Category Archives: Personal Competitive Advantage

Don’t Hate Presentations

Business School, a chance to develop personal competitive advantage by becoming an especially powerful business presenter

If you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this now – you might even hate presentations.

If you don’t, then you should suggest Business School Presenting to a buddy who might profit from it.

But if you have a distaste for even the thought of delivering a presentation, then this site’s for you.

One in 644 Million?

Of an estimated 644 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.

I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.

Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.

Approximately 644 million activie websites in the world

I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.  But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.

Think of this place as your Official College Guide to Business School Presentations.

Business school students and young executives need credible and direct resources on presenting  – solid advice and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”

In short, you want to know what works and why.

You Don’t Really Want to Hate Presentations

You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.

You want to know what is a matter of opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.

You want to know how to deliver an especially powerful presentation, because you recognize presenting as a key part of your personal professional strategy.

Here you find answers here to the most basic of questions.

  • What is this beast – the business presentation?
  • How do I stand? Where do I stand?
  • What do I say? How do I say it?
  • How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
  • How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
  • Where do I begin, and how?
  • How do I end my talk?
  • What should I do with my hands?
  • How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
  • How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
  • How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of Presenting

Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.

You may not like the answers.  You may disagree with the answers.

Fair enough.

Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.

Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama  – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.

They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting, and in turn they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom.  You find those verities here.

No need to hate presentations when you can deliver them with power
You can become an especially powerful presenter

On the other side of things, I’d like to hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.

The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs, even as they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.

If business presenting piques your interest as a keen route to personal competitive advantage, then I encourage you to consult my book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage . . . Through Presenting

Personal Competitive Advantage Through Presenting
Especially Powerful Personal Presence

Personal presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.

I should say potential power.

For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited in a shameless squandering of personal competitive advantage.

Forfeiture of Personal Competitive Advantage

That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.  Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.

What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.  It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice.  It’s what they sense on a subliminal level.  That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.

Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.

It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message.  A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.

Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.

Naked Information Overflow

But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow and pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, communicating with and persuading an audience.

Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays.  And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena, and they would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.  You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.

The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker.  That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.  Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.

It becomes a bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.

Rise of the Automatons

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker.  Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.

Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.

This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.

This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.

Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd.  Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™

Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?

For  more on personal competitive advantage through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage – Craft Yours Now

Personal Competitive Advantage.

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

It sounds incredibly beguiling.

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

But what is it?

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

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

Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal Competitive Advantage involves consciously positioning yourself against the competition.

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

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

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

This frustrates folks.

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

Only you can assess capabilities, intentions, and resources.

Only you can develop a winning Unique Selling Proposition.

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

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

But craft it you must.

Here’s One Guide

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

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

Something attuned to your particular value offering.

Eliminate.  Reduce.  Raise.  Create.

First, Eliminate . . .

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

Personal Competitive Strategy
Personal Strategy for Competitive Advantage

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

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

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

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

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

Overarching all of this . . .

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

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

Does it make sense when you eyeball it?

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

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

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

Develop your Business Presentation Voice

Business Presentation Voice
Develop Your Presentation Voice for Personal Competitive Advantage

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Presentation Voice.”

Rather than mere provocation, the question addressed the issue of your presentation voice quality, one of the key issues in business presenting today.

 “Bad Voice” is a problem that goes largely unaddressed.  For many reasons.  Pride.  Ego.  Sensitivity.

As such, it remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your Presentation Voice

Your voice can be a sensitive issues.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.

We believe the voice is “natural” when, in fact, it’s likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

The result can be awful.

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “Bad Presentationi Voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?

Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Pinched.  Nasal.  Raspy.

Unpleasant.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.  A voice that can even hurt your social life.

Cartoon Presentation Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a daytime television show.  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.  Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to acquiring a powerful business presentation voice.

They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

But . . . my voice is “natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.  Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

Business Presentation Voice
Develop a Powerful Business Presentation Voice for a Competitive Edge

Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”  You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.  Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your presentation voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.  It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should strive to develop a mellifluous and compelling presentation voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

It’s a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You hold yourself back.

It’s also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone.  If a thing is right, there can be no question of affectation.  It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others.  If you know a thing is right, do it.  If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?  Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?  Other than communicating?  And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively in especially powerful business presentations?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing an especially powerful business presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Practice . . . Avoid these Errors

Benefits of Business Presentation Practice
The Right Kind of Practice Makes for a Much Better Presentation

One of the keys to successful and confident performance of your business presentation is practice.

The right kind of practice.

This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.

The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, cogent fashion without stumble . . . and, 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.

Benefits of Business Presentation Practice

Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.

But you reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense.  This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.

Mistake #1

First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

Something in our psyche urges us to “start over” when we make a mistake.  When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.

But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.”  We become very good at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?  Start over?  No, of course not.  We don’t get to start over after evey blunder.

But that is exactly what you have practiced.

If you’ve practiced that way, what will you do when you stumble?  You won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since you have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

You’ve practiced only one thing – starting over.

Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them.  Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it.  Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.

Mistake #2

The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.

Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror.  It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time.  There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.

Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions.  But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror.  This is one of the worst things you can do in your business presentation practice.

Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation?

That’s just bizarre.  Instead, practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom or auditorium where you’re scheduled to present.

In short, create as much of the real situation as possible ahead of time.

To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.

For more on business presentation practice and how to prepare for your presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Pass the Baton in Your Business Presentation

Pass the Baton
Musical Chairs during a Business Presentation is a formula for failure . . . practice how you pass the baton!

One of the least-practiced aspects of the group presentation is how you pass the baton – the transition between speakers.

Yet these baton-passing linkages within your presentation are incredibly important.

They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.

Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message?  So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?

Don’t Lose Your Message!

It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own, and then the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.

This is a formula for disaster.

The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing.  Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.

Sports teams don’t practice this way.  Serious people don’t practice this way.

Don’t you practice this way.

Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.

Pass the Baton Without Musical Chairs

This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting.  Lots of turns.   This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.

Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.

Pass the Baton!
To pass the baton in a presentation is no easy task . . . it takes preparation and the right kind of practice

I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.

Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic.  At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.

The speaker walks away while still talking.  While still citing a point.  Perhaps an incredibly important point.

Don’t rush from the stage.  Stay planted in one spot until you finish.

Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion, which should reiterate your Most Important Point.

Introduce your next segment.  Then transition.  Then pass the baton with authority.

Harmonize your Messages

Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.

Each presenter must harmonize  the message with the others of a business presentation.  These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.

“On the same page” . . .  “Speaking with one voice” . . .    These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony.  This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.

It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.

This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.

Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part.  This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time.  Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.

Remember:  Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.

You can find more discussion on how to pass the baton in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your key to personal competitive advantage in business school and beyond.

Where’s Your Presentation Passion?

Presentation Passion is an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage
Imbue your business presentations with passion for especially powerful impact

If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing.

You’re in the wrong line of work.

Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing presentation passion, you shouldn’t be presenting at all.

Remember, there is no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.”  As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.

You Provide the Presentation Passion

Interest is something that you do.  You invest your presentation, regardless of the topic, with power, zest, verve, bravura, and excitement.

One powerful technique at your disposal is “passion.”

Inject Presentation Passion

This means to embrace your topic.  Regardless of whether you personally believe it to be interesting.  Your task is to take a topic – any topic – and turn it into a masterpiece of presentation passion.

Whether your subject is floor polish, chocolate milk, or bed linen, you create a presentation that holds your audience rapt.

You seize your audience by the metaphorical lapels, and you don’t let go.

Tough?  Yes.

Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.

Passion is your solution, a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience.

Passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting.  In fact, there is so little of this done today, that demonstrating presentation passion can become an important component of your personal brand and the source of personal competitive advantage.

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

For more on presentation passion and professional presence consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presenting (The Secret for Higher Waitstaff Tips)

Cicero was the greatest of Roman orators
Business presentation software such as PowerPoint wasn’t available to Cicero, and this likely was one reason he was an especially powerful presenter

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.”

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 trying 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.

Skills of the Masters

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.”

The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over the course of 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 the “wrong” ideas.

Business School Presenting, the source of competitive advantage
Becoming a skilled presenter is the open secret to achieving personal competitive advantage and professional presence

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.And yet the result has been something quite different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them. Each new advancement in technology creates another barrier between the speaker and the audience.

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 speaker to the 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.”

And in many awful cases, this is exactly what happens.  It’s almost as if the 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

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’ll 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.

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 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.

The rest of the story is found here.

Encore! Your Especially Powerful Expression

Expression is an especially powerful technique that can imbue your presentation with gravitas and deeper meaning

Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?

Many folks are seemingly oblivious to their own expressions or to a lack of expressiveness.  Their faces appear dull and lifeless.

Nondescript.

In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize.  This can be an especially powerful source of  personal competitive advantage.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.  Yes, there exists something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool

Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection.  The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.

Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”

Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker.  These are the qualities that bring success.

[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable  and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes.  The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.

Consider these expressions:  A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt.  The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism.  Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.

Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message

These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience.  They increase the power of your message.  They ensure that your message is clear.

Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating.  The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view.  It’s an important component of charisma.

Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.  Let’s watch how . . .

For more choice nuggets on expression, reference The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your source for enduring Personal Competitive Advantage.

Enter the Power Zone

Enter the Power Zone for Especially Powerful Presentations

Business Presenting is filled with paradoxes.

For instance . . .  the quizzical Power Zone.

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

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

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

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

They find an excuse.

No Argument Here

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

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

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

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

The latest batch of objections s

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

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

She wanted to deliver prese

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

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

And I say praise the Lord for that.

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

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

I replied to her this way . . .

Just Don’t Do it

I told her this:

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

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

They’ll be happy you did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you could have only one business presentations guide . . .

This is one Business Presentations GuideIf you could have only one business presentations guide to help you with your presentations, what would it be?   [Aside from my own]

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 into 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, when Philadelphia was host to the National School of Elocution and Oratory.  Departments of public speaking flourished in universities across the land.

Today’s Tedious Tofu

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 so harshly criticize The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs as to imply that is isn’t useful at all.

The author, Carmine Gallo, is a delightfully engaging public speaker himself.

Gallo pens a superb column for BusinessWeek.  And sure, this book has a pocketful of useful “tips.”

Business Presentations GuideBut the book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is more about Steve Jobs than it is 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” was to speak only at Apple product launch extravaganzas populated with early adopter evangelicals and to ensure that he was unveiling the next generation high-technology gadget hyped in the world press for the previous 12 months.

In such a scenario, don’t you believe that 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, and that was Steve Jobs’s actual “secret.”

Jobs was an above-average speaker with a distinctive style.  His public appearances were highly orchestrated.  His competition in America’s C-Suite was, and remains, abysmal.

In short, Jobs was a celebrity CEO armed with a built-in audience poised to cheer his every word.

That’s surely a “secret,” but it’s not very 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.  Books that offer a wealth of powerful and mysterious techniques to transform you into the most dynamic speaker you possibly can be.

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 in toto.

But if I had to choose one . . . and only one business presentations guide . . .

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

This Business Presentations Guide

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.

This book 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 500 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.The Business Presentations Guide for all time

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.

Of course, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business doesn’t mention the PowerPoint software package, for obvious reasons.

Instead, this powerful business presentations guide focuses on the most important elements of any presentation, whether delivered by Pericles to the Athenians in 430 BC or by you to your Global Business Policies course in 2012 – you . . . your message . . . your audience.

Buy this book . . .

Read this book. . .

Learn from this book . . .

. . . and then enjoy the fruits.

And if you have room in your library for another business presentations guide, you can always add this superb volume, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“I Hate Presentations”

Strive for Confidence in Your Business Presentations

If you feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills, then I congratulate you.

Please do pass Business School Presenting along to a buddy who might profit from the humble advice offered herein.

But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations . . . which is why you’re reading this post.

One in 366 Million?

Of an estimated 366 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.

The only site.

I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.

Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.  I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.

But right now – this instant – I do believe that this is it.

I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting  – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”

You want to know what works and why.  You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.  You want to know what is a matter of opinion and what, if anything, is etched in stone.

Here you find answers to the most basic of questions.

  • What is this beast – the business presentation?
  • How do I stand?  Where do I stand?
  • What do I say?  How do I say it?
  • How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
  • How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
  • Where do I begin, and how?
  • How do I end my talk?
  • What should I do with my hands?
  • How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
  • How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
  • How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of Presenting

Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.

You may not like the answers.  You may disagree with the answers.  Fair enough.  Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land.  Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

But you should know that offered here is a distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.  Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.

All of these speakers have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting, and in turn they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom.  You find those verities here.

On the other side of things, give me your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.

The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs, even as they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.

And so begins a journey on the road to becoming . . . an especially powerful presenter.

You’ll know when you arrive.

And you’ll wonder how you could have presented any other way.

Stop presentation guessing with The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Surviving the Group Presentation . . . PART 2

“How come I never get a good group?”

Recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentationHow you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.  You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.

The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.  Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group.  You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.

Different people make different choices about the use of their time.  Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group. The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.  Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.

The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

“But that’s not fair!”

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.  You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.

Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way.  Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful presentation.

Secret #1 . . . Especially Powerful

A powerful stance imbued Kennedy with much of his charisma

Your Ready Position.

Your ready position is the default stance you assume when giving your talk, when not emphasizing with movement and gesture.

It’s a stance affirmed by more than 2,000 years of trial and error, and imbues your talk with an especially powerful ambience.

Have you thought about how you’ll stand while you give your talk?  I refer to the time when you’re not moving about the stage to emphasize this or that point.  This ready position is your anchor, your life preserver in a storm.

Your safe harbor.

Powerful . . . Confident . . . In Command

When you stride to the stage, move to the command position in front of the lectern and facing the crowd.  Now, plant yourself as you would a paving stone in a garden.  Plant yourself firmly, as a stone, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed, shoulders squared.

Plant yourself as a deeply rooted Redwood.

Do not slouch or put more weight on one foot than on the other.  Point your toes slightly outward.  Neither slump, nor stiffen.  Shoulders back, head up, expectant.

Do not allow your head to settle down betwixt your collar bones.  This compresses your neck like a concertina.  It cramps your voice box and cuts the flow of air that you need to speak. 

At this point, let your hands hang loosely at your sides . . . (in a moment, we’ll give you something to do with your hands).

Walking and pointing and looking and eye-contact?  Forget it for now.

Forget it all for now.

First, you must seize control of yourself.

You must control all of those little tics and habits and nervous gestures that leech the strength from your presentation.  The tics and habits that telegraph your nervousness and lack of confidence.

What tics and habits, you say?  Every young presenter has at least some of them and the ready position can help remedy the following pathologies.

Do Not cross your leg in front of you while you balance on the other. This “standing cross” is more prevalent, for some reason, among female presenters than among males. Some males have this habit as well. This is a particularly debilitating movement from both the standpoint of the audience and for you. It projects instability. And it makes you feel unstable.

Do Not cock your hip to one side – this is called a “hip-shot.” Again, this action undermines your foundation. This hip-shot posture degrades your presentation in multiple ways. It shouts nonchalance. It denotes disinterest and impatience. It cries out to the audience a breezy bar demeanor that is completely at odds with the spoken message you want to convey.

Do Not engage in little choppy steps. This side-to-side dance is common. It telegraphs nervousness.

Do Not slump your shoulders. Few things project lack of confidence like rounded shoulders. Slumping shoulders can be a reflexive response to nervousness that leads to a “closed body position.”

Again.  Stand in one place, your feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward.  Arms at your sides.

Your goal at this point is to maintain a solid physical foundation.  To project an image of confidence to the audience and to imbue yourself with confidence in point of fact.  You begin to do this with your stance – solid and confident.

Now here is the most important guidance I can provide you for your Foundation “Ready” position.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

Stand as described, and place your left hand in your pants pocket, out of the way.  This position should be your default position.  Putting the hand in your pocket gets it out of the way and keeps you out of trouble.  Moreover, it projects confidence.

And, no, it is not “unprofessional.”

This position carries a multitude of positives and no negatives.  You never go wrong with this position.

It imbues you with confidence and keeps you copacetic.  To your audience, it projects competence, confidence, reassurance, and sobriety:  “Here is someone who knows his/her stuff.”

This is your Ready Position.

Your Ready Position is the foundation-stone upon which charisma, confidence, and professional presence is projected to your audience.  It is a component of your personal competitive advantage that is bestowed on the presenter with superior skills.

Professional Presence means passion and confidence
Powerful poses come to us from many great figures of history, with good reason

Everything else you do flows from this position.  Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.

Stop!

Stop and think. When you are ready to make a point that is crucial to your thesis . . . When you are ready to shift subjects or major ideas . . . then

Then, step to the left while addressing the people on the left flank.  Talk to them.  Then, step to the right and address those on your right.  Hold open your hands, palms up.  Walk toward your audience a step or two.  Look them in the eyes.  Speak to individuals.

Then, step back to the center and retake your ready position.

Let your movements emphasize your points.  When you gesture to a portion of the audience, step toward them in a kind of supplication.

Always always, always go back to the ready postion.  I have seen dozens of young speakers transformed into capable, confident speakers by virtue of this alone.  How is that possible?  By removing the doubt associated with “How will I stand.”

 This powerful and stable stance imbues you with confidence, your first step toward building positive energy within yourself.

The Ready Position — it’s your safe harbor in a sea of presentation uncertainty.

To gain deeper understanding of the techniques you can use to enhance your stance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombies Ahead . . . Classic!

Bad Advice Zombies never die . . . they keep leading presentations astray

The zombies of bad advice never die.We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Advice

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.  Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.

Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.  But bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.  The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.

This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.

Let’s Have a Look

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.  From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.  For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.\

Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.  No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.  It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.  And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.  Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.  Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.  In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.  “Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We’re special,” finance majors like to say.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”  You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6 “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what? You counted them?

I assure you that you don’t know.  You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.  Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.  They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.  This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

No one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.  It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in you own work with sound power presenting principles. You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.

For more on building especially powerful 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.

In Praise of Business Jargon . . .

Business Jargon

I struggle with an entire macro-profession that cultivates its jargon . . .  business jargon.

The arena is academia fused with that of the larger battlefield of the business world, and the struggle is between those of us in the noble minority (of course we must posture as such) and those legions of who wear smiling faces, furrowed serious brows, and who are imbued with the best of intentions and the zeal of those who labor in the vineyards of the professions. 

The struggle is for clear and original expression against the encroachment of weasel-words.  The struggle is for meaningful distinctions between useful locutions and the vulgarity of “jargon.”

Every profession contrives jargon and then clutches it to its breast.

It is useful, yes.  Incredibly so.

But some of the more Machiavellian among us contrive it as a second code for entry into a priesthood of the knowledgeable.

And so we have the conundrum – one man’s obfuscation is another man’s sharply drawn argument, both using “jargon.”

Who with compassion could strip a man of his outlet for facile expression, the utility of shorthand “jargon,” simply because there exist unscrupulous cads who abuse the privilege of a profession’s lexicon?

Struggling with Business Jargon

So it’s a struggle, yes, but it’s also an internal struggle.

This struggle is waged within me – I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexicon, the “business jargon” to vulnerable young minds.  Minds to which the jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it is actually already stale and reified.  It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated.

“Business Jargon.”

But business jargon does perform valuable service.  If used judiciously and properly and with clear intent to the purpose for which it was created.

If it is wielded not to obfuscate.  If it is wielded not to mind-taser the listener into a kind of numb dumbness.

For those of us in the profession that is home to our jargon, it serves as shorthand for many thoughts already thought, not simply a comfortable refuge.  Shorthand for many debates already concluded.  Many theories already expressed.  Many systems already in place.

In fact, a deep vein of rich discussion lurks beneath the glib façade of most of our, say, business jargon.

And thus “jargon” presents us with a dilemma – if it were not useful, it would not exist.  And anything that is useful can be misused.

It should come with a warning label.

A Warning Label?

I provide such a warning label.  But only half-heartedly.

Half-heartedly, because it is my first obligation to ensure that my charges remember the “jargon” that I serve up to them.

They must imbibe deeply and, at some point during a seemingly interminable semester, they must regurgitate the jargon.

They must master it.

They must drink deeply from the cup of “competitive advantage.”  They must feast heartily at the table of “core competency” and ladle large portions of “market failure” and “pioneering costs” along with a light sprinkling of what some might consider the oxymoronic garnish of “business ethics.”

In praise of business jargonMore insidious than the standard jargon is the phalanx of “new” program buzzwords that march our way in endless columns, recycling ideas of old . . . and then recycling them yet again.  “Best Practices,” “Re-engineering,” “Six Sigma,” “TQM, “Benchmarking,” “Balanced Scorecard,” and on and on . . .

For those of us who bathe regularly in the sea of “competitive advantage” and “market saturation” and “pioneering costs” and “core competencies,” we cannot exercise the luxury of contempt.

Instead, we must labor as any wordsmith must labor.

We must not ban the hammer because some use it to bash their thumb instead of the nail.

We must ensure the proper usage (use?) of our tools.

Just as any writer seeks and secures precision in language, the business writer must labor likewise to secure our business jargon from misuse and abuse.  Constant vigilance is our only guarantor against the debasing of the language, and this is true in business and in academia as it is true in the high-minded world of the literati.

High-minded?  It might be also useful to exercise constant vigilance that high-mindedness does not become high-handedness.

Humility and the hunger for clarity.

Uncommon qualities in the business and academic worlds?  Perhaps, but surely they should be considered corollary to the business jargon that seems pervasive and inescapable and that nettles us so naughtily.

Cast all of this business jargon aside and consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for entre into the high priesthood of the finest business presenters in the corporate world!

Voodoo Presenting: A Finance CLASSIC!

Finance Presenting offers special challenges, but it’s also a chance to increase professional presence

Whether the presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students.

“Finance is different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.

False Certitude, Faux Anchor

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  And this illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

But this is an illusion. And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The Bad News

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.  Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.  It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.  “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.  “We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.  Not only do numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all . . . if numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these presentation shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.  It may be useful.  It may be boring.  It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.  But whatever else it is, it is not a presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.  The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”  The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?

Slides from Hell.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.  Because the bar for finance presenting is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be.  Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.

Build Credibility With a Powerful Presentation

But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentation world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

For more on presenting financial information in a suitable way, 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.

Develop Powerful Personal Presence

Personal Presence
Personal Presence confers Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.

I should say potential power.

For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited.

Forfeiture of Power

That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.  Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.

What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.  It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice.  It’s what they sense on a subliminal level.  That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.

Here, Paulson describes the impact of Personal Presence.

It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message.  A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.

Here is where you become part of the message.  You bring into play your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful personal presence.

Naked Information Overflow

But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow.  We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.

Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background.  And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.  They would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.

The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker.  That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.  Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.

It becomes an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.

The Secret of Personal Presence

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.  Gone is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.

This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter.  A presenter commanding the facts and delivering compelling arguments  A presenter using all the tools at his or her disposal.

This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.

Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd . . . or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™

Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the incredible personal competitive advantage that personal presence provides?

To develop personal presence through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.