Perhaps it’s human nature that leads us to search for single answers.
The search for the Global Solution has gone on as long as men have searched for the Philosopher’s Stone (and perhaps even longer, but not jotted down).
Likewise, this is the case for business presentations.
No Easy Way Out
We seek easy solutions, the quick fix, the “secret” to turn a drab, staid, listless presentation into one that brims with vigor, zest, and elan.
An especially powerful presentation.
Failing that, perhaps just something that can flog a bit of life into our tired efforts.
One evening, we may see a memorable, delightful, scintillating presentation. It’s a show that engages us, that sparkles with memorable visuals and that implants core ideas and powerful notions in our minds. A great presentation!
What made it a great presentation?
Many folks answer with one – maybe two reasons. This is akin to medieval alchemists searching for a method to transform lead into gold.
A shortcut to wealth.
And so we contrive abstractions and unsatisfactory responses:
The speaker was interesting.
The topic was relevant and au courant. Torn from today’s headlines!
It was the audience . . . he had a good audience!
But none of these easy answers yield something that we can actually use . . . something we can operationalize in our show.
This is because no easy answer exists.
No one reason. No single technique.
There is no business presentation alchemy. Except in the notion that we must get lots of things right.
The superb business presenter does 100 things right, while the bad business presenter does 100 things wrong.
What are the “100 Things?”
Is it exactly 100?
Of course not, no more than great writing consists in getting exactly 100 things right, instead of getting them wrong.
For any talk, it could be 90 things, or it could be 150 things. Or something else.
The “100 things” trope suffices to convey that great presentations are planned and orchestrated according to set principles that can be learned, and those principles consist in proven practices.
Lots of them.
Practices that replace unthinking habits.
Techniques of posture, voice, syntax, gestures, topic, presentation structure, your expression, confidence, your movement . . . all of these done well or done poorly combine to yield either an especially powerful presentation . . . or a dud.
Go to Scott’s Lessons, the book that inspired and taught Abraham Lincoln as he grew into one of America’s great orators, and you will find a wealth of powerful techniques to transform even the most mundane of speakers into a champion.
More than 100 things? Surely.
The important lesson is that great presenting is assembled from the verbal and non-verbal construction materials we select.
Lots of mistakes make for awful shows. Getting those 100 things right yield a show that’s spectacular for no single, discernible reason. It’s the power of synergy.
Take just one aspect of your show – the way you stand. Have you ever thought about it? Where you stand? How you stand?
If you’ve never given it thought, then you’re likely doing it wrong. To learn how to adopt the perfect (for you) stance, go here and the secret shall be revealed. And you’ll have learned a handful of the essential 100 things to launch you on your way to presentation power.
The next step, of course, is to actually do it. In your next presentation.
More of the 100 Things that constitute Business Presentation Alchemy here.
We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer especially powerful insights.
For me, it means sitting in on classes taught by my colleagues. It means reading outside my specialty area. It means exposure to doctrines I don’t rightly believe, but probably ought to understand.
How will this help in preparing my own classes? At this point, I can’t be certain. But I know it will. At some point.
And that’s the beauty and potential of it.
I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue in 3-dimensional fashion. They’ll be connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.
It will do the same for yours. And it will likely aid in your development into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.
For more on how to give interesting, and especially powerful, business presentations, click HERE.
Most presentation practice is bad, but you avoid this in favor of our Third P: great presentation practice that yields a stellar performance.
Wait . . . what do you mean that some types of practice are “bad”?
How can you possibly say, Professor, that such a thing as “bad presentation practice exists?”
Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?
In fact, bad practice is pernicious.
It’s insidious, and at times can be worse than no practice at all. It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.
Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror
Practice is one of those words that we never bother to define, because each of us already “knows” what it means.
Certainly your professor thinks you know what it means, since he urges you to “practice” your presentation prior to its delivery.
But what does it mean to “practice?” Doesn’t everyone know how to practice?
How do you practice?
Have you ever truly thought about it? Have you ever thought about what, exactly, you are trying to accomplish with your practice? Do you make the mistake of that old cliché and “practice in the mirror?”
Don’t practice in the mirror. That’s dumb.
You won’t be looking at yourself as you give your talk, so don’t practice that way.
I say it again – that’s dumb.
The only reason to look in a mirror is to ensure that your gestures and expressions display exactly as you think they do when you employ them. Other than that, stay away from the mirror.
Practice – the right practice, good practice, proper rehearsal – is the key to so much of your presentation’s success. And your ultimate triumph.
The Russians have a saying much akin to one of ours. We say “practice makes perfect.” The Russians say “Povtoreniye mat’ ucheniya.”
It means “Repetition is the mother of learning.”
And it’s great advice.
Presentation Practice Leads to Victory
The armed forces are experts at practice. Short of actual war, this is all the military does – practice for its mission in the most realistic conditions that can be devised.
And in doing so, the military arms our warriors with the confidence and skill necessary to accomplish the actual missions assigned to it.
Likewise, we must practice in the most realistic conditions that we can devise for ourselves, and in doing so we reduce our apprehension and uncertainty.
We gain confidence.
The nerves that go with public speaking are like the nerves a soldier feels as he walks through a minefield – he fears a single misstep will trigger an explosion.
But once the minefield is traversed a single time, the path is clear. With a clear and predictable path, the fear evaporates.
The danger is avoided.
Confidence replaces fear.
Presentation Practice Eliminates Fear
Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates. Once you have practiced it exactly like you will deliver it, straight to completion without pause, then you will have reduced the unknown to manageable proportions.
The gigantic phantasmagoria is shrunk.
Your way through the minefield is clear. And the fear evaporates.
Does this mean that you won’t have butterflies before a talk? Or that you won’t be nervous? Of course not. We all do.
Before every game, professional football players are keyed up, emotional, nervous. But once the game begins and they take the first “hit,” they ramp-up confidence.
Likewise, a bit of nervousness is good for you. It ensures your focus. But it’s good nervousness, borne of anticipation.
It is not the same as fear.
And so we see that the key to confidence is knowledge and preparation.
We lack confidence when we are unsure. With every practice, we gain confidence. And all the while we rehearse diligently, remember this dictum . . .
Sear This into Your Mind
Practice exactly the way you deliver your presentation.
I mean this literally.
Stage your practices, both individually and as a group, as close to the real thing as you can. Make it as realistic as you can. If you can, practice in the room where you will deliver your show.
You want as much pressure as possible.
One of the most prevalent and serious practice mistakes is to restart your presentation again and again when you make a mistake. Do not start over when you make a mistake . . .
When you stumble, practice recovering from your error.
This should be common sense. You must practice how you respond to making an error. How you will fight through and recover from an error. Then, if you stumble in your presentation, you will have the confidence and prior experience to weather the minor glitch because you will have faced it before.
Think of it this way. Does a football team practice one way all week, and then employ a completely different game-plan on game-day?
Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.
Your business presentation is a completely different product than your written report.
It’s a different mode of communication.
Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report? How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?
They are different in the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.
It’s different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.
You operate in a different medium.
You have time constraints.
A group is receiving your message.
A group is delivering the message.
You have almost no opportunity for repeat.
You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.
In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable. You’re far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controlled.
Look at the chart below.
These differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, insignificant.
Many folks believe that there is no difference.
And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.” It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.
As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency. People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.
Numbers Trump All?
Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.” As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .
The more numbers, the better.
The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide . . . the better.
Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.
It’s wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.
Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Perhaps you’ve said that? I’ve certainly heard it.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.
Business cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you.
Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.
No one cares if they “interest” you.
That’s not the point.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics. But what’s an “interesting” topic?
I have found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics. They don’t recognize them as interesting.
And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic as they prepare the business presentation.
And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.
Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.
Face it. If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic. You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.
Let’s shed that attitude.
Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.
Crank up Interest
How do you generate interest? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:
[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.
The typical start to a presentation project is . . .
. . . procrastination.
You put it off as a daunting task. Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.” Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here as you prepare the business presentation?
Think about it.
How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it.
You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.” And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.
Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.” They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.
And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.
You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.
The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. And this result is predictable.
Your slides are crammed with information.
You talk fast to force all the points in. You run over-time.
You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.
This Time, Procrustes has it Right
Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation. This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth this way:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard. In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”
“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.
A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.
But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.
Your Procrustean Solution
Take a Procrustean approach and forge an especially powerful presentation. Consider this:
We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes.
That’s our Procrustean Bed. So let’s manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience in our presentation preparation.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
We are using our minds and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.
And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation. Pick only three major points that you want to make.
Here is your task now:
Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes. If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.
Why do we do this? Here’s why:
If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.
They turn off and tune you out. You will lose them, and you will fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than delivering only one point.
Especially Powerful Paucity
If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. And you irritate your audience mercilessly.
Your presentation should present the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.
The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.
You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions.
You take information and transforming it into intelligence. You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.
You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.
You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus to find the nuggets. When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you?
Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand?
Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytic gold to your client.
As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”
Now, you might head-scratch and wonder how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”
A fair question.
For Especially Powerful Presentations
The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.
Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense.
You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.
This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons. Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.
And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.
When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles. And this means preparation.
It means practice.
Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
Stripped of humanity. Stripped of the qualities that make it interesting, stimulating, and persuasive.
The potential richness, energy, vigor, and power that is provided by purposive movement is absent.
Crude Stick-Puppet Presenting
We are left with cutout figures, like stick puppets. You’ve seen stick puppets. They’re crude, flat little figures pasted onto sticks and then used in a child’s display to convey a story.
Rudimentary as it gets, the puppets shake and move up and down as someone voices dialogue from somewhere offstage.
Today’s business presentations are sometimes no better than stick-puppet presenting. Call this the 2-D presentation.
Stick-Puppet Presenting is characterized by a zombie-like figure crouched behind a lectern, gripping its sides.
Or a speaker who reads from a laptop computer and alternately looks at a projection screen behind him, citing it verbatim. If any movement occurs, it is unconscious swaying. Or rocking, or nervous happy-feet dancing.
Perhaps there is a bit of pacing back-and-forth to fulfill some ancient advice mumbled to the speaker years earlier: “Move around when you talk!” And so the stick-puppet presenter wanders about the stage.
This is worse than no movement at all. It adds one more irrelevant distractor to an already deteriorating situation.
But we want movement . . . the right kind of movement. We want to accelerate from 2-D to 3-D presenting. One powerful step in that direction is the addition of proper movement.
The addition of proper movement to your presentation can imbue it with energy, depth, richness, and enhanced meaning.
So in the next series of posts, we’ll analyze this component – “movement” on the stage in support of your presentation.
Do you invest your topic with energy and elan, regardless of whether it’s shampoo or sugar or ship-building?
What is it that fills you with the thrill of discovery, the adrenaline of newness?
What can compare with the natural high of applying yourself to a task that excites you?
What generates those endorphins? What brings a smile to your face involuntarily? What furrows your brow?
Is it “world hunger?” Or European soccer?
Is it social injustice? Is it political theory? Is it comic book collecting? Chess? Numismatics? Tennis? Travel to exotic locations? Helping others solve problems?
Writing essays? Fashion design? Financial manipulations? Reading and then reflecting on a good book?
What’s your passion? Do you even have one?
Is your Presentation Passion buried?
Likely as not, your passion has been buried under a ton of necessity, the debris we call the business of life.
f you find that your passion is buried, then this is the time to rescue it as one of the most potent factors in delivering your most powerful presentations.
Once you explore your own visceral feelings, your passion, it becomes that much easier to invoke presentation passion in your show.
To exhibit genuine enthusiasm for the subjects of your shows.
Can you generate presentation passion? Of course you can. Will it be “artificial” passion? Of course not. Passion is passion is passion.
Unless you have passion for a subject and demonstrate that passion, you will always be at a disadvantage with respect to those who do.
If you are in competition with several other teams pitching a product or service to a company for millions of dollars – and there is no noteworthy difference in the quality or price of the service – then how does the potential customer decide?
If he sees a real passion for the work in one team, if he feels the energy of a team driven to success and truly excited about the offering, don’t you think he’ll be inclined to the team that stirs his emotions? The team that makes him see possibilities?
The team that helps him visualize a glorious future?
The team that shares his love and passion for his product or service and sees in you a shared passion for achieving something special in partnership?
Reread the previous paragraph, because it encapsulates so much of the presentation passion that is absent in presentations today, and so much of what is needed.
Centuries of Presentation Passion
Passion has served as a crucial element in verbal communication for centuries. Here are two of my favorite quotations on its power:
“True emotional freedom is the only door by which you may enter the hearts of your hearers.”
Brees and Kelley, 1931
“Earnestness is the secret of success in any department of life. It is only the earnest man who wins his cause.”
S.S. Curry, 1895
Recognize in yourself the capacity for passion. Recognize that you have the wherewithal to embrace even the most staid material, the “dullest” project.
Remember always that it is you who make it better. You who invest it with excitement.
You are the alchemist.
Many times you hear an “interesting” presentation about an “interesting” topic. It’s well-done, and it engaged you.
And you wonder why you never seem to get the “interesting” projects.
It’s your job to make it interesting
Have you ever admitted to yourself that you might be the missing ingredient? That perhaps it is your task to invest a project with interest and zest?
That what makes a project “interesting” is not the topic . . . but rather the interaction between material and presenter.
Ultimately, it is your task to transform a “case” or business situation into an interesting and cogent presentation. It’s your task to find the key elements of strategic significance and then to dramatize those elements in such a way that the audience is moved in powerful and significant ways.
And you don’t need an “interesting” case to do it.
You just need presentation passion. More on how to develop especially powerful presentation passion here.
Class had ended, and I was giving final feedback for a group that had just presented their business case and did so without presentation drama.
Not a bad group presentation by any means, but individual students needed work, and I like to give advice that young folks can carry with them beyond the classroom and on into the workaday world.
Not just advice, mind you, but nuggets that can confer personal competitive advantage for a lifetime.
As I briefed the presenters, a colleague entered the classroom and stood by, listening in. He’s a smart man. I respect him for his knowledge of finance.
A curious fellow, too.
He took in my feedback as I advised students to eliminate a verbal gaffe called the “rising line” or the “verbal up-tic,” as I call it. I was demonstrating this awful turn of voice.
The Verbal Up-tic or “uptalk” as it is sometimes called, is a verbal pathology that afflicts at least 50 percent of young presenters and is manifested by transforming simple statements of fact into questions. The Brits call this the “Moronic Interrogative,” and you can probably guess that it is not a compliment.
By eliminating this awful verbal tic, you take a giant step toward presenting excellence.
My students packed up and left, and my colleague stepped up beside me.
“Well! All this drama! It looks and sounds like drama class.”
By now, I’m accustomed to the raised eyebrow of colleagues who look askance at some of the techniques I advocate. It goes with the territory. There is, after all, a kind of lock-step sameness in the faculty view of business presentations.
Deviations from the barebones structure are not appreciated nor are they recognized for the value they can add.
“You could well say that, Roger . . . there’s a big helping of drama here. It’s much like putting on a show. It’s why I call my presentations ‘shows’ and my students my ‘show-people.’”
Because this, in essence, is what visual and verbal communication is all about and how it differs drastically from written work.
It’s no accident that I use the word “show.” This is what we do when we give a presentation . . . when we present. We don’t deliver a presentation; we present.
The presentation is not something behind you on a screen. The presentation is not on a whiteboard or butcher paper. It’s not on a flip chart.
The presentation is you.
A large part of you is how you express yourself – your presence, your expression. We are at our best when we incorporate presentation drama into our projects, and this is the catalyst that provides the grist for our expression and enthusiasm.
By drama, I do not mean the phony excitement and angst of “relationships” gone wrong, the depression of being brought low by a downer “text,” the anxiety of the “drama queen” or the pomposity of “King Drama.”
I mean the “dramatic situation.”
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color.
You have drama inherent in any situation where there is conflict or the potential for conflict.
We in business, engaged as we are in competing to provide goods and services to our customers, are blessed with dramatic situations.
Business cases are chock full of drama – conflict, suspense, turning points, great decisions. You simply must learn to recognize them and to bring them out. It does not mean exaggerated behavior during your presentation, as noted by one of my favorite Speaking Masters of all time, Grenville Kleiser:
This is not a recommendation of paroxysms of feeling, wild gesticulation, tearing and combing of the hair with the fingers, violent pacing up and down the platform, and other manifestations of old-style oratory, happily now obsolete, but rather to suggest a power which, when properly used, will give life, variety, intensity, and color to the spoken message.
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color. These are what you strive for.
This theatrical aspect of presenting can, in theory, surely be overdone. But given the staid status of business presenting, the danger of this in business presentations is nil.
I never see overdone business presentations, but I’d surely welcome one.
You can harness dramatic techniques to your business presenting style, and a number of books delve into this. One of the finest books available on the subject is Ken Howard’s Act Natural, and I strongly urge its purchase if you are serious about taking your presenting power to a whole new level by incorporating presentation drama.
The speaking secret of expression is an advantage that should be yours and not just restricted as a privilege for those toiling in the theater or in film.
Remember that you have incredible power at your disposal in the form of expression that makes use of drama.
A curl of the lip.
A raise of one eyebrow.
Sincere furrows in the forehead.
Speaking Master Joseph Mosher gave us one key secret to expression in 1928, and we would be wise to recognize his observation of the importance of the mouth and eyes.
[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes. The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.
The secret power of presentation drama is yours for the taking. You need only seize it to develop an especially powerful presentation.
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 Presentation 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. Destroy your presentation.
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.”
Whether the percentage is accurate or not, undoubtedly, 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.
Especially Powerful Presentation Mastery
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. It flows 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. It’s false. It feels and looks artificial.
Communicating Without Words
Presentation Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication. You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose. They can imbue your presentation with power.
On rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
Yes, “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 several 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 Power of Presentation Gesture
Why would you want to “gesture?” Aren’t your words enough?
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 carries 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 align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy. 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 days.
Your presentation voice is one key to an especially powerful business presentation . . . or a disastrous one.
Your voice and your appearance are the constants that pervade your presentation from start to finish.
Voice is one of the seven dimensions along which we measure the Power Presenter, and a strong, clear, confident voice is one of the seven secrets of powerful presenting.
Paradoxically, we take our voices for granted.
Because we do, this nonchalant attitude can undermine us and destroy all of our hard work.
But you can become quite a good speaker, a presenter whose voice exudes confidence and is welcomed by the ear. Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser tells us that:
“If nature has not endowed you with a good speaking voice, you can do much toward acquiring one. The organs of speech can be trained, like any other part of the body, by assiduous attention and practice.”
You can do many things to improve your presentation voice – your articulation, your power and range, your force and tone.
If you decide that you want to move to an advanced level of presentations and are drawn to improve your voice’s quality through study and practice, many books and videos and recordings are published each year to help you along.
Much of the best writing on voice improvement was produced in the years when public speaking was considered an art – between 1840 and 1940 – and the advice contained therein are about as universal and timeless as it gets.
The reality is that the human voice is the same now as it was 100 years ago (2,000 years ago) and responds to the proven techniques developed over centuries.
Ready to Change your Presentation Voice
It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.
It’s an instrument with which you communicate. You can sharpen your communication skills by developing a powerful presentation voice. And because most people are oblivious of their own voices, simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality.
Working to improve it with the exercise will improve its quality dramatically.
Let’s consider here just two things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. And actually quite fun, if you approach it the right way.
We have two goals.
First, we want to rid your voice of the chronic crack and rasp. It’s called vocal fry when it’s done intentionally to imitate reality TV personalities. That crack and rasp is a symptom of meekness – no confidence. Do you have this crack and rasp? If not, congratulations and let’s move along. But if you do . . .
“In addition to relaxing the throat muscles, the speaker should make a special effort to vocalize every particle of breath passing over the vocal cords. There should be no wheezy leakage of air.”
Push air across your vocal chords and complete your sentences. Don’t trail off at the end of every sentence with a croaking sound like folks on Disney Channel.
Second, we want to deepen your voice. Why? Like it or not, deeper voices are perceived as more credible. A Stanford University study, one among many, gives the nod to deeper voices:
Our studies show that directions from a female voice are perceived as less accurate than those from a male voice, even when the voices are reading the exact same directions. Deepness helps, too. It implies size, height and authority. Deeper voices are more credible.
Now, should things be this way? Is it “fair” that deeper voices have some kind of advantage?
Deeper Presentation Voice? That’s not fair!
It’s no less fair than that some people are taller than others or larger or faster or rate perfect scores on the SAT. It’s neither fair, nor unfair. It’s simply the reality we’re dealt. If you want to devote your life to fighting for “voice equality,” you have my support. Have at it, and Godspeed.
If, on the other hand, you want to deepen your voice a bit so that you gain personal competitive advantage, then let us analyze what the deep-voice reality means to us.
It means that a deeper presentation voice is more desirable for presenting, regardless of who presents, male or female. Now, the very fact that you are armed with that information empowers you.
When you decide to act on it, it adds to your personal competitive advantage.
Many simple and effective exercises exist to deepen and enrich your voice.
A simple awareness of your own voice-cracking should be enough to remedy that issue. Record your voice, and listen critically. A personal coach can help, or even a trusted confidante as concerned with voice as much as you. Listen to each other, coach each other, and work together to achieve an improved voice.
No, your voice is not a sacrosanct. Voice is the second secret – the second dimension along which speakers are assessed.
 Grenville Kleiser, “How to Speak Well,” in Radio Broadcasting (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1935) , 42-43.
 George Rowland Collins, Platform Speaking (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1923), 33.
 Suter, J. K. (2003). Der Eindruck vom Ausdruck–Einfluss paraverbaler Kommunikation auf die Wahrnehmung von Nachrichtensprechenden [The impression of expression – the influence of paraverbal communication on the perception of newsreaders]. Unpublished master’s thesis. University of Bern, Switzerland.
 Anne Eisenberg, “Mars and Venus, On the Net : Gender Stereotypes Prevail,” (The New York Times, 2000), http://www-personal.umich.edu/~rfrost/courses/SI110/readings/Cyberculture/Eisenberg.pdf
Your ready position is the default stance you assume when giving your talk, when not emphasizing a point with movement and gesture.
Think a moment about how you stand while you give your talk.
I refer to the time when you’re not moving about the stage to emphasize this or that point.
This especially powerful ready position is your anchor, your life preserver in a storm. Your safe harbor.
Powerful . . . Confident . . . In command
When you stride to the stage, move to the command position in front of the lectern and facing the crowd.
Now, plant yourself as you would a paving stone in a garden. Plant yourself firmly, as a stone, with feet shoulder-width apart, weight evenly distributed, shoulders squared. Plant yourself as a deeply rooted Redwood.
Do not slouch or put more weight on one foot than on the other. Point your toes slightly outward. Neither slump, nor stiffen. Shoulders back, head up, expectant.
Do not allow your head to settle down betwixt your collar bones. This compresses your neck like a collapsed concertina. It cramps your voice box and cuts the flow of air that you need to speak.
At this point, let your hands hang loosely at your sides . . . (in a moment, we’ll give you something to do with your hands).
Walking and pointing and looking and eye-contact? Forget it for now.
Forget it all for now.
First, you must seize control of yourself and adopt your strong, basic stance and make it your habit.
You must control all of those little tics and habits and nervous gestures that leech the strength from your presentation. The tics and habits that telegraph your nervousness and lack of confidence.
What tics and habits, you say? Every young presenter has at least some of them and the ready position can help remedy the following pathologies.
Do Not cross your leg in front of you while you balance on the other. This “standing cross” is more prevalent, for some reason, among female presenters than among males. Some males have this habit as well. This is a particularly debilitating movement from both the standpoint of the audience and for you. It projects instability. And it makes you feel unstable.
Do Not cock your hip to one side – this is called a “hip-shot.” Again, this action undermines your foundation. This hip-shot posture degrades your presentation in multiple ways. It shouts nonchalance. It denotes disinterest and impatience. It cries out to the audience a breezy bar demeanor that is completely at odds with the spoken message you want to convey.
Do Not engage in little choppy steps. This side-to-side dance is common. It telegraphs nervousness.
Do Not slump your shoulders. Few things project lack of confidence like rounded shoulders. Slumping shoulders can be a reflexive response to nervousness that leads to a “closed body position.”
Again. Stand in one place, your feet comfortably shoulder-width apart, toes slightly pointed outward. Arms at your sides.
Your Foundation – Your Ready Position
Your goal at this point is to maintain a solid physical foundation. To project an image of confidence to the audience and to imbue yourself with confidence in point of fact. You begin to do this with your stance – solid and confident.
Now here is the most important guidance for your Foundation “Ready” position.
Stand as described, and place your left hand in your pants pocket, out of the way. This position should be your default position. Putting the hand in your pocket gets it out of the way and keeps you out of trouble. Moreover, it projects confidence.
If you have no pocket, ease your left hand a bit behind you and to the side. No, not in a military posture, but enough to disengage it. If you are left-handed, of course disengage your right hand.
And, no, it is not “unprofessional.” This position carries a multitude of positives and no negatives. You never go wrong with this position.
It imbues you with confidence and keeps you copacetic. To your audience, it projects competence, confidence, reassurance, and sobriety: “Here is someone who knows his/her stuff.”
This is your Ready Position.
Everything else you do flows from this position. Practice your two-minute talk from this position and do not move.
Stop and think. When you are ready to make a point that is crucial to your thesis . . . When you are ready to shift subjects or major ideas . . . then—
Then, step to the left while addressing the people on the left flank. Talk to them. Then, step to the right and address those on your right. Hold open your hands, palms up. Walk toward your audience a step or two. Look them in the eyes. Speak to individuals.
Then, step back to the center and retake your ready position.
Let your movements emphasize your points. When you gesture to a portion of the audience, step toward them in a kind of supplication.
And always always, always go back to the ready postion. I have seen dozens of young speakers transformed into capable, confident speakers by virtue of this alone.
How is that possible? By removing the doubt associated with “How will I stand.”
This powerful and stable ready position imbues you with confidence, your first step toward building positive energy within yourself.
The Ready Position — it’s your safe harbor in a sea of presentation uncertainty.
You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation, and an especially powerful technique is to utilize “power posing” as the basis of your stance.
Stance is the first of our Seven Secrets to especially powerful presenting and is fundamental to projecting your strong image.
Let me preface with assurance that I do not expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk. But at the risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it is impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.
Your Foundation – Power Posing
This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”
Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing, which has been researched and popularized by Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception? What is your “bearing?” How do you stand before a crowd when you speak?
Have you ever consciously thought about it?
What is my pose? Sheepish? Mincing? Unsure? Domineering? Awkward?
How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others. It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.
Whether we like this is not the point. The point is that we are constantly signaling others non-verbally.
You send messages to those around you. Folks around us take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.
What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400.
Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting. If so, just what is the message you unconsciously send to people?
Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?
Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern. Your listeners form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.
They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.
This has always been true. Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”
Defeat? Ennui? Melt-down?
Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?
Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui? Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?
Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?
Call this defeatist behavior non-power posing.
Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well. Those effects can be positive or negative.
Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well. The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.
But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.
Another effect is in play, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.
It is this: Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience.
It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you. Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.
Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness.
We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.
It cripples us.
Your emotions affect your body language. They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
Reverse the Process
But . . .
You can reverse the process.
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.
You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic, and this is the secret at the core of power posing.
Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow. Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology. It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange. Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:
Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous. Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . . [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.
Much more recently, a Amy Cuddy’s Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.
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. Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:
[P]osing 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.
In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence. You actually feel more powerful. 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. Assume the posture of confidence. Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing. Square your shoulders.
Affix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly, firmly, and distinctly. In short, let your actions influence your emotions.
Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
So what is a confident posture?
Let’s begin with a firm foundation.
For any structure to endure, we must build on strength. And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations.
You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability. The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.
Consider the confident speaker.
To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident speaker must take a conscious effort to strike such a weak pose. Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a person, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.
The key is to adopt the confident pose and maintain it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.
The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.
Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language. It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.
This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation. It serves as the foundation for everything else to follow.
Today we launch the seven secrets of especially powerful presenting. These 7 Secrets promise to launch you to personal competitive advantage in an ever more challenging job market.
Especially powerful presentation techniques are coming to you over the next two weeks, one every-other-day, right here in your Especially Powerful Presentations Blog.
Have these secrets heretofore been hidden from you?
They certainly don’t appear in your business communication textbooks. Face it . . . has anything good ever come out of a business communication textbook?
So where do these secrets come from?
They reside in the collective wisdom of more than 2,500 years of history. This is the link that you share with every great speaker that history has seen fit to remember – you share their humanity. And this is why their secrets speak to us across the mists of time.
Cicero in 50 BC?
You in 2015 AD?
More than two millennia separate you from the Roman Republic’s greatest orator, so what could you possibly have in common with a man half-a-world away and 2,000 years ago?
Here’s the link
Perhaps Cicero spoke to the Roman Senate during the last days of the Roman Republic, while you now speak to your Business Capstone class with PowerPoint on the screen behind you . . . but you both share a core necessity.
You share the necessity to convince your audience by using a handful of reliable tools that have not changed in two thousand years.
For our purposes, the greatest orators in history are still alive with respect to their techniques, their tools, their words, and their abilities to sway audiences.
William Jennings Bryan
What could these long-gone people possibly say to you to help you become a superior presenter here in the 21st Century?
All of these orators and many more utilized the highly refined and powerful secrets of elocution, declamation, debate, and oratory to command the stage and to sway audiences. They were the superior presenters of their day.
Their techniques and tools comprise the 7 Secrets of Especially Powerful Presentations.
Tools of the Best
The best speakers of the past 50 years use and 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 wouldn’t be secrets any longer.
So they let you believe that they were gifted with special talents.
Not a chance. Techniques, practice, personal branding . . . and 7 Secrets.
You begin to learn these Seven Secrets over the next 14 days.
They are the secrets utilized by every great orator until the age of television, radio, and the computer rendered them lost to the vast majority of us.
They faded from use, supplanted by technology in the mistaken belief that technology had rendered you, the presenter, superfluous.
And so presenting as a skill has withered. Until now.
These secrets do not appear in today’s textbooks, and they appear only in partial form in many trade books. Many students don’t even know about them. They believe that great presenting is alchemy, magic, or a product of superior talent.
Many don’t reach the point at which you read these words right now. Many who read these words this second sneer at them with a world-weary sigh.
But a tiny minority reads on.
A tiny minority will join me tomorrow, and the next two weeks . . .
And that select few will begin to acquire the power, dexterity, energy, and charisma to grow into a bold presenter – at home on the stage, at ease with yourself, and facile with the material. You will become a fabulous business presenter.
With each post, the door opens on a new Secret, and you are presented with a challenge.
Master these Seven Secrets, which form the Seven Pillars of your personal speaking platform, and you will soar higher in the business world than you possibly could have imagined. And your career will soar farther and faster than you ever thought possible.
I hope that you are in that tiny minority that continues to read.
Let’s meet here in a couple of days for Secret #1.
Build an especially powerful Business Presentation with this simple structure: Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.
Every presentation – every superb story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.
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 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.
This framework is not the only way you can build your business 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.
Build a Business Presentation to Withstand the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
It’s an especially powerful structure, and I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation 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 bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that business presentationsmust constitute a painful business ritual?
Bereft of Excellence.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself. It’s like a business ritual . . . a ritual of pain.
Corporate America seems addicted to this ritual.
And yet a conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and those who give them.
The Ritual of Pain is Ubiquitous
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is.
And this bad presentation business ritual perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition . . . like a ritual.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear.
Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence on the screen.
The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.
The slides themselves are unintelligible.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns.
Given this familiar exercise in bad presenting, you could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm – if this is the business ritual – you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.”
I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a 10-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful.
The Business Ritual of Pain.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
This business ritual is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem.
A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – tools like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Competitive Intelligence, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business can seem indifferent to this business ritual.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes un-addressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” We get the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Business Ritual in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago to watch the Business Ritual in all its ignominy.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
It seemed that no preparation and no practice had preceded these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
He then codified responses to this business ritual.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-.
When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature. I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway.
Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents a magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of especially powerful presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.
By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail. We envision humiliation, embarrassment, and complete meltdown.
Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school – “I hate presentations.” This is the chief culprit that leads to inevitably awful presentations.
It undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.
How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a spongy foundation?
Think Like a World-Class Athlete
Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing. Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.
The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.
There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.
How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?
I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.
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 that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk.
We do this to give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.
So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?
Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.
Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.
This fear of the unknown can drive up anxiety. So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.
No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that. We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.
Envision Your Triumph
No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.
Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in superb closure, a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.
When we take the stage, we focus mind on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb.
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 nettle us.
Positive self-talk is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.
Not many of us readily accept suggestions on how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being that impact our presentations.
For instance . . .
There’s nothing sacrosanct or “natural” about your speaking voice. Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.
Develop an Especially Powerful Voice
Why not evaluate your voice today? See if it gets the presentation job done for you.
Does your voice crack? Does it whine? Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence? Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?
Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?
Why not change for the better?
It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being. It is an instrument with which you communicate.
You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice. Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.
Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. Have a look . . .
Make it sit up straight, snap their heads in your direction.
You can do this several ways, and it’s up to you what you choose, but it should fit your audience and the topic of your presentation.
One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line, which was a Malcolm X presentation technique.
This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.
Not Another Canned Talk
One of the greatest public speakers of modern times was the late Malcolm X.
While his oeuvre rarely touched on aspects of business that we deal with in our presentation enterprise, his speeches serve as powerful examples of how to grab an audience and mesmerize it.
His techniques are so powerful that he deserves a category all his own, and you can captivate an audience with Malcolm X presentation techniques.
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a powerful communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques. His charisma was unquestioned and it grew organically from the wellspring of passion that he invested in his cause and in every speech.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.
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.
When you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm, almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
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 today begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.
They sputter with routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or giving jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Use Malcolm X Presentation Technique
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 drawn in his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.
He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport. He then states boldly – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
No Chit-Chat in a Malcolm X Presentation
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?
Has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has. With a Malcolm X presentation technique that grips the audience and never lets it go.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them.
He focused on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes.
He framed the issue in colorful language, and created listener expectations that he would 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 the Malcolm X presentation and ask yourself how he contrived 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.
When you deliver a presentation, one of the most important factors that figures into the success of your talk is whether you take the command presentation position.
Don’t follow the example of most after-dinner speakers or professors, who hide behind the lectern, shuffling notes, looking down, gripping the edges of the podium with white-knuckled fervor.
This is grotesque.
It induces your audience to doze, to drift, to check out.
Instead, seize the metaphorical high ground of the presentation terrain . . . the Command Presentation Position.
And this means that you shun the lectern.
The Abominable Lectern!
The lectern is an abomination.
If you happen to be a liberal arts student who drifted here by mistake, think of the lectern as The Oppressor or The Other. It puts a barrier between you and those whom you address.
For many students, the lectern is a place to hide from the audience.
I recommend using the lectern only once, as a tool . . . and this is the occasion to walk from behind it to approach your audience at the very beginning of your talk. This is an action of communication, a reaching out, a gesture of intimacy.
Do not lean upon the lectern in nonchalant fashion, particularly leaning upon your elbow and with one leg crossed in front of the other.
Fix this now.
Move from behind the lectern and into the Command Presentation Position. In today’s fleeting vernacular, occupy the command presentation position.
The Command Position is the position directly in front of a lectern (or well to the side of the lectern, if it’s located on the wing of the stage) and 4-8 feet from your audience. The Command Position extends approximately 4 feet to either side of you. You are not a visitor in this space.
As a presenter or speaker, this is your home. You own this space, so make it yours. You must always perform as if you belong there, never there as a visitor.
Occupy the command presentation position now for democracy, social justice, and an especially powerful presentation. And personal competitive advantage.
Two pernicious myths pervade the landscape of business presentations, and these myths refuse to be swatted down.
Well, probably more than two myths are circulating, but these two big myths persistently burden folks.
These myths influence two large groups of people.
Without knowing it, these folks subscribe to two schools of presentation thought . . . Birthers and McTips.
The first group – the “Birthers” presentation school – believes that superb public speakers are “born that way.”
Folks in this group believes that it’s nature-not-nurture and that natural talent wins the day. Since it’s an ability you either have or you don’t, well there’s no need to even try.
Just sit back and marvel at those outstanding public speakers who make it all look so easy, but who actually utilize a host of techniques to charm and dazzle you.
Techniques that would be available to you if you would only set aside the self-defeating notion that you can’t develop especially powerful presentation skills.
Rocket Science Presentations? No . . . just reachable goals accessible through dedication and practice.
Supersize Those McTips?
The second group – the “McTips” presentation school – believes that public speaking is both easy and easily learned.
Folks here believe that following a few presenting “McTips” or easy “McSteps” can turn them into tremendous speakers. “Make eye contact” . . . “Move around when you talk” . . . “Use your hands” . . . Presto.
This McTips view is so pernicious that it does more damage than good.
It’s like a get-rich-quick scheme that scams people.
And who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s a painless shortcut to one of the most universally despised activities in corporate America?
One colleague told me a while back, his fingers steepled in front of him, “I can teach my people all they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes . . . all that other stuff is just B__ S___.”
Rocket Science Presentations!
And if becoming a great presenter is so incredibly easy and the product of a few tips or steps, then why does the bar stay so low with regard to business presentations?
Why does our business landscape resemble a wasteland strewn with mind-numbing PowerPoint slides and populated with droning executive automatons?
Both views are not only wrong, but they can stunt your development as a top-notch business presenter.
Great presenters are neither born, nor are they easily made.