Category Archives: Imagination

A Kafka Presentation?

Imagination and Humor in Presenting
A Kafka Presentation can yield disturbing results!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Those four words encompass Kierkegaard and Kafka and Camus.

In those four words is concentrated an almost otherworldly existential power that is rarely seen in hundreds of thousands of mundane marketing messages broadcast every day.

They communicate the ultimate absurdity of the human condition and self-mock with relish our own marketing-based consumer lifestyle.

Do I wax too wildly over a mere commercial message, albeit one that digs such a deep philosophical foundation whose established lineage stretches to the 19th Century?

Yes, I probably do.  After all, it’s just a line from a televised candy commercial.

Yes, candy.  But what a line!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Pop Culture Immortality

It’s a line destined to go down in short-lived pop-cult history alongside “Who put the Goat in there?” [See, you already missed that one, didn’t you? Google it]

You can earn lots of money on t-shirts with “Eat both squares, please” before this narrow window of opportunity slams shut.

Actually, it’s already slammed-to, but a tiny group of Kafka aficionados might appreciate it.

Kafka presentation style
Franz Kafka

Why is the line funny?

Because of the subtlety it conveys.  The commercial message is . . . taste.   And shades of darkly humorous and powerful meaning are shoehorned into those four words.

It’s a Kafka Presentation.

Kafka?  Who?  Google for explanation.

It is an incredible feat of advertising acumen.

An instant classic.

It may not rate as highly in the pantheon of ad lore as the more mainstream and iconic phrase “Where’s the Beef?” but it has a far more deeply existential quality to it, a surreal aspect that taps into our imagination and allows us to play out the dark meaning of those innocent words.

For it is in the innocence of the words themselves that we find their ironic power.

I can think of only one other example that has similar power, but it’s far darker; it comes from the novel Hannibal:  “The skin graft didn’t take.”

Deliver a Kafka Presentation

All of which leads us to the the central question – What’s the source of creativity?   How can we tap our own creativity to construct powerful messages that communicate with humor the points we wish to make?

How can we burn our messages into the receptors of our listeners? How can creativity ignite our own business presentations, our business shows?  To deliver a Kafka Presentation?

[WARNING:  Not everyone likes a disturbing Kafkaesque experience]

existential1Commercials are presentations of a sort.  They are shows in the same way that your business presentations are shows.

So what makes an especially powerful commercial?

Advertising agencies and marketers have the bulk of the fun in business, or so it seems.   Oftentimes, their efforts are quashed out of corporate fears of giving offense or going too over-the-top.

But every once in a while . . .

This commercial surely substantiates the fun thesis as we can imagine the devious amusement these folks had assembling this subversive masterpiece.  The commercial hangs together superbly in creating a mind-burning moment for the product – Snickers.

What’s that?  You still don’t understand “Eat both squares, please?”

You will in a moment.

 

Shades of Gary Larsen and his cartoon masterpieces The Far Side!

The Far Side Reaches Televison!

I include this ad in Business School Presenting to illustrate what great creativity can produce when unleashed from the straitjacket we usually find in Business School.

Eat Both Squares Please debuted several years ago, and it quickly passed into advertising history, remembered by some . . . revered by a few.

In no way do I analyze exactly why this commercial is incredibly funny, except to note that it combines anthropomorphism with a modern focus group scenario.

It’s a Kafka Presentation, and it’s played straight, not for laughs.  And the kicker is that Kafka is known primarily for the opposite of anthropomorphism – his work Metamorphosis.

It’s a Gary Larson cartoon come to life . . .

In other words, the focus group scenario is exactly what you find in such a venue and activity.  The Kafkaesque addition of sharks gives it a kind of restrained absurdity.

The combination yields 31 seconds of brilliance.  And like most brilliant humor, it’s bound to offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Integrating humor into your presentation can be difficult, but this is one way to do it.   Certainly we cannot hit a home-run like this commercial with our own efforts every time, but if humor is a goal, this Snickers formula can work – blending the mundane with the bizarre to produce a pastiche of power that drills a concept into the audience’s collective mind.

Not only is unbridled imagination a source for especially powerful presentations, but its regular engagement offers you sustainable personal competitive advantage.  Give it a shot.

For more info on delivering the Kafka Presentation, see The Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

No Business Scrooge this Christmas!

No such thing as business scroogeWhen asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.

Indeed.

My naturally autocratic tendencies, which have held me back in the literary world for years, compel me constantly to cast a pall on the enthusiasms of my young charges.

To stifle the urge to ponderous first-person narratives sourced from an uncomfortable chair at an outdoor bistro on the Champs-Élysées.

To replace pedestrian visions from well-worn paths with clarity and precision and vision of things and places never once visited.

At this time of year, such endeavor might be considered . . . Scrooge-like.

But no.  You won’t find Scrooge in the Business School.  There is no such thing as a Business Scrooge.

Scrooge is commonplace, but not here.

It’s Time for Mind-Clearing

This is about shaking off medievalist bad habits learned over in the liberal arts college . . . about clearing the mind . . . scattering gnat-like notions to the winds . . .

Accordingly, as a business school professor, I urge my students to dispense with their fanciful flights picked up in undisciplined liberal arts courses.  To dispense with the bad and the ugly . . . and to embrace the good.

In class, my students look at me, expectantly.  Yes, we’re here – in class – now:

“You remember those idyllic scenes conjured by your imagination, back when you were young and unjaded?  High school seniors . . . or even freshmen here in university?  When college had its sheen?”

I roam the floor, the space in front of the rows of desks with their internet connections.

“Remember those scenes of professors and students out on the lawn under a late summer sun, students sitting cross-legged, perhaps chewing on blades of grass?  Your kindly bearded professor, a tam resting upon his head, gesturing grandly while reciting something beautiful?

“Perhaps a passage from Faulkner?  Perhaps a trope from Camus. Or verse from an angry beat poet?  The occasional angry finger-point at the business school with all its philistinism?  The house of Business Scrooge?”

One student speaks up.

“I saw a group out theThere's no Business Scrooge . . . but plenty of pinched brows in liberal artsre last spring!  Why can’t we do that?”

“Because it’s winter now, of course.  But wouldn’t that be nice,” I respond.

Nods around the room.

Broad smiles.

“No, it would not be nice,” I say.  “That’s not genuine.  It’s not authentic.  Just actors performing for touring visitors and posing for publicity shots.  College isn’t like that.  There is no authentic college of your dreams waiting for you to discover.  Remember the lesson of Oliver Wendell Douglas.”

“Who?”

“Oliver . . . Wendell . . . Douglas.”

I’m concerned at this lack of essential preparatory knowledge of the modern college student at a major university.

Search for the Authentic

“The star of Green Acres, the greatest television show of all time.  Don’t you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land?  See Youtube.”

Green Acres.  I explain.

It was really an allegory, a metaphor for our time.

Mr. Douglas was forever in search of the authentic.  He had an idyllic conception of the rural experience.  He abandoned his big city lawyer’s life in a quest for authentic Americana.

Instead, Mr. Douglas found a bizarre world populated by characters that could have been confected by Stephen King.

Hank Kimball.The business scrooge myth

Mr. Haney.

Sam Drucker.

Eb.

Frank Ziffle.

Homer Bedlow.

Everyone was an actor in a surreal drama staged for the benefit of Mr. Douglas’s dreams of the authentic rural life.

The unifying theme of the show was Sam Drucker’s general store, where many of the crucial insights were revealed.  Rural folk did not use oil lamps, “’cause we all got ’lectricity.”

The barrel in Sam Drucker’s general store was filled with plastic pickles.

The store was a magical place for Mr. Douglas, a crossroads for many of the strange characters who nettled him so naughtily.  For the most part, they gave Mr. Douglas exactly what he wanted to see, because in the immortal words of Sam Drucker:  “City folks seem to expect it.”

The idyllic outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature-scene.

Students seem to expect it.

High Expectations

Expectations that inevitably collapse under the weight of real challenges, real work . . . and in the process of genuine labor, a true generosity of spirit takes root.

“I suppose that no one in this classroom has seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?  The original, not the remake.”

“And if you have, I’m betting you completely missed the theme of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism expressed by Spock throughout the film.  Never mind the obvious references to Melville’s Moby Dick?”

“Is this class Global Strategic Management, Professor?”

Again, those naturally autocratic tendencies assert themselves.

“This class is what it isBusiness Scrooge?,” not unmindful of the evasiveness.  “And it is not about outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature instruction.  It’s about  . . authentic.”

I snap my fingers.

“How many people here believe in this . . . this muse?”

Silence.  No movement.

“You know.  This writing trope.  This muse.”

I squint.

“Anyone ever heard of this muse?  Don’t hide from me.  I know you were exposed to this . . . this muse over in that heinous liberal arts college.”

Hands begin to go up.  Cautious hands.  More hands than I expect.  More hands than are comfortable.

Time to disabuse them, time to explode their fantasies.

“There is no muse.”

A simple declarative sentence, but with the unsentimental power and imperious grandeur of a Thomas Carlyle proclamation.

Puzzled looks.  A few of them distraught.  Then, anger.

“But there is.  There’s a muse . . . there is!”

“Humbug!  There is no muse!  Get that Birkenstock notion out of your callow head.”

“But my English prof said—”

“Your neo-medievalist English prof is teaching because no one publishes her bad novels and because she cannot earn a living foisting this muse-myth on folks who live and breathe and work and play in the real world.  People who build bridges, harvest corn, make tires, feed hormones to beef, fly you home over holiday break, and who serve you every day at the 7-ll.  People who pay taxes and die.”

Gasp.

My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.

The myth of business scrooge“You must know only one thing.”

Pause.

“You must know only one thing.”

The students sense something profound coming.  They won’t be disappointed.

“Yes, there is a muse . . . I am your muse.”

I smile.  A benevolent smile.  I see several people actually taking notes, writing this down.

Muse Whispers “No Business Scrooge Here”

“I am on your shoulder whispering to you in those moments when you lack inspiration.  I am your solution to the blank computer screen.”

My voice rises, I lean back and spread my hands wide, just as I have seen evangelicals do when working a crowd.

“I am the muse, the answer to your writer’s block and the source of your inspiration.”

Titters of laughter ripple through the room, and I scowl.

“You think I’m joking . . . that this is a joke?”

I pace like a panther, my hands clasped behind my back.  I stalk the room, the entire space in front of the classroom and right in front of the giant PowerPoint projection screen.

I stop and face them, squaring my shoulders and flexing my jaw.

“I want you to remember that one thing when you’re up at night and time is trickling by, and you have an assignment but no ideas and no hope . . . .”

They are silent, and they watch me.

The Incantation . . .

“I will perch on your shoulder, and I will whisper to you just four words.  I want you to remember those four words.  Just four little words – just five little syllables.”

They are magic words!  An incantation!

“A mantra to warm you on those cold nights bereft of imagination, as you trek that barren wasteland of words without order, without discipline, without a point.”

I have their attention now.  They are rapt.

Will I win them over this time?  Can I break through?

Can I help them make the leap from soaring idealism to mundane responsibility?

“Remember these words:  Love … the … Value … Chain!”

Groans.

They’ve heard this before.  They sound disappointed.

Cheated.

So many fail to see the beauty of disaggregating the firm into its functional components . . . The Value Chain.  The analytic precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens!  So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .

“I love the value chain, Professor!”

“Really?”

I’m skeptical, jaded.  I search for signs of duplicity.  But detect only enthusiasm.

“Which part of the value chain do you feel most strongly about?”

“Since I’m chronologically oriented, Professor, I’m partial to Inbound Logistics!”

There is a general murmuring and uneasiness in the class.  Inbound logistics?

I nod sagely.  “That’s fine, MBusiness Scrooges. Zapata.  It’s okay to privilege one segment of the value chain over another, if it gives you the key to identifying competitive advantage!”

A hand shoots up and a voice cries out before I can acknowledge it.

Operations!  That’s the ticket for me.”

And yet another!

After sale Service!” a voice in the back calls out.  “Professor, Customer Relationship Management has a symmetry and logic about it that outstrips anything we touched on in my basic philosophy courses!”

The dam had finally burst, and the classroom buzzed with talk of core competencies, competitive analysis, environmental scans, core products, strategy formulation processes, Five Forces analysis, and competitive advantage!

They are convinced – finally – that strategy and value chain analysis can be an art.

I even say positive things about accounting and accountants, observing that there is a bit of art and flair and imagination necessary to produce a product desired by the employer . . . or patron.  Think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel for his patron.

The Value Chain!

Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Sales and Marketing, and Service.

If ever there were a time for sentimentality and outright weeping, this was it!  For this is the key to wealth creation and the bettering of people’s lives in a thousand different ways.

It’s our cornucopia, the secret that has propelled civilization from the Renaissance to the Age of Google.

But then . . .

But then, one of the most staid literary conventions of all time reared its ugly head.  Yes, one of the worst literary devices known to fictioneers.

I woke up.

I awoke from a dream.

A Sweet, Impossible Dream

It was nothing but a sweet dream.  Students excited at the prospect of writing a paper on value chain analysis . . . on identifying a company’s core competency and developing a strategic plan to gain sustained competitive advantage based on that competency . . .

Students who loved the value chain . . . who could see the art and creativity demanded of the accountant and financial manager.

Who could see the beauty in efficient operations management.

Who would strive for efficiency because it was the right thing to do!

It was all a sweet dream.

cruel dream.

I awoke to a cold, winter world where idealistic students still sleepwalk and irresponsible students still party and wiseacre students still wisecrack with a tiresome world-weariness and faux freshness.

Who write with an undisciplined lackadaisical casualness that drives me to distraction.

It’s the little things that do this.

I close my eyes and maybe . . . perhaps I can recapture a bit of the magic.  Recapture the dream.

I look up, startled to find a group of students gathered round my desk after I have dismissed class.  They are heading home in the cold for their winter break.

“What’s this?”

“A gift, Professor.”

There is no such thing as the Business Scrooge“Thank you.”

“Won’t you open it now?”

I peel the wrap away in a crinkle of coated Christmas paper.  It’s a book.  A copy of Peter Drucker’s Management.

It’s a first edition, and I feel my eyes tearing up.

“We know how much you like Green Acres.  And Drucker’s general store.”

Smiles abound.  I cock an eyebrow, as I am wont to do.

“You do know that it wasn’t Peter Drucker’s store?  It was Sam Drucker’s store.”

“Does it really matter, Professor?”

“In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that it does not.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Why do I offer a hearty Merry Christmas instead of something ecumenically blasé?

Well, because I can.  Because I’m authentic.  Because I have authoritarian tendencies.

Because I offer others a piece of my world.

And I heartily accept Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Season’s Greetings from anyone and everyone else who cares to send ’em my way.

Now, I must go read Sam Drucker’s book on managing a general store in Hooterville.

No business scrooge here.  I’m such an idealist.

Presentation Greatness: Find Yours

Presentation Greatness and great presentations
Finding your presentation greatness means changing the way you present to achieve personal competitive advantage through great presentations

Nike developed a well-known ad campaign with the theme: “Find Your Presentation Greatness.”

Well, it really didn’t refer to business presentations, but it well could have, without losing much in translation.

To wit:

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars.  The truth is, greatness is for us all.  This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us.”

I like the positive thrust of the ad series, which places the locus of excellence inside each of us and urges us to cultivate a desire to strive and succeed, come what may.

The Hard Truth . . . Our Greatest Enemy

Key in this is often the hard truth that often we can be our worst enemy when it comes to achieving success.

Business presenting can be like that.

More often than not, the biggest obstacle to delivering a superb presentation is our self-doubt and fear of failure.  This can stymie the best of us.  It can result in half-hearted efforts that give us an “out” when we flop.

“I wasn’t even trying,” we can say with a shrug.  And thus spare ourselves the ignominy of putting our heart and effort into a presentation, only to have it “fail.”

The exasperating truth in this is that we need not fear failure.  Or even a job poorly done.  If we invest our minds and hearts in the right kind of preparation, we need not ever “fail” at delivering serviceable, even fantastic, presentations.

We all have the tools.  We all have the potential.  We can all give a great presentation.

But . . . the Path to Presentation Greatness?

But it requires us to do the most difficult thing imaginable, and that is actually change the way we present.  This may seem obvious, but it’s not.

Many folks think that a great presentation exists somewhere outside themselves – in the software, in the written notes, in the prepared speech, in the audience somewhere.

The thought that we must step outside our comfort zone and actually adopt new habits while shedding the old ones is . . . well, it’s daunting.  And I hear every excuse imaginable why it can’t be done.  Usually having to do with “comfort.”

“I’m just not comfortable with that.”

Of course you’re not “comfortable” with that.  You’re comfortable with your old bad habits.  That’s what “habit” means.

These are new habits of superb presenting, and when you adopt them as your own, you become comfortable with them.  When you do, you will be on your way to your own greatness.

You’ll be on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations.  Great presentations!

To further your journey to delivering great presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Mind-Blasting to Hook your Audience

Hook your Audience!
Hook your audience with an especially powerful grabber

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook your audience for your business presentation.

And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.

In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.  You must get them über-focused on you and your message.

So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?

Think of your message or your story as your explosive device.  To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.

This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.

This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.

Something special.

With this provocative line, you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next.  The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.

“Thank you, thank you very much . . .”

But they must step off with you from the beginning.

You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.  You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:

“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction.  Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be hear tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children.  And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”

Hook your audience
You won’t hook your audience with cliches and bad jokes

That sort of thing.

Ugh.

Folks in your audience are already checking their email.  In fact, they’re no longer your audience.

And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.

Why do people talk this way?  Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.

You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.

You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.

You come to believe that a listless audience is natural.

Not at all!

So How to Hook Your Audience?

The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting.

You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention.

You must say something provocative, but relevant.  You must grab your listeners and keep them.  Hook them.  You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.

Something like this:

“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot.  And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling.  The letters were etched in granite and they became visible one by one.  My breath caught when I read the inscription–”

Or this . . .

“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”

Or this . . .

“I was stupid, yes stupid.  I was young and impetuous.  And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did.  I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”

Or this . . .

“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”

Hook Your Audience!
Mind-Blast to Hook your Audience

Or this . . .

“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . .    I thought that she must be a special woman.  And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”

You get the idea.

Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you.  Your listeners want to hear what comes next.

Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey.  If you engage in theatrics for their own sake – just to hook your audience to no good end – you earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.

So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.  And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.

For more on mind-blasting for especially powerful presentations, see the Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

Give an Interesting Business Presentation

Give an interesting business presentation every time
Give an interesting business presentation by broadening your context to generate a 3D effect of richer texture and deeper meaning

Our goal:  give an interesting business presentation.

That seems easy enough, but too often we simply assume that this somehow “just happens.”

And I wager that not many folks spend lots of time on the task.

Let’s look at how you can enrich your presenting in unexpected ways so to give an interesting presentation regardless of your audience.

Let’s discuss how to deepen and broaden your perspective so that it encompasses that proverbial “big picture.”

Let’s start with how to become a 3-D presenter.

3D Presentations

Now, this means several things.  It includes how you utilize the stage to your utmost advantage, of course, but a major component is the exercising of your mind.

It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories.

It’s a process of becoming learned in new and wondrous ways. Think of it as enlarging your world.

You increase your reservoir of usable material.

As a result, you can connect more readily with varied audiences.

You accomplish this in an ongoing process – by forever keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area.  By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.

The Interesting Business Presentation

That process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily and incrementally.

By doing something daily, however brief.  Something to stretch your mind to establish connections 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.

give an interesting business presentation
How to give an interesting business presentation? Expand your Context.

Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.

We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer especially powerful insights.

For me, it means sitting in on classes taught by my colleagues.  It means reading outside my specialty area.  It means exposure to doctrines I don’t rightly believe, but probably ought to understand.

How will this help in preparing my own classes?  At this point, I can’t be certain.  But I know it will.  At some point.

Without fail.

And that’s the beauty and potential of it.

I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue  in 3-dimensional fashion.  They’ll be connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.

It will do the same for yours.  And it will likely aid in your development into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.

For more on how to give interesting, and especially powerful, business presentations, click HERE.

Audience Engagement – Don’t Just Talk at Folks

How to engage your audience

Do you face a listless, distracted audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?

Texting?

Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation?  Some call this the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley (me) on how to engage your audience.  An audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Here, I identify a remedy for you – the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.  How to engage your audience for power and impact.

Here also are several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.

Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books.  You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com

CKC also offers great short courses at no charge.  This includes my favorite on business presentations, this one.

There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation.  Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement.

Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories.  Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.

For more on especially powerful presentations and how to engage your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Magic Presentation Words to Cast Your Spell

Magic_Presentation Words for Power and Impact
Magic Presentation Words can Cast a Spell

I know some magic words.  Magic presentation words.

Words to help you deliver a magic presentation that rivets the audience’s attention and guides them along a path that you’ve chosen.  Magic presentation words that bring your audience to a conclusion that your listeners, themselves, believe they arrived at on their own.

In fact, I know a series of magic spells to use during business presentations, spells that can get you out of trouble, spells to dazzle the audience and lead them where you want to go.

But you won’t believe it’s magic.

Disbelief in Magic Presentation Words

You see, we may not know what magic is, but we do think we know what magic is not . . . and it’s surely not the seemingly mundane advice given in a blogpost about business presenting.

The trouble with offering folks a formula to help them deliver a magic presentation is that they don’t recognize that the magic isn’t for them.  Not at all.

Magic Presentation Words like an IncantationThe magic is for the audience and the effect it has on the audience.  And the effects are mostly subtle.

So, when I reveal the magic words, the subtle and especial incantations that move the audience en masse, it is invariably the case that the people who hear them are not happy.

They feel cheated somehow.

They just know that whatever else these words are, they surely are not “magic.”  And they ignore the power of magic in their presentations, the subtle and powerful effects achieved by words so unobtrusive that the audience doesn’t even consciously register them when they’re spoken.  The audience simply reacts in ways you want it to.

Here’s an example.

At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble toward the end of a presentation.  Having these magic words near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course.  A speech flirting with disaster.

Your Magic Presentation Words

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

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

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

Grasp for two words.

Your Magic Words.

“In conclusion . . .”

That’s it.  Just two words.

Conclude a Presentation with Pith and Power

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

These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable to what a logical, reasonable person would believe.  As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.  And your audience responds with keen attention, summoned to a state of alertness by this simple yet powerful formulation.

Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.  And your audience is with you in spirit.

Here is what you do.  Confidently add another phrase to your magic words, this way . . .

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

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

“In conclusion, this means that . . .”

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

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

. . . stop!

You’re done.

But you’re not done building your Personal Competitive Advantage by improving your business presentation skills . . . consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on magic presentation words that spellbind your audience.

Bad Business Presentation?

Bad Business PresentationIs 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.

Bad Business Presentations are ubiquitous
Bad Business Presentations offer the Kiss of Sleep

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.

It’s boring.

It’s unintelligible.

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.

Bad Business Presentations are the career kiss of death
Don’t bore your audience with bad business presentations

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.

Monotone voices.

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.

Interested in more on fixing bad business presentations?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

An Interesting Business Presentation Every Time!

Give an interesting business presentation every time
Enlarge your world to give an interesting business presentation every time

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.

give an interesting business presentation
Delve outside your specialty to develop an especially interesting business presentation

Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science, culture.

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.”

What a leavening experience: Thucydides, MachiavelliClausewitz, Lincoln, and many others . . .

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.

Not so Humbug . . . a Christmas Classic!


When asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.

Indeed.

My naturally autocratic tendencies, which have held me back in the literary world for years, compel me constantly to cast a pall on the enthusiasms of my young charges.

At this time of year, such endeavor might be considered . . . Scrooge-like.

But it’s Time for some Mind-Clearing

This is about shaking off the bad habits learned over in the liberal arts college . . . about clearing the mind . . . scattering gnat-like notions to the winds . . .

Accordingly, as a business school professor, I urge my students to dispense with their fanciful flights picked up in undisciplined liberal arts courses.  To dispense with the bad and the ugly . . . and to embrace the good.

In class, my students look at me, expectantly.  Yes, we’re there – in class – now:

“You remember those idyllic scenes conjured by your imagination, back when you were young and unjaded?  High school seniors . . . or even freshmen?  When college still had its sheen?”

I roam the floor, the space in front of the rows of desks with their internet connections.  It is my stage.

“Remember those scenes of professors and students out on the lawn under a late summer sun, students sitting cross-legged, perhaps chewing on blades of grass?  Your kindly bearded professor, a tam resting upon his head, gesturing grandly while reciting something beautiful?  Perhaps a passage from Faulkner?  Perhaps a trope from Aristotelian philosophy or verse from an angry beat poet?”

One student speaks up.

“I saw a group out there today!  Why can’t we do that?”

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” I respond.

Nods around the room.  Broad smiles.

“No, it would not be nice,” I say.  “That’s not genuine.  It’s not authentic.  Just actors performing for touring visitors and posing for publicity shots.  College isn’t like that.  There is no authentic college of your dreams waiting for you to discover.  Remember the lesson of Oliver Wendell Douglas.”

“Who?”

“Oliver . . . Wendell . . . Douglas.”

I’m concerned at this lack of essential preparatory knowledge of the modern college student at a major university.

Search for the Authentic

“The star of Green Acres, the greatest television show of all time.  Don’t you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land?”

Green Acres.  I explain.

It was really an allegory, a metaphor for our time.  Mr. Douglas was forever in search of the authentic.  He had an idyllic conception of rural life.  He abandoned his big city lawyer’s life in a quest for authentic Americana.

Instead, Mr. Douglas found a bizarre world populated by characters that could have been confected by Stephen King.

Hank Kimball.

Mr. Haney.

Sam Drucker.

Eb.

Frank Ziffle.

Everyone was an actor in a surreal drama staged for the benefit of Mr. Douglas’s dreams of the authentic rural life.

The unifying theme of the show was Sam Drucker’s general store, where many of the crucial insights were revealed.  Rural folk did not use oil lamps, “’cause we all got ’lectricity.”  The barrel in Sam Drucker’s general store was filled with plastic pickles.

The store was a magical place for Mr. Douglas, a crossroads for many of the strange characters who annoyed him so naughtily.  For the most part, they gave Mr. Douglas exactly what he wanted to see, because in the immortal words of Sam Drucker:  “City folks seem to expect it.”

The idyllic outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature-scene.

Students seem to expect it.

High Expectations

Expectations I sadly must deflate.

“I suppose that no one in this classroom has seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?  And if you have, I’m betting you completely missed the theme of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism expressed by Spock throughout the film.  Never mind the obvious references to Melville’s Moby Dick?”

“Is this class Global Strategic Management, Professor?”

Again, those naturally autocratic tendencies assert themselves.

“This class is what I want it to be.  And it is not going to be about outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature instruction.  It’s going to be . . . authentic.”

I snap my fingers.

“How many people here believe in this . . . this muse?”

There is silence.  No movement.

“You know.  This writing trope.  This muse.  Anyone ever heard of this muse?  Don’t hide from me.  I know you were exposed to this . . . this muse over in that heinous liberal arts college.”

Hands begin to go up.  Cautious hands.  More hands than I expect.  More hands than are comfortable.

Time to disabuse them, time to explode their fantasies.

“There is no muse.”

A simple declarative sentence, but with the unsentimental power and imperious grandeur of a Thomas Carlyle proclamation.

Puzzled looks.  A few of them distraught.  Then, anger.

“But there is.  There’s a muse . . . there is!”

“Humbug!  There is no muse!  Get that Birkenstock notion out of your callow head.”

“But my English prof said—”

“Your English prof is teaching because she cannot earn a living foisting this muse-myth on folks who live and breathe and work and play in the real world.  People who build bridges, crop tobacco, feed hormones to beef, fly you home over holiday break, and who serve you every day at the 7-ll.  People who pay taxes and die.”

Gasp.

“You must know only one thing.”

My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.  Pause.

“You must know only one thing.”

The students sense something profound coming.  They won’t be disappointed.

“Yes, there is a muse . . . I am your muse.”

I smile a benevolent smile.  I see several people actually taking notes, writing this down.

The Muse Whispers . . .

“I am on your shoulder whispering to you in those moments when you lack inspiration.  I am your solution to the blank computer screen.”

My voice rises, I lean back and spread my hands wide, just as I have seen evangelicals do when working a crowd.

“I am the muse, the answer to your writer’s block and the source of your inspiration.”

Titters of laughter ripple through the room, and I scowl.

“You think I’m joking . . . that this is a joke?”

I pace like a panther, my hands clasped behind my back.  I stalk the room, the entire space in front of the classroom and right in front of the giant PowerPoint projection screen.

I stop and face them, squaring my shoulders and flexing my jaw.

“I want you to remember that one thing when you’re up at night and time is trickling by, and you have an assignment but no ideas and no hope . . . .”

They are silent, and they watch me.

The Incantation . . .

“I will perch on your shoulder, and I will whisper to you just four words.  I want you to remember those four words.  Just four little words – just five little syllables.  They are magic words!  An incantation!  A mantra to warm you on those cold nights bereft of imagination, as you trek that barren wasteland of words without order, without discipline, without a point.”

I have their attention now.  They are rapt.

Will I win them over this time?  Can I break through?  Can I help them make the leap from soaring idealism to mundane responsibility?

“Remember these words:  Love … the … Value … Chain!”

Groans.

They’ve heard this before.  They sound disappointed.  Cheated.

So many fail to see the beauty of disaggregating the firm into its functional components.  The analytical precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens up!  So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .

“I love the value chain, Professor!”

“Really?”

I’m skeptical, jaded.  I search for signs of duplicity.  But detect nothing but enthusiasm.

“Which part of the value chain do you feel the most affinity for?”

“Since I’m chronologically oriented, Professor, I’m partial to Inbound Logistics!”

There is a general murmuring and uneasiness in the class.  Inbound logistics?

I nod sagely.  “That’s fine, Ms. Zapata.  It’s okay to privilege one segment of the value chain over another, if it gives you the key to identifying competitive advantage!”

A hand shoots up and a voice cries out before I can acknowledge it.

Operations!  That’s the ticket for me.”

And yet another!

After sale Service!” a voice in the back calls out.  “Professor, Customer Relationship Management has a symmetry and logic about it that outstrips anything we touched on in my basic philosophy courses!”

The dam had finally burst, and the classroom buzzed with talk of core competencies, competitive analysis, environmental scans, core products, strategy formulation processes, Five Forces analysis, and comparative advantage!

They are convinced – finally – that strategy and value chain analysis can be an art.  I even say positive things about accounting and accountants, observing that there is a bit of art and flair and imagination necessary to produce a product desired by the employer . . . or patron.  Think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel for his patron.

The Value Chain!  Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Sales and Marketing, and Service.

If ever there were a time for sentimentality and outright weeping, this was it!

But then . . .

But then, one of the most staid literary conventions of all time reared its ugly head.

I woke up.

I awoke from a dream.

A Sweet, Impossible Dream

It was nothing but a sweet dream.  Students excited at the prospect of writing a paper on value chain analysis . . . on identifying a company’s core competency and developing a strategic plan to gain sustained competitive advantage based on that competency . . . students who loved the value chain . . . who could see the art and creativity demanded of the accountant and financial manager.

Who could see the beauty in efficient operations management.

Who would strive for efficiency because it was the right thing to do!

It was all a sweet dream.

cruel dream.

I awoke to a cold, winter world where idealistic students still dream and irresponsible students still party and wiseacre students still wisecrack with a tiresome world-weariness.  Who write with an undisciplined lackadaisical casualness that drives me to distraction.

It is the little things that do this.

I close my eyes and maybe . . . perhaps I can recapture a bit of the magic.  Recapture the dream.

I look up, startled to find a group of students gathered round my desk after I have dismissed class.  They are heading home in the cold for their winter break.

“What’s this?”

“A gift, Professor.”

“Thank you.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

I peel the wrap away in a crinkle of coated Christmas paper.  It’s a book.  A copy of Peter Drucker’s Management.

It’s a first edition, and I feel my eyes tearing up.

“We know how much you like Green Acres.  And Drucker’s general store.”

Smiles abound.  I cock one eyebrow, as I am wont to do.

“You do know that it wasn’t Peter Drucker’s store?  It was Sam Drucker’s general store.”

“Does it really matter, Professor?”

“In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that it does not.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Why do I offer a hearty Merry Christmas instead of something ecumenically blasé?

Well, because I can.  Because I’m authentic.  Because I have authoritarian tendencies.

Because I offer others a piece of my world.

And I heartily accept Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Season’s Greetings from anyone and everyone else who cares to send ’em my way.

Now, let me go read Sam Drucker’s book on managing a general store in Hooterville.

I’m such an idealist.


Personal Competitive Advantage – Craft Yours Now

Personal Competitive Advantage.

Business Presentations can yield Personal Competitive Advantage
Only you can build Personal Competitive Advantage that is specific to your capabilities, intentions, and resources.

It sounds incredibly beguiling.

It sounds like something we definitely ought to acquire in this competitive business world.

But what is it?

While many definitions are about, I’d say it’s that congeries of qualities, skills, experience, and brio that sets you apart from your peers in a narrow slice of your own professional bailiwick.

It’s something peculiar to yourself and your own experience.  It’s up to you to discover, build, enhance, nurture.

Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal Competitive Advantage involves consciously positioning yourself against the competition.

It’s easy to offer a laundry list of qualities that we might imagine constitutes Personal Competitive Advantage.  Charisma . . . confidence . . . style . . . panache . . . smarts.

Personal Competitive Advantage surely comprises much of that . . . maybe.  Because Advantage can vary from person to person, from field to field.

Personal Competitive Advantage
Gain Personal Competitive Advantage through a carefully crafted strategy

This frustrates folks.

I know this sounds vague, and there’s an excellent reason for it.

Only you can assess capabilities, intentions, and resources.

Only you can develop a winning Unique Selling Proposition.

And only you can then identify a winning position for you to carve out and make your own.

Many students feel cheated when they realize they must actually craft this position themselves rather than find it in a mythical “success manual.”

But craft it you must.

Here’s One Guide

One way to position yourself for personal competitive advantage is to utilize the “Four Actions Framework” developed by the authors of the business bestseller Blue Ocean Strategy.

This framework involves examining the standard metrics along which you compete in your chosen profession.  You then manipulate those metrics in four ways to yield something fresh and new.

Something attuned to your particular value offering.

Eliminate.  Reduce.  Raise.  Create.

First, Eliminate . . .

. . . decide how you compete in your particular bailiwick.  Identify the competitive metrics.

Personal Competitive Strategy
Personal Strategy for Competitive Advantage

Then, eliminate the metrics that don’t concern you or on which you are weak and see no low-cost way of improving.

Second, Reduce . . . lower emphasis on low-profile and low-value metrics.

Maintain your competitive presence on these dimensions, but only enough for credibility.

Third, Raise . . . emphasize the key metrics in your field that you believe are key success factors.  These are metrics that most people believe are substantial and essential to their own well-being.

Fourth, Create . . . innovate and create new metrics.  You thus become #1 in a new category – your own category.

Overarching all of this . . .

Inventory your present skill set, your deepest professional desires, and the raw materials now available to you.  These three factors constitute your capabilities, intentions, and resources.

Evaluate whether your capabilities, intentions, and resources are consistent.  Are they aligned with one another?  Do they have strategic fit?

Does it make sense when you eyeball it?

These are the first steps toward crafting a Personal Competitive Advantage.  Start thinking this way to lay the groundwork.

One surefire way to gain personal competitive advantage is to pledge to become an especially powerful business presenter.  In fact, it’s an open secret, very much like a football laying on the field, waiting to be picked up and run for a touchdown.

Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on gaining Personal Competitive Advantage.

Engaging Your Audience . . . Video Classic!

Engage Your Audience . . . Give your listeners what they want

Do you face a listless, distracted audience?

Do your “listeners” check iPhones every few seconds?   Text?   Chat openly in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

How DO you Engage Your Audience?

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you, how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.

He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books.  You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com

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

“Eat both squares, please.” CLASSIC!

“Eat both squares, please.”

In those four words is concentrated an almost otherworldly existential power that is rarely seen in hundreds of thousands of mundane marketing messages broadcast every day.

Those four words encompass Kierkegaard and Kafka and Camus.

They communicate the ultimate absurdity of the human condition and self-mock with relish our own marketing-based consumer lifestyle.

Do I wax too wondrously over a mere commercial message, albeit one that digs such a deep philosophical foundation whose established lineage stretches to the 19th Century?

Probably.  After all, it’s just a line from a televised candy commercial.

Yes, candy.  But what a line!

“Eat both squares, please.”

Pop Culture Immortality

It’s a line destined to go down in short-lived pop-cult history alongside “Who put the Goat in there?” [See, you already missed that one, didn’t you? Google it]

You can earn lots of money on t-shirts with “Eat both squares, please” before this narrow window of opportunity slams shut.

Why is the line funny?  Because of the subtlety it conveys.

The commercial message is . . . taste.  And shades of darkly humorous and powerful meaning is shoehorned into those four words.

It is an incredible feat of advertising acumen.

An instant classic.

It may not rate as highly in the pantheon of ad lore as the iconic phrase “Where’s the Beef?” but it has a far more deeply existential quality to it, a surreal aspect that taps into our imagination and allows us to play out the dark meaning of those innocent words.  For it is in the innocence of the words themselves that we find their ironic power.

I can think of only one other example that has similar power, but it’s far darker; it comes from the novel Hannibal:  “The skin graft didn’t take.”

Incredibly Creative

All of which leads us to the the central question – What’s the source of creativity?  How can we tap our own creativity to construct powerful messages that communicate with humor the points we wish to make.

How can we burn our messages into the receptors of our listeners?

How can creativity ignite our own business presentations, our business shows?

Commercials are presentations of a sort.  They are shows in the same way that your business presentations are shows.  So what makes an especially powerful commercial?

Advertising agencies and marketers get to have the bulk of the fun in business, or so it seems.  Oftentimes, their efforts are quashed out of corporate fears of giving offense.

But every once in a while . . .

This commercial surely substantiates the fun thesis as we imagine the fun these folks had assembling this masterpiece.  The commercial hangs together superbly in creating a mind-burning moment for the product – Snickers.

What’s that?  You still don’t understand “Eat both squares, please?”

Shades of Gary Larsen and his cartoon masterpieces The Far Side!

I include this ad in Business School Presenting to illustrate what great creativity can produce when unleashed from the straitjacket we usually find in Business School.

In no way can I analyze exactly why this commercial is incredibly funny, except to note that it combines anthropomorphism with a modern focus group scenario.

The commercial is played straight, and not for laughs.

In other words, the focus group scenario is exactly what you find in such a venue and activity.  The Kafkaesque addition of sharks gives it a kind of restrained absurdity.  The combination yields 31 seconds of brilliance, and like most brilliant humor, it’s bound to offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Integrating humor into your presentation can be difficult, but this is one way to do it.  Certainly we cannot hit an especially powerful home-run like this commercial with our own efforts every time, but if humor is a goal, this Snickers formula can work – blending the mundane with the bizarre to produce a pastiche of power that drills a concept into the audience’s collective mind.

And all of it played straight.

Enter the Power Zone

Enter the Power Zone for Especially Powerful Presentations

Business Presenting is filled with paradoxes.

For instance . . .  the quizzical Power Zone.

It’s a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.

This is really the strangest thing, and it alwayss amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.

The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where  everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator, where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.

Yes, you can go there.  And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone.  But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone, most don’t go.

They find an excuse.

No Argument Here

Disbelief . . .  Principle . . . Ideology . . .  Sloth . . . Disregard . . . Fear . . . even Anger.

They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.

In my presentations to various audiences, I am invariably faced with the arguer, the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not.  The person who is adamant, steadfastly against what is being said.  Usually for the most spurious of reasons.

And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly.  Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional.  I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, whatever the source.

The latest batch of objections s

Choose to enter the Power Zone and you cannot go back to your old ways of presenting

prang from one woman’s ideology.  She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.  In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else . . . and then lecture her audience if they didn’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.

She wanted to deliver prese

ntations her way, and blame her audience if they didn’t respond positively and, presumably, with accolades.

She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles  “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”

And I say praise the Lord for that.

I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job if it sounds otherwise.

She complained that some of the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable”  doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”

I replied to her this way . . .

Just Don’t Do it

I told her this:

“Don’t do them.  Don’t do these gestures.  Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective.  Go ahead, substitute what you know to be better.  Do exactly what you have been doing all along, and emerge from this lecture hall not having been changed one iota.  And then . . . wonder at how you have not improved.  At all.”

But do that with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field for someone else to pick up.

They’ll be happy you did.

Comfort?  You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures?  Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try?  Who cooked this  “comfort” thing up, and when did it gain currency?  Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.

A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold  of a delivery room.

A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.

An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.

Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas?  Likely as not, it’s a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achievement of a goal.

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success.  That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.  And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scowl at this.  It requires too much of them.

Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work.  Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them.  Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have magic sparkles or something, right?

So . . .  if you find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy . . . if you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you:  “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”

There is no need to fume over this or that nettlesome detail.  It’s completely unnecessary, because no one compels you to do anything.  And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom. The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone.

I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.

If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else.  Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!

But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer . . . then I extend congratulations as you step onto the path toward the Power Zone, toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.

For more on how to enter and thrive in the Power Zone, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“I never get an interesting topic”

“I never get an interesting topic.”

I hear this lament more often that I care to.  There likely has never been more vintage whine or a greater self-inflicted wound than this one, uttered in ignorance of its true meaning.

Here are two scenarios.  Both are possible.

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

Ugh.  It’s not “interesting.”

And you find that you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you probably don’t hang out, probably don’t know . . . or even like.  You groan as you don’t recognize the company or the people in the case.

Such an “Old” Case

The case isn’t dated last week, so you think it’s “old.”

You complain that you don’t understand why you’re assigned this “boring” case instead of a “modern” case on something hip . . . say, an Apple innovation or a product you heard mentioned in a commercial during the latest Kardashian reality TV offering.  No, you don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to speak to you and your needs.  Roll of the eyes.  “Whatever.”

Never pausing.

Never pausing to examine the central factor that your lack of understanding is the problem.  Your framework is so cramped, your context so self-circumscribed, your interests so few that it’s impossible for you to situate the case in its proper place with the tools at your disposal.  You complain that it’s not “relevant” and so you make no attempt to understand its “relevance.”

It’s not “interesting” to you.  You never get an interesting topic.

That’s one scenario of how it goes.

Another scenario is the Embrace.  Opening the heart and mind to the new.

Embrace the Case

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

And you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you don’t know and probably don’t hang out with . . . or even like.

You scratch your chin, metaphorically, and you roll up your sleeves (again, metaphorically) and you ask yourself  questions like these . . .

“What can I learn from this process?  How can I turn this whole process into an experience I can craft stories about to tell in my upcoming job interviews?   How can I take this case, digest it, and make it part of my growing context of business knowledge?”

And as for the inevitable public group presentation, ask yourself:

“How can I work best with these folks in my group to produce a spectacular presentation that will then become part of my resume?  How can I help mask the internal disagreements and personality conflicts so that our audience does not suspect that several of us detest each other?   How can I make this presentation interesting for my audience?

Remember that there are no inherently interesting topics.  Every topic has potential for generating great interest, if you do your job right.

Because please understand . . . no one cares if the topic interests you.  As a professor, I certainly don’t.

I want to know what you plan to do with the topic and the case.

Your job is to infuse the topic with power and generate interest about it for your audience.

Crown Cork and Seal is an example of such a case that many students don’t find “interesting.”  It’s a classic case that almost every MBA student must read and analyze.

The Crown Cork and Seal case is about making and selling tin cans.  And how a firm with resources identical to the other major can manufacturers managed to outperform the industry by a stretch.

That’s a mystery, and a great one to solve.

If only you embrace the case.

Who is “The Business Presenter?”

Cicero was doubtless as good at business presentations as he was at arguing before the Roman Senate

Before computers.  Before television and radio.

Before loudspeakers . . .

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

The “presenter.”

From the time of Corax in the 5th century B.C., public speaking soon 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.  To suck the life from “presenting.”

Skills of the Masters

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 have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message.  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.

 

Seize every opportunity to deliver a powerful and persuasive business presentation, and you’ll find your personal competitive advantage increasing

Today’s presenters have grasped feverishly at the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.  The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear.  The focus has shifted from the speaker to 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 adequate presentations.  They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.

On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income

For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.  The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.

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

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

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

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

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

The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience

Yes, heroic.  Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.  Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you will win every time.

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

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

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.

For more on powerful presentations, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Power Words for Business Presentations

Power Words for Business imbue your business presentation with impactHere I speak of Power Words for Business.

Words are the stuff of power.

Anyone who works with words for a living knows their power.  Well, let me issue a caveat.  Anyone who works with words ought to know their power.

Every profession has its power words.  Words that elicit emotion.  Power words that move people to action.

When we use the right power words for business presentations, the effect on an audience can be electric.

And this is why we should be concerned about power words for business.

Power Words for Business

Words have power.  A power that is amorphous, deceptive, difficult to master, if it is at all possible to master.

It’s necessary to respect words and their function.  To understand the visceral strength in well-structured phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that hang together seamlessly in such a tight formation that a reader cannot imagine them written in any other way.

While teaching writing is not my primary function,  I do provide fundamental instruction of a Strunk and White nature so as to raise the bar to an acceptable level.  Before you eye-roll at such a rudimentary approach, let me assure you that today’s undergraduate students desperately need the salving coolness of William Strunk and E.B. White.  If only for clarity, concision, and pith.

For the pleasure of reading Strunk and White’s masterpiece, The Elements of Style.  For it is a minor joy to read.  To re-read.

Many young people – not all, but enough – want to be creative and innovative, to think outside of that box we always hear about.  I note that they must first understand the box and what it contains before they can profitably “think outside” of it.  Because likely what they consider fresh and new and sparkling has been done before.

Cliches heard for the first time are like that.

They must understand how words fit together to convey ideas, notions, fact and fiction.  They must understand the communicative function of words as well as their evocative power.

Power words for business can imbue a business presentation with impact and energy.

Just as power words against business have been in use for decades.  So much so, they’ve become shopworn cliches.

Power Words Against Business

I urge students to recognize tendentious surliness masquerading as neutrality, entire social, political, cultural arguments embodied in single phrases – sometimes single words.  Listen for those arguments that use power words against business.

They must recognize sloganeering in their own writing and arguments.  If not, they face being caught short when challenged on a lack of depth or understanding.

Recognize sloganeering in your writing.

Example?

At the risk of agitation, let me detour into the realm of the classroom, where words that characterize well-hashed issues come freighted with all kinds of baggage.

Certain phrases can embody one-sided faux arguments.  Anti-business arguments with no substance.

Power words against business.

“Widening gap between rich and poor” is one of those tropes.  It has become a kneejerk pejorative.  Regrettably, it’s used more frequently by young people these days and some of my overeager colleagues.

They supposedly identify a “problem” that must be corrected without pausing in their feverish idealism to recognize that the gap between rich and poor is always getting wider.  This happens whether an economy is strong or weak.

It’s the nature of economic growth.

The proper question to ask is this:  “Is everyone getting richer and better off than before in a dynamic and thriving economy?”

Or is the situation one in which the poor are getting poorer with no chance or even hope of improvement?  These are two quite different situations, conflated by the trope “widening gap between rich and poor.”

Making the distinction, however, brings more complexity into the picture than some folks feel comfortable with.  The issue no longer fits on a bumper sticker.

It’s almost too much to bear the notion that “everyone is better off” while simultaneously there is a “widening gap between rich and poor.”

“Everyone is better off” is a first-rate example of power words for business presentations.

“Sweatshops” Anyone?

Single words sometimes embody entire arguments.

This relieves the user of the burden to make the point of the begged question.  In my own bailiwick, “sweatshop” is one such politically and socially freighted word.  As in the “debate over sweatshops.”  In my classes on Globalization, this “debate” is addressed forthrightly.

But in its proper terms and in its proper context.

The preening certitude of a person posturing against “sweatshops” is a sight to behold.  No gray area, no moral conundrums.  It seems as clear-cut an issue as anyone could imagine.  It’s like arguing against “dirty dishtowels.”  There is no pro “dirty dishtowel” lobby.  Just as there is no pro “sweatshop” lobby.

See how easy to get on the side of the angels?  Who other than an evil exploiter could possibly take a stand for “sweatshops?”  Right.  No one does.

A part of me envies that kind of hard-boned simplicity.  It’s borne of shallow naivete.

“Cultural Imperialism” Anyone?

Hand-in-hand with “sweatshops” comes something called “cultural imperialism.”

This is merely a pejorative reaction against the introduction of goods and services and ideas into modernizing societies.  Such “cultural imperialism” supposedly constitutes an attack on the “traditional way of life” and local culture.

In my lectures to Russian students in Izhevsk and in Ufa, BashkortoPower Words for Business Presentation impactstan, I meet this kind of attitude quite frequently, as if someone is compelling locals to drink Coca-Cola, to smoke Marlboros, to wear Italian shoes, or to dine at Chinese restaurants.

The call for preserving “traditional” ways of life smacks of condescension of the worst type.  It is, for example, an attitude that suggests that locking subsistence farmers into their pristine “traditional” circumstances as delightful subjects for exotic picture postcards is a positive.

“Traditional” is one of those power words against business.  When you hear it as part of an argument, look closely for anti-business bias.  You’ll find it.

Some students are angry and somewhat confused when I note that all that is offered is a choice.

Choice is one of those Power Words for Business.

A choice to work as one’s ancestors did, ankle-deep in dung-filled water of rice paddies, or to work in a new factory, earning more money in one day than the traditional villager might ever see in a year.

A choice to purchase goods and services previously unavailable.

A choice to live better.

Exploitation . . . or Choice?

A choice, that’s all.  An alternative.

Some people, professional activists among them, just don’t like the choice being offered, even as earlier there was no choice.  There was no chance for improvement.

Rather than offer their own range of additional choices, these folks harass those companies that provide economic opportunity, a chance for a better life.  The chance for newly empowered local workers to earn beyond subsistence wages and to then spend money at the kiosks that quickly spring up courtesy of entrepreneurs who instinctively know how the market works.

The chance to utilize the new roads built by the foreign company as part of infrastructure improvement.

So, in my classes, I refer to Nike and other firms that manufacture abroad as establishing Economic Opportunity Centers throughout the developing world.  Companies that expand the range of economic choices open to local workers.

Power Words for Business – Economic Opportunity Centers

Some students express a kind of confused disbelief that local factories contracted by Nike (Nike does not own or operate them) could in any sense of the phrase be called Economic Opportunity Centers.  But, in fact, that phrase is more accurate as to what is actually happening when compared in many caPower Words for Business ses to a subsistence farming economy that it augments.

With that point made, we shift to compromise language of a more neutral cast – Nike and many other companies that contract manufacturing with local producers are engaged in Economic Activity Abroad.

Whether that activity is in some sense “good” or “bad” depends upon whom you ask – an activist sitting in an air conditioned Washington office, hands steepled, giving an interview to National Public Radio on the evils of Globalization?  Or a young foreign worker, who now has a choice and a chance to work indoors, to earn more money than before, to better his lot and that of his family.

A choice and a chance to move up.

A choice that earlier was not available.

If we then proceed from less politically charged premises, we can then understand the actual dynamics at work, building from the ground-up.  At the end of the discussion – which is usually vigorous give and take –  an understanding emerges that economic activity abroad in the form of contract manufacturing has both positive and negative aspects.

Power Words for Business Presentations

Now, I have dipped into the hot, turbid political waters of Globalization only because that happens to be the topic at hand for me now, daily.

I have roamed a bit, but the theme that runs through this essay, I think, is the power of words – to persuade, to deceive, to communicate, to obfuscate.

Power Words against business have been used far too long without challenge.  Realize that we can harness Power Words for Business and leaven our business presentations with impact, immediacy, and positivity.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the issues I surfaced here to illustrate the theme, I believe that folks in this forum recognize more than most this especially powerful medium.

Whatever conclusions my students arrive at with regard to the debates at hand, they will have at least been exposed to the power of words for business and the subtlety of language.

Words are the stuff of power.

For more on the power of words for business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Beware the Sneer of the Wise

Thoughtful visionaries must craft compelling business presentations to make their rarefied concepts intelligible

 

George H. W. Bush might have called it “the vision thing.”

He beat me to it by about 20 years, and while it might have been a phrase suitable for ridiculing an uptight politician, I think it does capture its amorphous quality.

It seems that the vision thing is amorphous . . . to everyone but the visionary.  To the visionary, the vision is clear, rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.

And quite as hot.

At best, the visionary is surrounded by lesser minds whose feeble synapses cannot loop themselves about the vision.

At worst, they are idiots and obstructionists.

Our Visions . . .
Professional Presence means passion
Vision, passion, presence . . . your business presentation needs them all

Of course, we all have visions.

To us, our own visions are clear.  They are indeed rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.

And yes . . . quite as hot.

These are exciting visions, and visions that are bound to disappoint us as we make others aware of them.

For no one else understands.  Because . . . communicating that vision may be as difficult as confecting it in the first place.

For every sympathetic ear lent to you by a fellow visionary who has been put through the meatgrinder of negativity, there are 100 naysayers eager to turn the crank on your vision.

No . . . 1000 naysayers.

Not that naysaying is always bad, mind you.  All visions are not created equal, and some can be downright nasty.

The man or woman with a vision could easily be an artist or architect, or could well be a developer scarfing up land to lay down asphalt for a superhighway or to lay foundations for a new Trump Tower.

Or it could be an entrepreneur — wild-eyed, committed, driven by a vision.

Driven to Create

Or a would-be novelist with one good plot in him . . . or her.  Or a dozen plots seething and straining at release from the prison of our poor imagination.  A would-be novelist, driven to write.  Or driven to distraction.

Is there so much difference between an entrepreneur and a writer?  For novelists are entrepreneurs.  Each time the bold writer casts a blank page upon the screen to begin a new tale, it is a fresh project, new to the world and unlike anything that has gone before.  One hopes.

The endeavor requires a particular set of attributes.  Determination, patience, acumen, imagination, education of a sort (not necessarily formal), experience in life, literacy.  The ability to communicate . . .

This last, of course, is the trick.

For words are the medium most of us use to convey our vision, whether a novel or an idea for a product that does not yet exist.  A product that meets a need that we do not yet know we have.  A story that resonates with feelings we have not yet explored.

Even the painter must use words to “explain” his art to those unable to grasp its subtlety or significance — such explanation, by its very nature, is usually a forlorn exercise.

The vision thing.  Our visions can be great or small, creative or mundane.

In my classes on business strategy, I talk about the vision thing in oblique terms.  I actually broach the concept of businessperson as artist.  The artistically inclined in my courses (and some liberal arts folks do slip in) look askance at the idea, and most of the fact-motivated business-inclined in my courses don’t seem to care.

Or, even if they were to care, simply do not understand the point.

The notion is not warmly received.  Perhaps the point is nonexistent.  Or strained.  Or ludicrous.

Perhaps it is a futile exercise.  Maybe it is something that I see that others do not.  Even so, it is possible that this thing that I alone see does not necessarily have value.

No Boundaries to Creativity

But I do believe that there are no disciplinary bounds that contain creativity.  Many of the products of advertising agencies abound with creativity – at least in their initial stages before the corporate leavening process strips away edginess and originality and anything which might prove too startling for public sensibilities.

For corporate leavening is designed to package knowledge in comprehensible, digestible bites.  It is designed to link information seamlessly into the already-known world of popular culture, more to massage viewers with familiar verities and comfortable genuflections than to stimulate thought. It is the proverbial cooks spoiling broth.

Business School Presenting, the source of competitive advantage
Your vision should animate all you do

So it is with business generally.  There is an art to business, but it is never described as such lest such creativity be hooted from the room.This is the realm where ideas are “run up flagpoles” and such like, where outside-the-box thinking receives the obligatory tip o’ the hat, but where genuine “outside the box thinking” is neither expected nor appreciated.

The articulation of true thinking outside the corporate box is risible, if anyone unschooled in the unwritten corporate rules dares to give voice to such heresy.

This is the conundrum.  The paradox.

Now, we all engage in pop-psychology from time-to-time, and this allows us to speak of the “average person’s” attitudes, beliefs, and reactions as if we, ourselves, are free of this “average person’s” afflictions.  But indulge this hubris for a few more moments.

The conundrum is that when the artist, the visionary, thinks outside the box, it leaves others feeling threatened and insulted that they, themselves, are perceived as restricted to thinking inside this box.

Likewise, the average person tends to interpret his own inability to understand a vision as the other person’s quackery . . . whether the artist is a painter, composer, writer . . . or businessman.

There is a balance to be struck here.

Those of us without calluses on our fragile psyches can be wounded by the mass rejection of our vision, such rejection leaving us questioning our sanity and ability.  Conversely, those of us informed by our own arrogance and too callused may be deaf to legitimate criticism or to gentle suggestion.

Thus, the conundrum of the vision.  Visions are difficult.

Conundrum of the Vision

I said that not all visions are created equal.  Not all are salutary or benign.  Some are unsavory, insidious, dangerous, cold.

Others are just boring, derivative, smug, pale.

But I desire not to judge a man’s vision.  Not hereabouts, anyway.

These problems of distinguishing good vision from bad are worth essays and books in their own right, essays and books that are perhaps beyond this scribe’s abilities to pen.

Rather, at this point, I call attention to the angst and anguish of the man who perceives that his vision cannot be grasped by others.  His impatience with naysayers, his irascibility, his inability to compromise, his propensity to scoff rather than to explain.  Ultimately, his resignation that any explanation will not be enough.

For if it were explicable to the average mind, then the average mind would have long ago seized upon the vision and made it corporeal.

That is yet another conundrum for the entrepreneur, the artist, the visionary.  Perhaps it has always been this way, and it is not necessarily restricted to those of genius stature.

If the vision itself, indeed, is true art – an assemblage of something truly unique, then of course it will not be immediately apprehensible to the hoi-polloi.

And so not to sound haughty, perhaps it could be better said: “immediately apprehensible to us of the hoi-polloi,” to those of us not privy to the vision’s intricate fabric, the obscure linkages, the high concept that informs the few.

Beware the Sneer of the Wise

Let me issue a caveat that complicates the issue.

There are those in our lives who exhibit a raft of negative characteristics – irascibility, inability to compromise, the sneer of the wise – without the saving grace of having a vision or anything resembling it.  But shrewd and clever folks are afoot, and they know the trappings of the visionary, the finery of the thinker, the vernacular of the annointed.

But he is hollow.  And how to spot this poseur?

Again, I digress in the interest of clarity and refinement.  Back to the point-of-the-moment, and that point is this:

Communicating the vision is incredibly difficult.  It is difficult because of snags all along the communication chain.  It is difficult because of flaws inherent in the visionary, in the medium, and in the those receiving the message.  Given this, it is a wonder that useful communication occurs at all.

Think of the equation:  An irascible, haughty, driven, and quirky entrepreneur attempts hurried and imperfect communication with an unresponsive, suspicious, and fallow audience.

For inevitably, the recipient of a fresh, new, insightful, electrifying, unique confection of art, vision, or theory will respond in predictable manner.

The recipient of this revolutionary information responds to the truly new by filtering the information through sensors that massage and mold it into images and words and reality that are already known.  For it all has been heard before, seen before, considered before, and catalogued before.

Nothing is truly new . . . especially to the clever man, who for the most part has no personal stake in recognizing and processing novelty.

If perchance, an idea takes root, a theory is accepted, art recognized for its texture, nuance, and universalism . . . well, the problem of communication is instantly forgotten after the fact.

We’re All Geniuses . . . After The Fact

After the fact, of course, it is all different.  We all recognize novelty, genius, the great idea after the fact.  Long after the fact. It becomes “obvious.”

The unserious novels of Charles Dickens.  The absurd notion that people might appreciate a service that provides overnight delivery, a service with the ridiculously stuffy name “Federal Express.”

In each of these dramatically different cases, an entrepreneur recognized something that others, perhaps much like us, could not or would not.

Entrepreneurs and novelists are usually driven people.  I tend to believe that they are one and the same.  Would-be authors are entrepreneurs.  In fact, they are repeat performers, whether crafting fiction or non-fiction . . . every new book is an entrepreneurial effort.

They visualize what is not there, what others cannot see.  Or can see only through a mist of reality that clogs the imagination.  Imaginative and single-minded, they embrace their mission with religious zeal (and I do believe that those two words, religious and zeal, are joined at the hips, much as to “redouble one’s efforts”).

A touch of the maniacal, the obsessive, the glassy-eyed dreamer, the take-no-prisoners, uncompromising drive.  The determination that compels one to rise each day to face the idea that no one understands, to embrace yet another day alone in one’s belief.

An attitude that says “do not tamper with this vision.”

This is, of course, the only way for entrepreneurs to succeed.  If they were any other way, they wouldn’t be entrepreneurs.

Which brings me to the final point that is not so disentangled from what has gone before to be a standalone.

I have waxed on about communication and its difficulties.  The word has become almost a cliché in that everything these days can be labeled a “communication problem,” even when the problem is not lack of communication, but rather too much accurate communication.

The “communication” conundrum I refer to afflicts anyone who would write to inform others, who would convey thoughts and notions and concepts.

In fiction, and even in non-fiction, I have noted a disinclination on the part of many undergraduates and some graduate students to edit their work.  As if such editing is equivalent to the “corporate leavening process” I mentioned earlier.

They confuse the goal of clarity with senses-dulling censorship.

In their classic Elements of Style, Strunk and White touched upon this, and where Strunk and White are sometimes looked upon as too basic, their insights provide a solid technical foundation that many young writers would do well to absorb.  Strunk and White observed a tendency among young writers to confuse spontaneity with genius, to affect a breezy, careless, even world-weary style.

I believe the modern vernacular for this is the “been there, done that” posture.

But of course, such an attitude leads to ambiguity and sloppiness in writing — whether one is conveying exactly a child’s appropriate emotion in a funereal scene, or whether one is conveying the impact of various liquidity ratios on a novel business model.

Invariably, what is communicated on the page is not what the writer believes he or she is conveying.  First drafts are always afflicted with a primitivity of communication. Yet, ironically, the first draft carries for many writers an aura of spontaneity and genius that resists change.

First Draft for Spontaneity . . . Edit for Power

The solution?  Editing.

If there is a single act that can improve this communication issue, it is careful and ruthless editing.  Only through editing can clarity, focus, and especially powerful meaning be teased from the morass of words.  This is a lesson taught on Storytellers many times, but it demands repeating.

Professional Presence means passion
Chart your course, then stick to it

The daily difficulties of communication abound.  When the subject is new or the product unique, the obstacles increase dramatically, for all the reasons I have listed in such disorganized fashion.  Through the act of editing, perhaps we can at least overcome one obstacle in the difficult task of communicating our vision.

The problems lie all along the communication chain – in the personality of the visionary, in the unique nature of the vision itself, in the inadequacy of the medium with which we communicate, and in the prejudices of the recipient.

Is there a formula to address all of these issues along the communication chain?  Probably not.  I certainly do not have the answer.

But at risk of sounding like the cookie-cutter b-school professor, let me iterate that the good news is that awareness of a problem and its proper identification is a giant step toward its resolution in our personal strategic planning process.

The more rarefied the vision, the more intractable and personal the issues we must deal with.

And as a result, I suspect that each of us must define our own problems and search out our own answers to our communication issues.

For only we can grapple with them and, ultimately, deal with them.

For perspective on communicating your vision, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Topics for Power and Impact

business presentation topic
You get paid big bucks to infuse your business presentation topic with interest

“I never get an interesting business presentation topic.”

Perhaps you’ve said that?

I’ve certainly heard it.

I hear this lament more often than I would prefer, and it embodies much of what is wrong with individual and group presentations.

There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic.   Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.

Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience.  Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.

That’s your job.  In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.

Interesting?  That’s Your Job

Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you.  No one cares if they interest you.

That’s not the point.

Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.

Persuades the audience.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics, wouldn’t we?  But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?

I’ve found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.

Students don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.

So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.

The Tenpenny Nail?

business presentation topic
You make the business presentation topic about nails interesting . . . it’s your responsibility, in fact

The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.

The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone.  The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”

It’s hip.  And familiar.

Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.

But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.

The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.

How do you generate interest?  How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:

[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.

It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.

It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.

In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.

The Business Presentation Topic Beast

And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?

Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100?  I always thought so.

But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price.  Instead, it has to do with . . . .  Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.

The name, by the way, dates from the 15th Century, the same century as the invention of the Gutenberg printing method.

Now that’s a “killer app” with staying power.

Sound like an “interesting” business presentation topic?

For more ways to develop your acumen with regard to your business presentation topic, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Power Zone

The Power Zone for Especially Powerful Presentations

Business Presenting is filled with paradoxes.

For instance . . .  the quizzical Power Zone.

It’s a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.  This is really the strangest thing, and it alwayss amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.

The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where  everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator, where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.

Yes, you can go there.  And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone.  But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone, most don’t go.  They find an excuse.

Disbelief . . .  Principle . . . Ideology . . .  Sloth . . . Disregard . . . Fear . . . even Anger.

They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.

In my presentations to various audiences, I am invariably faced with the arguer, the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not.  The person who is adamant, steadfastly against what is being said.  Usually for the most spurious of reasons.

No Argument Here

And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly. Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional. And so I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, from wherever they come.

The latest batch of objections sprang from one woman’s ideology.  She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.

In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else . . . and then lecture her audience if they didn’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.  In short, she wanted to deliver presentations her way, and blame her audience if they didn’t respond positively and, presumably, with accolades.

She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles  “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”

And I say praise the Lord for that.

I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job if it sounds otherwise.

She complained that some of the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable”  doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”

I replied to her this way . . .

Just Don’t Do it

I told her, “Don’t do them.  Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective, and substitute what you know to be better.”

But do that with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field for someone else to pick up.  They’ll be happy you did.

Comfort?  You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures?  Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try?  Who cooked it up, and when did it gain currency?  Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.

A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold  of a delivery room.  A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.  An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.

Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas?  Likely as not, it’s a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achievement of a goal.

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success.  That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.

And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scowl at this.  It requires too much of them.  Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work.  Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them.  Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have magic sparkles or something, right?

So . . .  if you find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy . . . if you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you:  “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”

There is no need to fume over this or that nettlesome detail.  It’s completely unnecessary, because no one compels you to do anything.  And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom. The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone.

I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.

If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else.  Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!

But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer . . . then I extend congratulations as you step onto the path toward the Power Zone, toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.

For more on the Power Zone, consult The Complete Guide of Business School Presenting.