They make us think, make us uncomfortable, and they challenge conventional wisdom.
Often they remind us that arguments have two sides . . . and the other side, while sometimes uncongenial to us, can be logical, cogent, and powerful.
How do we handle such topics when we present them?
With relish and gusto . . . with élan and brio.
What follows is a powerful rallying cry to business, penned by marketing legend Theodore Leavitt.
An especially powerful presentation topic it is.
The Proper Role of Business – Powerful Presentation Topic
Business will have a much better chance of surviving if there is no nonsense about its goals – that is, if long-run profit maximization is the one dominant objective in practice as well as in theory.
Business should recognize what government’s functions are and let it go at that, stopping only to fight government where government directly intrudes itself into business. It should let government take care of the general welfare so that business can take care of the more material aspects of welfare.
The results of any such single-minded devotion to profit should be invigorating. With none of the corrosive distractions and costly bureaucracies that now serve the pious cause of welfare, politics, society, and putting up a pleasant front, with none of these draining its vitality, management can shoot for the economic moon.
It can thrust ahead in whatever way seems consistent with its money-making goals.
If laws and threats stand in its way, it should test and fight them, relenting only if the courts have ruled against it, and then probing again to test the limits of the rules.
And when business fights, it should fight with uncompromising relish and self-assertiveness, instead of using all the rhetorical dodges and pious embellishments that are now so often its stock in trade.
Practicing self-restraint behind the cloak of the insipid dictum that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” has only limited justification. Certainly it often pays not to squeeze the last dollar out of a market especially when good will is a factor in the long-term outlook.
But too often self-restraint masquerades for capitulation.
Businessmen complain about legislative and other attacks on aggressive profit seeking but then lamely go forth to slay the dragon with speeches that simply concede business’s function to be service. The critic quickly pounces on this admission with unconcealed relish – “Then why don’t you serve?”
But the fact is, no matter how much business “serves,” it will never be enough for its critics.
Boldness is Needed
If the all-out competitive prescription sounds austere or harsh, that is only because we persist in judging things in terms of Utopian standards. Altruism, self-denial, charity, and similar values are vital in certain walks of our life – areas which, because of that fact, are more important to the long-run future than business.
But for the most part those virtues are alien to competitive economics.
If it sounds callous to hold such a view, and suicidal to publicize it, that is only because business has done nothing to prepare the community to agree with it. There is only one way to do that: to perform at top ability and to speak vigorously for (not in defense of) what business does . . . .
No Knuckling Under to Criticism
In the end business has only two responsibilities – to obey the elementary canons of everyday face-to-face civility (honesty, good faith, and so on) and to seek material gain. The fact that it is the butt of demagogical critics is no reason for management to lose its nerve – to buckle under to reformers – lest more severe restrictions emerge to throttle business completely.
Few people will man the barricades against capitalism if it is a good provider, minds its own business, and supports government in the things which are properly government’s. Even today, most American critics want only to curb capitalism, not to destroy it. And curbing efforts will not destroy it if there is free and open discussion about its singular function.
To the extent that there is conflict, can it not be a good thing? Every book, every piece of history, even every religion testifies to the fact that conflict is and always has been the subject, origin, and life-blood of society. Struggle helps to keep us alive, to give élan to life.
We should try to make the most of it, not avoid it.
Lord Acton has said of the past that people sacrificed freedom by grasping at impossible justice. The contemporary school of business morality seems intent on adding its own caveat to that unhappy consequence. The gospel of tranquility is a soporific.
Instead of fighting for its survival by means of a series of strategic retreats masquerading as industrial statesmanship, business must fight as if it were at war.
And, like a good war, it should be fought gallantly, daringly, and, above all, not morally.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about hand-wringing over presentation stage fright, well . . .
. . . if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we confront the battle within ourselves as we face the challenge of our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt. And we want self-confidence to win.
But confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have confidence, it’s invisible. And 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.
Confidence Conquers Presentation Stage Fright
Think for a moment of what I call 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. Consciously purge yourself of the debilitating need for approval.
The fear of judgment.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
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.
For some reason you fear your audience. The audience is your bogeyman.
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. They are pulling for you.
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.
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.
Seize Confidence for Yourself!
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 any familiar activity.
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.
Many people do fear speaking before an audience, rational or no.
And it’s been that way since public speaking gained enough stature to warrant the first school of public speaking in 450 BC under the Greek scholar Corax of Syracuse.
Centuries of Presentation Stage Fright
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It’s 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.
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 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. Uncertainty grips you, 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.
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 presentation stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting here.
Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that the bad business presentation must reign in corporate America?
. . . or in the business school classroom?
Is there a Law of Bad?
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect that there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself. Bad business presentations can be a career-killer.
But of course, no one tells you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give them.
And yet, these monstrosities sprout everywhere.
Ubiquitous Bad Business Presentations
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they’re everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides.
The VP alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him.
He rarely looks at you.
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.
You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation courses.” But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago.
I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak?
No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.
By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power.
Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially if you offer criticism.
Especially where criticism of current company policy is concerned.
Especially when your team must convey bad news.
For instance, that the current strategy is “bad.” Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.
In student presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude. A harsh attitude. This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is valued.
Honesty is . . . well, it’s refreshing.
Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation
Honesty is important, sure.
But a tremendous gulf separates honesty and candor. And we must be clear on the difference between the two.
Honesty means you tell the truth . . . Candor means you spill your guts about everything that’s on your mind in the bluntest way possible.
If you say in your presentation that the current strategic direction of the company is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.
In that way.
Remember that you can express honesty in many ways. Presentation prudence suggests that we learn a few of them. Use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.
These may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place. They could be emotionally invested in a specific strategy. They could be financially invested in it.
Wound Someone’s Ego, You Pay a Price
Anyone can use a sledgehammer.
But if you use one, know that the receiving end of that sledgehammer isn’t pleasant and that you should expect reciprocation somewhere down the line.
And so . . . most times it pays to use a scalpel.
With lots of consideration and skill.
Remember that as much as we would like to believe that our superiors and our clients are mature and want to hear the “truth” – warts and all – human nature is contrary.
We’re easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.
So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely and needlessly doomed yourself.
Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize is at stake, whether a multi-million dollar deal. Or simply credibility and good judgment.
It takes skill and finesse to fine-tune your work.
To deliver a fine-tuned presentation.
Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive and persuasive without being abrasive. When you do, then you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.
That is, after all, why they’re called skills.
Your presentation will effervesce . . . it will join the ranks of the especially powerful.
So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy. Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.
How can you enrich your presenting in unexpected and wonderful ways so to give an interesting business 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 material.
And you’re able to connect more readily with varied audiences and deliver an especially interesting business presentation.
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.
And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily and incrementally.
Expand Your World to Give an Especially Interesting Business Presentation
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.
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.
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 at Drexel’s LeBow College of Business, I also sit in on other courses such as one sponsored by nearby Temple University: the History Department’s Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy – “Grand Strategy.”
How does this help in preparing my own classes? Thoughts, linkages, ideas, concepts, cross-disciplinary leavening.
That’s the beauty and potential of it.
It enriches my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue in 3-dimensional fashion. They are connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.
It will do the same to help you develop your own interesting business presentations, 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.
But how can you say, Professor, that there is such a thing as “bad presentation practice?”
Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?
Bad practice is pernicious.
It’s insidious, and at times can be worse than no practice at all. It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.
Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror
Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.
Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.
But what does it mean to “practice?” Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?
How do you practice?
Have you ever truly thought about it? Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your practice? Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”
Don’t practice in the mirror. That’s dumb.
You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.
I say it again – that’s dumb.
The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them. Other than that, stay away from the mirror.
Practice – the right practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success. And your ultimate triumph.
The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours. We say “practice makes perfect.” The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”
It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”
And it’s great advice.
Presentation Practice Leads to Victory
The armed forces are experts at practice. Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.
And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual missions assigned to it.
Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and uncertainty.
We gain confidence.
The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.
But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear. With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.
The danger is avoided.
Confidence replaces fear.
Presentation Practice Eliminates Fear
Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates. Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.
The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.
Your way through the minefield is clear. And the fear evaporates.
Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk? Or that you won’t be nervous? Of course not. We all do.
Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous. But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.
Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you. It ensures your focus. But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.
It is not the same as fear.
And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.
We lack confidence when we are unsure. With every practice, we gain confidence. And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .
Sear This into Your Mind
Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.
I mean this literally.
Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can. Make it as realistic as you can. If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.
You want as much pressure as possible.
One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake. Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .
When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.
This should be common sense. You must practice how you respond to making an error. How you will fight through and recover from an error. Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.
Think of it this way. Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?
You are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations. Your task is to provide a report and then prepare the business presentation.
. . . to prepare it the right way.
After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right. Shouldn’t it be your best shot?
Your group has produced a written analysis. It’s finished.
How do you “prepare?”
“Prepare” has such a sterile sound. Almost vacuous. And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities. They rush. They fumble. They grope blindly. Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”
But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.
Prepare the Business Presentation
Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.
Your task is clear. You present your conclusions to an audience.
Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report. Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.
Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.
It’s a completely different mode of communication.
Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report? How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal? But they are different.
It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.
It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.
You operate in a different medium.
You have time constraints.
A group is receiving your message.
A group is delivering the message.
You have almost no opportunity for repeat.
You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.
In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.
Look at the chart below.
These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, seemingly invisible. Or, at least, they are not considered significant.
Many folks believe that there is no difference.
And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.” It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.
As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency. People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.
Numbers Trump All?
Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.” As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .
The more numbers, the better.
The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.
Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.
It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.
Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Perhaps you’ve said that? I’ve certainly heard it.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience. Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.
Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.
No one cares if they “interest” you.
That’s not the point.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics. But what’s an “interesting” topic?
I have found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics. They don’t recognize them as interesting. And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.
And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.
Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.
Face it. If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic. You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.
Let’s shed that attitude.
Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.
Crank up Interest
How do you generate interest? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:
[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.
Let’s go . . .
The typical start to a presentation project is . . .
. . . procrastination.
You put it off as a daunting task. Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.” Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?
Think about it.
How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it.
You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.” And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.
Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.” They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.
And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.
You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.
The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. And this result is predictable.
Your slides are crammed with information.
You talk fast to force all the points in. You run over-time.
You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.
This Time, Procrustes has it Right
Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation. This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard. In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”
“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.
A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.
But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.
Your Procrustean Solution
Take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation. Consider this:
We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes. That’s our Procrustean Bed. So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.
And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation. Pick only three major points that you want to make.
Here is your task now:
Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes. If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.
Why do we do this? Here’s why:
If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.
They turn off and tune you out. You will lose them, and you will fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.
Especially Powerful Paucity
If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. And you irritate your audience mercilessly.
Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis. The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.
You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions.
You take information and transforming it into intelligence. You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.
You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.
You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found. When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?
Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand? Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.
As you prepare the business presentation, your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
The term “hero” may be overused in our modern age, and we rarely hear it used in the realm of business – as in “business heroes.”
But if we consider that a hero is someone who strives against great odds and achieves something extraordinary that betters the lives of thousands – if not millions – of people for subsequent generations, then certainly there is room in the pantheon for explicitly business heroes.
Because of immense wealth creation, employment for millions of workers, a panoply of incredibly useful products at prices the average person can afford and which are sold in convenient locations.
Business Heroes Create Wealth
The heroic efforts of entrepreneurs and managers over generations have generated fabulous wealth in our free enterprise system, resulting in the richest and most advanced societies the world has ever known.
Societies in which the lower middle class live lives of luxury that King Edward in 1901 could only imagine . . . and envy.
For too long, the critics of business have dominated the narrative about commerce. From the sidelines, they have dictated the terms of the conversation. Dictated from seats of comfort constructed from the minds, hearts, risk and innovation of those engaged in wealth creation.
From Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas to Karl Marx to Barack Obama, those who do not understand what goes on inside the business black box of wealth creation nonetheless presume to declaim on how business should be conducted. On how it should be hamstrung.
On how wealth should be confiscated. On how that wealth should be “distributed.”
It’s time now for a new narrative, replete with Business Heroes.
If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”
Now, you might be head-scratching and wondering how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”
A fair question.
Implement the Three Ps of Business Presenting
The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.
Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense. You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.
This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons. Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.
And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.
When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles. And this means preparation.
It means practice.
Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
Her now-famous 2010 Harvard study of MBAs demonstrates conclusively that we can, indeed, control our emotions to a certain extent with regard to our delivery of business presentations.
In short, we can make ourselves feel confident and powerful . . . just by striking a powerful pose.
This is heady stuff, and Dr. Cuddy herself explains the process in the video below.
Power Posing Works
Dr. Cuddy’s findings are revolutionary to the extent that she substantially confirms a theory of emotions developed more than a century ago and since discarded for supposedly more au courant notions. Psychologists William James and Carl Lange conceived of a new way of understanding our emotions and how they work.
They reversed the prevailing dynamic this way . . .
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright.
Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?
What if we could engage in power posing and create our own confidence?
Power Posing can Create Confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
And Dr. Amy Cuddy’s research proves it. Have a look . . .
Dr. Cuddy offers powerful instruction for us in the realm of nonverbal communication and in the area of self-motivation and inculcation of power-generating behavior.
But . . .
There are aspects of this video that are instructive in verbal communication as well.
As a caveat, lest we learn other less salutary lessons from the video, I call attention to aspects of Dr. Cuddy’s unfortunate verbal delivery.
This is not to gratuitously disparage Dr. Cuddy, for I am one of her biggest fans, and I advocate her approach to power posing whenever and wherever I speak.
Let’s learn a few things about verbal delivery from the video.
Three Tics to Eliminate
First, her voice often collapses at the end of sentences into a growl-like vocal fry. This results from pinching off the flow of air before finishing a sentence, delivering the last syllables in a kind of grind.
Second, Dr. Cuddy engages frequently in uptalk. This is a verbal tic that pronounces declarative sentences as if they are questions or as if they are statements in doubt. It consists of running the last word or syllable in a sentence up in tone instead of letting it drop decisively. The difference to the ear is dramatic, with uptalk conveying self-doubt, indecision, a quest for validation.
Third, Dr. Cuddy unconsciously laces her talk with words such as “like” and “you know” as filler. Perhaps to maintain a steady drumbeat of verbiage? Who knows the reason people use these crutches.
Eliminate these fillers from your own talks to gain power and decisiveness. Instead of fillers, use silence. Develop the technique of pausing instead of filling every second of your talk with noise.
And so . . . learn the lessons of power posing and engage them in your presentations to imbue them with energy. But eliminate the verbal tics that can leech away that energy from your talk.
Build a Presentation with this simple business presentation structure: Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.
Every presentation – every story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation structure, whether individual or group, according to this framework.
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 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 fashion your business presentation structure.
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.
Build a Sturdy Business 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 in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation 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.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show. This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
We’ve all been there: an Excel spreadsheet smeared across a presentation slide and someone mumbling into a microphone while you check your email just to stay awake. It’s presentation hell. But it doesn’t have to be this way. In How to Be a Presentation God, Scott Schwertly shares effective step-by-step secrets for delivering transcendent presentations with an easy-to-implement approach focused on engaging content, personal storytelling and effective design elements — the holy trinity that leads to godly delivery.
What chutzpuh, if nothing else.
I think not.
If presenting were that easy, wouldn’t we have a whole lot more “presentation gods” striding our corporate corridors?
That said, I recognize that much of the hype in such headlines is simply to get folks to read the piece.
And the over-promise of a headline does not obviate the fact that likely some good advice might be buried somewhere inside.
You simply must dig for the gold . . . and then do something with it.
Presentation Tips Gold
Here is one such article, in which the author details the struggles of his son giving his first major talk in front of hundreds of investors. We all respond well to uplifting stories. Stories in which the hero overcomes great odds.
And those of us in the business presentation enterprise face great odds with every presentation. And if we don’t recognize the stakes for what they are and prepare accordingly . . . we have already lost the game.
As with most such pieces, it over-promises. The title alone gives it away:
How To Go From Being a Disaster—To a Great Speaker
You know or you should know that you don’t go from disastrous speaking to becoming a “great speaker” from reading one article on presentation tips.
But . . .
This article does offer powerful and effective advice grouped into eight points to get you on your way.
As with most of these things, the article is fun to read and satisfying.
We read. We nod. Scratch the chin.
“I can do that,” we think.
But to follow the advice, ahhhh . . . that is the rub!
It requires behavior changes, and this is the most difficult thing for people to do.
I have seen it time and again in my classes . . . students know the information. They internalize it. They receive instruction.
But nothing happens.
They don’t change.
They continue plying their unconscious bad habits, even when those habits are pointed out and become part of the realm of the known.
This is not strictly a post on presentations, although I suppose the topic could be s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to encompass it – rather it’s a caveat to maintain control over your identity, both online and in the real world.
Some time in the past six months, I became one of those proverbial victims of ID theft you hear about.
I found this out from the IRS. But strangely enough, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience hearing from these good folks.
The IRS informed me that someone had begun filing duplicate tax returns for me going back three years . . . of course, seeking refunds.
They have sorted things out, apparently, and I’m on notice.
Then I discovered my email account had been hacked . . .
And then my website – this website . . .
And then my Facebook account . . .
One must roll with the punches received . . . and learn valuable lessons.
Learn from my unfortunate experience and lock up your ID!
Many folks don’t consider that our presentation appearance transmits messages to our audience.
You ve seen enough scruffy presenters to vouch for this yourself.
Most certainly, the appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.
This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.
Your presentation appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message with your appearance. You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your presentation appearance transmits.
And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.
Nonverbal Messages from Presentation Appearance
What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?
That you don’t care?
That you’re confident?
That you are attentive to detail?
That you care about your dignity, your physique?
Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?” If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.
That price comes in the form of ceding competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.
Are you the “ageless rebel” battling the “Man”?
Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that presentation appearance conveys. Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.
You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.
This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.
“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad. The message received is likely much different: “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”
The best public speakers understand the power of appearance and mesh their dress with their message.
Take President Barack Obama, for example. He is a superb dresser, as are all presidents.
On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.
And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”
Politics, Schmolitics . . . He’s a Sharp Dresser
You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up. The messages must mesh.
The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.
Here are some basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .
If you think your business presentation slides are bad (they probably are), latch on to the good news that worse slides are out there . . . in fact, this post features the Worst PowerPoint Slide in the World.
But first, your personal slide curse.
Your personal revelation of your own bad PowerPoint slides starts innocently enough . . .
You click the remote and a new slide appears. You cast a wistful look back at the screen.
Perhaps you squint as you struggle to understand what’s on the screen. It’s almost unreadable.
Your mind reels at the thought that well, maybe . . . this slide actually is awful and should never have been included.
As bad as your slides are, they likely are not as bad as what lurks in corporate America or in the U.S. government.
New York Times Features the World’s Worst PowerPoint Slide
Your slides likely will never reach the bottom of the pit, the awful standard set by our friends in the U.S. government, who crafted and actually presented a monstrosity of such egregious proportions that the New York Times featured it on its front page in 2010 for no other reason than that it was an awful PowerPoint slide.
When the NYT considers your slide front page news, that is a bad slide.
The slide was actually used in a briefing to the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. It purported to explain U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, all on one slide.
That slide appears at the end of this post.
If you dare, scroll down to this heinous freak of design concocted in a government laboratory and completely undeserving to be shown in public . . . except on the front page of the New York Times as the exemplar of how depraved PowerPoint evil can be.
Our Bad Slides Usually Involve Numbers
We show numbers, lots of them. And at times we are tempted to believe that the “numbers speak for themselves.”
And so we whip out the tired, useless phrase “As you can see.”
The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that it requires iron will to prevent ourselves from uttering this reflexive phrase-hiccup.
The bain of “As you can see” is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet of tiny, baffling numbers.
Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.
The audience most assuredly cannot see.
In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.
And that’s why we reach for the phrase.
Because we can’t “see,” either.
We look back helplessly at our own abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show.
You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers displayed on your unreadable spreadsheet.
Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . .
“As you can see—”
And then you call out what seem to be random numbers. Random? Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.
You have not provided the context needed for understanding. No one knows what you’re talking about.
Your classmates watch with glazed eyes. Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like.
And no one has a clue. You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved. And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.
“As you can see” Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide. And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.
It gives rise to the worst PowerPoint slides imaginable, because the incentive to excellence is removed.
This can’t be good. Not for the audience, not for anyone.
All of this sounds heinous, I know. And probably too familiar for comfort.
If the best thing you can say about your slides is that they’re not the worst PowerPoint in the world, then maybe it’s time to upgrade your expectations.
You can beat “As you can see” Syndrome with a few simple techniques that we be discuss in days to come.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who have not developed their PowerPoint slide skills.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.
Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
PowerPoint Slide Skills a Necessity
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping others to hone theirs.
Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art. You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up. You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here. She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it to develop your PowerPoint slide skills.
Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.
Meanwhile, if you want immediate help to develop not only your PowerPoint slide skills, but also your technique of working with your presentation projection, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.
It’s enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.
For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.
Quintilian was the greatest presentation coach to ever stride the streets of Rome during the reigns of Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian . . . and was a great business presenter.
Of course, Rome had many presentation coaches at the time, because public speaking – oratory – was considered an art.
But Quintilian was the undisputed master of the 1st Century, and he penned one of the most important presentation works in all of history.
It was published in 95 AD and was called . . .
The Institutes of Oratory.
But like so many literary works in the ancient world, it disappeared in subsequent centuries as the dark ages engulfed Europe.
Only fragments remained . . . and the legend of Quintilian.
Lost to History?
It was thought lost forever . . . but a Benedictine monk by the name of Poggio Bracciolini discovered a complete manuscript of Quintilian in a dungeon at the Abbey of St. Gall 13 centuries later in present-day Switzerland.
Bracciolini had established a reputation as a master copyist.
He was elated to have discovered the ancient manuscript, and he wrote to a friend about his find in the year 1416.
There amid a tremendous quantity of books which it would take too long to describe, we found Quintilian still safe and sound, though filthy with mold and dust. For these books were not in the Library, as befitted their worth, but in a sort of foul and gloomy dungeon at the bottom of one of the towers, where not even men convicted of a capital offense would have been stuck away . . . . Beside Quintilian we found the first three books and half of the fourth of C. Valerius Flaccus’ Argonauticon, and commentaries or analyses on eight of Cicero’s orations by Q. Asconius Pedianus, a very clever man whom Quintilian himself mentions. These I copied with my own hand and very quickly, so that I might send them to Leonardus Aretinus and to Nicolaus of Florence; and when they had heard from me of my discovery of this treasure they urged me at great length in their letters to send them Quintilian as soon as possible.
Today, the manuscript that Poggio found still exists and is housed in Zürich’s Central Library.
Why should we care about Quintilian except as an historical figure? What could he possibly say to us of worth?
Timeless Secrets of a Great Presenter
To begin with, he was a great business presenter, one of the greatest of all time.
And business presenting hasn’t changed in 2000 years.
It’s still a presenter before an audience. The good news is that Quintilian solved for us almost every pathology that plagues the modern speaker.
His work influenced orators for centuries and, through the adoption by the great rhetorician Hugh Blair in the 19th Century, continues to influence us today in ways we are completely unaware of.
Here is a small sample of the wisdom of Quintilian, this from Book 7.
Let him who would be an orator be assured that he must study early and late; that he must reiterate his efforts; that he must grow pale with toil; he must exert his own powers, and acquire his own method; he must not merely look to principles, but must have them in readiness to act upon them; not as if they had been taught him, but as if they had been born in him. For art can easily show a way, if there be one; but art has done its duty when it sets the resources of eloquence before us; it is for us to know how to use them.
The treasures housed in the Institutes of Oratory are vast. It remains only for us to delve into this trove of wisdom produced by a great business presenter to pluck the nuggets that can transform us into . . . well, into much better presenters than we are today.
In fact, if Quintilian would have his way, he would transform you into an especially powerful presenter, worthy of pleading from the law courts of ancient Rome to the boardrooms of modern New York City.
For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?
Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?
Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?
Guilty as charged?
Most of us are at one point or another.
And the results can be heinous.
Software “Presentation Magic” Cannot Save You
The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.
Who says this is a bad idea?
After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he? Well, I’m giving it to him. ’nuff said.
This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document. This is an incredibly stupid mistake.
One . . . or the Other
Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.
The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.
Never let one serve in place of the other.
Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.
When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .” [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]
The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.
It’s a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.
And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
No Presentation Magic in Your Slide Deck
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.
Nifty slides cannot save you.
PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation. This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story. They bomb miserably.
On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story.
Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.
Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show. They have no special properties. They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.
“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?
Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides. Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.
Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.
If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.
Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen, and you are on your way to an especially powerful presentation. You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.
And, consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power. You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and the zombies of bad presentation tips will be the only survivors.
I say this because I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.
No, we can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely. These zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Bad Presentation Tips
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way. It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change his behavior is not welcome news.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad presentation tips.
And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.
But Bad Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.
The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad presentation tips.
This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad presentation tips zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor. Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.
No more strange finger-play. No more tugging at your fingers. No more twisting and handwringing.
It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth. It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.
And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors. It’s one of the worst of bad presentation tips. This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.
Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side. It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.
In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised. Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning. “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion. This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.
“ We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality. Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? Oh, you counted them, did you?
I assure you that you don’t know.
You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the number of slides you use somehow dictates length of a presentation.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time. They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Presentation Tips Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter. And on that upbeat note, I leave you with several positive tips from the creator of the Prezi presentation package. Peter Arvai, Prezi founder and CEO, offers sages advice here.