was when Philadelphia was host to the National School of Elocution and Oratory, and departments of public speaking flourished in universities across the land.
Business Presentation Books
Today, we have “communications” courses that offer tofu and tedious texts. They offer impractical and vague suggestions that are often impossible to put into practice.
Today we have The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs supplanting the rich and powerful books of speaking masters who offer the soundest and most-proven presentation instruction in all of recorded history. This is not to harshly criticize The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs. I don’t imply that it isn’t useful at all. The author, Carmine Gallo, is a delightfully engaging and powerful public speaker himself. He pens a superb column for BusinessWeek.
And sure, this book has a pocketful of useful tips.
But the book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is more about Steve Jobs than about you. It’s more about Steve Jobs than about presentation secrets that you can actually use.
Let’s put it this way: Steve Jobs’s #1 presentation “secret” is to speak only at Apple product launch extravaganzas populated with early adopter evangelicals and to ensure that he is unveiling the next generation high-technology gadget that has been hyped in the world press for the previous 12 months. In such a scenario, you and I could paint our faces blue and dress like Jack Sparrow and deliver a successful and quite powerful presentation?
Of course we could. That is Steve Jobs’s actual “secret.”
Jobs is an above-average speaker with a distinctive style. His public appearances are highly orchestrated, and his speaking competition in America’s C-Suite is abysmal.
In short, Jobs is a celebrity CEO armed with a built-in audience poised to cheer his every word. That’s surely a “secret,” but it’s not helpful to the average presenter.
So, will you learn anything from Mr. Gallo’s book? Sure, but it has nothing to do with Jobs or what he does.
Mr. Gallo laces enough fundamental advice throughout the book to help a neophyte improve his presenting in several aspects. But the question I asked at the beginning is this:
If you could have only one book to help you with your business presentations, what would it be?
Not that one.
In fact, I could recommend a dozen books that are utterly superb, none of which published after 1950, that far outstrip today’s pedestrian offerings. Business presentation books that offer a wealth of powerful and mysterious techniques to transform you into the most dynamic speaker you possibly can be. Business presentation books to stretch you to your utmost limits, books that propel you to fulfill your fullest presentation potential.
Single books that are worth any 10 “business communication” texts costing more than $1,000.
But if I had to choose one . . . and only one . . .
It would be this book . . . a book first published in 1913.
This Business Presentation Book
Subsequent to its original publication, this incredible tome went into more than 58 editions and was constantly in print until 1962. In that year, it was revised and given a different title, and it went into another 28 editions, the last one I can find published in 1992. Its title was again revised and a new edition published in 2006.
It remains in print today. Many reprint editions are available and are quite inexpensive. Like diamonds upon the ground that no one recognizes.
And of all the more than 1,000 business presentation books I own, dating from 1762 to the present day (and reprints back to 430 BC), this is the one book I commend to you. You can search it on Amazon.com and purchase an inexpensive copy today.
Post-1962, the book is called The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking, an edition revised by Carnegie’s wife [I dislike the new title, because it gives the mistaken impression that great public speaking can be “quick and easy,” an addition to the original book added much later, but I’ll not cavil on that point here].
Of course, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business doesn’t mention the PowerPoint software package, for obvious reasons. Instead, it focuses on the most important elements of any business presentation, whether delivered by Pericles to the Athenians in 430 BC or by you to your Global Business Policies course in 2011. It focuses on you . . . your message . . . your audience.
And then . . . your mind wanders for a brief moment.
It was just a moment. But it was enough to sabotage you.
Your thoughts grind to a halt and you can’t remember what to say. Words fail you.
You have lost the proverbial “train of thought” and you’re on the cusp of a presentation meltdown.
What do You do?
Blank-Mind attacks all of us at one point or another during our business presentation career.
In fact, it happens so often that it might do us some good to think ahead to how we should react to this common presentation malady.
Too often, it leads to a presentation meltdown. But it doesn’t have to.
Presenters have developed trade tricks to help us past the rough spots. Here is one stopgap solution to get you over the speedbump of lost train of thought.
When you lose your train of thought, don’t panic or you’ll spiral quickly into a presentation meltdown.
Instead, your first reaction should be a calm academic assessment of the situation – you know what’s happened, and you already know what your first action will be. You’ve prepared for this.
Dodge Presentation Meltdown with This
Flood the room with silence.
Look slightly upward and raise your right hand to your chin, holding your hand in a semi-fist with chin perched and resting on your index finger and thumb – perhaps with your index finger curled comfortably around your chin. You know the posture.
Put your left hand on your hip. Furrow your brow as if deep in thought, which you are.
Now, while looking steadily at the floor or slightly upward at the ceiling, walk slowly in a diagonal approximately four, maybe five steps and stop, feet shoulder-width apart.
Now, assume your basic ready position and look up at your audience.
Your Bought Time
You have just purchased a good 10 seconds to regain your composure, to regain your thought pattern. Time enough to cobble together your next few sentences.
But if this brief respite was not enough to reset yourself, then shift to the default statement.
What do I mean “default statement?”
This is a rescue phrase that you craft beforehand to get you back into your speaking groove. It consists of something like this: “Let me recapitulate our three points – liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Other phrases might be: “Now is probably a good time to look again at our main themes . . .” or “We can see again that the issue boils down to the three crucial points that I began with . . .”
And then, you simply begin ticking off your three or four main points of your presentation. In doing so, you trigger thought processes that put you back onto the correct path.
Think of this method as levering a derailed train back onto the track.
If you have prepared as you should, Blank-Mind should be no more than a small bump in the road for you, a minor nuisance with minimal damage. If you panic, however, it can balloon into something monstrous.
Remember the rescue techniques: Chin-scratch and Default Statement.
You can control the damage by utilizing the Chin-scratch, which buys you time to reassert yourself. Failing that, the Default Statement can bail you out by taking you back over familiar material you’ve just covered.
If none of the above works, however, you can still stop yourself from going into total presentation meltdown by using the two rescue words I preach to all my students . . .
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.
Don’t 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.
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.
“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 . . .
Seven consecutive days of Secrets to gain the upper hand in business presenting.
These 7 Secrets promise to launch you on your way to personal competitive advantage in an ever more challenging job market. Incredibly powerful techniques and secrets are coming to you over the next week, one-per-day, right here in your Power Presentations Blog.
These secrets have been hidden from you. They certainly don’t appear in your business communication textbooks. Face it . . . has anything good ever come out of a business communication textbook? So where do these secrets come from?
They reside in the collective wisdom of more than 2,500 years of history. This is the link that you share with every great speaker that history has seen fit to remember – you share their humanity. And this is why their secrets speak to us across the mists of time.
Cicero in 50 BC?
You in 2011 AD?
More than two millennia separate you from the Roman Republic’s greatest orator, so what could you possibly have in common with a man half-a-world away and 2,000 years ago?
Here’s the link
Perhaps Cicero spoke to the Roman Senate during the last days of the Roman Republic, while you now speak to your Business Policies class with PowerPoint on the screen behind you . . . but you both share a core necessity.
You share the necessity to convince your audience by using a handful of reliable tools that have not changed in two millennia. For your purposes, the greatest orators in history are still alive with respect to their techniques, their tools, their words, and their abilities to sway audiences.
William Jennings Bryan
What could these long-gone people possibly say to you to help you become a superior presenter here in the 21st Century?
All of these orators and many more utilized the highly refined and powerful secrets of elocution, declamation, debate, and oratory to command the stage and to sway audiences. They were the superior presenters of their day. The techniques and tools comprise the 7 Secrets of Power Presenting.
The best speakers of the past 50 years use and have used these Secrets – Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. They don’t announce that they’re using secret techniques and tricks of the trade, of course. They wouldn’t be secrets any more. So they let you believe that they were gifted with special talents. Not a chance. Techniques, practice, personal branding . . . and 7 Secrets.
You begin to learn these Seven Secrets over the next seven days. They are the secrets utilized by every great orator until the age of television, radio, and the computer rendered them lost to the vast majority of us. They faded from use, supplanted by technology in the mistaken belief that technology had rendered you, the presenter, superfluous. And so presenting as a skill has withered. Until now.
These secrets do not appear in today’s textbooks, and they appear only in partial form in many trade books. The secrets remain lost to the majority. Many students don’t even know about them. They think great presenting is alchemy, magic, or a product of superior talent. Many don’t reach the point at which you read these words right now. Many who read these words this second sneer at them with a world-weary sigh.
But a tiny minority reads on.
A tiny minority will join me tomorrow, and the next day, and the next . . . And that select few will begin to acquire the power, dexterity, energy, and charisma to grow into a bold presenter – at home on the stage, at ease with yourself, and facile with the material. You will become a fabulous business presenter.
Each day, the door opens on a new Secret, and you are presented with a challenge.
Master these Seven Secrets, which form the Seven Pillars of your personal speaking platform, and you will soar higher in the business world than you possibly could have imagined. And your career will soar farther and faster than you ever thought possible.
I hope that you are in that tiny minority that continues to read.
After I delivered an incredibly inspiring lecture in one of my classes last semester,* a student approached me and shared this snippet about presentation body movement.
“I stand in one spot during my presentations,” he said. “But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”
“Move around when you talk.”
“Did he tell you how?” I asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’ Did he tell you what it would accomplish?”
“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”
“Just ‘move around?’”
Never just “move around when you talk”
Ponder that piece of advice a moment. Ponder it and then reject it utterly, completely. Forget you ever read it.
What rotten advice.
Never just “move around” the stage. Everything you do should contribute to your message. Presentation body movement on-stage is an important component to your message. It’s an especially powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication.
Movements can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.
But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.
And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.
Just as there are those who are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks can’t stop moving. They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat, constantly moving, as if dodging imaginary bullets, afraid to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots.
Such movement is awful.
Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all. Aimless movement usually indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.
It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.
“Move around when you talk.”
It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.
At first, the advice seems innocent enough. Even sage. Aren’t we supposed to “move around” when we talk? Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk? Doesn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presents?
Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.
But do you know why they “move” and to what end? Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect? Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another?
Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama Just “move around” when they talk?
If I tell you to “move around when you talk,” just what will you actually do? Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.
Will you flap your arms? Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders? Shake your fist at the crowd?
What Kind of Presentation Body Movement?
How? Where? When? Why? How much?
We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse. Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all. Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question. Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .
Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something. Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing. Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless. Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion. Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.
You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator. Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement.
What must you actually do during your talk? Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
In coming posts, I’ll answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful presentation body movement into your show – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.
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.
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.
How can you enrich your presenting in unexpected and wonderful ways so to give an interesting presentation regardless of your audience?
To deepen and broaden your perspective so that it encompasses that proverbial “big picture” we forever hear about?
You must become a 3-D presenter.
Now, this means several things, including how you utilize the stage to your utmost advantage, but a major component is the exercising of your mind.
And I talk about that here.
Three D Presentations
It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories. Yes, it’s a process of becoming learned in new and wondrous ways.
Think of it as enlarging your world. You increase your reservoir of usable material.
And you’re able to connect more readily with varied audiences.
You accomplish this in a pleasant and ongoing process – by forever keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area. By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.
Expand Your World
And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily and incrementally.
By doing something daily, however brief, that stretches your mind or allows you to make a connection that otherwise might have escaped you.
By reading broadly in areas outside your specialty, and by rekindling those interests that excited and animated you early in life.
Read a book outside your specialty. Have lunch with a colleague from a different discipline.
Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.
We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer insights. For myself, while teaching in the Fox School’s strategic management department this semester, I am also sitting in on a course sponsored by the History Department’s Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy – “Grand Strategy.”
What a leavening experience this promises to be: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Lincoln, and many others . . .
How will this help in preparing my own classes? At this point, I can’t be certain.
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, 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 developing into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.
For more on how to give interesting business presentations, click HERE.
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.
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.