Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use. Have a look-see . . .
Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?
Chatting in side conversations?
Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation? This is called the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.
The problem is probably you.
No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.
How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation
In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to engage your audience, an audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.
Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you. He reveals the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience. How to engage your audience for power and impact.
He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.
The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.
Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.
Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books. You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com
There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation. Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement. Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories. Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.
Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.
Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.
He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.
His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus feat. It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners. Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations. He said things directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.
He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.
And once he had audience attention, he kept it.
Holding the Audience in your Grasp
One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora. It’s a technique that you can use as well. Here’s how it works.
A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences. With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect. In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.
I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963. Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect. The speech was called Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit. Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
What comes next?
Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose. He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully. His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”
What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences. When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell. You catch hell because you’re a black man. You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.
Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora: “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”
He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964. This time his anaphora was slightly different: “We’re not brutalized because–” And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect. The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.
Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners. You sense his control of the event.
So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?
A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons. He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power. These techniques can be yours. You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.
For instance, the anaphora of repetition. You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.
But you may Hesitate
You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face. Yes, he did. The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death. But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same. They are verities handed to us over centuries.
And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from? The CEO of Coca-Cola? Hardly.
A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you. You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters. Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.
Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies. We’ll look at them in future posts.
One of the greatest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.
His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, how to mesmerize it throughout the presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.
The Malcolm X Presentation
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye. As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.
And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage emerging. It’s sometimes explicit but most often emerges through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
A Source of Inspiration and Technique
Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.
With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience. You hear a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Put a stop to all of that nonsense with the “grabber” line, a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special. Not just another canned talk.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document. Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.
Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience. Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.
This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has captured his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, embraced his audience. He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
No Throat-clearing . . .
Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.
No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”
Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”
Straight to the point, and a bold point it is. See what comes next . . .
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.
And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
Has Malcolm studied his audience? Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?
Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.
For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience. Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk and ask yourself how he crafted it. And how it works.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.
Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Voice.”
Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.
It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving. We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
Voices Often Develop on their Own . . . Chaotically
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
So what’s a “bad voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched? Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone? High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you. Focus on the voices. Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.
Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.” This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain. Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations. They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player. Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.
Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.” You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning. Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.
The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood. It’s not.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.
This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You are holding yourself back. It is also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication? Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages. Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
For some reason known only to the deities of publishing, Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs is considered a great business presenter.
A bestselling book by Carmin Gallo even touts The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
But is Steve really a great presenter? Does he really have secrets that you can use? And can you learn how to be “an insanely great” presenter from this book?
No . . . no . . . and . . .
Well . . . on that last point, you can learn to become a pretty good presenter from this book.
But not from Steve Jobs.
The Extraordinary Jobs
Steve is a visionary and an extraordinary entrepreneur many times over. He has grown tremendously since the days when he thought that his self-absorbed bombast gave him license to insult Microsoft and Bill Gates mercilessly.
Jobs emerged as a celebrity CEO, a man who loves the limelight and whose strong and quirky personality guarantee him a maniacal following among a narrow slice of the American populace.
On an absolute scale, Steve is a slightly above-average presenter. Remove Steve’s high-tech prop that the entire wonk-world is waiting to see, and remove the employee/early adopter audiences that cheer his every eye-twitch, and we are left with a shabbily dressed average sort of fellow given to aimless pacing and whose high-pitched voice grates a bit on the senses with its “ummms” and “ahhhhs.”
You and I know that there is only one reason that Steve Jobs is on that stage. Only one reason that he has a book purporting to reveal the presentation secrets of Steve Jobs.
And it’s not for his presenting skills.
The Real Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
While Jobs himself is not someone whose presenting skills deserve emulation, he is obviously the subject of the book because of his built-in audience, and so we must deal with that. We can dismiss it, in fact.
But the book does have a gem.
The gem of the book is the author. The author of the Jobs book is Carmine Gallo, who is an extremely polished and superb presenter and presentation coach, and he embeds solid presenting nuggets throughout the book.
Carmine is, in fact, a much better presenter than Jobs. You can judge for yourself by watching the video here.
But even Carmine is not perfect. He begins by gushing at Jobs’s stature as a presenter that is almost embarrassing in its lavish excess: “Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage . . . He is the world’s greatest corporate storyteller!”
But . . . well, we’re selling books here, and hype is understandable. I’d probably gush, too, if given a similar opportunity, so let’s give Carmine a pass on this one.
But at the end of the video Carmine gives advice that I believe is just flat-out wrong.
He says that you, the presenter, are the hero of the presentation. That you, your product, or your service is the hero.
All of us would like to be the hero of our presentation, wouldn’t we? And we are sorely tempted to put the focus on our product and ourselves.
No. Don’t do it.
Your Audience is the Hero
There is room for only one hero in the presentation, and that hero is not you. The hero is in the audience, and you are there to help your audience become heroic.
As with all presentation instruction, you can ignore or accept what you choose, and this point is no different. You can try to be the hero. Or, you can focus on your audience and its needs and its desires.
In sum, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs offers a reasonable exposition of presentation methods that can benefit us all, but recognize that these methods have nothing to do with Steve Jobs and they do not help us become “insanely great” presenters.
But there is good news for you on the presentation front. The best news in all of this is, in fact, great news.
With dedication, coachability, and the right method, virtually anyone – and I mean anyone – can become a better business presenter than Steve Jobs.
One 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.
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:
“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.
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.
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.
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?”
Just this . . .
A Timeless and Powerful 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.
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, the film flounders. And fails.
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.
And it is 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 to hit your target.
Whether the finance presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students –
“Finance Presentations are different.”
“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”
“For us, the numbers tell the story.”
Finance Presentations Mysteries
Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language. They seem less subject to manipulation.
In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort. An income statement serves as anchor.
For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric. This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.
But this is an illusion. And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.
Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.
We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast. These demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.
As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.
The Bad News
The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.
In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions. Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .
“Just the facts”
Exhortations of “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.
“Just the facts”
Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core. But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.
It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.
What does it mean, “Just the facts?” Which facts? Why these facts and not those facts?
Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis. Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world. “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.
“The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me. “We deal in hard numbers.”
There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all. If numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.
The end result of these finance presentations shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations. If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.
It may be useful. It may be boring. It may be morale-building. It may be team-destroying. It may be time-wasting.
But whatever else it is, it is not a business presentation.
“Cut ’n’ Paste”
This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see. PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.
The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase: “As you can see . . . ” The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?
Slides from Hell.
The Good News
In every obstacle exists an opportunity.
Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude. This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be. Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.
But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.
All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity. If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.
A situation statement must be given.
A story still must be told.
Your analysis presented.
Conclusions must be drawn.
Recommendations must be made.
And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.
If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.
But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentations world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.
Let’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case. Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.
Your group has produced a written analysis. It’s finished.
How do you “prepare?”
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. And 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?
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
Digest these Preparation tips, try them out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
Much more can be said about Preparation . . . Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.
Elsewhere, I have characterized these principles as “secrets.” They are secrets. In fact, they are likely the most open secrets that mankind has ever known.
But they are difficult secrets. They are difficult, because they require you to actually do something. I think that perhaps when we think of a secret, we tend to equate it with magic. We automatically believe that there is some magic involved that will help us circumvent hard work. But that’s just not so.
The good news is that these secrets actually are secrets that truly work. They also constitute the dimensions along which we can gauge our speaking ability and judge how much we improve. This is the most important aspect of these secrets – they allow us to tear away the veil from those who pose as merely talented and to understand this beast called The Presentation.
Now, let’s plot our dimensions on a 7×7 Chart.
Take, as an example, the chart below, which is labeled across the top with our seven dimensions and along the vertical axis with a seven-point scale of value: Unacceptable, Below Average, Average, Good, Very Good, Superior, Professional.
The chart plots the seven dimensions against a seven-point scale and provides a thorough evaluation of the presenter’s level of skill. From the chart, we can see that this speaker carries a professional-grade stance and is superior with his gestures. All other dimensions indicate work is needed. The advantage of this chart, is that it disaggregates your various speaking tasks so that you can manage them. It separates them out, so that you can identify your weaknesses in a logical and comprehensive way. It also informs you of your strengths, so that you may build upon them.
The upshot is that his First P of Especially Powerful Presenting – Principles – guides us to master the Seven Secrets, to transform ourselves into truly adept presenting instruments, at home in front of any audience and able to connect across a range of subjects and and in a multitude of venues. Elsewhere, I have addressed the Seven Secrets in detail, and I’ll revisit them again soon.
For now, let’s remember that the especially powerful presenters of the past 50 years have used these Secrets – Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. They don’t announce that they’re using secret techniques and tricks of the trade, of course. They simply let you believe that they were gifted with special talents. Not a chance.
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 my approach.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
And then . . . your mind wanders for a brief moment.
It was just a moment. But it was enough to sabotage you.
Your thoughts grind to a halt and you can’t remember what to say. Words fail you.
You have lost the proverbial “train of thought” and you’re on the cusp of a presentation meltdown.
What do You do?
Blank-Mind attacks all of us at one point or another during our business presentation career.
In fact, it happens so often that it might do us some good to think ahead to how we should react to this common presentation malady.
Too often, it leads to a presentation meltdown. But it doesn’t have to.
Presenters have developed trade tricks to help us past the rough spots. Here is one stopgap solution to get you over the speedbump of lost train of thought.
When you lose your train of thought, don’t panic or you’ll spiral quickly into a presentation meltdown.
Instead, your first reaction should be a calm academic assessment of the situation – you know what’s happened, and you already know what your first action will be. You’ve prepared for this.
Dodge Presentation Meltdown with This
Flood the room with silence.
Look slightly upward and raise your right hand to your chin, holding your hand in a semi-fist with chin perched and resting on your index finger and thumb – perhaps with your index finger curled comfortably around your chin. You know the posture.
Put your left hand on your hip. Furrow your brow as if deep in thought, which you are.
Now, while looking steadily at the floor or slightly upward at the ceiling, walk slowly in a diagonal approximately four, maybe five steps and stop, feet shoulder-width apart.
Now, assume your basic ready position and look up at your audience.
Your Bought Time
You have just purchased a good 10 seconds to regain your composure, to regain your thought pattern. Time enough to cobble together your next few sentences.
But if this brief respite was not enough to reset yourself, then shift to the default statement.
What do I mean “default statement?”
This is a rescue phrase that you craft beforehand to get you back into your speaking groove. It consists of something like this: “Let me recapitulate our three points – liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Other phrases might be: “Now is probably a good time to look again at our main themes . . .” or “We can see again that the issue boils down to the three crucial points that I began with . . .”
And then, you simply begin ticking off your three or four main points of your presentation. In doing so, you trigger thought processes that put you back onto the correct path.
Think of this method as levering a derailed train back onto the track.
If you have prepared as you should, Blank-Mind should be no more than a small bump in the road for you, a minor nuisance with minimal damage. If you panic, however, it can balloon into something monstrous.
Remember the rescue techniques: Chin-scratch and Default Statement.
You can control the damage by utilizing the Chin-scratch, which buys you time to reassert yourself. Failing that, the Default Statement can bail you out by taking you back over familiar material you’ve just covered.
If none of the above works, however, you can still stop yourself from going into total presentation meltdown by using the two rescue words I preach to all my students . . .
I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that probably elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”
It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.
This is a critical and powerful pose.
Then visalize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”
“I feel especially powerful today!”
I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.
Which is . . . what?
Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?
First, I don’t do cute. Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting. Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.
In short, much of what we call body language.
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures. Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.But it is essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence? Impossible, eh?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?” No, there’s no catch.
And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out. Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.
In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
We should strive to infuse our presentations with energy by using positive power words, but instead we sabotage ourselves in our presentations more often than we imagine.
Negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.
“I hate presentations,” is the negative phrase I hear most frequently, and it undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting. How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a porous, spongy foundation?
We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.
We envision failure, humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.
Envision Success Instead
All of this negative self-talk can translate into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.
Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.
The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.
There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure. How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?
Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at the very least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we may have any chance of succeeding at business presenting.
Think Like an Athlete – Use Power Words
The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition. I work often with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.
So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of defeat?
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.
Envision Your Triumph
No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.
Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.
You lace your presentation with power words to inspire both you and your audience: confidence . . . capability . . . thought . . . vision . . . future . . . focus . . . competence . . . strong . . . ability . . . know-how . . . victory . . . success.
When we take the stage, we put our minds on what we intend, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism. With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.
The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.
Coca-Cola’s 1929 slogan was “The Pause that Refreshes,” and we can incorporate the presentation pause to powerful effect in our business presentations.
Pauses can, indeed, be refreshing, and a judicious pause can refresh your presentation.
In fact, the prudent presentation pause for reflection, for the audience to digest your message, for dramatic effect to emphasize what comes next . . . all add depth and richness to your show and communicate to audience members that they have gathered to hear something special.
So, make friends with silence so that you feel comfortable in its presence.
Power of the Presentation Pause
The correct pauses imbue your talk with incredible power. With proper timing and coupled with other techniques, the pause can evoke strong emotions in your audience.
A pause can project and communicate as much or more than mere words. The pause is part of your nonverbal repertoire and a superbly useful tool.
The comfortable pause communicates your competence and confidence. It telegraphs deep and serious thought. Pause Power is underutilized today, but has served as arrow-in-quiver of the finest presenters over centuries.
Presentation Master Grenville Kleiser put it this way in 1912: “Paradoxical tho it may seem, there is an eloquence and a power in silence which every speaker should seek to cultivate.”
When you use the presentation pause judiciously, you emphasize the point that comes immediately after the pause. You give the audience time to digest what you just said. And you generate anticipation for what you are about to say.
So save the pause for the moments just prior to each of your main points.
How do you pause? When do you pause?
Silence is Your Friend
A truly effective pause can be coupled with a motionless stance, particularly if you have been pacing or moving about or gesturing vigorously. Couple the pause with a sudden stop, going motionless. Look at your audience intently. Seize their complete attention.
You can see that you should not waste your pause on a minor point of your talk. In point of fact, you should time your pauses to emphasize the single MIP and its handful of supporting points.
Voice coach Patsy Rodenburg says: “A pause is effective and very powerful if it is active and in the moment with your intentions and head and heart. . . . a pause filled with breath and attention to what you are saying to your audience will give you and your audience a bridge of transitional energy from one idea to another.”
Finally, and surely not least, the pause can rescue you when you begin to spiral out of control or lose your train of thought. Remember that silence is your friend.
Need a life-preserver? Need time to regain your composure? Try this . . .
Pause. Look slightly down. Scratch your chin. Furrow your brow. Take four steps to the right or left.
You just bought 7-8 precious seconds to collect your thoughts.
For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout?
Guilty as charged? Most of us are at one point or another.
And the results can be heinous.
The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations. There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.” Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide. Why not? Who says this is a bad idea? After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he? Well, I’m giving it to him. ’nuff said.
This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document, and this is an incredibly stupid mistake.
One . . . or the Other
Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.
The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later. Never let one serve in place of the other.
Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.
When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .” [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]
The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned. It is a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous. And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
No Magic Pills
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.
PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation. This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story. They bomb miserably.
On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.
Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show. They have no special properties. They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it. Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:
“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?
Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides. Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies
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 do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. 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.
When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen, and you are on your way to an especially powerful presentation. You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.
And, consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power.
A debilitating pathology of bad presentation technique afflicts many presenters.
It starts innocently enough . . .
You click the remote and a new slide appears.
You cast a wistful look back at the screen. You pause.
And then you reach for the easy phrase.
That’s when AYCS Syndrome can strike even the best of us, cutting us down in our presentation prime.
“As you can see.”
The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that there must be a school somewhere that trains people to utter this reflexive phrase-hiccup.
Is there an AYCSS Academy? Probably!
The bain of AYCSS is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet or array of baffling numbers. Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.
And the audience most assuredly cannot see. In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.
And that’s why we reach for the phrase.
Because we can’t “see,” either.
We look back at an abstruse slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show. At that point, AYCS Syndrome attacks.
Numb and Dumb Your Audience with AYCSS
Finance students seem particularly enamored of AYCSS.
In fact, some rogue finance professors doubtless inculcate this in students.
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, of course. There are only few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.
Financial data are where you discover the firm’s profitability, stability, health, and potential.
But the results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.
Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas. It seems important, substantial.
Too often, you display an Excel spreadsheet on the screen that is unedited from your written report. You cut-and-paste it into your presentation. You splash the spreadsheet onto the screen, then talk from that spreadsheet without orienting your audience to the slide.
This is the incredibly bad presentation technique displayed by finance students, in particular, that is accompanied by the dreaded words: “As you can see.”
You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers.
Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . . “As you can see—”
And then you call out what seem to be random numbers. Random? Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.
You have not provided the context needed for understanding. No one knows what you’re talking about. Your classmates watch with glazed eyes. Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like.
And no one has a clue. 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.
AYCS Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide. And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.
It can’t be good. Not for the audience, not for presenter.
All of this sounds heinous, I know. And probably too familiar for comfort. But you can beat bad presentation techniques with a few simple changes that we’ll discuss in days to come.
Too often, you find yourself rambling or roaming in a presentation, rather than putting focus on your audience.
This is a symptom of an chaotic presentation, and it can have any of several causes.
Among other things, this results from not establishing a tightly focused subject and not linking it to a tightly focused conception of your audience.
Without tight focus in 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. These firms put focus on their audiences.
Do you focus on your audience in the same relentless manner?
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.
Put Relentless Focus on Your Audience
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. A 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, focus on your audience, and you’ll be on-target every time.
What’s a powerful gesture, and why do we worry about it at all?
It’s nothing more than an add-on, right?
Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation.
The fact is that you cannot separate sincerity from your appearance.
You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume, from your nuance.
And you cannot separate your words from gesture.
So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior messaging.
What’s a Gesture?
A wave of the hand.
A snap of the finger.
A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side.
A scratch of the chin.
An accusatory finger.
A balled fist at the proper moment.
These are all gestures that can either enhance or destroy your presentation. Yes, destroy.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This is a result of the presence of the speaker.
An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.
Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.”
Gestures provide energy, and accent.
They add power, emphasis, and meaning to our words.
Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture at the proper time. Entire books, in fact, have been written about gesture and the power it can bestow, but most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered. See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott’s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.
Gesture is too important to leave to chance. Certainly too important to dismiss with the airy “move around when you talk.”
Let’s understand exactly what it means.
In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today: “Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”
Gesture in your presentation should be natural.
Powerful gesture It should flow from the meaning of your words and the meaning you wish to convey with your words. We never gesture without reason or a point to make. Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us to gesture. Without emotion, gesture is mechanical.
You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power. And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions. Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”
For if you do not begin to think in grand, expansive terms about yourself and your career, you will remain mired in the mud.
Stuck at the bottom.
Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words.
In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.
As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way. Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our presentations, we are left with aimless ejaculations that can distract and leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.
Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers. These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities, and it’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.
Control Those Fingers!
Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”
This is a habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands. You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what.
So you develop these unconscious motions. Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”
Tugging at your fingers. I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.
Bending your fingers back in odd manner. This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced. It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell. It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.
Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement. This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.
Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.
The Powerful Gesture
Why would you want to “gesture?”
Aren’t your words enough?
You add gestures to add force to your points. To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear. A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning.
It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language. Said James Winans in 1915:
Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues. Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.
Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine.
You attain a powerful communication moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy. All of this combines for especially powerful personal competitive advantage.
Be spare with your gestures and be direct. Make them count.
Look for more detailed analysis on the gestures available to you in this space in coming weeks so that you can add personal competitive advantage to your presentation now.