Every great presentation carries a foolproof presentation structure, and this is it . . .
Whoa. Let me rephrase.
Your presentationought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble. Here it is . . .
Beginning – Middle – End.
Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this especially powerful presentation structure.
Don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity. This is the source of its power.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.
Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story part that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.
The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation. You can be innovative, you can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery. Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Foolproof Presentation Structure
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers. I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material.
Please do so.
But do so with careful thought and good reason. And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
Before the bullhorn and all of our multifarious artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, the public speaker stood tall and apart.
The public speaker. The Business Presenter.
The Business Presenter
From out of mists of time, of the earliest Greek history came the public speaker as especially powerful citizen of the state, a persuader, a doer, a person imbued with almost magical powers to sway the crowd . . .
From the time of Corax in the 5th century B.C., public speaking blossomed and developed into what 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 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.
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.
Began to suck the life from “presenting.”
Skills of the Master Business Presenter
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over 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 his unpopular ideas.
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’ve adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation.
Yet the result has been something quite different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them, providing barriers between speaker and audience. Each new advancement in technology creates another layer of insulation.
Today’s presenters have grasped feverishly at the notion that PowerPointis 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 limp 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.”
In many cases, this is exactly what happens.
The presenter pivots, shows us his back, and edges away from the stage to become a quasi-member of the audience.
PowerPoint and props are just tools. That’s all. You should be able to present without them.
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 simply 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 Business Presentation Training
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.
Many 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.
I mean 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.
It means becoming an especially powerful business presenter.
The Hero in Your Audience
Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience. Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you will win every time.
I’ve 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.
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 . . . but few bend to pick them up.
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.
That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.
Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.
What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions. It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice. It’s what they sense on a subliminal level. That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.
Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.
It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message. A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.
Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow and pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, communicating with and persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays.
And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.
Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.
They would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.
If you become an automaton, you cede important personal competitive advantage.
You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.
The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker. That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.
Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective. It becomes a bad communication exercise.
It becomes an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
Rise of the Automatons
Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.
Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker. Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.
Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator: “The good man, well-spoken.”
We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.
This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.
This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.
Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd. Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™
Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?
Who is the World’s Expert on Business School Presentations?
Assuming that there is one.
And depending, of course, on what we mean by “expert” and what we mean by “world.”
Those quibbles aside, that expert would be me.
I’m the World’s Expert on Business School Presentations. At least that’s what Google says. And what Google says must be true, right?
If you’re a regular reader – and there must be millions – then this assertion comes as no revelation. If you’re a new reader, this assertion likely strikes you as, at bare minimum, bombastic and riven with hubris.
At moments when confidence is most needed, many athletes go to their “power words.”
These are words that help visualize success and victory rather than failure and defeat.
The words can be anything that the athlete has found to negate nervousness. It can be something as simple as mentally reciting “Power!” or “Victory!” at a crucial moment. Say, just before a critical service in a tennis match.
This technique works. And it can work for you.
I collaborate occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques and who affirm the utility of Power Words.
They assert that power words can affect performance in positive ways.
All of them are of one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.
Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk.
We do this to give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.
So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?
Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation. This ignorance can mean incredible uncertainty of performance.
Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.
This fear of the unknown drives up anxiety and results in stage fright. So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.
No, of course not, and we don’t even want to. instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.
We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.
Envision Your Triumph
No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.
Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in superb closure, a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.
When we take the stage, we focus mind on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb.
We mentally recite our chosen power words to squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.
The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that nettle us.
Positive self-talk . . . power words . . . is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.
I own perhaps the largest vintage public speaking book collection in the United States, outside the library of congress – more than 2,000 volumes, going back to 1762. I buy presentation books even now, to see if there is, indeed, anything new under the sun.
Most often, I am disappointed.
Until now . . .
Again, I say all of this by way of prelude, because I am not given to exaggeration at all.
Presentation Skills 201
What I say next, I utter with the sincerity born of many years laboring in the vineyards of bad presentations – Mr. Steele’s Presentation Skills 201 is, page for page, the finest book on advanced presenting I have ever read.
Surely the most succinct.
It froths with superb and utterly essential advice on every . . . single . . . page.
Distilled into powerful instructional nodes, Mr. Steele’s book is spot-on again and again. I thought that I had seen and heard it all, given that I view and judge 300 individual and 75 group presentations each year – but not so.
Mr. Steele’s work is a reminder that there is always “one more thing” that each of us can learn to hone and improve our own presentation skills.
On rushing through your presentation:
One of the keys to sounding confident as a presenter is acting like you own the time. If you were told you have 15 minutes to speak, you want to act like you own those 15 minutes. Rushing makes you sound anxious to the audience. It undermines the confident image you want to project. You risk coming across like a nervous stage performer who expects the hook at any moment. Limiting your content takes the pressure off.
Presenters routinely assign the lowest priority to their live audience when preparing slides. They create slides to be their notes. Slides that are speaker notes can be anemic or crammed with too much content. Some presenters just need reminder notes, so they create slides with cryptic phrases that mean nothing to the audience. Others need the slide show equivalent of a script, so their bullet points are complete paragraphs in 10-point type. Either way, the slides are frustrating to an audience.
If you need a handout, realize that a good slide show is not a good handout – and a good handout is not a good slide show.
Money is Precious
I rarely recommend books in the presentation genre. This is one of those rare times.
I have found wisdom on every page of Mr. Steele’s tome and it holds an honored place at my right hand. I plan to reference it often as well as consult Mr. Steele’s website.
I recommend this presentations book to anyone who fancies himself or herself an outstanding presenter. You can do better, and Presentation Skills 201 is the perfect tonic to take anyone to a higher level of performance.
Business School Presentations – this site – opens a entirely new world to you and your presentation endeavors. Here, we demystify the business presentation, clear away the fog of indecision.
In the process, you can become not just a good presenter, but a great presenter. An especially powerful presenter who can declaim to audiences of 4 to 4,000 . . . with power, confidence, and competence.
Stay with us . . . come back often . . . check out the many speaking resources I link to in the left-hand menu . . . embrace the cornucopia of Presentation Wealth.
. . . launch your quest to obtain personal competitive advantage to last a lifetime.
You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus. The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.
You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.
Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.
We provide a comparison as a baseline.
For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone. Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.
This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.
But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?
Practice is easy. You just . . .
. . . do it.
Business Presentation Practice Yields . . .
First, not everyone practices. Some practice not at all.
Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.
Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you. If you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of business presentation practice.
Here’s why . . .
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. And if you develop keen-minded presentation practice habits, then likewise you’re on your way to developing a powerful personal competitive advantage.
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.
Something in our psyche seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.
When we stumble, we want a “do-over.” So that we can assemble a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.
But when we do this, what we actually practice 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?
No, of course not.
But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance? 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, conduct your presentation 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.
Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.
Treat it this way, and your chances of case competition victory increase dramatically.
Case Competition Victory?
If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters wins the day most every time.
The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.
If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it wins.
If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.
You are the presentation.
By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.
You know the techniques and skills of the masters.
You’ve become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker.
You constantly refine yourself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed: Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.
Apply the Seven Secrets
When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.
Your team’s combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory. The team then creates their first draft presentation.
It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.
Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden. Or from the written material you prepare.
The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own. You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.
Your case solution is not judged solely on its substantive merit, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it. It’s judged on how well you communicate the idea.
Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation. And you must orchestrate your presentation. Work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present.
And with the new knowledge you create.
Remember that it takes much more than a handful of last-minute presentation “tips” to achieve a case competition victory at the highest level.
Phase 2 of your business case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.
Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.
It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.
In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.” It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the competition sponsor.
Business Case Competition Preparation
Your first step – your team members read the business case once-through for general information and understanding.
You inventory issues.
You define the magnitude of the task at hand.
Here, you draw a philosophical and psychological box around the case. You encompass its main elements.
You make it manageable.
You avoid time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.
Your discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.
At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you to develop your analysis and recommendations.
The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually small. So I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.
This includes your team, of course.
Victory or Defeat?
The quality of teams is high. The output of their analyses is similar.
This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.
Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material. I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.
The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.
And so we devote minimum time here on the preparation of your arguments.
Many fine books can help you sharpen your analysis. Try this one.
This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.
We’re concerned here with the key to your competition victory.
Here is your competitive edge: While 90 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Especially Powerful Presenting.
You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.
Your own business case competition preparation distinguishes you in dramatic and substantive ways. This translates into a nuanced, direct, and richly textured presentation.
One that captivates as well as persuades.
Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants
Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged. This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.
These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate. It’s a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.
Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion. This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .
1) Substance trumps: The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.
2) Mimicry: All entries utilize the same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides. This levels the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.
Remember – hold back details of your recommendations for use and explication during the Q&A period. Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.
Don’t get down into the weeds.
Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation. A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points. Deliver them with power and impact.
They should stand out. Don’t submerge them under an avalanche of well-intentioned detail.
Avoid the urge to “get it all in.”
It’s difficult to decide what to leave out of your initial presentation. But it’s as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.
When we talk about body language in presentations, we really mean three distinct techniques – stance (or how we consciously position our bodies on-stage), expression (how we consciously utilize our facial expressions to enhance our meaning), and gesture (what we do with our hands to communicate).
In this post, let’s focus on gesture.
Gesture a Body Language Add-on?
Is gesture just some sort of garnish for the presentation? Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation?
Has anyone ever broken down the elements of body language for you to explain what’s good and what’s bad? What adds to and what subtracts from your show?
The fact is that you cannot separate sincerity from your appearance.
You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume, from your nuance.
And you cannot separate your words from gesture.
So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior body language messaging.
So what’s a Gesture?
It’s a wave of the hand.
A snap of the finger.
A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side in a universal embrace.
A scratch of the chin. Crossed arms.
An accusatory finger. A balled fist at the proper moment. These are all part of presentation body language that can either enhance or destroy your presentation.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This results from the presence of the speaker.
An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.
Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “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.”
Gestures provide energy and accent.
They add power. They add emphasis and meaning to our words.
Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture. At the proper time.
Entire books, in fact, have been written about gesture and the power it can bestow. But most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered. See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott‘s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.
Gesture is too important to leave to chance.
It is certainly too important to dismiss with the breezy trope you occasionally hear: “Move around when you talk.” Let’s understand exactly what it means.
In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today: “Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”
As part of your presentation body language repertoire, gesture should be natural. It should flow from the meaning of your words. From the meaning you wish to convey with your words.
We never gesture without reason or without a point to make. Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us naturally to gesture. Without emotion, gesture is mechanical. It’s false.
It feels and looks artificial.
Communicating Without Words
Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication.
You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power. And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
For if you don’t begin to think in grand terms about yourself and your career, you remain mired in the mud.
Stuck at the bottom.
Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words. In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present. As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.
Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations.
Movements that leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.
Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers. These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities.
It’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.
Control Those Fingers!
Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”
This is a habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands.
You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what. So you develop these unconscious motions. Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”
Tugging at your fingers. I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.
Bending your fingers back in odd manner. This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced. It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell. It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.
Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement. This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.
Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.
Presentation Body Language
Why would you want to “gesture” during your business presentation?
Aren’t your words enough without resorting to presentation body language?
Frankly, words are not enough.
Gestures add force to your points. To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear. A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal such presentation body language?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning. It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language. Said James Winans in 1915:
Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues. Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.
Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine in superb presentation body language.
You attain an especially powerful presentation moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy.
These three quite different men shared a respect for the power of the spoken word.
The power to deliver the persuasive presentation.
To deliver it with power and passion.
What is Rhetoric?
Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle gave us the means to deliver especially powerful presentations. The best speakers know this, either explicitly or instinctively.
We all owe a debt to Aristotle for his powerful treatise on persuasive public speaking Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the function of discovering the means of persuasion for every case.
These means of persuasion are delivered as a form of art. Aristotle identified the three necessary elements for powerful and persuasive presentations – the ethos or character of the speaker, the attitude of the audience, and the argument itself.
And the value of this powerful tool?
Just this . . .
Aristotle identified four great values of rhetoric.
First, rhetoric can prevent the triumph of fraud and injustice.
Second, it can instruct when scientific argument doesn’t work.
Third, it compels us to act out both sides of a case. When you can argue the opposite point, you are best armed to defeat it.
Finally, it’s a powerful means of defense when your opponent attacks.
As modern college texts wallow in the fever swamp of “communication theory,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers us a crystalline tool of power and efficacy – a sure guide to the proper techniques in business presenting.
Modern Persuasive Presentations
Two men as different as Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs understood the power of rhetoric to inspire people to action.
Dr. King for the transformation of society . . . Steve Jobs for the revolutionizing of six different technology industries.
Dr. King used one particular rhetorical technique that has become the touchstone of his legacy – his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” during his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
This technique is called the anaphora.
It involves the repetition for effect of a key phrase during a presentation. Dr. King ensured that his Dream would be the emotive catalyst for action.
The anaphora is part of what Aristotle recognized as art in rhetoric and is an advantage that rhetoric has over straight “scientific” expository speech in calling people to action.
Dr. King recognized the emotive power of rhetoric. It is this power that moves listeners to action when pure logic cannot. It’s at the heart of the persuasive presentation.
A Different Venue
Steve Jobs, too, utilized the technique for a different purpose.
A more mundane purpose – the selling of electronics.
“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”
The anaphora is just one example of an especially powerful rhetorical technique. It can imbue your business presenting with persuasiveness.
And there’s more . . . so much more available to you.
When we understand the power of rhetoric and how that power is achieved, it transforms us into more capable and competent business presenters. And it can yield an especially powerful and persuasive presentation as we build our personal competitive advantage.
Perhaps not as transcendent as Dr. Martin Luther King’s, but certainly especially powerful and persuasive presentations in our own bailiwicks.
Step into the presentation. Become the animation that highlights your points of emphasis.
Don’t divide audience attention between you, the data on the screen, and a nervously darting red speck.
Instead, concentrate your audience focus on your major points, touching the screen, guiding us to the facts and figures you want us to internalize. It’s a cave painting, so run your hands over the cave wall. Show us what you want us to see with your hand.
Now, I issue a caveat here.
If the screen behind you is so high that you cannot reach it, then you might be justified in using the pointer.
But probably not.
Instead, if you want to highlight or draw attention to your points of emphasis, then utilize the highlighting animation available on most multimedia platforms.
If you’re uncertain what I mean by this, have a look at this brief video:
Nothing is more gratuitous in modern business presenting than the laser pointer. And few things more irritating than the laser pointer presentation.
Rid yourself of this awful affectation today.
Pledge never to deliver another laser pointer presentation in your business life and instead deliver especially powerful presentations invested with confidence and competence.
If given a choice, would you embrace the opportunity to develop a powerful presentation voice?
Or would you demur to take a stand for “natural” voices? Whatever the hell that is.
Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.
It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
Voices Often Develop Chaotically
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
So what’s a “bad voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched? Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be to produce a powerful presentation voice, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.
Focus on the voices.
Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.
Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice. The opposite of a powerful presentation voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Many reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
You know exemplars of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: a group of people calling themselves “Kardashians.”
Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
And yet people mimic them.
Lots of people.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player. Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.
Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.” You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning. Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.
The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood. It’s not.
An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.
This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as a noble stand for who-knows what.
This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back for no good reason. It’s also a manifestation of fear.
Clare Tree Major identified this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Delivering an especially powerful presentation means choosing . . . it means making 100 presentation choices.
Of course, it may not be exactly 100.
It could be 120.
Or perhaps 80.
Regardless, every time you deliver a presentation, you choose repeatedly.
Dozens of times.
And most often, you are unaware of the silent, invisible choices you make. Instead, your presentation simply unspools on its own, chaotic, willy-nilly . . . sometimes for the good, more often badly.
Rather than conceive of the presentation as a series of choices, many folks view the presentation as an organic whole.
As something we simply “do.”
It’s presented as something that can be conducted via a series of “tips.” You’ve seen the articles on presentation tips.
Or business presenting is discussed as a “soft skill,” something you can pick up along the way. Perhaps in one of the ubiquitous and uninspired “communications classes.”
We receive vague instructions in a communications class, a place where mystification of the presentation is perpetuated, the myth of the “soft skill” is maintained, and presentation folk wisdom reigns . . .
“Make eye contact!”
“Move around when you talk!”
“Don’t put your hand in your pocket!”
Advice that is obscurantist at its best and can be downright wrong at its worst.
Not a “Soft Skill”
The delivery of the Business Presentation is not a “soft skill.” Approximately 80 percent of the presentation process is definable as a series of choices each of us must make.
And if you choose badly, you deliver a horrendous presentation.
How can you choose wisely if you don’t even know what the choices are? Much less the wise choice at each step along the way?
We seek easy solutions, the quick fix, the “secret” to turn a drab, staid, listless presentation into one that brims with vigor, zest, and elan.
An especially powerful presentation.
Failing that, perhaps just something that can flog a bit of life into our tired efforts.
One evening, we may see a memorable, delightful, scintillating presentation.
It’s a show that engages us, that sparkles with memorable visuals and that implants core ideas and powerful notions in our minds. A great presentation!
Why was it a great presentation?
Many folks answer with one – maybe two reasons. This is akin to medieval alchemists searching for a method to transform lead into gold.
A shortcut to wealth.
And so we contrive abstractions and unsatisfactory responses:
The speaker was interesting. The topic was relevant and au courant. Torn from today’s headlines!
It was the audience . . . he had a good audience!
But none of these easy answers yield something that we can actually use . . . something we can operationalize in our show. This is because no easy answer exists.
No one reason.
No single technique.
There is no business presentation alchemy. Except in the notion that we must get lots of things right.
The superb business presenter does 100 things right, while the bad business presenter does 100 things wrong.
What are the “100 Presentation Choices?”
Is it exactly 100?
Of course not, no more than great writing consists in getting exactly 100 things right, instead of getting them wrong.
For any talk, it could be 90, or it could be 150. Or something else.
The “100 things” trope suffices to convey that great presentations are planned and orchestrated according to set principles that can be learned, and those principles consist in proven practices.
Lots of them.
Practices that replace unthinking habits.
Techniques of posture, voice, syntax, gestures, topic, presentation structure, your expression, confidence, your movement . . . all of these done well or done poorly combine to yield either an especially powerful presentation . . .
. . . or a dud.
Go to Scott’s Lessons, the book that inspired and taught Abraham Lincoln as he grew into one of America’s great orators, and you will find a wealth of powerful techniques to transform even the most mundane of speakers into a champion.
More than 100 things?
The important lesson is that great presenting is assembled from the verbal and non-verbal construction materials we select.
Lots of mistakes make for awful shows. But getting those 100 things right can yield a show that’s spectacular for no single, discernible reason.
That’s the power of synergy.
Take just one aspect of your show – the way you stand. Have you ever thought about it? Where you stand? How you stand?
If you’ve never given it thought, then you’re likely doing it wrong.
To learn how to adopt the perfect (for you) stance, go here and the secret shall be revealed. And you’ll have learned a handful of the essential 100 presentation choices to launch you on your way to deliver especially powerful presentations and to develop a personal competitive advantage.
The next step, of course, is to actually do it. In your next presentation.
More of the 100 Presentation Choices that constitute especially powerful business presentations here.
In short, much of what we call body language. Power Posing.
Especially Powerful Body Language
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.
Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message, and power posing is some of the most effective body language you can use.
But it’s essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood. It’s a secret that I’ve use with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So how does this relate to powerful business presenting?
Every way you can think of.
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language. We ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.
Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen. We get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Especially Powerful Positive Energy
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.
Consciously strike a pose that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be. This is power posing.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous that power posing can actually imbue us with power.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power and yourself with professional presence. If you want to acquire personal competitive advantage.
In our 21st Century vernacular, power posing means you should stand the way you want to feel.
Power posing – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face.
Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.