Category Archives: Preparation

Do You Ever Wing It?

Especially Powerful Presentations
No chance to fly at all if you “wing it.”

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them . . . and this means never, ever wing it.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Never wing it.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

And never wing it.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Sometimes we elect to go in unprepared, trusting in a cavalier attitude to carry us through . . . winging it in insulting fashion.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

The Curse of Hubris

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.

Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.  Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.

Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage
Is this how to give an especially powerful presentation?

They don’t prepare.

They offer standard tropes.

They rattle off cliches.

They pull out shopworn blandishments . . .

. . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says, whatever it was, becomes gospel.  However he said it becomes accepted practice, no matter how awful.

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.

The lack of preparation by any speaker conveys a kind of contempt for the audience and the time of people gathered to listen.

I Read my Own Press Clipping Now

For instance, I recall an occasion of a successful young entrepreneur who spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea.

He related how he pitched that idea to venture capitalists.

His idea was tremendously successful and, as I gather, he sold it for millions of dollars.

Now, he stood in front of our students dressed in “cool slob.”  He wore a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

especially powerful speech
You sometimes hear the Styrofoam Speech . . . the mark of someone “winging it.”

He might as well have delivered a “Styrofoam speech.”

He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  He had elected to “wing it.”

His sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Make really good slides.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he offered a great idea sharply defined, practiced many times, and presented knowledgeably by a well-dressed team that won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by to wing it.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.

And there is much to be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Do you Wing It?

In business school, you will espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.

It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness when you wing it.

You offer contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude that carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

And this kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”  It is obvious to everyone watching that you elected to wing it.

Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your time?  You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You will gain personal competitive advantage.

But you never will if you “wing it.”

Business Presentation Practice . . . How?

Presentation Practice
The Right Business Presentation Practice can Yield Competitive Advantage

Business presentation practice is one of the keys to successful and confident performance.

The right kind of practice for your business presentation.

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

But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?

Practice is easy.  You just . . .

. . . do it.

Right?

Business Presentation Practice Yields . . .

First, not everyone practices.  Some practice not at all.

Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.

Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you.  If you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of business presentation practice.

Here’s why . . .

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.

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 only reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense.  And if you develop keen-minded presentation practice habits, then likewise you’re on your way to developing a powerful personal competitive advantage.

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 seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.

When we stumble, we want a “do-over.”  So that we can assemble a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.

But when we do this, what we actually practice is the “starting over.”  We become experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Business Presentation Practice
Business Presentation Practice for power and impact

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?

Start over?

No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have 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.

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, conduct your presentation practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.

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

For more on especially powerful business presentation practice and the development of personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Practice

Presentation Practice
Presentation Practice – who needs it?

Most presentation practice is bad, but you avoid this in favor of our Third P:  great  presentation practice that yields a stellar performance.

Wait . . . what do you mean that some types of practice are “bad”?

How can you possibly say, Professor, that such a thing as “bad presentation practice exists?”

Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?

In fact, bad practice is pernicious.

It’s insidious, and at times can be worse than no practice at all.  It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.

Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror

Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.

Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.

But what does it mean to “practice?”  Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?

How do you practice?

Have you ever truly thought about it?  Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your practice?  Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”

Don’t practice in the mirror.  That’s dumb.

You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.

I say it again – that’s dumb.

The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them.  Other than that, stay away from the mirror.

Practice – the right practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success.  And your ultimate triumph.

The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours.  We say “practice makes perfect.”  The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”

It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”

And it’s great advice.

Presentation Practice Leads to Victory

The armed forces are experts at practice.  Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.

And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual missions assigned to it.

Relentless Presentation Practice
Strive for Perfect Presentation Practice

Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and uncertainty.

We gain confidence.

The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.

But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear.  With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.

The danger is avoided.

Confidence replaces fear.

Presentation Practice Eliminates Fear

Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates.  Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.

The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.

Your way through the minefield is clear.  And the fear evaporates.

Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk?  Or that you won’t be nervous?  Of course not.  We all do.

Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous.  But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.

Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you.  It ensures your focus.  But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.

It is not the same as fear.

And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.

We lack confidence when we are unsure. With every practice, we gain confidence. And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .

Sear This into Your Mind

Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.

I mean this literally.

Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can.  Make it as realistic as you can.  If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.

You want as much pressure as possible.

One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake.  Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .

When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.

This should be common sense.  You must practice how you respond to making an error.  How you will fight through and recover from an error.  Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.

Think of it this way.  Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?

Of course not.

And neither should you.

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

Presentation Preparation – The Second P

Presentation Preparation - the Right Way
The Right Kind of Presentation Preparation is Key

The right kind of presentation preparation lays the groundwork for spectacular performance.

Squeeze the most from your prep time, and try doing it this way . . .

Let’s say you are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations in a business presentation.

Your first task is to prepare the business presentation . . .  the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

Presentation Preparation for your Best Shot

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.

And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.

They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.  Here you apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Presentation Preparation
Presentation Preparation invests you with confidence

Your task is clear.  It’s time to present your conclusions to an audience in the most direct and cogent manner possible.

And in this task is embodied a verity for you to internalize.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

They are different in the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.

How Different?

It’s different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable.  You’re far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controlled.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report

These differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, insignificant.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

The more numbers, the better.

The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.

It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation
Presentation Preparation?

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.

Business cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.

Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if they “interest” you.

That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.

And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

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

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?

Think about it.

How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.

And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.

You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  And this result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail.

You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth this way:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.

A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Take a Procrustean approach and forge an especially powerful presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.

That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience in our presentation preparation.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our minds and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this?  Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.

They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.

The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.  You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus to find the nuggets.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?

Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?

Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover more on Especially Powerful Presentation Preparation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Three Ps for Especially Powerful Presentations

Especially Powerful Presentations
The Three Ps of Business Presentations can greatly enhance your presentation delivery for an especially powerful presentation every time

It’s always helpful when the key words that describe your especially powerful presentation all start with the same letter.

In this case we speak of the Three Ps of Business Presentations.

The “Three Ps of Business Presenting” encompass everything you must do to deliver especially powerful presentations every time.

They are, in order . . .

Principles

          Preparation

                     Practice

If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”

Now, you might head-scratch and wonder how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”

A fair question.

For Especially Powerful Presentations

The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.

Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense.

You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.

This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons.  Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.

3 Ps of Business
You always have a choice. Choose to implement the Three Ps of Business Presenting, and you’ll find that your delivery improves immensely

And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.

When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles.  And this means preparation.

It means practice.

Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.

So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.

Business Presentation Prep . . . The Second P

Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

You are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations in a business presentation.

Your task is to prepare the business presentation . . .

. . .  the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.

And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.

They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Prepare the Business Presentation

Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Your task is clear.  It’s time to present your conclusions to an audience in the most direct and cogent manner possible.

And in this task is embodied a verity for you to internalize.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?  But they are different.

Completely different.

It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.

How Different?

It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report

These many differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, seemingly invisible.  Or, at least, they are not considered significant.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

The more numbers, the better.

The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.

It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.

Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if they “interest” you.

That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.  And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

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

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?

Think about it.

How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.

And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.

You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  And this result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail.

You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.

A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.

They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.

The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.  You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?

Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?

Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover how to Prepare the Business Presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Put POW in Your Powerful Business Presentations

Powerful Business Presentation

Do you know how to begin a presentation?

Do you?  Really?  Does your intro have Pow?

Consider for a moment . . .

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.

Do you back into Your Business Presentation?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?

Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?  Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?

Here’s an example of a Lame Start

I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Wal-Mart case. The lead presenter was Janie.  She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years. She spoke in monotone. She flashed a timeline on the screen.

Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.

I wondered at what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.

I waited for her main point. As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed. The linking thread had not come.

The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point.  At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.

“Janie, what was that beginning all about?  How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”

“Those were just random facts,” she said.

“Random facts?”

Random Facts!

“Yes!” she said brightly.

And she was quite ingenuous about it.

Random facts.

She was giving “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way.  I do not say this to disparage her.  Not at all.

In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously, and has since progressed to graduate school.

But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation?  Is it the notion that anything you say at the beginning is okay?

Let’s go over the beginning, shall we?  Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about. When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

You begin with your introduction. Here, you present the Situation Statement.

This is key to setting up a Powerful Business Presentation.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear. It’s the reason you and your audience are there. What will you tell them?  The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here. Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk. Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow! It focuses everyone on the topic. Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk. Don’t tip-toe into it. Don’t be vague. Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?  Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good! It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity. I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia. Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation. We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best.  Pow!

Try starting this way:

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2009 and increase our market share by another 10 percent. A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12  months from now.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.  No metaphorical throat-clearing.  No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.

State the reason you’re there.

Put the Pow in Powerful Business Presentations!

How to Deliver a Powerful Business Presentation

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.

A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways. How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse. Our recommended response?

Aggressive growth. We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change. The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.

We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.  And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.

That is why you have assembled your team. To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To provide your recommendations.

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.  Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

Interested in more? Click here. 

Business Case Competition Season is Here

Your Business Case competition Guide, the source of competitive advantage

Business Case Competitions usually launch in the spring, so now is the time to prepare.

The key to doing well in business case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand by following your case competition guide.

Before you ever travel to the site of the competition.

Before they ever give you the sealed envelope with your business case enclosed.

This is much easier than you might imagine.  You begin by consulting your case competition guide.  And the guide starts with the Three Ps of Presenting.

The Three Ps of Business Presentations provide a roadmap to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice

Principles.

You don’t start tuning your instrument for the first time when it’s time to perform a concert.  Likewise, you don’t begin honing your presentation skills when it’s time to present.

By the time of your competition, all of your team members should be thoroughly grounded in the principles of especially powerful presentations.

The principles offered here in this case competition guide.

This part of your competition prep should already be accomplished, with only a few review sessions to ensure everyone is sharp on the Seven Secrets.  These secrets are Stance . . . Voice . . . Gesture . . . Expression . . . Movement . . . Appearance . . . Passion.

Second, Preparation

Our case competition guide divides the preparation for the competition into three phases.

Phase 1:  Lead-in to the Competition

You are made aware of the competition’s rules.  You acknowledge and embrace the rules and what they imply.  Your entire team should become intimately familiar with the parameters of the competition – think metaphorically and spacially.

Recognize that the problem has length and breadth and depth.  Understand the finite limits of the context presented to you.  Know what you can and cannot do.  Think of it as an empty decanter that you fill with your analysis and conclusions on the day of the competition.

Later, upon receiving the actual Case, you will conduct the same process.  Recognize that the Business Case has length and breadth and depth.

But now, prior to the competition, take stock of what you already know you must do.  Then do most of it beforehand as the rules permit.

This includes embracing the problem situation long before you arrive on-site for a competition and before you receive the case in question.  Learn the parameters of the context in which you operate.  The case competition guide breaks the competition environment into discrete elements:

Competition rules

Length of presentation

Total time available (set-up, presenting, Q&A, Close-out)

Number of presenters allowed or required

Visuals permitted or required

Sources you may use, both beforehand and during the problem-solving phase

Prohibitions

You know that you are required to provide analysis of a case and your results and recommendations.  Why not prepare all that you can before you arrive at the competition?

Some competitions may frown on this or forbid it . . . fine, then do it when you can, at the first point that it is permissible.  This way, you spend the majority of your case analysis time filling in the content.

Follow the Business Case Competition Guide

Prepare your slide template beforehand according to the principles expounded here.

Business presentations have a small universe of scenarios and limited number of elements that comprise those scenarios.  A well-prepared team composed of team members from different functional areas will have generic familiarity with virtually any case assigned in a competition.

The team should have no problems dealing with any case it is presented.

Determine beforehand who will handle – generally – the presentation tasks on your team as well as the analytic portions of your case.  The following is offered as an example of how the task might be approached:

Your Business Case competition Guide

As part of this initial process, prepare your slide template with suitable logos, background, killer graphics, and charts and graphs requiring only that the numbers be filled in.

Leading into the competition, it’s essential that your team be familiar with sources of data that you may be permitted to utilize in conducting your case analysis.  Market research, industry surveys, and such like.

Be familiar with online databases like Business Source PremierMergent Online, and S&P NetAdvantage, because not all schools may have access to the data sources you use most often.

No Place for the Unprepared

With respect to the delivery or your presentation itself, a business case competition is not the occasion for you to polish your delivery skills.  You should have honed them to razor’s edge by now.

As well, perfect your orchestration as a team before arriving at the site of the competition.

At the competition, you lift your performance to the next level in terms of application of all the principles, precepts, and hard skills you learned in business school.  Finance, accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, analysis.

You apply them in a tightly orchestrated and professional presentation that pops.

If you have engaged the business case competition guide successfully during the lead-up to the competition, your taut case-cracking team will be ready when you finally receive the case.

A team ready to address the issues involved in the case problem.

COMING UP . . . PHASE 2

Access all of the secrets of masterful business presenting by consulting your business case competition guide:  The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Awful Presentations?

Are Awful Presentations necessary?

Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that awful presentations must be norm?

Is there a Law of Awful?

LAwful Presentations?

Given the number of overly long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.

This dullness of the awful presentation seeps into the consciousness.  It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.

Awful presentations can be a career-killer.

Of course, no one will tell you this.  A conspiracy of silence surrounds awful business presentations and the people who give them.

And yet, they are everywhere.

Awful Presentations are Everywhere

Awful presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.

They must be the norm.  They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is.

But this is myth.

And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.

You see an awful presentation that some people praise as good.  It looks like this . . .

Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern.  He reads from slides with  dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides.  He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him.  He rarely looks at you.

A Wasteland On the Screen

Unreadable spreadsheets emerge on the screen.  Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence.

The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.  You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.

It’s boring.

It’s unintelligible.

The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.

It’s an awful presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns.  You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”

If awful presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.”  I can be as bad as the next person.

Just Cobble Together an Awful Presentation

Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation.  And why wouldn’t you think that?

It seems to have all the elements:  A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.

Awful Presentations are the career kiss of death

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

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

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

And you don’t view yourself as benefiting from the process in any way.  Instead, you see it as something painful.  Because it is painful.  It’s painful and awful.

Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . .  just awful.

It’s an awful business presentation that is painful because of the way it’s been explained to you.

Because the explanations are incomplete.  Because you never get the whole story.

Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.

This can be a problem.  A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present.

And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.

I Feel Your Pain

Sure, there are “presentation”courses.  But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.

They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.”  But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.

Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school.  They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.

And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.

For most of your professors, presenting is secondary.  This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching.  Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.

It is the same in the corporate world.  Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.

Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.”  What what we get is the awful presentation as the standard.

Awful Presentation Malaise in Corporate America

I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago.  I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals.  Primarily PowerPoint visuals.

Monotone voices.

Busy slides with tiny letters.

Listeners shifting in their seats.

Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.

Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.

No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.

Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.

This is more common than you might imagine.

Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.

The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-.  The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-.

When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see an awful presentation as to see an excellent one.

This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools.  Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.

Glimmers of Hope . . . Immense Opportunity

Generalizations are just that – general in nature.

I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway.  Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform.

Good for them.

But for the most part, it is as I have described here.

And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.

Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters.  Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.

By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power.  Presentations that are anything but dull.  So . . .

It’s time for your debut.

Time to break the Law of Awful Presentations.

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

MBA Case Competition

MBA Case Competition Basics

A major business student rite of passage is the MBA case competition.

It’s tough . . . it’s pressure-packed . . . it’s demanding and stressful.

It can also be lucrative, as prize money for winning teams can be substantial . . . from $1,000 all the way up to $25,000.

Sure, you’ve presented in class in front of your professor and folks that you know, but you’ve not felt pressure until you’ve competed against the finest MBAs from other schools.

How do you and your school stack up against the best of the rest?

Business School Rankings are one thing, but MBA Case Competitions offer one of the few head-to-head matchups between schools.

And all the PR in the world can’t substitute for victory over your rivals.

Who Competes in MBA Case Competition . . . and How?

Let’s take, as an example, a Finance MBA Case Competition.

These are top-notch MBA students with work experience and especially powerful motivation to not only invest in a rigorous MBA program but to test their skills publicly in the fire of MBA case competition.

Substantively, this is a talented lot.

My colleagues, who specialize in the wizardry of finance, ensure that no idle comment goes unchallenged, no misplaced decimal escapes detection.  That no unusual explanation goes unexplored.

MBA Case Competition
MBA Case Competition Tests Your Mettle

At the higher-level finals competition, this fine-toothed comb catches few errors . . . because few errors exist to be caught.  These are superb students, imbued with a passion for the artistry of a company’s financial structure and operations.

Along this dimension, the teams are relatively well-matched.

But stylistically, much remains to improve.

And if you believe that “style” is somehow unimportant, you err fatally with regard to the success of your presentation.

By style, I mean all of the orchestrated elements of your business presentation that combine to create the desired outcome – emotional involvement with your message, a compelling story, and acceptance of your conclusions.  And all explained in an especially powerful way that transmits competence and confidence.

In this sense, style becomes substance in an MBA case competition.

So, while the substantive content level of the top teams in competition is often superb, style differentiates the finest from the rest and can determine the competition winner.

To enter that top rank of presenters, note these common pathologies that afflict most teams of presenters, both MBA students and young executives.

1) Throat-clearing

I don’t mean actual clearing of the throat here.  Unfortunately, many teams engage in endless introductions, expressions of gratitude to the audience, even chattiness with regard to the task at hand.  Get to the point. Immediately.  State your business.

Deliver a problem statement . . . and then your recommendation, up-front.  With this powerful introductory method, your presentation takes on more clarity in the context of your already-stated conclusion.

2) Lack of confidence

Lack of confidence is revealed in several ways, some of them subconscious. Uptalk, a fad among young people, undermines even the best substance because of its constant plaintive beg for validation.

Dancing from foot to foot, little dances around the platform, the interjection of “you know” and “you know what I mean” wear away the power of your message like a whetstone.

3) Unreadable PowerPoint slides

The visuals are unreadable because of small fonts and insufficient contrast between numbers/letters and the background.  Ugly spreadsheets dominate the screen to no purpose.

This sends the audience scrambling to shuffle through “handouts” instead of focusing attention on the points you want to emphasize.  You have created a distraction.

You have created a competitor for your attention that takes focus off your presentation.

4) Ineffective interaction with visuals

Rare is the student who interacts boldly with his or her slides, touching the screen, guiding our eyes to what is important and ensuring that we understand.

Instead, we often see the dreaded laser pointer.  This is one of the most useless tools devised for presentation work (unless the screen is so massive that you cannot reach an essential visual that must be pointed out).

The laser pointer divides your audience attention three ways – to the presenter, to the slide material, and to the light itself, which tends to bounce uncontrollably about the screen.

I forbid the use of laser pointers in my classes as a useless affectation.

No time for Modesty or Mediocrity

The MBA Case Competition is your chance to demonstrate a wide range of corporate business skills in a collaborative effort.  You receive recognition, valuable experience, sometimes monetary reward, and perhaps an open door to corporate employment.

Work on correcting the most common errors, and you have started the journey to competition excellence.

See The Complete Guide to Business Presenting for an entire chapter on winning case competitions.  You can also sign up for the LinkedIn MBA Case Competition group.  This is where folks from around the world congregate to share the latest information about competiting in the top contests.

Prepare the Business Presentation . . . the Second P

Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way
Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

You are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations.  Your task is to provide a report and then prepare the business presentation.

. . . to prepare it the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.  And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.  They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Prepare the Business Presentation

Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Your task is clear.  You present your conclusions to an audience.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.  Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?  But they are different.

Completely different.

It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.

How Different?

It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report
As you Prepare the Business Presentation, Recognize that it Differs Significantly from the Written Report

These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, seemingly invisible.  Or, at least, they are not considered significant.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

The more numbers, the better.

The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.

It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.

Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if they “interest” you.

That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.  And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

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

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?

Think about it.

How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.

And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.

You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  And this result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail.

You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.

A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way
Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation in Ruthless Fashion

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.

They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.  The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.  You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?

Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?  Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover how to Prepare the Business Presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Three Ps of Business Presentations

The Three Ps of Business Presentations
The Three Ps of Business Presentations can greatly enhance your presentation delivery for a winning show every time

It’s always helpful when the key words that describe your especially powerful program all start with the same letter, and in this case we speak of the Three Ps of Business Presentations.

The “Three Ps of Business Presenting” encompass everything you must do to deliver especially powerful presentations every time.

They are, in order . . .

Principles

          Preparation

                     Practice

If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”

Now, you might be head-scratching and wondering how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”

A fair question.

Implement the Three Ps of Business Presenting

The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.

Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense.  You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.

This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons.  Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.

And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.

When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles.  And this means preparation.

It means practice.

Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.

So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.

Presentation Practice – How to do it Right

Presentation Practice
The Right Presentation Practice can Yield Competitive Advantage

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

The right kind of practice for your business presentation.

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

But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?  Practice is easy.  You just . . .

. . . do it.  Right?

Powerful Presentation Practice Yields . . . What?

First, not everyone practices.  Some practice not at all.

Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.

Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you, should you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of presentation practice.

Here is why . . .

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.

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 only 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 seems to urge 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 experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Presentation Practice
Presentation Practice for added power and impact

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?  Start over?

No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have 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.

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, conduct your presentation practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.

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

For more on especially powerful presentation practice and the development of personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Presentation? It’s Your Fault

Really bad presentation

That bad presentation is your fault.

You sabotaged it.

Screwed it up.

All of us sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.  And we do it through self-defeating behaviors.

These self-defeating behaviors come in many forms, but negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.

We envision humiliation, embarrassment.  Complete meltdown.

We Set Ourselves Up for Bad Presentations

Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school.  That cliche is “I hate presentations.”  This culprit leads to awful presentations.  It undermines everything we strive for in business school presentations.

How can we build a positive presentation on such a spongy foundation?

Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice.  Shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.

Moreover, our sour and weak attitude can infect our teammates if it happens to be a group presentation.  The negative spiral down means things get worse before they get better.  If at all.

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

Do You Think Like a World-Class Athlete?

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body.  Visualizing success is a technique they use to prepare for competition.  I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques.

All of these experts agree that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

Let’s leave aside the specific techniques and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century.  Let’s just say now that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk.  Let’s give ourselves a fighting chance of success at delivering a good presentation.  Even a great presentation.

Bad Presentation
Stop Negative Self-talk and Fix that Bad Presentation

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?  It could be the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation.  This ignorance means uncertainty of performance.

This ignorance and uncertainty breed fear.

It’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety and can result in a bad presentation.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction.

And we can reduce uncertainty through preparation and by controlling the variables within our power.

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

We rely on our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

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

When we take the stage, we focus.  We charge forward boldly, presenting with masterful aplomb and professionalism.  With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety.  We wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

We eliminate the bad presentation.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal with unknowns that nettle us.

Positive self-talk is essential to preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.

Find more on how to eliminate the bad presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Audience

Focus on your audience as a source of personal competitive advantage

Too often, we can find ourselves rambling or roaming in a presentation, and this usually means we’ve strayed from the hoary principle of focus on your audience.

We haven’t established a tightly focused subject, and we’ve not linking it to a tightly focused conception of your audience.

Without tight focus on your subject, you cannot help the audience to visualize your topic or its main points with concrete details.  Without details in your message, you eventually lose the attention of the audience.

So how do you include meaningful details in your presentation, the right details?

The Devil’s in the Details

By reversing the process and visualizing the audience in detail.

This is akin to the branding process in the marketing world.  Your brand must stand for something in the customer’s mind.  And, conversely, you must be able to visualize the customer in your own mind.

If you can’t visualize the kind of person who desperately wants to hear your message, then you haven’t focused your talk enough.

Go back and retool your message – sharpen and hone it.

Think of the various consumers of products and services such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Whole Foods Market, Mercedes Benz, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Can you actually visualize the customers for these products, picture them in your mind in great detail?

Likewise, can you clearly visualize the consumers for Greenpeace, the National Rifle Association, a Classic 70s Rock radio station?

Sure you can – you immediately imagine the archetype of the customer base for each of these.

Focus on Your Audience

Now, in the same way, can you visualize the consumers of Chevrolet?  Tide?  Folgers?  United Way?  The American Red Cross?

Of course you can’t, because these brands have lost focus.  The message is too broad.

The lesson here is to focus your message on a tightly circumscribed audience type.

Who is in your audience, and what do they want from you?

Prepare your talk with your audience at the forefront.  Visualize a specific person in your audience, and write to that person.  Make that person the hero.

Talk directly to that person.

The upshot is a tightly focused message with key details that interest an audience that you have correctly analyzed and visualized.  You speak directly to audience needs in a way that they clearly understand and that motivates them.

Craft your message in this way, and you’ll be on-target every time.

Find more secrets of especially powerful presenting in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Business Presentation Skills for Power and Impact

Improve business presentation
Improve business presentation skills in a continuous program

When students decide to improve business presentation skills, they often make invidious comparisons that they ought to shun.

They compare themselves to some great speaker whom they admire . . . and they fret that they somehow don’t measure up.  They suspect that they never will.

They fret that they “could never speak like that.”  That the admired speaker has some kind of “natural born talent” that lifts her or him into the rarefied atmosphere of great-speakerdom.

Such comparisons lead inevitably to self-defeat.  They frustrate the motivated student, and they give excuse to the lazy.

They give up and relegate presenting to that professional punishment corner reserved for distasteful tasks that must be occasionally performed.

Now . . . forget those invidious comparisons.

A much more important question begs answer.

Is Your Trajectory True?

What’s your trajectory?  Your presentation trajectory?

Are you improving?  Staying the same?

Getting worse?

Your trajectory is most important, not how “good” you are compared to your speaking luminary of choice.

There is no such destination yardstick against which we measure ourselves.  Really.

There is only the presentation journey.

How to Improve Business Presentation Skills?

With regard to our presenting, there is only one metric by which we should evaluate ourselves, and that metric is Improvement.

Are we getting better?  Are we communicating more persuasively than before?

Through our striving, our patience and practice, through our research and rehearsal.  Bit by bit, are we improving our craft?

Answer yes to these questions, keep your trajectory true, and you are on your way to becoming an especially powerful business presenter.

For more on how to improve business presentation skills across a range of metrics, consult the USABookNews Best Business Career Book of 2012, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

End Self-Sabotage . . .

End self-sabotage in your business presentations

Self-defeating behaviors come in many forms, but negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

This is especially prevalent in our business presentations.  We sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.We envision humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.

Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school – “I hate presentations.”  This is the number one culprit that leads to inevitably awful presentations.  It undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.

How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a spongy foundation?

Think Like a World-Class Athlete

Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.  Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.

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

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

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

Develop professional presence with confidence
Confidence is one essential key to developing a powerful professional presence on the podium

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

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?  Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.  Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

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

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.  We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.  Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

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

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

Positive self-talk is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.

Find more on preparing the right way in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Keys to Successful Presentation Preparation

Presentation Preparation is key to successLet’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case . . . how do you begin your business presentation preparation?

It’s not an easy question.  How we prepare and practice can be as crucial as the substance of our show.

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.

What now?

The Key to Successful Presentation Preparation is . . .

Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Your task is clear.  You must present your conclusions to an audience.  Here is where I give you one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.  Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you create your presentation from a written report?  Since you are creating an information product from a case, how can the product be different, simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

Completely different.

It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.  It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.  Have a look at the chart below.

    Presentation Preparation

These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, invisible.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  The more numbers, the better.  The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide, the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.  It’s totally wrong, and it’s totally unneccessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it.  Rid your presentation of chart junk.  Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you. Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if tPresentation Preparation . . . the winning edgehey “interest” you.  That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.  And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

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

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here?  Think about it.  How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively. And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum. 

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task. You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  The result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail. You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper presentation preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture. A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Only three.

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.  They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than only one point.   If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly.  Your presentation presents the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.  The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.

You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you? Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand? Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytical gold to your client.

Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.  An especially powerful presentation.

Digest these presentation preparation tips and try them out in your next presentation.  Watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

For more on successful presentation preparation, consult 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.

Don’t Lower the Bar . . . Jump Higher

Practice and Preparation
Training and Preparation make for a much more powerful performance

“I’m just not comfortable doing that.  It’s just not me.”

This is what passes for sage wisdom in some quarters in reaction to new ideas, new methods, different techniques, and sometimes just good advice.

What hokum.

For example, look at the big offensive lineman, who could end up starting for the football team, perhaps even take his performance to the next level of competition.  Coaches schedule his training regimen.  He responds:

“I’m just not comfortable with all these exercises.  It’s just not me.”

Hokum, yes . . .

You won’t hear that comment often in the locker room or on the battlefield, but we hear it all the time in other venues of life.

I think you know that the future isn’t bright for the player or soldier or businessman with this kind of precious attitude.

Of course not.  Developing new skills, new abilities, new strengths is uncomfortable.  It means changing our behavior in sometimes unfamiliar ways.  And instead of meeting the challenge, we can find ourselves taking a short cut.

Personal Competitive Advantage means working hard
Quiet Charisma . . . the Oxymoron

We attempt to redefine our goals to encompass what we already do, so that we no longer have to stretch or strive to meet the original tough goals.  We may find ourselves redefining what it means to excel, we lower the bar so as to meet our lower expectations . . . rather than continue to strive to excel to achieve a lofty and worthy goal.We move the goal posts closer.

Several years ago, I was delivering a lecture on how to develop charisma.  A young woman, who was surely not a charismatic speaker offered this gem  “What about people who have quiet charisma?”

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?”

“I mean people who don’t exhibit these characteristics you’ve been talking about, but show a quiet charisma.”

Those characteristics that I had referred to are personal magnetism, a seeming aura that radiates enthusiastic goodwill, a mesmerizing speaking style, and a kind of restrained hyper-kinetic internal fuel cell that you sense could move mountains if unleashed [here, of course, I exaggerate . . . but the point is made].

This person expressed that she was extremely “uncomfortable” with the techniques that, in fact, would help her become more charismatic in delivering her presentations.  But rather than experience that discomfort, she chose instead to appeal to me to redefine charisma to include her own behavior.

Unambitious Goals . . . a Lower Bar

Behavior that was the exact opposite of charismatic.  She wanted to move the goalposts closer.  She wanted to lower the bar.

Oxymoronic “quiet charisma.”  Charisma on the cheap.  Easy charisma.

There’s no such thing

To reach a worthy goal, we may have to step outside of what is sometimes called our “comfort zone.”  I prefer to think of it as enlarging our comfort zone rather than stepping outside of it.

Any time we begin to rationalize and redefine our goals, it is time to pause and reflect.  Are we selling ourselves short?  Are we fooling ourselves?

Are we telling ourselves that we possess “quiet charisma” instead of doing the hard work and practice necessary to achieve the real thing?

Think about it.

For more on developing an especially powerful professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.