Category Archives: People

Beware the Sneer of the Wise

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

 

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

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

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

And quite as hot.

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

At worst, they are idiots and obstructionists.

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

Of course, we all have visions.

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

And yes . . . quite as hot.

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

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

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

No . . . 1000 naysayers.

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

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

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

Driven to Create

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

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

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

This last, of course, is the trick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Boundaries to Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

This is the conundrum.  The paradox.

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

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

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

There is a balance to be struck here.

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

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

Conundrum of the Vision

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

Others are just boring, derivative, smug, pale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beware the Sneer of the Wise

Let me issue a caveat that complicates the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re All Geniuses . . . After The Fact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Draft for Spontaneity . . . Edit for Power

The solution?  Editing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Presentation Topics for Power and Impact

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

“I never get an interesting business presentation topic.”

Perhaps you’ve said that?

I’ve certainly heard it.

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

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

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

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

Interesting?  That’s Your Job

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

That’s not the point.

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

Persuades the audience.

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

I’ve found the following to be true:

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

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

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

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

The Tenpenny Nail?

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

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

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

It’s hip.  And familiar.

Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.

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

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

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

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.

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

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

The Business Presentation Topic Beast

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

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

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

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

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

Sound like an “interesting” business presentation topic?

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

Very Smart People

It is a privilege of mine to not only travel a great many miles to special places, but also to work with some of the brightest young people of the latest generation who constitute the business leaders of tomorrow. Take India, for instance.

India is a potential economic powerhouse, whose engine of domestic and international commerce is only just starting. With incredible knowledge resource capability and government that finally recognizes the power of individual initiative and the economic benefits that accrue from relaxing regulation, India is set for an economic renaissance that will stagger the world when its gears finally engage.

The MBA students at the Welingkar Institute of Management in Mumbai, who appear on this page, show a drive, determination, optimism, and coachability that should be the envy of the world. Inquisitive and cosmopolitan to a startling degree, these young people are poised to enter middle-management as a sage class of entrepreneurial knowledge workers, steeped in the latest management techniques and armed with the techniques of especially powerful presenting that confer unmatched competitive advantage.

I’d go so far as to say that they constitute a new cadre of global executives, a new breed of 21st Century Managers, unencumbered with outdated notions held over from the industrial revolution.  A cadre imbued with the qualities of . . .

  • Cultural Competence
  • Technical Proficiency
  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Cosmopolitan Outlook
  • Team-work orientation
  • Personal and Professional Aligned Strategic Focus

The rest of the business world does need to take note.  India is an economic giant that no longer sleeps.

Global Presentation Skills

Global Presentation SkillsI’ve just arrived in Mumbai, a vibrant, bustling city, and part of my mandate is to teach Global Presentation Skills.

Mumbai surely bustles – I’m unsure of the meaning of “bustle,” but if there is such at thing, then it is surely happening here.  I found myself bustling across 5 lanes of traffic at Sion Circle today, in fact.  Caught in the seasonal monsoons on my way to  . . . well, at that point, to buy an umbrella.

And then back to my room to prepare my seminar:  Global Presentation Skills  

The seminar is brilliantly titled to indicate its content and purpose.  In fact, I brilliantly titled it myself.

It encompasses the notion that presenting to foreign audiences can be an infuriating process, especially for those business folks relatively inexperienced in dealing with the foreign business cultures.

As your perspicacity tells you, this is a seminar designed to aid businessmen and business students in emerging markets to craft business presentations that follow the contours of the local business culture.  I’ve delivered Global Presentation Skills to firms in Colombia and to groups of Middle Eastern businessmen to what I’ve heard called “much acclaim.”

And as an untapped area rich with potential for competitive advantage, it’s one reason for my presence in Mumbai.  To work with Indian businessmen keen on international expansion.

What’s the benefit of Global Presentation Skills?

Americans can be pesky audiences at best, especially for non-westerners.  Why not gain an advantage over competitors in selling to the American market?  Global Presentation Skills are a greatly neglected link in the chain of selling?  Lots of shrewd folks are saying “Why not, indeed?”

Cultural stereotypes may be ingrained in the American psyche through popular culture and news reports.  Global Presentation Skills helps businessmen surmount communication difficulties that can arise from American misunderstandings of foreign cultures.

Moreover, in a kind of reverse aikido, it helps turn perceived negatives into positives.  Global Presentation Skills can turn self-perceived weaknesses into strengths and transform stereotypes into launch-points for winning presentations.

So now I return to preparing for my Global Presentation Skills utilizing my three Ps – Principles, Preparation, and Practice.

Yes, I practice what is preached on my blog . . . and I hope to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

For more on Global Presentation Skills, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

International Business Presentations – Colombia

International Business Presentation for Competitive Advantage
The International Business Presentation offers Chances to Develop Personal Competitive Advantage

I am always struck anew by the similarities across countries and cultures with regard to international business presentations.

More precisely, the delivering of business presentations across cultures.

The pathologies that afflict American Business Presentations show themselves in India . . . in France . . . in Russia.  And now, I discover yet another country and cultural commonality.  This time in Colombia.

My Seven Secrets seminar with Colombian Businessmen and Businesswomen at Corn Products International here in Cali confirms the core truths of the speaking masters from the past 25 centuries.

Even with regard to international business presentations.

It confirms that they are universally applicable across a range of cultures and languages.  Have a look at the company here:

Colombian C-Suite and midlevel managers react much as their American and Indian counterparts with regard to the most common pathologies that destroy what could be outstanding presentations.  These include bad voices, roaming presenters, slide-reading, back to the audience, hip-shots.  Add-in jittery feet, strange habitual actions, finger play, mumbling, and jammed/busy/ugly/unreadable slides.

All of this we see here in the United States.  It plagues Colombian business as well.

International Business Presentations Incorporate Ambition

But my Colombian colleagues – at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Corn Products International, Johnson & Johnson, Javeriana University – show themselves to be receptive to coaching.  In fact, they are far more receptive to coaching and dThe International Business Presentationevelopment of especially powerful presentation skills than their American counterparts generally.

Why this should be so, I cannot guess.  Unless it relates to the difficulties of presenting in a second language and the ambition that accompanies the potential of a growing Colombian business sector that is becoming increasingly internationalized.

Presenting in a second language is, of course, an impressive feat in itself.

All of this demonstrates that there exist iron-clad truths in presenting.  And we ignore these truths at our presentation peril.

The eternal and ubiquitous verities in the presentation milieu serve to anchor us in a superficially uncertain world that the avatars of “change management” urge us to adapt to.  Certitude, not “change,” is the key to especially powerful presenting.

Learn the verities and practice the universals in your international business presentations, and you’ll go incredibly right.  Whether in the United States, or in India . . . or in Colombia.

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.

Just one Business Presentation book . . .

Not this Business Presentation Book
This isn’t a bad Business Presentation Book, but . . .

If you could have only one business presentation book to help you with your presentations, what would it be?

You have many from which to choose.  Too many, in fact.

Hundreds of them.

So this question is part rhetorical and part genuine inquiry to discover what motivates, trains, and aids students and young executives in their development into capable presenters. No, not just capable presenters . . . especially powerful presenters.

I have my own answer to this question, of course, and I’ll share it with you in a moment.  It’s based on reviewing a skein of presentation and public speaking books published over the course of 2,500 years.  All of ’em?  Close to it.

It’s an esoteric subject with a tightly circumscribed group of recognized and established authors and scholars.  The mid- to late 1800s was the golden age for modern oratory and presenting.  This was when Philadelphia was host to the National School of Elocution and Oratory, and departments of public speaking flourished in universities across the land.

Business Presentation Books

Today, we have “communications” courses that offer tofu and tedious texts.  They offer impractical and vague suggestions that are often impossible to put into practice.

Today we have The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs supplanting the rich and powerful books of speaking masters who offer the soundest and most-proven presentation instruction in all of recorded history.  This is not to harshly criticize The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.  I don’t imply that it isn’t useful at all.  The author, Carmine Gallo, is a delightfully engaging and powerful public speaker himself.  He pens a superb column for BusinessWeek.

And sure, this book has a pocketful of useful tips.

Business Presentation BookBut the book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is more about Steve Jobs than about you.  It’s more about Steve Jobs than about presentation secrets that you can actually use.

Let’s put it this way:  Steve Jobs’s #1 presentation “secret” is to speak only at Apple product launch extravaganzas populated with early adopter evangelicals and to ensure that he is unveiling the next generation high-technology gadget that has been hyped in the world press for the previous 12 months.  In such a scenario, you and I could paint our faces blue and dress like Jack Sparrow and deliver a successful and quite powerful presentation?

Of course we could.  That is Steve Jobs’s actual “secret.”

Jobs is an above-average speaker with a distinctive style.  His public appearances are highly orchestrated, and his speaking competition in America’s C-Suite is abysmal.

In short, Jobs is a celebrity CEO armed with a built-in audience poised to cheer his every word.  That’s surely a “secret,” but it’s not helpful to the average presenter.

So, will you learn anything from Mr. Gallo’s book?  Sure, but it has nothing to do with Jobs or what he does.

Mr. Gallo laces enough fundamental advice throughout the book to help a neophyte improve his presenting in several aspects.  But the question I asked at the beginning is this:

If you could have only one book to help you with your business presentations, what would it be?

Not that one.

In fact, I could recommend a dozen books that are utterly superb, none of which published after 1950, that far outstrip today’s pedestrian offerings.  Business presentation books that offer a wealth of powerful and mysterious techniques to transform you into the most dynamic speaker you possibly can be.  Business presentation books to stretch you to your utmost limits, books that propel you to fulfill your fullest presentation potential.

Single books that are worth any 10 “business communication” texts costing more than $1,000.

But if I had to choose one . . . and only one . . .

It would be this book . . . a book first published in 1913.

This Business Presentation Book

Subsequent to its original publication, this incredible tome went into more than 58 editions and was constantly in print until 1962.  In that year, it was revised and given a different title, and it went into another 28 editions, the last one I can find published in 1992.  Its title was again revised and a new edition published in 2006.

It remains in print today.  Many reprint editions are available and are quite inexpensive.  Like diamonds upon the ground that no one recognizes.

And of all the more than 1,000 business presentation books I own, dating from 1762 to the present day (and reprints back to 430 BC), this is the one book I commend to you.  You can search it on Amazon.com and purchase an inexpensive copy today.

The one book I recommend is . . .

Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, by Dale Carnegie.

Post-1962, the book is called The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking, an edition revised by Carnegie’s wife [I dislike the new title, because it gives the mistaken impression that great public speaking can be “quick and easy,” an addition to the original book added much later, but I’ll not cavil on that point here].

The newest edition is called:  Public Speaking for Success.

The One Business Presentation Book that Beats them All
The One Business Presentation Book that Beats them All

Of course, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business doesn’t mention the PowerPoint software package, for obvious reasons.  Instead, it focuses on the most important elements of any business presentation, whether delivered by Pericles to the Athenians in 430 BC or by you to your Global Business Policies course in 2011.  It focuses on you . . . your message . . . your audience.

Buy this book . . .

Read this book. . .

Learn from this book . . .

. . . and enjoy the fruits.

More on Business Presentation Books in 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.

The Business Presenter

Business Presenters are powerfulBefore 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 earliest “business presenter.”

The Business Presenter

Public speaking 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 saved your soul.  The second took your money.  The third saved you from prison.  The fourth transported you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.

Other professions utilized the proven 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 “business 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 knew the power of words.

In fact, Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory.  He filled his presentations with the “wrong” 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 exalt our presentation message.  And yet the result has been something different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have supplanted them.  Each advance in technology creates another barrier between the business presenter and the audience.

PowerPoint Can Cripple the Business Presenter
Business Presenter
Become a Powerful Business Presenter

Today’s presenters have fastened hold of 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 business presenter to the fireworks.  This has led to such a decline that the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”

And in many cases, this is exactly what happens.  Almost as if the business presenter becomes a member of the audience.

PowerPoint and props are just tools.  That’s all.  You should be able to present without them.

And 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

Waiters and waitresses are business presenters.

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.  You can become a superb business presenter.  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.  Learn your temporary profession’s rules and craft a business presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity.  Display enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions that make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.

The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience

Yes, heroic.  Every business presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.  Great business presenters evoke a sense of heroism in customers.  Do this, and you 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 that inform the great business presenter are the same.

And 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.

Adopt the habits of the masters.  Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the great business presenters who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.

Their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful business presentations.

For more on becoming a great business presenter, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.