Category Archives: Passion

“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.

How to put Passion in Presentations

Passion in Presentations
The passionate presentation can win the day over the staid and uninteresting

Do you put passion in presentations, or do you settle for being an emotionless automaton?

Do you save your passion for other things?  Meaningless things?

Do you even know what infuses you with passion?

Think about it.

What is Your Passion?

What is it you long to do?  What is it that fills you with the thrill of discovery, the adrenaline of newness?  What can compare with the natural high of applying yourself to a task that excites you?

What generates those endorphins?  What brings a smile to your face involuntarily?  What furrows your brow?

Is it “world hunger?”  Or European soccer?  Is it social injustice? Is it political theory?  Is it comic book collecting?

Is it Chess?  Numismatics?  Tennis?  Travel to exotic locations?  Helping others solve problems?  Writing essays?  Fashion design?  Financial manipulations?  Reading a good book?

What’s your passion?  Do you even have one?

Yes, you do have a passion.  But likely as not, it’s been buried under a ton of necessity, the debris we call the business of life.

Is your Passion buried?

If you find that your passion is buried, then this is the time to rescue it as one of the most potent factors in delivering your most powerful presentations.

Once you explore your own visceral feelings, your passion, it becomes that much easier to invoke passion in presentations.  To actually feel passion for the subjects of your shows.  Can you generate passion?  Of course you can.  Will it be “artificial” passion?  Of course not.

With a tip o’ the hat to Gertrude Stein . . . passion is passion is passion.

Passion in presentations
Passion can help you build professional presence as well as convey your presentation message in a powerful way

Unless you have passion for a subject and demonstrate that passion, you will always be at a disadvantage with respect to those who passionately embrace their subject.  If you are in competition with several other teams pitching a product or service to a company for millions of dollars – and there is no noteworthy difference in the quality or price of the service – then how does the potential customer decide?

On passion.

Put Passion in Presentations!

If he sees a real passion for the work in one team, if he feels the energy of a team driven to success and truly excited about the offering, don’t you think he’ll be inclined to the team that stirs his emotions?  The team that makes him see possibilities?  The team that demonstrates passion in presentation?

The team that helps him visualize a glorious future?  The team that shares his own love and passion for his product or service and sees in you a shared passion for achieving something special in partnership?

Reread the previous paragraph, because it encapsulates so much of what is absent in presentations today, and so much of what is needed.

Passion cannot substitute for substance . . . but when it augments substance, it wins every time.

Passion has served as a crucial element in verbal communication for centuries.  Two of my favorite quotations on its power follow:

“True emotional freedom is the only door by which you may enter the hearts of your hearers.”

Brees and Kelley, 1931

 “Earnestness is the secret of success in any department of life.  It is only the earnest man who wins his cause.”

S.S. Curry, 1895

Recognize in yourself the capacity for passion and the necessity of putting passion in presentations for power and impact.  Recognize that you have the wherewithal to embrace even the most staid material, the “dullest” project.  Remember always that it is you who make it better.  You who invest it with excitement.  You are the alchemist.

It’s your job to make it interesting

Many times you hear an “interesting” presentation about an “interesting” topic.  It is well-done, and it engaged you.  And you wonder why you never seem to get the “interesting” projects.

Have you ever admitted to yourself that you might be the missing ingredient?  That perhaps it is your task to invest a project with interest and zest?  That what makes a project “interesting” is not the topic . . . but rather the interaction between material and presenter.

Ultimately, it is your task to transform a “case” or business situation into an interesting and cogent presentation.  It is your task to find the key elements of strategic significance and then to dramatize those elements in such a way that the audience is moved in powerful and significant ways.

Yes, you can do this.  You don’t need an “interesting” case to do it.

You just need passion.

More on passion in presentations in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“You don’t catch hell because . . . ” CLASSIC!

Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.

Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.

He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.

His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus stunt.  It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners. Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations.  He spoke directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.

He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.

And once he had audience attention, he kept it.

Holding the Audience in your Grasp

One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora.  It’s a technique that you can use as well.  Here’s how it works.

A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences. With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect.  In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.

I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963.  Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect.  The speech was called Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit.  Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

America’s problem is us. We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.  And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted.  Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

What comes next?

Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose.  He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully.  His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences.  When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist.  You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell.  You catch hell because you’re a black man.  You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.

Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora: “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”

He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964.  This time his anaphora was slightly different: “We’re not brutalized because–”  And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect.  The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.

Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners.  You sense his control of the event.

So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?

Just this.

A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons.  He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power.  These techniques can be yours.  You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.

For instance, the anaphora of repetition.  You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.

But you may Hesitate

You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face.  Yes, he did.  The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death.  But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same.  They are verities handed to us over centuries.

And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from?  The CEO of Coca-Cola?  Hardly.

A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you.  You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters.  Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.  The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.

Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies.  We’ll look at them in future posts.

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.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Competitive Advantage

A positive presentation attitude can make or break your business presentation
A positive presentation attitude goes far in conferring personal competitive advantage on the business presenter

Your positive presentation attitude is one of the most neglected aspects of your business presentation.

For any presentation, really.

Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially where criticism of current company policy is concerned.

Especially when your team must convey bad news, for instance, that the current strategy is “bad.”  Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.

In class presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude.  A harsh attitude.

This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is sought-after and valued.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation

Honesty is important, sure.  But there is a difference between honesty and candor, and we must be clear on the difference.

If you say that the current strategic direction of the company in your presentation is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.  Remember that there are many ways of being honest.

You must use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.  These may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place, or who are emotionally invested in a specific strategy.

Anyone can use a sledgehammer.

Anyone.

But most times it pays to use a scalpel.

Use tact in criticizing current policy for an especially powerful presentation with positive presentation attitude
Don’t attack the current policy with too much gusto in your business presentation . . . you may undermine your own case

But we must remember that as much as we would like to believe that our superiors and our clients are mature and want to hear the “truth” – warts and all – human nature is is contrary.  We are easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.

And if you wound someone’s ego, you will pay a price.

So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely and needlessly doomed yourself.  Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize is at stake, whether a multi-million dollar deal.  Or simply credibility and good judgment.

It takes skill and finesse to deliver a fine-tuned presentation.  Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive and persuasive without being abrasive.  When you do, then you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.

That is, after all, why they are called skills.

Your presentation will effervesce . . . it will join the ranks of the especially powerful.

So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy.  Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.

For more on shaping a powerful and positive presentation attitude that stays on point and helps to build your personal competitive advantage, 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 Skill – Your Silver Bullet

Business Presentation Skill as your Professional Silver Bullet
Think how improving your business presentation skills might lift you into the high-demand skill zone

If you discovered that there was one thing – business presentation skill – you could learn that would immeasurably increase your chances of getting a great job after graduation, wouldn’t that be great?

What would you think of that?  Too good to be true?

And what if you discovered that this skill is something that you can develop to an especially powerful level in just a handful of weeks?

What would that be worth to you?

Would it be worth the price of a book to get you started?

Worth How Much?

Think of it – business presentation skills you can learn in 4-5 weeks that can provide you lasting competitive advantage through the rest of your working life.

A skill few people take seriously.

A skill in high demand by America’s corporations.

Companies haven’t nearly enough personnel who can communicate effectively.  Nor logically, comfortably, clearly, and cogently.  This is why corporate recruiters rate business presentation skills more desirable in candidates than any other trait or skill.

Capable business presenting is a high-demand skill.

This is the Silver Bullet Skill

And this is the silver bullet you’ve always sought.

You, as a business student or young executive, gain personal competitive advantage vis-à-vis your peers, just by taking presenting seriously.  You gain advantage by embracing the notion that you should and can become an effective and capable business presenter.

In other words, if you actually devote yourself to the task of becoming a superb speaker, you become one.

And the task is not as difficult as you imagine, although it isn’t easy, either.

You actually have to change the way you do things.  This can be tough.  Most of us want solutions outside of ourselves.  The availability of an incredible variety of software has inculcated in us a tendency to accept the way we are and to find solutions outside ourselves.  Off the shelf.  In a box.

This doesn’t work.  Not at all.  You cannot find the secret to great business presenting outside of yourself.  You already carry it with you.

But Presentation Skills Mean Change . . .

But you will have to change.

Business Presentation Skill
Business Presentation Skills can lift you into the High-Demand Skill Zone

This is about transformation.  Transforming the way we think, the way we view the world.  Transforming the lens through which we peer at others, the lens through which we see ourselves.

It is a liberating window on the world.  And it begins with your uniqueness.

No, this is not esteem-building snake-oil.  It is a cool observation.  I am not in the business of esteem-building.  Nor do I toil in the feel-good industry.  If you had to affix a name to it, you could say that I am in the business of esteem-discovery.

So you are unique, and your realization of this and belief in this uniqueness is utterly essential to your development as a powerful business presenter.

But given the tendency of modernity to squelch your imagination, to curtail your enthusiasm, to limit your vision, and to homogenize your appearance and your speech, you have probably abandoned the notion of uniqueness as the province of the eccentric.  Perhaps you prefer to “fit in” rather than develop superior business presentation skills.

Some truths can be uncomfortable.  Often, truths about ourselves are uncomfortable, because if we acknowledge them, we then obligate ourselves to change in some way.

But in this case, the truth is liberating.

A Shrinking World . . . Reverse the Process

Recognize that you dwell in a cocoon.  Barnacles of self-doubt, conformity, and low expectations attach themselves to you, slowing you down as barnacles slow an ocean liner.

Recognize that in four years of college, a crust of mediocrity may well have formed on you.  And it is, at least partially, this crust of mediocrity that holds you back from becoming a powerful presenter.  Your confidence in yourself has been leeched away by a thousand interactions with people who mean you no harm and, yet, who force you to conform to a standard, a lowest common denominator.

People who shape and cramp and restrict your ability to deliver presentations.  They lacquer over your innate abilities and force you into a dull conformity.

Business Presentation Skills
The choice is entirely yours to develop powerful Business Presentation Skills

Your world has shrunk incrementally, and if you do not push it out, it will close in about you and continue to limit you.

Your most intimate acquaintances can damage you if they have low expectations of you.  They expect you to be like them.  They resent your quest for knowledge.  They try to squelch it.

Beware of people who question you and your desires and your success.  I suggest that you question whether these people belong in your life.

Yes, you are unique, and in the quest for business presentation excellence, you discover the power of your uniqueness.  You strip away the layers of modern mummification. You chip away at those crusty barnacles that have formed over the years without your even realizing it.

It’s time to express that unique power in ways that support you in whatever you want to do.

For more on developing your silver bullet business presentation skills, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

CLASSIC! Breaking “The Law of Dull”

Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that business presentations must be dull?

Is there a Law of Dull?

Given the number of dull presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be. This dullness seeps into the consciousness, numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself by dint of its universality.

It’s everywhere . . . thus, we think, it must be legitimate. It perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.

Here’s what I mean

You see a dull business presentation that some people praise as . . . well, pretty good. It looks like this . . .   Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern, and he reads a few slides with  dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. 

I saw this abomination myself at a west coast conference, with a representative from the Export-Import Bank intoning mercilessly as he stood to the side of a screen filled with a tightly-packed phallanx of tiny type. Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen, masses of aimless numbers.  The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.  You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides along with everyone in the audience, in unison, and you squint to make them out.

It’s boring.  It’s unintelligible.  The slides are unreadable or irrelevant. You can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your Blackberry between yawns.  You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this wasteland all there is?”

You scratch your chin and perhaps you think “Hmmm, that’s not hard at all.”

Cobble Something Together

Just 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 15-minute time slot to fill with talk.

But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.

You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.

You really have no idea what you should say . . . or why.

And you certainly don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something incredibly painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful. Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . .  just awful.

It’s painful because of the way it’s been explained to you. Because the explanations are always incomplete. You never get the whole story. Or, you don’t get the right story. Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.

I Feel Your Pain

Sure, there are “presentation” courses. 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.” You don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group presentation.

Oftentimes, these instructors aren’t even in the business school, and 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.”

Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity

Bad presenting 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 poor presentation is 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.

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.

It’s time for your debut. Time to begin breaking the Law of Dull.

A Sensual Business Presentation Story

Presentation story, the source of competitive advantage
Presentation Story Sensuality should permeate your Business Presentations

If you want to regale your presentation audience with an especially powerful presentation story, you must position the audience inside your story with Sensory Involvement.

Sensory Involvement is a powerful technique that imbues your presentation story with sensuality.

You engage the senses of your listeners so that they experience the story rather than simply hear it.  Where possible, incorporate all five senses in your story.

The more senses you involve, the better.

Put Your Audience Inside the Presentation Story

This sensory technique positions the listener inside the presentation story.  You invite the audience into the story.  The audience becomes part of the action.

This is a fiction-writing technique.  It draws the reader into the story by stimulating the audience’s sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.

When you use color, aromas, tastes, and powerful sound and visual imagery, your presentation evokes the emotions of your listeners.  It captures their interest.  You convey a more compelling message.

Your call to action is more powerful than if you recite only facts and figures.

Presentation Story advantage
Use imagery in your business presentation story to stimulate the senses

This use of multiple sensory stimulation affects your listeners in ways that they are really unaware of.  They find themselves deep inside your presentation story and feeling what you want them to feel.

And they respond to your message.

Engage as many senses as you can.  The audience should hear your presentation.  They should taste it.  They should see it.  They should feel it.

Smell it.

They Become Part of Your Presentation Story

The sensory technique paints a mind picture.  It makes that picture vivid and powerful.

It’s powerful because it pulls the listener inside the story as a living, breathing, vicarious participant.  You position the listener inside the story rather than allowing the listener to loiter outside the story as a bystander.

Engaging the Senses

Use imagery.  Stimulate the senses!  The 1999 supernatural film The Sixth Sense illustrates the point.

In this film, the Bruce Willis character – in spirit form – moves about within the story among living people.  He can observe and, in a sense, participate in the various dramas around him.  Think of Bruce Willis as the audience of your presentation.

Willis feels and senses the angst, joy, anger, sadness of those around him.  Yet he is not an actual participant.

Bruce Willis is as close as he can be to the dramas around him without actually being there.  Likewise, your story’s vivid and emotive sensory stimulation engages your audience in a powerful way.

Position your audience inside the presentation story.

You can place them inside the presentation story, much as the Bruce Willis character is placed into the mini-dramas that unfold around him.

Employ Masterful Writing Techniques

Dean Koontz is a master thriller writer, and he advocates involving as many of the reader’s senses as possible in a story.  Koontz does this himself in his own taut novels.

Koontz engages smells, colors, sounds to enliven his descriptions.  He does this in unexpected ways.  Not only does Koontz involve all the senses, he combines surprising descriptions, crossing from one sense to another.

For example, he describes the glow of a bulb as a “sour yellow light.”

Koontz combines taste with color to evoke a startling and memorable image.

This is the same technique that serves powerful presenters well.  It can serve you well and you should do this.  For your own stories, remember to involve all of your listeners’ senses if you can – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing – and you cannot fail to engage your audience.

Give it a try in your next business presentation story for an especially powerful effect.

Storytelling has become a powerful tool in 21st century management, and it would do you well to embrace, understand, and utilize that power to advance your own personal competitive advantage.  Several of the most effective storytelling books that I recommend are:  The Story Factor by Annette Simmons, Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark, and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling by Steve Denning.  A business storytelling blog by Gabriel Yiannis is particularly valuable.

To learn more about the use of images and sensuality in your business presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

CLASSIC PRESENTING . . . Be Earnest!

“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days. That’s a shame, because the word captures much of what makes for an excellent presentation.

Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory. It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”

What was true then is surely true today.  And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.” If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious. Better to pretend you don’t care.

Cool and Careless?

And so, the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging. And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else. For your friends, for your sports contests, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .

But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small victories. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required. Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”

Wrap your material in you.

This means giving a presentation that no one else can give, that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core. It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject. It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service – you should make it yours when you present.

Embrace your topic and you will shine. Earnestness becomes second nature.

Presentation Passion for Competitive Advantage

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

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

You’re in the wrong line of work.

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

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

Because they think their topic is “boring.”

No Inherently Interesting Topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation Passion is the Key

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

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

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

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

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

Mind-Blasting!

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook and hold 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, 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 . . .”

That sort of thing.

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

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.  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–”

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, you’ll 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.

How to Engage Your Audience

How to engage your audience
It’s your job to know 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?  This is called 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 on how to engage your audience, an audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you.  He reveals the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.  How to engage your audience for power and impact.

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.

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

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.

You and Great Business Presentations

Great Business Presentations
Cicero Gave Great Business Presentations

You and the great orators of history have something in common . . . and it’s more than your essential humanity.  You have the commonality of potential for great business presentations.

You have the potential for greatness of expression.  For power and impact in your presentations.  You just have to know what to do, and then seize the moment.

At the risk of committing hyperbole, I suggest here that your rightful destiny as a superb presenter awaits you.  No one can stop you from realizing that destiny . . . except yourself.

Interview on Great Business Presentations

I sometimes receive the humbling honor of getting to chat with bright people on interesting topics.  Such was the case when Soundview Executive Summaries suggested an interview on the great presenters of history.  Soundview is a superb company that prepares summaries of the great business books of our time.  The company delivers them to busy folks in a variety of formats.  And I am all for anything that spreads great ideas in ways that people can access them easily.

Join me here as I chat with Andrew Clancy of Soundview Executive Summaries.

This interview, conducted on the campus of Temple University in Philadelphia, sums nicely my views on modern business presenting and is the second of a three-part series to appear here in the coming days.

The Message:   If we neglect the speaking masters of the past 2500 years . . . we are all the poorer for it.

Look and listen . . .

So much more can be said, of course.  A wealth of oratorical wisdom awaits those with the gumption to discover it.  My own book collection on the subject of great business presentations now exceeds 1,000.  Some folks might consider that obsessive.  I suspect that it is.

But in this world of obsessive behavior, I am quite happy with my own.

If you find yourself not obsessed, but just a wee bit interested in how to deliver Great Business Presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Malcolm X Presentation . . . Seize your Audience

Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation Electrifies an Audience

Like snapping a towel to skin . . . you want to sting your audience with a Malcolm X presentation.

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

You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose.

But it should fit your business presentation audience.

One of the greatest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.

His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, how to mesmerize it throughout the presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.

The Malcolm X Presentation

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.

Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.  As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.

And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage emerging.  It’s sometimes explicit but most often emerges through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.

You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

A Source of Inspiration and Technique

Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.

With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.  You hear a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Put a stop to all of that nonsense with the “grabber” line, a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.  Not just another canned talk.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.  Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.

Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience.  Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.

This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963.  Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has captured his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, embraced his audience.  He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

No Throat-clearing . . .

Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.

No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”

Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases:  “Very serious problem.”

Straight to the point, and a bold point it is.  See what comes next . . .

Malcolm X Presentation
The Malcolm X Presentation Delivers Power and Impact

America’s problem is us.  We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.

And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

Has Malcolm studied his audience?  Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?

Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?

He surely has.

Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.

For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience.  Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk and ask yourself how he crafted it.  And how it works.

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

Consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on how to engage Snap! for a powerful Malcolm X presentation.

There are no Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was a fine presenter, but there were and are no Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was a good presenter, but not a great one . . . Steve had advantages unavailable to you and me

For some reason known only to the deities of publishing, Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs is considered a great business presenter.

A bestselling book by Carmin Gallo even touts The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.

But is Steve really a great presenter?  Does he really have secrets that you can use?  And can you learn how to be “an insanely great” presenter from this book?

No . . . no  . . . and . . .

Well . . . on that last point, you can learn to become a pretty good presenter from this book.

But not from Steve Jobs.

The Extraordinary Jobs

Steve is a visionary and an extraordinary entrepreneur many times over.  He has grown tremendously since the days when he thought that his self-absorbed bombast gave him license to insult Microsoft and Bill Gates mercilessly.

Jobs emerged as a celebrity CEO, a man who loves the limelight and whose strong and quirky personality guarantee him a maniacal following among a narrow slice of the American populace.

But presenting?

On an absolute scale, Steve is a slightly above-average presenter.  Remove Steve’s high-tech prop that the entire wonk-world is waiting to see, and remove the employee/early adopter audiences that cheer his every eye-twitch, and we are left with a shabbily dressed average sort of fellow given to aimless pacing and whose high-pitched voice grates a bit on the senses with its “ummms” and “ahhhhs.”

You and I know that there is only one reason that Steve Jobs is on that stage.  Only one reason that he has a book purporting to reveal the presentation secrets of Steve Jobs.

And it’s not for his presenting skills.

The Real Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs

While Jobs himself is not someone whose presenting skills deserve emulation, he is obviously the subject of the book because of his built-in audience, and so we must deal with that.  We can dismiss it, in fact.

But the book does have a gem.

The gem of the book is the author.  The author of the Jobs book is Carmine Gallo, who is an extremely polished and superb presenter and presentation coach, and he embeds solid presenting nuggets throughout the book.

Carmine is, in fact, a much better presenter than Jobs. You can judge for yourself by watching the video here.

But even Carmine is not perfect.  He begins by gushing at Jobs’s stature as a presenter that is almost embarrassing in its lavish excess:  “Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage . . . He is the world’s greatest corporate storyteller!”

Really?

Really?

But . . . well, we’re selling books here, and hype is understandable.  I’d probably gush, too, if given a similar opportunity, so let’s give Carmine a pass on this one.

But at the end of the video Carmine gives advice that I believe is just flat-out wrong.

He says that you, the presenter, are the hero of the presentation.  That you, your product, or your service is the hero.

All of us would like to be the hero of our presentation, wouldn’t we?  And we are sorely tempted to put the focus on our product and ourselves.

No. Don’t do it.

Your Audience is the Hero

There is room for only one hero in the presentation, and that hero is not you.  The hero is in the audience, and you are there to help your audience become heroic.

As with all presentation instruction, you can ignore or accept what you choose, and this point is no different.  You can try to be the hero.  Or, you can focus on your audience and its needs and its desires.

In sum, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs offers a reasonable exposition of presentation methods that can benefit us all, but recognize that these methods have nothing to do with Steve Jobs and they do not help us become “insanely great” presenters.

But there is good news for you on the presentation front.  The best news in all of this is, in fact, great news.

With dedication, coachability, and the right method, virtually anyone – and I mean anyone – can become a better business presenter than Steve Jobs.

As a student in business school, you can try this book to launch your own presentation career:  The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Power for Competitive Advantage

Enter the Business Presentation Power ZoneWith regard to Business Presentation power, I deal with two large groups of people.

For sake of descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “Ain’t it easy!”

“Natural Born” and “Ain’t it Easy” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become an especially powerful and superior business presenter.

Neither view is remotely accurate, and none of their adherents want to enter the Business Presentation Power Zone – the province of powerful, capable presenters.

And neither group is enlightened in these matters.  Members of both groups are frustrating and irritating in their own ways and completely self-serving. Here is why . . .

We often look for folks to excuse us from what, deep down, we know we ought to do, or what we can do.  And if we look hard enough, we find what we search for, and excuses are extremely easy to find.  Let’s look at these two excuses that hold us back from fulfilling our potential as especially powerful presenters.

The First View

The first view would have us believe that great speakers are born with some arcane and unfathomable gift, combining talent and natural stage facility.  That Bill Clinton sprang from the womb declaiming that he feels our pain.  That Ronald Reagan was born orating on lower capital gains taxes.

That Oprah Winfrey began her talk show career in kindergarten and demonstrated business presentation power from age five.

If the first view holds that great speakers are born with a gift, then quite logically this view leaves the rest of us to strive with middling presentation skills.

It’s an excuse for us not to persevere.  Why bother to try?  Why not, instead, hire some of these natural born speaker types to do the heavy presentation lifting?

The rest of us can skate along and pretend that we’re not actually lazy . . . or frightened . . . or disinterested . . . or unambitious.

The Second View

The second view is the opposite of the first.  This “Ain’t it Easy” perspective would have us believe that delivering effective presentations is a snap.  So easy, in fact, that one of my colleagues assured me confidently and with not a little hubris that he could teach his undergraduates “everything they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”

He also assured me that “all that other stuff you talk about is B.S.”

Business Presentation PowerHas the presentation landscape changed so much that what was once thought a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions?

Hardly.

In the 1800s, public speaking was refined to an almost-art; “elocution” was the new science/art, and departments of elocution and public speaking flourished in universities throughout the land.  In Philadelphia, on Walnut Street in fact, the National School for Elocution and Oratory became a Mecca for would-be stars of the pulpit, the stage, the bar, and the political wars in the 1890s.

On into the first decades of next century, public speech was regarded with respect and a high-skill to be mastered with much study and practice.

The fact is that despite however much we might wish otherwise, today’s PowerPoint high-tech software multi-media offerings cannot change the fundamental truth.  The truth is that it is still you who must deliver the presentation.

So no . . . you cannot learn “everything you need to know about presenting in 30 minutes” unless you want to ply presenting as a member of the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers who populate every business and law firm from New York to Nashville, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Savannah to San Diego.

Ask yourself . . . if learning to deliver top-notch presentations with business presentation power is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?

The Third View – The Business Presentation Power Zone

There is a third group, and it is destined to remain small.

This group is privy to the truth.  Once you learn this truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way.  You are destined for the Business Presentation Power Zone.

Consider this pop culture analogy from the 1999 film The Matrix.

In The Matrix, humans live in a world that is not what it seems.  In fact, everything they believe about the world is false.  Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) offers to reveal the truth to Neo (Keanu Reeves) about his existence. Morpheus offers Neo a Blue Pill and a Red Pill.

The Blue Pill returns him to his old state of ignorance.  The Red Pill reveals the secret, and once he learns it, Neo cannot return to his old life.

The process of presentation discovery is much like the red-pill/blue-pill choice that Morpheus offers to the young computer hacker Neo . . .

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Likewise, you can stop reading this article this instant – the blue pill – and return to the righteous and relaxing world of “Natural Born” or “Ain’t it easy!”  Both viewpoints allow the average presenter to remain mired in mediocrity with an excuse that sounds plausible.

One perspective means you don’t try at all, other means you offer token effort as befits a low-level pedestrian task.  So, if you decide to take the Blue Pill, close this site and go your own way.  Bon  voyage!  I wish you a hearty good-luck and Godspeed, and perhaps you will be happier for your choice.

But if you are one of the few who thinks for a moment . . .  “Hmm. What if the Professor is right?”

Then . . . Take the Red Pill

Then you can read on to the  Business Presentation Power - the choice is yoursnext brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity.

For the truth is in the Business Presentation Power Zone, and once there, you will never be satisfied with your old presentation life again.  You cannot go back.

That’s the paradox, the Curse of Freedom.

It’s completely within your power to seize the fruits of great presenting.  It’s your choice.

You can launch an auspicious presentation career right now, right this minute.  Or you can dismiss this site as yet another fraudulent claim to revealing secrets to you, only to have it exposed as another method that requires you to actually do something.

Choose the Red Pill.

Step boldy into the Power Zone.

The Power Zone is the province of the privileged few who understand the truth that anyone can become a great presenter, with the right kind of hard work and the willingness to become a great presenter. To join this third group requires you to take on a new state of mind. If you already carry this view, that’s superb.

If you don’t . . . you can decide now to adopt it or forever be relegated to the other two groups – believing you’re not good enough, or believing you are good enough when you’re actually not.

Business Presentation Power is Yours for the Taking

Public presentations – great presentations – require study and practice and preparation and technique.  A deep philosophical, academic, and professional history undergirds public speaking.  This history informs the very best presenters and their work.

You dismiss it only to your great loss.

No, you need not become a scholar of public speaking.  In fact, few people have that deep an interest in the subject and even fewer can claim that kind of knowledge today.  But what you can and should do is this:  Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of found treasure.

You actually can become a capable presenter.

You can become a great presenter.

When you enter the Power Zone, you are both cursed and blessed with knowledge.  This knowledge represents two sides of the same coin.

You are cursed with the knowledge that the only limitation you have is you.  You are blessed with the knowledge that you can become a good – even great – speaker.  An especially powerful presenter.

You have no other real excuse.  It’s totally up to you. 

For more on acquiring Business Presentation Power, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Powerful posing
Power posing leads to especially powerful business presentations

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

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

Picture this.

This is a critical and powerful pose.

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

Several times.

Feeling Powerful?

“I feel especially powerful today!”

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

Which is . . . what?

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

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

In short, much of what we call body language.

Body Language

We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message.  Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.

For good or ill, powerful posing has played a large role in history

For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.  Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power.  Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.

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

Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:

“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”

So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?

Everything.

We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.  Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.

But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?  What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?  Impossible, eh?

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

Turn Negative Energy into Positive

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.

You can control to a large extent how you feel by affecting a powerful pose

This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?” No, there’s no catch.

And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.  Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.  The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.

Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

Powerful posing is the norm among the powerful figures of history

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.

Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.

The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence.  Square your shoulders.  Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.

Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

To feel even more powerful, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Stop Self-Sabotage with Power Words

Power Words

We should strive to infuse our presentations with energy by using positive power words, but instead we sabotage ourselves in our presentations more often than we imagine.

Negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

I hate presentations,” is the negative phrase I hear most frequently, and it undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.  How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a porous, spongy foundation?

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.

We envision failure, humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.

Envision Success Instead

All of this negative self-talk can translate into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.

Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.

The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.  How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?

Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at the very least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we may have any chance of succeeding at business presenting.

Think Like an Athlete – Use Power Words

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition.  I work often with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of defeat?

power words -- the key to powerful presentationsQuite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.  Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

In my experience, it’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

You lace your presentation with power words to inspire both you and your audience:  confidence . . . capability . . . thought . . . vision . . . future . . . focus . . . competence . . . strong . . . ability . . . know-how . . . victory . . . success.

When we take the stage, we put our minds on what we intend, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism. With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.

More on Preparation and the Three Ps in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.