Category Archives: Story

Foolproof Presentation Structure

Every great presentation carries a foolproof presentation structure, and this is it . . .

Foolproof Presentation Structure
Foolproof Presentation Structure to Win the Day

Whoa.  Let me rephrase.

Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.  Here it is . . .

Beginning – Middle – End.

Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this especially powerful presentation structure.

Don’t be deceived by its apparent simplicity.  This is the source of its power.

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.

Your segment has this structure.

In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.

In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story part that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation.  The first speaker delivers the beginning.  The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.

The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”

Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.

Business Presentation Structure adds Impact
Your foolproof presentation structure is simple and sturdy, smart and strong

This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.  You can be innovative, you can be daring, fresh, and new.

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.

Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.  Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.

Foolproof Presentation Structure

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.  I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material.

Please do so.

But do so with careful thought and good reason.  And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.

This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.  Hence, the term “Bookends.”

And in-between, you explain what your “book” is about.

Build your story within this foolproof presentation structure and you’re on your way to an especially powerful business presentation.

For a more elaborate explanation on how presentation structure can enhance the power of your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Story

People sometimes ask me:  What books do you read?

Especially Powerful Story
What’s Your Especially Powerful Story?

They ask this question for assorted reasons.

Either to shut me up from my latest soliloquy on product differentiation . . . or as a casual pleasantry . . . or perhaps to discover what kinds of presentation books that I read (given that I’ve written my own book on presentations).

But I’ll choose to accept it as a genuine request to discover what I think are the kinds of books and stories I find most instructive for my own writing . . . and my own thinking about writing.

And my thinking on telling a good story

What’s an Especially Powerful Story?

This is not far afield from business presentations.  Not at all.  Because delivering an especially powerful business presentation means delivering an especially powerful story.

So . . . what do I consider a good story?

Well, I have a problem shared by many booklovers.   So many books infest my shelves that, when I finally get an hour or so of quiet time, and I can pick and choose to my whim . . . I am paralyzed.

So many choices, and the selection of a single book means rejection of all the others, some possibly more worthy of attention.  That’s the perpetual conundrum.

So I usually nap.  Or I visit the bookstore to purchase several more great books for later reading.  When I have time.

But here is a minor paradox.  When I do read a good yarn, I find that I go back to it and reread it.  Caress it and wonder at why I thought it so grand to begin with.

It’s akin to the man who finds a great restaurant and a great menu item and begins to settle comfortably, as with an old friend.  It doesn’t mean an aversion to the new and different . . . it means appreciation of the old and proven.

So I reread old favorites.  Even as I already know what happens.

Mining the Cold War for Powerful Story

With that as the obligatory throat-clearing, let me share with you two old favorites , which differ from each other in ways quite obvious, but which resemble each other in the fundamentals of good storytelling.

The first is The Spike, a cold war thriller published in 1979.  I’ve read it five times in the past 28 years.

Authored by Arnaud de Borchgrave and Robert Moss, The Spike is considered by some in intelligence circles to be the finest novel in the cold war CIA vs. KGB genre.

For me, it is difficult to define the particular attraction for me of this story, except to note that it has all of the elements of a good novel – a compelling lead character with strong beliefs and who changes dramatically as a result of powerful events, colorfully described.  The novel has a supporting cast that is diverse and well-drawn.  The stakes are high.

The Spike
The Spike tells an especially powerful story

This novel is also obviously political and, on the extreme left, it was considered “McCarthy-esque disinformation.”  Methinks the storyline simply cut too close to home for the progressive tastes of Alexander Cockburn and the folks at the Covert Information Action Bulletin.  In fact, having served in Military Intelligence for eight years, I know it cut close to home.

But then, what powerful novel doesn’t have an agenda, political or otherwise?

Most stories worth the telling will call out folks who don’t want the story told, whether fictional or not.  And The Spike hit a nerve with people who saw themselves limned with what might have been uncomfortable accuracy.

Limned as the bad guys.

And so it stirred considerable debate.

There’s an analog in the world of film, although much of the cold war fodder was anti-Washington and against the “Military Industrial Complex” labeled by President Eisenhower and conceptually fleshed out by C. Wright Mills.

Dr. Strangelove, Seven Days in May, Failsafe, Wargames, The Day After, Red Dawn, and The Day After Tomorrow. . . .  Evil and one-dimensional military types, the exaltation of technology over human control, and thinly veiled portrayals of real-life folks.

Good yarns all, and yarns that angered certain constituencies with political proclivities differing substantially from those of the films’ themes.

Nuclear Armageddon makes for epic storytelling in the military-industrial-complex-meets-the-disaster-movie genre.

And all of these films stir debate on the issues, of course.  And that is what The Spike did.

In fact, The Spike performed the same vital function as did the books Failsafe, Seven Days in May and, a decade earlier, Graham Greene’s The Ugly American.  Each took a point of view, and you were bound to agree or disagree with it.

Perhaps the edginess of The Spike, then, was its attraction for me, as well as its sweep, its multifarious characters, and the tremendous stakes involved.

The other book?

There was Gatsby, and This . . .

John O’Hara’s Appointment in Samarra.

O’Hara’s is a decidedly different book

Appointment’s portrayal of the class structure in 1930s America and the ugly strength of some class mores is, I think, brilliant.  But this has been said by more able writers than me.

From my perspective, the strength in O’Hara is his powerful characterization, particularly of the self-destructive protagonist Julian English.  The sense of presence, the sights, the smells, the sounds are all original and compelling.  It rivals The Great Gatsby in its capture of an era and the human behavior that is channeled by the quirkiness of a cloistered environment.

Story
John O’Hara told an especially powerful story

O’Hara’s characters are introspective, and yet their introspection sometimes has a hollow and self-deceiving quality . . . as does our own ersatz introspection at times.  We recognize ourselves, and this recognition is uncomfortable.

At times when we believe we’re being brutally honest with ourselves, we’re truly only trying to convince ourselves of our worth, our good motives, our essential goodness.  Deep thinking can be confused with revelation.  Deep thinking can blind us as well as it can reveal to us.

Deep thinking is not necessarily honest thinking.

And this is what O’Hara portrays so well.  At least, for me, this is the received wisdom.

The Spike and Appointment are two entirely different books, equally attractive to me for overlapping reasons.

Both share the quality of great story and compelling characters.  One is introspective, involves the fate of those in a small town, and is bound temporally by several weeks.  The other is sweeping, event-oriented, involves the fate of nations, and stretches over 15 years.

Ah, if I had the ability to write both types of novel!

Failing that, both books offer the novice writer magnificent instruction in how to construct scenes, how to transition between scenes, how to handle character description, how to deliver backstory, how to craft crisp and spare dialogue.

It’s all there, in both books.

In fact, what a method to “learn” how to write and to tell compelling stories, if such a thing is truly possible.  Certainly, craft can be learned, and I find these two books – even in their extremes – valuable in that respect.

They are also books with especially powerful story.  Books I will re-read.

Not today, and doubtless not tomorrow, for there is no time.

But I will.

Business Presentation Story . . . the Power is Yours

What's Your Business Presentation Story
What’s Your Business Presentation Story?

You weave the Business Presentation Story when your business presentation begins to founder.

You spin your tale when, despite your best efforts to energize the audience, to convey yourself in authentic and enthusiastic terms, to laser your talk with über focus . . . in spite of all of that, you can’t gain traction.

Here is when you reach into your quiver and pull out your Golden Arrow.

An arrow guaranteed to hit your target every time.

The Golden Arrow

When you find yourself adrift, pause thoughtfully, eye your audience with sincerity, and say this . . .

“Let me tell you a story.”

You immediately rivet attention on yourself.  Why?

Presentation Master J. K. Horner shares the reason with us from 1929:

Probably everyone has experienced the universal interest and attention which results in a dull and abstract lecture when the speaker says, ‘That reminds me of a story.’  Like a dog at the back door waiting for a bone, an audience will prick up its ears at the approach of the speaker with a story or illustration that arouses mental imagery.

Why?

Because such stories are concrete, the opposite of abstract, and tend to arouse pictures which vivify an idea, setting it out in relief with bold colors against a background of drab and hazy abstractions.

Six Most Powerful Words for Business Presentations

“Let me tell you a story” are the six most powerful words you can utter in a business presentation.

If your goal is to grip your audience, entertain them, persuade them, and move them to action, you always generate interest with these six most powerful words:  Let me tell you a story.

“Let me tell you a secret” is just as compelling, but when you think about it, it’s really the same storytelling device worded in slightly different fashion.

The story is a powerful communicative tool.  Let me say it again:  It puts incredible power in your hands, on your lips.

This power of story has been known for ages.

Stories are “windows that let the light in.”

And the story is an incredibly versatile tool.

What's your Business Presentation Story?
Tell a Business Presentation Story for Power and Impact

Presentation Master Katherine Cather observed that its emotive effect is akin to what one finds in high art: “Because the story has power to awaken the emotions and to enlarge the range of experience, it is a tool of universal adaptability.  Its appeal is like that of music, sculpture, or painting.”

We live in the 21st Century age of dazzling kaleidoscopic multimedia.

Right now, a kindergartener has at his disposal more computing power in a laptop than did Neil Armstrong in his lunar module when he landed on the moon in 1969.

In such an age, why speak of an anachronism like “storytelling?”

Why bother with a business presentation story?

Just this . . .

Business Presentation Story Tool for the 21st Century

Stories still serve as our main form of entertainment – we see and hear stories every day from many sources.

Newspapers are filled with “stories.”  Films, television shows, novels, even technical manuals regale us with stories.

You tell stories all the time.

Stories are as old as man and still hold fascination for us, even the business presentation story.

Perhaps especially the business presentation story.

In an age of pyrotechnic special effects that boggle the mind, film producers have found that without a strong story populated with sharply drawn and sympathetic characters, their films fall flat.

Some stories are more interesting than others, of course.  But even the most pedestrian of tales keep our attention far better than dry exposition of facts delivered in a monotone.  Unlike straight exposition, stories appeal to the emotions.

This is the secret of their power.

Incredible power.

The Six Most Powerful Words

If you search for a verity in the human condition, a key that unlocks the power of persuasion, then this is it – the appeal to emotion.

Katherine Cather was a master storyteller of her generation, and her masterpiece written in 1925 captures the universal appeal of this mode of communication.

We seem to have left it behind in favor of cynicism and wry gimcrackery at one end of the scale and a barren “newspeak” at the other end.  Said Ms. Cather:

Human emotions are fundamentally the same in every country and in every period of history, regardless of the degree of culture or the color of the skin.  Love and hate lie dormant in the human heart; likewise gratitude, and all the other feelings that move mortals to action.

They manifest themselves according to the state of civilization or enlightenment of those in whose souls they surge, but the elemental urge, the motive that actuates men to right or wrong doing, is the same now as it was at the beginning of time.

The story has power to nurture any one of the emotions . . . .  What is the secret of the power of either the spoken or written tale to shape ideals and fix standards? Because it touches the heart.  It arouses the emotions and makes people feel with the characters whose acts make the plot.  Mirth, anger, pity, desire, disdain, approval, and dislike are aroused, because the characters who move through the tale experience these emotions.

So use the story device to leaven your presentation with color and spice.  Hook your audience and enthrall them with the Six Most Powerful Words in the English language.

Remember that this secret is powerful because it hearkens back to an almost primal urge we have as humans to share experiences with each other, and this is the ultimate source of its appeal.

When you tap the power of story, you tap into a wellspring of history and practice as old as mankind itself.  So pull the Six Most Powerful Words from your quiver when you desperately need a business presentation story.

Learn more about the business presentation story in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Know your Audience . . . for an Especially Powerful Presentation

Know Your Audience is still good advice
Know what it means to really Know Your Audience

“Know your audience” is an hoary folk-wisdom kind of phrase that we’ve all heard and said at some point.

But what does it mean?

It’s almost like an incantation, similar to that trusty chestnut make eye contact!

So what’s this mysterious . . . know your audience?

Many of us in the presentation enterprise define it to our taste to mean what we want it to mean.

And that’s where we go wrong.

Hector that Audience! Show ’em Who’s Boss!

“But the audience should want to learn this.”

Invariably I hear this lament, or something akin to it.  A plaintive whine, really.

“The audience shouldn’t care how I dress/sound/gesture/move/squint/laugh inappropriately/show bad slides.  The audience should adapt to my style . . . which, frankly, is just fine.

“The audience ought to appreciate a gender-enlightened method of speaking!”

I have actually heard this.

Elaborate explanations follow as to why the audience should do this or be that, or simply doesn’t appreciate what the speaker has to offer in the way it’s offered.  Self-righteous and even haughty explanations follow.

And of course, all of this springs from premises as rotten as a plank in a 19th century waterfront pier.

The Audience Marketplace Judges You

The marketplace is a wondrous place with much power seething below the surface.

It gives feedback with ruthless honesty.

It doesn’t give a damn what anyone learned in a philosophy course as a grad student.  It thumbs its nose at the idealism of what “ought” to be.

If you have a product that nobody’s buying, no amount of hectoring will change that.

Knowing that marketplace means know your audience.

And know your audience means inspiring your listeners, not hectoring them.  It means giving them a chance to be a hero.  Every audience wants and needs that, and it’s your job to give it to them.

Not to lecture them on their sins and on your supposed superiority.

They don’t want to hear from Indiana Jones.  They want to be Indiana Jones.

Many sources are ensconced on the web that address the issue of know your audience . . . in different ways and to different purposes.  Here’s one for engineers, for example.  Here’s another for marketers.  And here is yet another for general communication purposes.

A Powerful Example of Know Your Audience

One of the greatest public speaking instructional films available is A Time to Kill, based on the novel by John Grisham.  The film is filled with presentation examples and powerful scenes that illustrate great presentation techniques.

“Know your audience” is exemplified in a powerful scene toward the end of the film, the night before the closing arguments are to be made in a murder trial.  The defendant, Samuel L. Jackson, urges his lawyer Matthew McConaghey, to get inside the heads of the jurors.

Jackson reveals to McConaughey the key to the case – emotional involvement of the jury, and this means know your audience.

Here is the powerful Jackson monologue, urging McConaughey to know your audience when the stakes are life itself:

America is a wall and you are on the other side.  How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?  My life in white hands?  You Jake, that’s how.

You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys, you don’t mean to be but you are – it’s how you was raised.  Nigger, Negro, black, African-American, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them.

Now throw out your points of law Jake.  If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free?  That’s how you save my ass.  That’s how you save us both.

View the entire film for a powerful lesson in speaking and in knowing your audience.  The trailer appears here . . .

 

For more insight on how to analyze and to know your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Sensual Presentation Storytelling

 

Presentation Storytelling
Presentation Storytelling needs Sensuality

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

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

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

The more senses you involve, the better.

Presentation Storytelling Engages your Audience

This sensory technique positions the listener inside the presentation.  You invite the audience into the story.

The audience becomes part of the action.

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

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

Presentation storytelling delivers a call to action more powerful than if you recite only facts and figures.

Presentation Storytelling Advantage
Gain the Presentation Storytelling Advantage

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

And they respond to your message.

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

Smell it.

They become part of your presentation storytelling tool kit.

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

It’s powerful because it pulls the listener inside the story as a living, breathing, vicarious participant.

You position the listener inside the story rather than allowing the listener to loiter outside the story as a bystander.

Engage the Senses! 

Use imagery.  Stimulate the senses!

The 1999 supernatural film The Sixth Sense illustrate the point.

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

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

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

Position your audience inside the presentation story.

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

Employ Powerful Writing Techniques

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

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

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

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

This is the same technique that serves powerful presenters well.  It can serve you well and you should do this.

For your own stories, remember to involve all of your listeners’ senses if you can – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing – and you cannot fail to engage your audience.

Presentation Storytelling is a Powerful Tool

Storytelling has become a powerful tool in 21st century management, and it would do you well to embrace, understand, and utilize that power to advance your personal competitive advantage.

Presentation storytelling is so powerful, in fact, that anti-business folks don’t want you to use it.

Anti-business folks are angered that we in the corporate world have discovered and have begun to harness business presentation storytelling to the ends of wealth creation.  See Christian Salmon’s frantic Storytelling: Bewitching the Modern Mindwhich claims that business has “hijacked” the creative imagination.

In actuality, storytelling is now no longer the province of the anti-business worldview.  Can there exist any better reason to embrace storytelling for your own business ends?

Several of the most effective storytelling books that I recommend are:  The Story Factor by Annette Simmons, Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark, and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling by Steve Denning.  A business storytelling blog by Gabriel Yiannis is particularly valuable.

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

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

The Most Important Point of Your Presentation

Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point
Powerful Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations, and your story should embody your presentation’s Most Important Point.

Stories are powerful tools of communication that can capture complex ideas in a few telling strokes.  They involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

They can serve you well and confer personal competitive advantage over your entire business presenting career.  And they can convey your Most Important Point better in masterful fashion.

But It Takes Practice

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We become so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.

That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.

Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the Most Important Thing.  I like to call it the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!  Let this be core of your story and weave your tale around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”

Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

Your Most Important Point

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.  If it does not support your most important point, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.

This should go without saying, but I decided to say it anyway.  Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact.  Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

For more on storytelling to convey your Most Important Point in your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Best Presentation Books for 2013!

One of the Best Presentation books of 2013
Best Presentation Books

It occurred to me to compile a list of the best presentation books to recommend to readers of this blog.

It’s really an obvious exercise, isn’t it?

“Best of” lists are always popular.

To recommend books chock full of presentation wisdom to hone our skill set.  Great advice to lift our presentation to what we all sometimes refer to as “the next level.”

And then the equally obvious thought occurred to me – that list already exists.

The List of Best Presentation Books

In fact, I’m certain that several lists are already out there making the rounds.

And so I do the next best thing in this space . . .

I offer you a list of the 35 best presentation books compiled and judged by giants in the field . . . (and I offer my own view of what I consider to be the top three on the list).  Yes, you can learn something about business presenting from a book.  Quite a bit, actually.

The trick is to find the right book.

My Top Three Best Presentation Books

My personal favorites are Presenting to Win, by Jerry Weissman and Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons.

These three books, for me, capture the spirit, the art, and the craft of especially powerful business presenting.

They advocate change.  You must change the way your deliver your presentations in ways that, at first, may discomfort you.  But they are changes that you must accept to become an especially powerful business presenter.

Best Presentation Books for 2013
Best Presentations Books . . . this one on PowerPoint Slides

The Story Factor, in particular, is strong in transforming your presentations into sturdy narratives that capture an audience and propel your listeners to action.  Consult Annette Simmons for deep learning about the power of storytelling.

A fourth book does not appear on the list.  Actually, it does, but only in a modified form.  This is Dale Carnegie’s The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.  This is an “updated” version of his classic from mid-way the last century Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.  In my view, the update strips much useful material from the book, and so I prefer the original.

You can find dozens of copies of the original classic for sale on ebay.  This, in my opinion, is the most useful public speaking book ever penned.

Best Presentation books
Best Presentation Book on Storytelling

If I were forced to choose one . . . this would be it.  And My Book?

My own just-published book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, does not appear on this superb list of 35 books.  And so here I offer the most generous and self-aggrandizing interpretation possible . . . it just hasn’t circulated among the cognoscenti nearly enough to have created a buzz-worthy impact.

I know that you, as do I, eagerly await its appearance on next year’s “Best of” list.

Until then, enjoy the creme-de-la-creme of the best presentation books as exemplified on the 2012 list!

 

Telling Your Story for Personal Competitive Advantage

Story for Personal Competitive AdvantageOne of the most important business presenting occasions you face in your career is the job interview.

In the interview, you present for your most important client – you.

And the question I’m asked most frequently with respect to how you present your accomplishments is this:

“How do I talk about myself and my qualifications in a way that is honest and forthright and yet does not sound like braggadocio?”

This is a reasonable concern, and if you can find a way to do so, then you will have acquired an especially powerful personal competitive advantage.

No Need to Boast . . .

Few people like to boast, instead going to the opposite extreme of false humility.  Neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.

Instead, try this . . .

Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume.  Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.

Now, the recruiter is searching for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

Tell your story for personal competitive advantage

The recruiter is evaluating you for other things, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.

Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.

But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.

For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield.  Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake, and so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.

But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”

This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.

Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.

When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.

Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.

That’s it.

Digest that for a moment.

Yes, it really is that simple.  But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way.  It takes practice.

Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set.  In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality.  Translation:

        I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.

Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference.  Translation:

        I get along with a wide range of people.

Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak.  Translation:

        I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.

Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems.  Translation:

     I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.

For an Especially Powerful Interview

See how it works?

You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task.  So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past and build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others.  I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being.  This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”

Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:

“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend.  That was pivotal.  It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss.  That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”

With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.

Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life.  And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them.   Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them.  When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them . . . you will have achieved an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on crafting a winning story to gain personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Just the Numbers? A CLASSIC!

The Numbers Tell No Story in Your Business Presentation
The Numbers Tell No Story in Your Business Presentation . . . YOU tell the Story

Financial analysis of the firm is essential, and there are few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.

With financial data, you can discover the firm’s profitability, general health, and potential.  You can get reasonable answers to the question: “How are we doing?”

But . . .

. . . and it is an especially powerful but.

The results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.

Spreadsheet Hypnosis

Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike.  A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.

A spreadsheet seems important, substantial.  Everyone nods.  As a presenter, you stare back at the screen behind you, at the phalanx of numbers.  You wave your hand at the screen with the words “As you can see –”

And then you call out seemingly random numbers.  Your classmates or colleagues in the audience watch with glazed eyes.  It’s almost mystical.

Perhaps one or two people nod.

Your professor sits sphinx-like.  Some folks shuffle papers, actually digging through a handout you mistakenly distributed beforehand.

No one has a clue as to what you’re talking about or how it actually relates to the real world.

You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved.  And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.  This is quite common.

And it’s Ugly

So ugly.

There is a best way that makes things easier for everyone.

Three Steps:  Orient, Eliminate, Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.  Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you will not talk about.  You strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

If you follow this basic advice, you can improve the finance portion of your presentation immensely and be on your way to an especially powerful presentation.

For more on presenting numbers in the best light, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Presentation Story MIP

Presentation Story for Personal Competitive Advantage
Presentation Story can Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.

Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes, and stories involve your audience better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.

That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.

Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the Most Important Thing.  I like to call it the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your presentation story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!

Let this be core of your story and build around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”

Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

MIP Permeates Your Presentation Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.

It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare and practice your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.

If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact. Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

Powerful presentation storytelling can be the source of incredible personal competitive advantage.  Give it a try.

And consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to develop the entire range of presenting skills.

Your Business Presentation Story

Business Presentation Story for Power
Tell a Business Presentation Story for Power and Impact

We all believe that we should weave stories into our business presentations, and who wouldn’t want to weave a compelling Business Presentation story?

But most of us rarely do.  This might be a result of simply not knowing how.

Admit it . . . most of us think we’re pretty sharp – we all think we know what a story is, don’t we?

But do we really?

What is a Business Presentation Story?

Here’s my definition of a business presentation story, and it’s honed from a series of definitions that by their nature are slippery.  It’s like trying to define “culture.”  Most folks offer up definitions to suit the points they try to make.

A story is a narrative of events, either true or untrue, that appeals to the emotions more-so than the intellect and which features a character’s struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal.

A business presentation story is . . . well, it’s no different.

Now, why is this important?  Don’t we all somewhat believe, maybe, that stories are important in presenting?

Sure, but when it comes to “serious” presenting, many folks back off what they profess and offer up the usual tofu.  Who knows why, but that’s usually what happens.

Maybe it’s the fraud that many perpetuate that business presentations are a “soft skill” that must yield to . . . something else.

You choose that something else:  “facts,” “numbers,” “hard data.”

These substitutes for a compelling business presentations story offer false precision and faux comfort.

The Presentation Masquerade is Perpetuated

Now, science has come to the rescue.

Social science, at least.

Have a look at this 2007 book by Kendall Haven called Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story.

In this book, Haven compiles a wealth of sociological stories that inform us exactly what is meant by “story” and the source of its power.  He contends that stories work so well because our brains are hardwired to learn most effectively from story-based narratives.  “The mind-boggling and extraordinary truth is that each and every one of thousands of original sources agrees that stories are an effective teaching and learning tool.”

The results of this research are compelling and difficult to believe.  Here is a small sample of findings:

“Story is the best vehicle for passing on valuable information . . . .  Story structure proved equally more effective for teaching theorems, facts, concepts, and tacit information all across the curriculum and the spectrum of human communications.”

The bad news is that most folks remain ignorant of this power.  Not through any fault of their own, but because of the impetus in modern business thought that has erected barriers against story narrative.

The good news is the same point.  You can gain incredible power and advantage by embracing the power of a great business presentation story.

Have a look at Kendall Haven’s book, and be convinced.

For more on the power of telling a good business presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

What’s What

CAVEAT:  I do not ordinarily use profanity in my writing, even as I am a former soldier who well-understands that in certain coarse segments of society, the F-bomb is considered the most versatile tool in the English language, capably performing the functions of almost every part of speech.  Nor do I intentionally offend any group.  Having said that, far below I recount parts of an actual conversation that, without its inherent offensiveness, would lose much of its meaning and impact.  You are fair-warned.

Here I sit, afflicted with acute self-awareness such that I write about that very self-awareness and its sometime creative vacuum.

It’s not that I am at a loss for words . . . it’s just that I am uncertain which words might do justice this odd notion that came to me on a subject that has fascinated me for years.

Would I want to waste precious words on it?

This subject is the notion of fitness.  The kind of good, general fitness that leads to a physical appearance that is, in my view, an asset in presenting.

Surely this is something to strive for, and there is nary a downside to it.  But in its extreme form, it is a sub-culture in many countries.

And it is uni-dimensional, at least in my opinion.  It is limiting, and in its most extreme forms it is anti-intellectual and can be physically harmful.  Yet it holds fascination for me because of the extreme discipline that it requires to live such a “lifestyle.”

I do not refer to the life of an ascetic monk.  Is that really so debilitating?  Or is that an easy way out, to isolate oneself from the tribulations most humans face in an increasingly complex and baffling modern society?

The Physical Culture Lifestyle

No.  This sub-culture is euphemistically called “Physical Culture” by its aficionados.  Years ago, I was peripherally involved in this sub-culture.

What is physical culture?

Bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding and the accompanying “lifestyle.”

Sculpting the body, straining with lead weights for hours on end each day, crafting one’s diet to weird and untried specifications (tuna, supplements, apple juice), and of course the inevitable injections of various illegal growth hormones and steroids.

And that’s about it.

That’s the entire lifestyle, as far as I can make out.

Now in this day and age of egg-walking, you criticize at your risk.  And this bodybuilding community, after all, is a clearly identifiable minority in our society.  But having been a peripheral member of that minority, oh-so-briefly (I actually won a contest in 1983—Mr. Physique in the city of what was then West Berlin), it may give me cover to offer up a few stray opinions that someone may find interesting.

Actually, I am a person who believes in the nexus between body and mind, and I cardio-up 2-8 miles each day for the beneficial health effects, but also for the endorphin release it provides.  It helps my writing.

I think it does.  It strikes me that it could be entirely unnecessary to suffer physically, drink oneself into stupefaction, or to claim a damaged past to write well.

But what about this extreme Physical Culture thing?  Are there any novel ideas lurking in the gym, hidden ’twixt the weight plates or behind the Pilates stability ball?

Think of the wealth of possibilities for an entire series of novels on this bodybuilding lifestyle.

When you come up with any, please let me know.

But let’s pause a moment and go through the exercise.  Of what might a novel about bodybuilders consist?  What sort of dialog might we be compelled to craft?  What possible plot could one contrive?

Steroid theft?

Fixed contests?

Love in the gym?

Conflict between the “good” bodybuilders and the “bad.”

Contrived Conflict

This last one is staple of film, particularly vintage martial arts films in which the conflict is between one school and another rival school (“I fight white-stomping-horse!”), one of which is invariably “evil.”

But this contrivance isn’t limited to foreign films.  I am reminded of the movie Twister in which there were “good” stormchasers and “bad” stormchasers.  Remember that somersault?

In Twister, it wasn’t sufficient to have man and woman aligned against a powerful force of nature, so a scriptwriter came up with the subplot of “competing Stormchasers.”

The bad stormchasers were well-funded by nameless corporations, and they drove black, nazi-like vehicles in a tight little convoy.  They were motivated by money, fame, and greed.  The good stormchasers were an underfunded rag-tag outfit in a little van with makeshift equipment and the usual motley collection of good souls (at least one beard) doing it for the betterment of mankind.

Never mind that both Twister groups were engaged in studying the behavior of tornadoes so to better understand and survive them.  The film required the conflict, and it gave it to us in the form of a contrived good and bad dichotomy.

But back to the gym and our bodybuilding novel:

“You look pumped, today, Jim.”

“You, too, Apollo.”

“Where you going later?”

“Home to pop a can of tuna and rest up for my next workout.”

“Very cool.  What’s on tap?”

“Quads and hams.  Maybe some glutes.”

“I’m working on bis and tris.”

Apollo flexes his arms, admiring the vascularity and bulk in his forearms achieved through weeks of contest preparation, during which he restricted his diet to protein served in five meals per day along with handfuls of supplements and various illegal substances.

“I’m over the border to Tijuana, Jim. Wanna come with?”

“Juice?”

“Yeah, heard about a new cocktail of Human Growth Hormone and Dianabol.”

“Man, I don’t know about those injectibles,” Jim said with a shake of his head sitting atop his overdeveloped trap muscles like an orange atop Pharaoh’s pyramid. “Oral’s good enough for me.”

“Poor results, dude.  No cut, no bulk, no vascularity.  Just piss-poor all around.”

“But no acne or ball shrinkage.”

Writer’s block kicks in, and I’m grateful for that.

That’s all I can come up with at the moment, and given my languor on the subject, not much else is forthcoming.

Let me go to my gym for some primary research on a Saturday late afternoon.

So I do.

I go to my gym in mid-town Philadelphia for a Saturday evening workout and maybe a story idea or two.

Not much drama taking place along the row of treadmills—just a lone walker in spandex, arms pumping, sweat flying, her eyes riveted on the monitor overhead broadcasting CNN.

Nor is there much conflict on the hard rubber mats in front of regimented racks of various sizes and weights of dumbbells.  One tattooed African-American giant is squatting with what looks like a railroad axle on his shoulders.  Whoa, now.

He does not look conversational.

The music throbs loudly, and even as this pulsing techno beat fills the gym with false energy, I find no true spirit of the steel, no bonafide discipline of the iron.

I’m out of literary luck in this venue.

I leave.  Pumped, blood flooding the muscles, endorphins raging . . . but still out of literary luck.

But then a mere 30 minutes later . . .

I stop off at Ruby Tuesday’s on the way back to my studio apartment.  Just for a single libation in the early evening, mind you.  Replenishing those carbs.

It was there I became trapped in a social situation not of my choosing.  Believe me.

The bar area was crowded with transients, located as it is near the airport hotels.  I had sat down alone, wearing my underarmor compression tee and carrying a book on Fundamentals of Strategic Management that I planned to skim for its section on ‘case analysis.’

A buzz-cut fellow at the bar kept eyeing me.  He invited himself over.  He sat down and offered his hand.

“Brad.”

Our encounter began evenly enough, even as I tried to conduct a delicate self-intervention to prevent it.

You see, Brad wore a checkered short sleeve shirt, unbuttoned to reveal an undershirt.  And tattoos.  Lots of tattoos.

Arms.  Chest.  Ugly ominous black tattoos.  No hearts or cupids or flowers in sight.

Tattoos send a message, and in my experience it is rarely a good one.

After Brad pulled off his shirt in the bar, I saw that he had tattoos around his neck as well. Chains, skulls, knives, claws . . . dark things, dead things.

Swallowing Tobacco Juice

Brad’s message was definitely not one of sweetness and light.

He was chewing tobacco.  The wad of Copenhagen dip tobacco caused Brad’s lower lip to bulge, and it left flecks of black about his lips.

“Where’s your spit cup, Brad?”

“I swallow it.”

“You swallow tobacco juice?  Isn’t that unhealthy?  I mean, aside from the cancer risk.”

“Yeah, it might give me stomach cancer but what the hell.”

Brad waved at the bartender.

“Drink up!  Beers for my man here!  On me!

He put my Yeungling on his tab.

“Um, thanks Brad.  Why the tattoos?”

He sipped his vodka tonic, obviously the latest in a long sequence of vodka tonics stretching back into the afternoon.

“I was in a gang,” Brad said. “The AB.”

“In prison, you mean?”

“Where the fuck else?  I been in for 20 years.  I just got out eight hours ago, mother-fucker.”

“Well, I thought it might be some street gang or fraternal group.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed and he tilted his head at a funny angle.

“Whaddaya mean by that?” Brad said.  “What the fuck’s a ‘fraternal group’?  That a fag outfit?”

Descent into Madness

“It’s just a club,” I said, with an involuntary throat clearing.

“No . . . AB ain’t no club.”

“What’s AB?”

“Aryan Brotherhood.”

“I see.”

“Without your brothers, you die.”

Yes, Brad’s an ex-con.

“I just got out,” Brad said.  “Did I tell you that?  Eight hours ago.  And I’m trying to get to the West coast but got stuck here ’til Monday.  Stayin’ in that ratty motel right over there.”

Brad’s got a job lined up.

He’s going to be a rep for some kind of bodybuilding supplement company, the name of which I won’t divulge.  He claims that I, too, can be a rep and receive $3,000 of free stuff each year.

Brad keeps looking at my arms and chest.  Am I nervous?

“Hey, I ain’t no fag or nothin’, man, but I see you walk in and you know what’s what.  It’s obvious you know what’s what, right?  Dontcha?”

“Huh?”

“You know what’s what!  You ain’t dumb!”

“Yeah,” I said.  What is he talking about?  “You better believe I know what’s what.”

“I thought you did!  I knew it!”

I grin stupidly and raise my beer, and I drink that beer as fast as I can.

“Brad, what can I say?  You know what’s what, too.”

“Damn right, I do!” he said, and he smacked the table.

“What you got?  Nineteen?”  He nodded at my arms.

“Beg pardon?”

“Come on, man, you know what’s what!  Nineteen inches?”

“Almost seventeen.”  I said.

Brad nodded approvingly.  He held up a hand.

“Hey, I ain’t no fag or nothin’, but I’m just sayin’ you got what’s what.  Just admirin’ the truth, y’know.”

“Thank you.”

Brad keeps claiming that I’m “on the juice.”  That’s bodybuilder talk for steroids.  Deca, Dianabol, Equipose.  That kind of thing.

“You tellin’ me the truth, Stan?  You’re natural?  What the fuck, man!  You know what’s what!”

“All natural!  I know what’s what!”

“I thought so!”

Hepatitis Can Slow a Man Down

Another long sip on his vodka tonic.  Brad grabbed his side.

“Can’t drink too much of this with this Hepatitis C.  Bad for the liver.   Tomorrow I’m gonna feel like a fuckin’ brick right there.  Hey, you know I just got out of the pen.”

Long pause during which I know I better say something or this fellow might get nervous.  What do they say in the movies?

“I guess that’s why you know what’s what.”

“Damn right.”

“So, what were you in for?”

Brad leaned in close.

“I was in their highest level of custody,” he said, leaning closer and showing me his bureau of prisons inmate card.  A red and white plastic card with Bureau of Prisons on it, I think.  That’s what it said on the card: “Inmate.”  With a number.

“I used to have one of my brothers guard me when I went to the john,” he said. “A man outside the stall. A man guardin’ me when I took a shower. It’s hard in there, man. You got to be hard. Got to watch your back all the time.”

He nodded over his shoulder.

“See that guy there?  If he puts his hand on my shoulder, I’ll break the fucker.  I’ll snap that fucker’s arm.  I’ll put this in his fucking neck.”  He held up a pen he was using to write down the name of his supplement company for me.  He shakes it at me.  “I’ll put this in his neck right into his brain stem.”

“You just bought that guy a drink, Brad.  I don’t think he wants trouble with you.”

“I don’t care man, you gotta take care of yourself.”  He looked around.  “See these people in here, I mean I could kill anyone in this place.”

I nod.

“I believe you could, Brad.”

Brad’s Rap Sheet

I raise my glass and give a tight little grin.  What else can I do while listening to a man just out of the pen, locked up for bank robbery and boasting of three murders while in lock-up?  Challenge him?  Set him straight?

“Well, what were you in for?”

Brad sat back.

“I was in for bank robbery.  Twenty years.”

“Were you framed?”  Isn’t that what you always ask these folks?

“Nah, man, I did it!  I just got caught.  Twenty years on the inside.  Man I’m forty-four now.”

He wiped his mouth and lowered his voice.

“I did three murders, too, but that was on the inside, so they don’t count.  They were inside jobs and they don’t care nothing ’bout that. Don’t give a shit ’bout that. Those murders don’t count.”

I drained my beer.

“Uh, I have to go now, Brad . . . lots of work to catch up on.  Thank you for the beers.”

“Don’t let me hold you up.”

“Is that a joke, Brad?  Hold me up?’”

Brad points at me and offers, I think, a smile.

“Ha, ha—you’re a funny man.”

I offer my hand, and he takes it, his little finger jutting at an odd angle from a break doubtless suffered in a long-ago fight over stakes that didn’t matter.  Save survival.

“I wish you luck, Brad.  You might want to stay mellow tonight.  I don’t think anyone here will jump you, so please don’t break any arms or stick that pen into anyone.”

Brad looked at me.

“You know what’s what, man!  They arrest you for fighting, not loving.  I’m gonna be a lover from now on.”

I pointed at him and nodded.

And, blessedly, I left.

And I do not feel good having dipped my toe into that morass that grips much of humanity and turns it inhuman.  Three murders that don’t count?  Aryan Brotherhood?  In my apartment, I felt like I wanted to take a hot psychic shower to rid myself of certain images.

But there is dramatic grist here.

That man has a story.  Brad is out of the pen, he’s hawking bodybuilding supplements between vodka and tonics and is living a lifestyle now that I cannot begin to fathom.  Lord only knows how this man will spend his day tomorrow . . . and the next . . . and the one after that.

He has a story, but I just don’t know if I could stand to hear it.

Could you?

I mean . . . do you know what’s what?  Because I surely do not.

Your Presentation Audience . . . Who? Your AUDIENCE

Your presentation audience
Present what’s important to your audience

As much as some of us might seek the adulation of the crowd, it’s wise to remember that your presentation isn’t about you, although our self-indulgence can sometimes make it seem so.  It’s all about your presentation audience.

Your presentation is for your audience and you must address what it wants.  Get them to do what you want them to by demonstrating to them that it’s what they want.

Address their needs and fulfill their expectations in language they understand, with metaphors and examples that resonate with them.

Your objective must be expressed in terms of how it best connects with your audience.  Speak to their needs and fulfill them.

Dazzle ’em with their own Dreams

The good news is that your audience’s generally low expectations mean that you can likely dazzle it with a merely above-average presentation.  This is because the level of business presenting is so dismally low that audiences dread listening to them as much as you hate giving them.

No one seems happy at the prospect of this afternoon’s weekly “finance update.”

But remember this regardless of the topic of your talk, every presentation audience wants the same basic thing.  Deep down, all of us wants a chance.  Everyone wants to have a chance to be a hero.

No one wants to hear from Indiana Jones . . . everyone wants to be Indiana Jones.

Or at least we like to believe that we could do great things.

Touch Your Presentation Audience

This is a touchstone principle long known to professional speakers.  Kenneth Goode and Zenn Kaufman authored a book in 1939 called Profitable Showmanship, and their words resonate with stone-cold veracity over the subsequent 72 years, right up to today and the next quarter earnings briefing:

The audience is always on the screen, at the microphone, in the prize-fight, or in the pitcher’s box.  You, the individual member of the audience, are the hero of the day.  No selling can ever be completely successful that forgets this principle: that the prospect is the Hero of the Show. And, in fact, the only hero! . . .  The minute you slide the spotlight off him, off his crazy ideas, off his pet peeves, particularly off his whims, your show is over.  You may as well go home, for your audience is gone.  . . . The hero of the [presenting] drama is the customer – or prospect.  His vanities, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions – these are the stuff from which your plot is spun and on him – and him alone – must the spotlight shine.

If this message is difficult to digest, a mnemonic aid can help you stay focused on your presentation audience.  Dr. John Kline developed this mnemonic aid, and he calls it TOOTSIFELT.  This is a contrived acronym, which stands for:  “The object of this talk is for each listener to . . .”

This captures the spirit of your presentation.  It embodies the audience-centered approach.  If you state this question repeatedly throughout the development of your show, you will always produce a tightly scripted and targeted message.

You can learn a great deal more about focusing on your presentation audience in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Most Important Point – Your MIP

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.  Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes.

Stories involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.  That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.  Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

 A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging. It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!  Decide and make that point the focus of your story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!  Let this be core of your story and build around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”  Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

Your MIP Permeates Your Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.  If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact. Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

Business Presentation Tip – Bookending

Especially powerful business presentation tip – Bookending
Bookending is an especially powerful business presentation tip

I offer this superb business presentation tip – bookend your presentation or presentation segment to give the audience a satisfying experience.

What is bookending?

This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative.  This is your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

You follow with your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences.

Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.  As you wind to a conclusion, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your segment.

A Powerful Business Presentation Tip

When you have finished your presentation message and are ready to set your second bookend that concludes your presentation, call on these magic words.

You say these words:  “In conclusion, we can see that . . . .”  Then – repeat your situation statement.

Then say:  “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”

You come full-circle.  The audience gains a sense of completeness.

This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole, and your audience appreciates the closure.

This technique offers much more than a linear march, where nothing said seems to relate to anything that came before.  The satisfying circularity of bookending brings your audience back to the familiar starting point.

It drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways.  First, the outright repetition of your theme cements it in the minds of your listeners.  Second, the story convention of providing a satisfying ending ties up loose ends and gives psychological closure.

It’s an elegant business presentation tip that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.

Try it.

For more especially powerful business presentation tips like this, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your essential companion throughout B-School.

WIIFY: Know Your Audience

WIIFY
Know your audience and craft your story with your listeners in mind . . . WIIFY

WIIFY – What’s In It For You?

This catchphrase comes loaded with a freight-train of wisdom for your business presentation.  And no, it isn’t about you . . . it’s about your audience.

Always ask yourself this question with regard to your audience . . . from the point-of-view of your audience.

This strikes at the heart of a powerful and well-received presentation, as speaking master James Winans noted back in 1915:

“The young speaker can do nothing better for himself than to fix firmly in mind that public speaking is a dialogue and to emphasize constantly the part of the audience, anticipating and watching for its response.”

This speaking basic also runs under the tag of Know Your Audience.

Know Your Audience = WIIFY?

To achieve its greatest effect, your story must focus on the needs and interests of your audience.  At its best, your presentation should focus on the deepest desires of the audience, but should do so subtly and with great skill.

Your story should fulfill a need in the audience with regard to your presentation topic and the stories you choose to illustrate that topic.

Ask yourself these questions:  Why have they come?  What is it that motivates these persons to gather in one place to hear me?  How can I speak to the audience as a group, and yet speak to each person individually?

WIIFY?  Be a Hero!

How can I make the persons in the audience feel like a hero?

The hero of your story must be in the audience.  The CEO.  The Stockholders.  Employees.

The people who are praised, instructed, lifted, motivated, excited must be the heroes of your story.

Aim your story at them and ask the question WIIFY.  Make them feel good about themselves, and they’ll surely feel more disposed to feel good about your message.

Speak with them as individual people, not as a group.  They do not attend your talk as a group, so do not address them as a group.  They attend your business presentation as individuals, because they have goals and aspirations and hopes.  They hope that your talk will benefit them in some way as an individual person.

Moreover, you must understand your audience.  You must understand their wants and needs, interests and desires.

Find what motivates them.

Find what shames them.

Find the common thread among them, then speak to that common thread as they are individuals.

Build your story with WIIFY in mind.

If the idea of corporate storytelling strikes a chord with you, note that three entire chapters of The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting are devoted to the craft of business storytelling and answering the question WIIFY.

A Sensual Business Presentation Story

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

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

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

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

The more senses you involve, the better.

Put Your Audience Inside the Presentation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they respond to your message.

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

Smell it.

They Become Part of Your Presentation Story

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

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

Engaging the Senses

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

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

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

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

Position your audience inside the presentation story.

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

Employ Masterful Writing Techniques

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Business Presentation Hero is in the Audience

Presentation Hero
Make your audience the Presentation Hero!

For a heroic presentation, add story moments to the mix and identify your presentation hero.

You should incorporate story moments throughout your business presentation to maintain momentum and to retain audience attention.

You make the audience the hero for the same reason.

The story moment may be no more than two sentences that breathe life into a staid exposition of facts.  Or it can extend to a one-paragraph allegory that plunges your audience into the meat of your show.

This is one key to your story’s power.  You select a story the audience already knows, and you populate it with characters sympathetic to the audience.

Who’s Your Presentation Hero?

As you prepare your story moment, carry in mind that every story must have a hero.  That hero must be in the audience.  For your audience to embrace your stories wholeheartedly, portray your audience heroically.

Remember that you determine the presentation hero of your story.

Choose a presentation hero that makes your audience feel good.

If your audience is the CEO and his senior staff, then he or she is the presentation hero, aided by trusted colleagues – he is Napoleon; she is Joan of Arc.

If your audience is the shareholders, then they are the heroes of your story.  It is through their guidance and wisdom that the company is successful.

If your audience is your subordinates, then they are the heroes for providing the nuts-and-bolts of the machinery.

If your audience is your students, then they are the heroes of the subject matter as they arm themselves to slay corporate dragons.  You are but the armorer, and perhaps a former warrior.

The Heroes of UPS

Speaking coach Suzanne Bates provides an excellent example of this type of Story Moment.  She relates the example of a speech given by UPS chairman Mike Eskew to his employees. The occasion of the speech was a change of the company logo.

In speaking to his employees, Eskew crafted his message to make them the heroes . . . not himself.

Many CEOs believe erroneously that employees want to hear a story of the CEO’s vision and leadership.  Eskew instead seized the opportunity to showcase the striving of his employees and gave a masterful show, demonstrating how a CEO can tap into the sympathies of his people.

In this case, he made his audience of UPS rank-and-file employees the heroes of the UPS story:

Our brand is all about our people and keeping the UPS promise. Just as Marty Peters . . . . Marty’s the longest-tenured active employee at UPS – out of 360,000 around the world. Marty is a fifty-seven year veteran of UPS. That’s right; he started with us in 1946 . . . and guess what . . . he still shows up at the job every day as a shifter and a customer-counter clerk in Detroit.

And there’s someone else we’ve brought to New York for this special day . . . Ron Sowder, a Kentucky District feeder driver. Ron’s been with the company forty-two years. In fact, he started in 1961 . . . the year of our last logo change. When Ron started with the company . . . he wasn’t old enough to drive. But today he carries the distinction of having the most years of safe driving among active employees in the company. In my book, Ron and Marty are UPS heroes. They not only represent the brand . . . like you – they live the brand every day.

This is a superb example of the speaker transforming the audience with a powerful story.

One moment they are employees assembled to hear a speech by the CEO on the company logo.  The next moment, they are heroes in an adventure story that spans decades!  Here, Eskew does it explicitly and quite deftly.  The result is an especially powerful presentation moment that uses the trope of the presentation hero. 

He outright calls them heroes, but it isn’t a bald bid for flattery.  That kind of thing falls flat quickly.

The good news is two-fold.  First, injecting a story moment is not difficult to do.  Second, it is guaranteed to work.  By work, I mean that it transforms your presentation into something magical.

Think of it this way.

A story is magic dust.

The President Weaves Magic into His Speeches

When the President of the United States calls for national action in time of need, he doesn’t just inform us . . . he inspires us.  He alludes to the wisdom and fortitude, the strength and durability, the innovation and drive of the American people.   He sometimes refers to the Greatest Generation, the generation that fought and won World War II.

The president may talk of hardy pioneers to dramatize the American sense of adventure.  He may use story moments of American inventors to make his points about innovation – Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs.  He ties us to these powerful stories and he makes us the hero, not himself.  Who among us would not want to be the presentation hero?  President Ronald Reagan was a master of the Story Moment, calling on them to craft powerful speeches.

But you need not pull out the heavy artillery every time.  Use short punchy stories to launch your show or to illustrate minor points.  A great source for this kind of story-telling is Aesop’s Fables.

Why Aesop?

Aesop’s Fables are narratives that can convey your point quickly and crisply.  They are short, familiar, and freighted with morals.  Most of them also carry heavy business relevance.

You can find a fable to illustrate most any business point.  Take the familiar fable of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg,” which teaches that “Much wants more and then loses all.”

But the Goose fable also captures deeper lessons about discovering the true sources of wealth and nurturing the processes that create wealth.  Fables can run the gamut of lessons, from betrayal to bigotry, from deceit to damnation.

Thumb through Aesop’s for your next story.  You already know that almost no one does, and that’s the first requirement for discovering Blue Ocean market space.  Try it, and I guarantee that something good will happen.

For more on exalting your presentation hero, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Business Hero is in your Audience

Business Hero
The Hero of your Business Presentation should be in your Audience.

Your presentation is for your audience, and that’s where your business hero had better be.

As much as some of us love the limelight and the adulation of the crowd, it’s wise to remember that your presentation isn’t about you, although our self-indulgence can sometimes make it seem so.

No, you’re not in this to please yourself.

And you must get them to do what you want them to by making them think that it’s what they want.

Connect With Your Business Hero

Address the needs of the people in your audience and fulfill their expectations in language they understand, with metaphors and examples that resonate with them.  Your objective must be expressed in terms of how it best connects with your audience.  The folks in your audience should be the business hero, not you.

Speak to their needs and fulfill them.

The good news is that your audience’s meager expectations mean that you can likely dazzle it with a merely above-average presentation.  This is because the level of business presenting is so dismally low that audiences dread listening to them as much as you hate giving them.

No one seems happy at the prospect of this afternoon’s weekly “finance updBusiness Hero is in your audienceate.”

But remember this regardless of the topic of your talk, every audience wants the same basic thing.  Deep down, all of us wants a chance.  Everyone wants to have a chance to be a hero.

No one wants to hear from Indiana Jones . . . everyone wants to be Indiana Jones.  Or at least believe that we could do great things.

This is a touchstone principle long known to professional speakers.  Kenneth Goode and Zenn Kaufman authored a book in 1939 called Profitable Showmanship, and their words resonate with stone-cold veracity over the subsequent 72 years, right up to today and the next quarter earnings briefing:

The audience is always on the screen, at the microphone, in the prize-fight, or in the pitcher’s box.  You, the individual member of the audience, are the hero of the day.  No selling can ever be completely successful that forgets this principle:  that the prospect is the Hero of the Show.  And, in fact, the only hero! . . .  The minute you slide the spotlight off him, off his crazy ideas, off his pet peeves, particularly off his whims, your show is over.  You may as well go home, for your audience is gone.  . . .  The hero of the [presenting] drama is the customer – or prospect.  His vanities, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions – these are the stuff from which your plot is spun and on him – and him alone – must the spotlight shine.

Remember that the Business Hero is in your audience.

People want more than anything to be a hero, and if you give them that chance in your talk, you will be rewarded 1,000 times over.

For more on putting the business hero in your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Best Job Interview Tips for College Students

The Best of my Job Interview Tips for College StudentsOne of the most important job interview tips for college students that I give involves business presenting.

The job interview is likely the most important business presentation you will ever give.  This is because in the interview, you present for your most important client – you.

And the question I’m asked most frequently with respect to how you present your accomplishments is this:

“How do I talk about myself and my qualifications in a way that is honest and forthright and yet does not sound like braggadocio?”

The Best of My Job Interview Tips for College Students

Few people like to boast.  Instead folks go the opposite extreme of false humility.  But neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.

Instead, try this . . .

Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume.  Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.

Now, the recruiter is looking for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

The recruiter evaluates you for intangible qualities, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.  Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.

But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.

For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield.  Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake.  And so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.  But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”

This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.

Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.  The constitutes the most important of my many job interview tips for college students.

When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.

Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.

That’s it.

Digest that for a moment.

Yes, it really is that simple.  But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way.  It takes practice.

Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set.  In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality.  Translation:

     I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.

Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference.  Translation:

     I get along with a wide range of people.

Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak.  Translation:

     I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.

Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems.  Translation:

     I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.

For an Especially Powerful Interview

Can you see how it works?

You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task.  So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past.  Build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

The very best Job Interview Tips for College Students“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others.  I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being.  This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”

Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:

“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend.  That was pivotal.  It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss.  That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”

With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.

Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life.  And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them.

Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them.  When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them.  Do this, and you achieve an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on job interview tips for college students, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.