What’s this bookending and why is it so important to audience response?
Bookending brings your audience full circle, in a sense. You first hook your audience with an intense introduction, and at then at the conclusion of your presentation, you recapitulate.
This provides a sense of closure and completion for the audience.
Presentation Structure Begins with This
The First Bookend.
This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
It can’t be a gimmick, or the audience will feel cheated.
Your grabber must startle and delight your audience. An interesting fact, a controversial statement, a powerful phrase.
And then you follow with your situation statement, which flows naturally from your grabber.
Your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences tells the audience exactly what they are about to hear, start to finish.
One of the best grabbers/situation statements I’ve ever heard was this pithy formulation:
“There’s a deal on the table. Don’t take it. Here’s why.”
That grabber is direct and is almost enough for a situation statement as well. It pulses with power. If you’re the one associated with the “deal on the table,” how could you not want to hear what comes next?
In fact, it encompasses the entire presentation in three especially powerful sentences.
That’s your first bookend.
The Middle of Your Presentation Structure
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.
Because of the Rule of Three that I have spoken of in this space so many times. We seem to be hard-wired to receive information most efficiently in threes. Whether it’s a slogan or a fairy tale, when information is grouped in threes, we respond well to it and we remember it better.
This three-part presentation structure can serve you well as a framework for most any presentation.
As you wind to a conclusion, you then construct your second and final bookend.
Recapitulation of your Presentation Structure
You say these words: “In conclusion, we can see that—” Then . . .
Repeat your original situation statement. Hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your presentation.
Finally, say: “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”
You come full-circle, so to speak, and the audience gains a sense of completeness. This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole. Your audience appreciates the closure.
Rather than a linear march, where nothing said in your presentation seems to relate to anything that came before, you offer a satisfying circularity. You bring your audience home.
You bring you audience back to the familiar starting point, and this drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways: 1) the outright repetition of your theme, cementing it in the minds of your listeners, and 2) the story convention of providing a satisfying ending, tying up loose ends, and giving psychological closure.
It’s an elegant technique that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.
With regard to presentations, I deal with two large groups of people. For descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “McTips!”
“Natural Born” and “McTips!” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become an especially powerful and superior business presenter.
Neither is remotely accurate.
And neither group is what might be called enlightened in these matters. Members of both groups are frustrating and irritating in their own ways and completely self-serving.
Here is why . . .
We often look for folks to excuse us from what, deep down, we know we ought to do, or what we can do. If we look hard enough, we find what we search for, and excuses are extremely easy to find.
Let’s look at these two excuses that hold us back from fulfilling our potential as especially powerful presenters.
The First View
The first view would have us believe that great speakers are born with some arcane and unfathomable gift, combining talent and natural stage facility.
That Bill Clinton sprang from the womb declaiming that he feels our pain.
That Ronald Reagan was born orating on lower capital gains taxes. That Oprah Winfrey began her talk show career in kindergarten.
If the first view holds that great speakers are born with a gift, then quite logically this view leaves the rest of us to strive with middling presentation skills.
It’s an excuse for us not to persevere. Why bother to try?
Why not, instead, hire some of these natural born speaker types to do the heavy presentation lifting? The rest of us can skate along and pretend that we’re not actually lazy . . . or frightened . . . or disinterested . . . or unambitious.
The Second View . . . Presentation McTips!
The second view is the opposite of the first.
This “McTips!” perspective would have us believe that delivering effective presentations is a snap. So easy, in fact, that one of my colleagues assured me confidently and with not a little hubris that he could teach his undergraduates “everything they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”
He also assured me that “all that other stuff you talk about is B.S.”
Has the presentation landscape changed so much that what was once taught as a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions of speaking “tips”?
I actually saw a headline on an article that offered 12 Tips to Become a Presentation God! Have the demands of the presentation become so weak that great presenting can be served up in McDonald’s-style kid meals . . . “You want to super-size your speaking McTips?”
In the 1800s, public speaking was refined to an almost-art; “elocution” was the new science/art, and departments of elocution and public speaking flourished in universities throughout the land.
In Philadelphia, on Walnut Street in fact, the National School for Elocution and Oratory became a Mecca for would-be stars of the pulpit, the stage, the bar, and the political wars in the 1890s.
On into the first decades of next century, public speech was regarded with respect and a high-skill to be mastered with much study and practice.
The fact is that despite however much we might wish otherwise, today’s PowerPoint high-tech software multi-media offerings cannot change the fundamental truth that it is still you who must deliver the presentation.
So no . . . you cannot learn “everything you need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.” You cannot become an especially powerful presenter at the fastfood drive-in window, unless you want to ply presenting at the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers that populate every business and law firm from New York to Nashville, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Savannah to San Diego.
Ask yourself . . . if learning to deliver top-notch presentations is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?
The Third View – The Power Zone
There is a third group, and it is destined to remain small.
This group is privy to the truth, and once you learn the truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way. Consider this pop culture analogy from the 1999 film The Matrix.
In The Matrix, humans live in a world that is not what it seems. In fact, everything they believe about the world is false. Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) offers to reveal the truth to Neo (Keanu Reeves) about his existence. Morpheus offers Neo a Blue Pill and a Red Pill. The Blue Pill returns him to his old state of ignorance. The Red Pill reveals the secret, and once he learns it, Neo cannot return to his old life.
The process of presentation discovery is much like the red-pill/blue-pill choice that Morpheus offers to the young computer hacker Neo . . .
You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Likewise, you can stop reading this article this instant – the blue pill – and return to the righteous and relaxing world of “Natural Born” or “McTips!” Both viewpoints allow the average presenter to remain mired in mediocrity with an excuse that sounds plausible.
One perspective means you don’t try at all, other means you offer token effort as befits a low-level pedestrian task. So, if you decide to take the Blue Pill, close this site and go your own way. Bon voyage! I wish you a hearty good-luck and Godspeed, and perhaps you will be happier for your choice.
But if you are one of the few who thinks for a moment . . . “Hmm. What if the Professor is right?”
Then . . . Take the Red Pill
Then you can read on to the
next brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity. For the truth is in the Power Zone, and once there, you will never be satisfied with your old presentation life again.
You cannot go back.
That’s the paradox, the Curse of Freedom. It is completely within your power to seize the fruits of great presenting. It’s your choice.
You can launch an auspicious presentation career right now, right this minute. Or you can dismiss this site as yet another fraudulent claim to revealing secrets to you . . . only to have it exposed as a method that requires you to actually do something.
A method that transforms you.
Choose the Red Pill. Step boldy into the Power Zone.
The Power Zone is the province of the privileged few who understand the truth that anyone can become a great presenter, with the right kind of hard work and the willingness to become a great presenter.
To join this third group requires you to take on a new state of mind. If you already carry this view, that’s superb. If you don’t . . . you can decide now to adopt it or forever be relegated to the other two groups – believing you’re not good enough, or believing you are good enough when you’re actually not.
Public presentations – great presentations – require study and practice and preparation and technique. A deep philosophical, academic, and professional history undergirds public speaking. This history informs the very best presenters and their work. You dismiss it only to your great loss.
No, you need not become a scholar of public speaking. In fact, few people have that deep an interest in the subject and even fewer can claim that kind of knowledge today.
But what you can and should do is this: Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of found treasure.
You actually can become a capable presenter. You can become a great presenter. When you enter the Power Zone, you are both cursed and blessed with knowledge. This knowledge represents two sides of the same coin.
You are cursed with the knowledge that the only limitation you have is you. You are blessed with the knowledge that you can become a good – even great – speaker.
An especially powerful presenter.
Now, you have no other real excuse. It’s totally up to you.
For the ultimate guide to developing your personal brand as an especially powerful business presenter, CLICK HERE.
They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.
Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message? So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?
It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own. Then, the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show. A formula for disaster.
The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing.
Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.
Sports teams don’t practice this way. Serious people don’t practice this way.
Don’t you practice this way.
Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.
Transition Between Speakers
This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting. Lots of turns.
This ungainly dance disconcerts your audience and can upend your show.
Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.
I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.
Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic. At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.
The speaker walks away while still citing a point. Perhaps an incredibly important point.
Don’t rush from the stage.
Stay planted in one spot until you finish.
Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion. It should reiterate your Most Important Point.
Introduce your next segment. Then transition. Then pass the baton with authority.
Harmonize your Messages
Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show. Each presenter must harmonize the message with the others of a business presentation. These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.
“On the same page” . . . “Speaking with one voice” . . . These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony. This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.
It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.
This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.
Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part. This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time.
Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.
Remember: Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly. Transition between speakers with authority and confidence.
Overarching the craft of developing an especially powerful presentation is the guidance provided by the “Three Ps,” and the last of of these Ps provides a solid foundation of powerful business presentation principles.
There are seven of them.
These Seven Principles of Especially Powerful Presenting constitute the building blocks of your presentation persona. And you’ll not find a PowerPoint slide in sight.
Elsewhere, I’ve characterized these principles as “secrets.” Like any secret, it’s only a secret if you don’t know it.
Business Presentation Principles are Secret?
They are secrets. In fact, they could be the most open secrets that mankind has ever known.
But they’re difficult secrets.
Difficult – because they require you to actually do something.
They require you to modify your behavior in ways to take advantage of what has been discovered about public speaking and presenting over the past 2500 years.
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 business presentation principles – 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.
Break-Down of Business Presentation Principles
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 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 parses them, 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.
Business Presentation Principles for Power and Impact
The upshot is that this Third P of Especially Powerful Presenting – Business Presentation Principles – guides us to master the Seven Secrets, to transform ourselves into truly adept presenting instruments. To put us 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 we’ll revisit them again soon.
For now, let’s remember that the especially powerful presenters of the past 50 years have used basic presentation principles – 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 techniques and tricks of the trade, of course.
They simply let you believe that they were gifted with special talents. Not a chance.
But how can you say, Professor Ridgley, that there is such a thing as “bad presentation practice?”
Aren’t you pleased that folks are at least . . . practicing?
Bad practice is pernicious. It’s insidious.
It can create the illusion of improvement and yet be a prelude to disaster.
How so? Just this . . .
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 presentation practice?
Check yourself out . . . then shun the Mirror
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.
Let me 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 presentation 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.”
The armed forces are expert 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 mission.
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.al missions assigned to it.
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.
Likewise, once you have practiced your talk, your fear dissipates.
Confidence Replaces Fear
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 . . .
Perfect Presentation Practice
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?
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 on how they should give a finance presentation . . .
“Finance Presentations are different.”
“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”
“For us, the numbers tell the story.”
Finance Presentation 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 when they give a finance presentation.
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.
How Not go Give a Finance Presentation
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. The group of presenters merely stands 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 the netherworld.
The Good News
In every obstacle exists an opportunity.
Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you give a finance presentation using 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. Because it should be.
Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect your superb finance education.
But how you give a finance presentation 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 easily outshine the hoi polloi.
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.
Snippers have a verbal tic – they snip the ends of sentences during a business presentation.
You’ve probably heard these presentation snippers, too – they pinch the ends of sentences.
This is an unfortunate verbal tic. Tics can drag us down.
And it’s the elimination of these verbal tics that separate great speakers from good speakers.
Don’t Be a Snipper!
If you are looking for tangible evidence of individual tics and habits that bring speakers down to the level of, well . . . to the level of sounding amateurish, this is one of those clear cases.
The phenomenon that I speak of is the staccato voicing of the last word of a sentence.
Sometimes the voice drops, just like that of a child reading sentences from a story book. Each sentence is a great accomplishment, and the child celebrates by dropping the voice and snipping the last word.
As if each sentence is a story in itself.
For whatever reason, many folks who speak from a script or who read aloud become snippers. They cut the last word of a sentence short. As if in a race to get to the next sentence.
As if each sentence stands alone, unconnected to the sentences to follow.
One good source of bad speaking technique is to listen to commercials that feature “everyday people” giving testimonials.
Folks become snippers when they read from a script or speak memorized passages.
Tune in to this.
Make it a habit to listen closely to speakers you admire, but also the speakers who, for whatever reason, you do not like. Ask yourself why you like one speaker and not another.
Why all the Snipping?
Why do people snip their sentences? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s an unconscious desire to voice the period at the end of a sentence?
Perhaps it’s to get a quicker breath to start the next sentence, so that there is a little silence as possible between sentences?
You can acquire an additional patina of professionalism by simply not doing this. Refuse to snip. Refuse to be a snipper.
Give full voice to every word in your sentence. Especially the last one. Don’t draw it out unnaturally, but certainly don’t snip it off.
Regardless, I believe that it’s incredibly important to the speaker who wishes to become a great presenter to be aware of the pathology.
But you may not agree.
This may seem unimportant to you. Do you scoff at this? Are you a snipper and believe that it’s something too small, too unimportant to consider? Are you unaware whether you do this or not, and do not care one way or the other?
If so, then you handicap yourself with a bad habit whose cumulative effect over the course of any single presentation yields an impression on the audience. That this is an amateur speaker.
If so, then continue down that path. Good luck and Godspeed!
But your audience will be the ultimate arbiter, and it will judge you.
As with so many of the tics and habits and quirks of bad public speaking, the audience may not recognize them individually. But they know that they’re in the presence of the mundane and of the average.
If you wish to improve your business presenting in ways great and small . . . If you want to correct repetitive tics that drag you down, like barnacles slowing a ship, then listen to yourself.
Do you begin confidently and strongly? Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?
Do you sidle into it? Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.
Do you back into Your Business Presentation?
Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points? Is your story even relevant? Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?
Do you shift and dance?
Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?
Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker? Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?
Here’s an example of a Lame Start
I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Wal-Mart case. The lead presenter was Janie. She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years. She spoke in monotone. She flashed a timeline on the screen.
Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.
I wondered at what all of this might mean.
I waited for a linking thread.
I waited for her main point. As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed. The linking thread had not come.
The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point. At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.
“Janie, what was that beginning all about? How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”
“Those were just random facts,” she said.
“Yes!” she said brightly.
And she was quite ingenuous about it.
She was giving “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way. I do not say this to disparage her. Not at all.
In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously, and has since progressed to graduate school.
But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation? Is it the notion that anything you say at the beginning is okay?
Let’s go over the beginning, shall we? Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about. When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.
Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement
You begin with your introduction. Here, you present the Situation Statement.
This is key to setting up a Powerful Business Presentation.
The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear. It’s the reason you and your audience are there. What will you tell them? The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.
Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here. Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk. Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.
A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow! It focuses everyone on the topic. Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk. Don’t tip-toe into it. Don’t be vague. Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.
What do I mean by this? Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:
“Good morning, how is everyone doing? Good. Good! It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity. I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia. Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation. We’re hoping that—”
No . . . no . . . and no.
Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!
Try starting this way:
“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2009 and increase our market share by another 10 percent. A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12 months from now.”
You see? This is not the best intro, but it’s solid. No “random facts.” No wasted words. No metaphorical throat-clearing. No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.
State the reason you’re there.
Put the Pow in Powerful Business Presentations!
Now, let’s add some Pow to it.
A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:
“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways. How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse. Our recommended response?
Aggressive growth. We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”
Remember in any story, there must be change. The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.
We must explain this change. We must craft a response to this change. And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.
That is why you have assembled your team. To explain the threat or the opportunity. To provide your analysis. To provide your recommendations.
Remember, put Pow into your beginning. Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive. Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way. Malcolm X was a great presenter, and he used this technique better than most.
He could snap his audience to attention. He compelled his listeners to sit up straight, to focus on his message.
You can do this several ways, too. It’s up to you what method you choose, but it should fit your audience and your presentation.
One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line. This is 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.
One of the finest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X. Yes, Malcolm X was a great presenter, and his speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.
The Effects of Rhetoric
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator. He 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 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. You 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 begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.
Bad presentations launch with a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document. Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.
Especially Powerful Technique
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 leavens 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. He has laid out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.
He established 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?
Malcolm X was a Great Presenter with Power and Depth
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. Ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.
In subsequent posts, we look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation and builds to his call for action at the end.
Recognize that your presentation differs from the written report.
Accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final written solution.
Treat it this way, and your chances that you win your case competition increase dramatically.
How to Win Your Case Competition
The analytical competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.
Your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries.
With this substantive parity among competing teams, a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters will win the day most every time.
If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it wins.
If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.
You are the presentation.
By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.
You know the techniques of the masters.
You are skilled. Confident.
You have become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker who constantly refines himself or herself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed: Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.
Employ the Seven Secrets to Win Your Case Competition
When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own. Here are some tips how to do this. Their combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory.
The team then creates their first draft presentation.
It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.
Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden or from the written material you prepare. The numbers “do not speak for themselves.”
The “power of your analysis” does not win your case competition on its own. You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.
Your case solution is not judged on its merit alone, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it.
It is judged on how well you communicate the idea.
Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation. And you must orchestrate your presentation so that you work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present, and with the new knowledge you create.
You are performing, like a cast in a play. Ensure everyone plays the part well.
It’s always exciting to reprise a successful lecture, and Friday in Philadelphia I did just that with a six-hour seminar for business executives on Business Lessons from the Great Battles of History.
Three months in the crafting, the Great Battles seminar had its germination in the suggestion by one of my colleagues.
He had engaged me to deliver my earlier lecture series on Competitive Intelligence, which used historical military examples and multimedia, and thought that a full-blown seminar focused on the nexus between business strategy and military strategy might be well-received.
It was received well. It called for an encore
What follows is the gist of this powerful offering . . .
War, Conflict . . . and Business Lessons
In business, we have adopted the language of war and of conflict.
We talk of market penetration . . . we counterattack a competitor . . . we out-flank our opponents.
We get ambushed in office meetings . . . we form alliances and we battle against alliances . . . we conduct “hasty retreats” when facing a superior foe . . . we “make peace” with our enemies.
And we craft our strategy for our next campaign.
Perhaps it’s only natural that we should speak this way. Ours is a world of conflict and cooperation.
And sometimes the cooperation seems only a prelude to conflict.
But rather than simply adopt the machismo of war-words, we can go beyond the surface similarities.
We can study and learn something about planning and executing business strategy from the actual techniques of martial combat. Here, we look at some of the tactical techniques utilized by the military and codified in military manuals worldwide.
Some of techniques of maneuver and attack are familiar to most people. Others, not so well-known.
The best strategic maneuver, of course, is one that Sun Tzu recommended more than 2,000 years ago. Sun Tzu urged us to consider techniques that would yield bloodless victories.
He said: “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
Most of us are not blessed with the kind of acumen or situation that affords us the luxury to win without battle. And so we must make do with techniques that can yield victory, if applied judiciously and the proper place and time.
Business Lessons: Circumspection a Must
But we must be circumspect and shrewd.
We must observe certain principles, and the hallmark of a sound principle is its successful application, across time, to situations in which the terms and technology may change, but the principle still holds.
Principles serve as a north star to guide us, to keep us going in the right direction.
In conflict situations, The Principles of War offer us guiding ideas for executing any strategy against a determined opponent – Objective, Offensive, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Mass, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity.
The point is to think strategically . . . to exert a measure of control over a chaotic world, a sometimes hostile world.
All smart and successful organizations make use of war principles but call them something else. We call them efficiency tools and such like.
But let’s call them what they are.
Let’s do call them “Principles of Competition” . . . because they can be utilized by anyone involved in any conflict, great or small . . . they can be used at the organizational level . . . and they can be used at the personal level.
Many countries and many theorists have devised principles of war over the centuries. This noble and venerable lineage stretches back to the time of Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Vegetius, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Jomini, Foch, and many other notables. But regardless of the time and place and personality, the principles have always retained a sameness . . .
Principles may change at the periphery, but they maintain a steadfast core character.
Business Lessons: Principles of Competition
For this seminar on Business Lessons, we appropriate for ourselves a set of Principles of War distilled by British Colonel John Frederick Charles Fuller during World War One and into the mid-1920s and adopted almost immediately in a slightly different form, by the United States military.
These are principles that had been handed down less formally for centuries.
The lessons learned on the battlefield can help us in the boardroom and they can help us compete effectively against a determined and equally capable competitor.
Here, we examine business lessons from the great battles of history – General Pagondas at Delium in 424 BC, Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC, Lee at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863. We look to Zulu Chief Cetshwayo at Isandlwana in 1879, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg of France in 1940, the Battle of Kursk in 1943, Israel’s Raid on Entebbe in 1976, and the First Gulf War, among others.
Was Friday’s seminar delivered with elan and panache? With brio?
Was it an especially powerful presentation?
One hopes, and we’ll see.
The jury is still out on this one and we await the verdict.
Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns the ones we don’t know we don’t know.
Without going too deeply into the philosophy behind it all, let’s simply note that this construction dates back to Confucius . . . and perhaps earlier.
Broken down, it can be stated this way:
There are things we know.
There are things we do not know.
There are things we know we do not know.
There are things we do not know we do not know.
Much insight is bound up in this matrushka doll of logic.
In fact, lurking within this formula is a key to our business success, to our differentiation, to our personal brand. Understanding what we don’t know.
Rumsfeld’s trope is simply a call for humility and recognition that false certitude can be far more harmful than healthy skepticism. No, we don’t know at all.
In fact, there may be a great deal of what we know that isn’t so.
Take, for example, the following two experiences of people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of their own abilities.
“These Pictures Just Didn’t Come Out”
Photography – good photography – is a skill. The framing and composition of superb photographs is not “natural” or intuitive.
And yet, the vast majority of us believe that we can take spectacular photos. A professional photographer who worked for me years ago was tickled by a co-worker who believed he was an excellent photographer, even as evidence to the contrary was abundant.
She told how he repeatedly engaged in a fantasy.
His latest batch of photos of a reception would come in, and his coworkers would gather ’round him. He would thumb through the photos one at a time, and he would cast many of them aside peevishly.
“These pictures just didn’t come out,” he’d say with a shake of the head. “They just didn’t come out,” and he would invariably imply that some mechanical malfunction had ruined his photos.
Or hazy weather.
Or bad karma.
Anything but his own lack of skill.
Through it all was his inability to actually see and understand that the “picture did not come out” because of the most obvious reason in the world:
He did not know how to take photographs.
In fact, he was terrible.
But he claimed that out-of-focus, poorly framed, underexposed, overexposed photos were the result of some external problem, not his own lack of skill. This type of hubris borne of blissful ignorance has its counterpart in the innocence of children.
Who’s the teacher? That depends on your perspective . . .
A tennis instructor friend of mine tells the story of working with a six-year-old child.
You have to admire the chutzpuh of children, who, in their innocence, are unaware of the larger world and oftentimes unaware of their role as students in this world, subject to the instruction of teachers.
Upon starting the first tennis lesson, the child quietly watched the tennis pro demonstrate the basic forehand. Then, the child boasted to her: “This is how I hit the ball.”
And the youngster proceeded to demonstrate the proper technique to the tennis instructor, as if the two of them were accomplished tennis pros simply sharing pointers with each other.
The child was blissfully ignorant of the depth and breadth of the game of tennis. So the child speaks with a confidence and easiness that betrays that ignorance.
Honest ignorance in this case.
And what a wonderful confidence it is, the confidence of a child. A superb tennis instructor works with this raw confidence and molds into it an actual expertise and respect for the game without destroying it.
When you hear people dismiss public speaking as “easy” or a “cinch” or something that they’ll “wing” in their next class, remember the phrases . . .
“These pictures just didn’t come out.”
“This is the way I hit the ball.”
Many folks are simply ignorant of the depth and breadth of the public speaking domain.
So they wax eloquently and ignorantly about it, believing it to be something that it is not. Easier than it is.
Especially Powerful Presenting – What we don’t know
Powerful presenting is actually the judicious application of high-order skills of gesture, voice, movement, style, focus, elocution, and even intuition. This concept is alien to the “Easy Presenting” group.
Moreover, the very nature of these skills is foreign to them.
The skill set of the advanced and effective presenter is much akin to that of the actor, and these skills would seem irrelevant to someone with only a superficial understanding of the art of presenting.
After all, business is serious, right? Wheareas mere “acting” is . . . well, frivolous.
Acting is talent-based, right, with no role for learned techniques? Hardly. Acting coach Anita Jesse zeroes-in on the basic skills necessary to powerful acting, and they are as easily applied to the art of powerful presenting:
Almost any proficient actor will tell you that expertise [in acting] depends upon a short list of basic skills. Those building blocks are concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation.
Concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation. These are the qualities necessary to an actor’s powerful performances, and these are likewise qualities essential to the power presenter.
They are elements of Personal Presence, and they are essential to the delivery of an especially powerful presentation.
I often see posts on LinkedIn from people who perpetuate the “comfort” myth, who advocate personal comfort as the boundary line between who we are and who we hope to be in the realm of what we might call uncomfortable business presentations.
“I just don’t feel comfortable doing that” vies for one of the poorest excuses I hear for refusing to become a great presenter.
Sure, make me a great presenter . . . just don’t make me change what I’m doing now, because I might feel “uncomfortable.”
“Uncomfortable Business Presentations”
When did our “comfort” become the yardstick by which we measure presentation greatness? You think that you can become a great business presenter without changing behavior?
Odd as that sounds, many people believe it. Because they think the essence of great presenting exists somewhere outside themselves – in a software package or in some secret that’s been kept from them.
Just the other day, I saw someone post presentation “advice” in a major forum, urging would-be speakers to stick close to the podium if they “felt uncomfortable” moving more than a few steps away from it while speaking.
What awful advice. Heinous.
If you’re a person who buys into the “comfort myth,” then stay away from me and don’t even talk to me about wanting to improve your business presenting skill.
If your presentations suck, if you’re stiff, and your voice grates, and you hide behind the podium, and you can’t look at people, and you get tongue-tied, and you slouch and dance, and you’ve made your presentations this way as long as you can remember . . . I guarantee that you’ll feel “uncomfortable” doing anything else.
So, if “comfort” is your goal, just keep on keepin’ on. It’s one of the easiest “accomplishments” you’ll achieve in your life.
Comfortably Bad Habits
If your degree of “comfort” determines what you do in life, then resign yourself to mediocrity right now, this second.
“I just don’t feel comfortable mingling with people.”
“I just don’t feel comfortable training for a marathon.”
“I just don’t feel comfortable playing a difficult piece of music.”
“I just don’t feel comfortable practicing new presentation techniques.”
If that’s your attitude and your excuse, then prepare yourself to stay exactly where you are in life as you avoid uncomfortable business presentations. Settle in and get “comfortable,” because that’s where you’ll be 20 years from now.
Again, if your presentations suck now, if you’re stiff, and your voice grates, and you hide behind the podium, and you can’t look at people, and you get tongue-tied, and you slouch and dance . . . you’ll still be doing it 20 years from now, assuming that anyone in his or her right mind let’s you get up in front of an audience when the stakes truly count.
If you grow “comfortable” in your bad habits, they’re still bad habits. And you will break them only by adopting new habits . . . that discomfit you initially. They feel “uncomfortable” until they become “comfortable” for you.
So, if you want to remain right where you are, stagnant, never improving, I urge you to just stay “comfortable.”
Your more ambitious competition in the workforce will thank you.
You find all sorts of problems in group work. Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.
Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you? Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?
Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.
Unpredictability of the Group Presentation
The first major challenge is the unpredictability of your situation.
One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability. The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.
It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables join the mix in the form of other people.
We all prefer to control our own destiny. Most all of us want to be judged on our own work. We like to work alone. This is very much the craftsman’s view.
Our labors are important to us.
We take pride in our work.
But with group work, the waters muddy. It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what. Consequently, we worry about who gets the credit.
We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.
We begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked.
We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.
We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.
How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?
How will they know our contribution? With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply. Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?
The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination.
Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often work part-time, must somehow work together. Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects. And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”
So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.
Why the Group Presentation? It’s a Complex World
The group presentation isn’t easy. It can be downright painful.
Infuriating. It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.
So why do your professors require them? Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?
You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons. One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load. The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers. This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students. There are three big problems with this.
First, by definition, individual work is not group work. If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.
Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses. The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.
Frankly, this is the way it should be.
Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.
While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 20 presentations or more in course of a semester and then evaluate them.
I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.
The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this: You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world. In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.
So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?
The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant. This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves.
There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation. You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.
These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.
So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.
In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.
“But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”
Move around when you talk.
“Did he tell you how?” I asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’ Did he tell where to go . . . what to do . . . when to do it . . . tell you what it would accomplish?”
“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”
“Just ‘move around?’”
Ponder that piece of advice a moment. Ponder that advice and then reject it utterly, completely. Forget you ever read it.
What Rotten Advice
Never just move around during your Business Presentation.
Don’t wander aimlessly.
Never just “move around” the stage.
Everything you do should contribute to your message. Movement on-stage is an important component to your message. It’s a powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication. Movement can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.
But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.
And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.
Just as some folks are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks just can’t stop moving. They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat.
They move constantly, as if dodging imaginary bullets. They fear to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots.
This kind of agitated movement is awful.
Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all.
Aimless movement indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.
It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.
“Move around when you talk.”
It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.
At first, the advice seems innocent enough. Even sage. Aren’t you supposed to move around during your presentation? Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk? Didn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presented at those big Apple Fests?
Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.
But do you know why they “move” and to what end? Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect?
Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another? Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama just “move around” when they talk?
If I tell you to “move around during your presentation,” what will you actually do?
Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.
Will you flap your arms? Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders? Shake your fist at the crowd?
Move Around During Your Presentation, You Say?
How? Where? When? Why? How much?
Awful advice. We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse. Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all.
Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question. Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .
Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something. Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing. Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless. Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion. Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.
You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator.
Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement. What must you actually do during your talk? Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
In my next post, I answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.
Interested in more especially powerful techniques for your business presentation? Click here and discover the world of business presentations.
It can also be lucrative, as prize money for winning teams can be substantial . . . from $1,000 all the way up to $25,000.
Sure, you’ve presented in class in front of your professor and folks that you know, but you’ve not felt pressure until you’ve competed against the finest MBAs from other schools.
How do you and your school stack up against the best of the rest?
Business School Rankings are one thing, but MBA Case Competitions offer one of the few head-to-head matchups between schools.
And all the PR in the world can’t substitute for victory over your rivals.
Who Competes in MBA Case Competition . . . and How?
Let’s take, as an example, a Finance MBA Case Competition.
These are top-notch MBA students with work experience and especially powerful motivation to not only invest in a rigorous MBA program but to test their skills publicly in the fire of MBA case competition.
Substantively, this is a talented lot.
My colleagues, who specialize in the wizardry of finance, ensure that no idle comment goes unchallenged, no misplaced decimal escapes detection. That no unusual explanation goes unexplored.
At the higher-level finals competition, this fine-toothed comb catches few errors . . . because few errors exist to be caught. These are superb students, imbued with a passion for the artistry of a company’s financial structure and operations.
Along this dimension, the teams are relatively well-matched.
But stylistically, much remains to improve.
And if you believe that “style” is somehow unimportant, you err fatally with regard to the success of your presentation.
By style, I mean all of the orchestrated elements of your business presentation that combine to create the desired outcome – emotional involvement with your message, a compelling story, and acceptance of your conclusions. And all explained in an especially powerful way that transmits competence and confidence.
In this sense, style becomes substance in an MBA case competition.
So, while the substantive content level of the top teams in competition is often superb, style differentiates the finest from the rest and can determine the competition winner.
To enter that top rank of presenters, note these common pathologies that afflict most teams of presenters, both MBA students and young executives.
I don’t mean actual clearing of the throat here. Unfortunately, many teams engage in endless introductions, expressions of gratitude to the audience, even chattiness with regard to the task at hand. Get to the point. Immediately. State your business.
Deliver a problem statement . . . and then your recommendation, up-front. With this powerful introductory method, your presentation takes on more clarity in the context of your already-stated conclusion.
2) Lack of confidence
Lack of confidence is revealed in several ways, some of them subconscious. Uptalk, a fad among young people, undermines even the best substance because of its constant plaintive beg for validation.
Dancing from foot to foot, little dances around the platform, the interjection of “you know” and “you know what I mean” wear away the power of your message like a whetstone.
3) Unreadable PowerPoint slides
The visuals are unreadable because of small fonts and insufficient contrast between numbers/letters and the background. Ugly spreadsheets dominate the screen to no purpose.
This sends the audience scrambling to shuffle through “handouts” instead of focusing attention on the points you want to emphasize. You have created a distraction.
You have created a competitor for your attention that takes focus off your presentation.
4) Ineffective interaction with visuals
Rare is the student who interacts boldly with his or her slides, touching the screen, guiding our eyes to what is important and ensuring that we understand.
Instead, we often see the dreaded laser pointer. This is one of the most useless tools devised for presentation work (unless the screen is so massive that you cannot reach an essential visual that must be pointed out).
The laser pointer divides your audience attention three ways – to the presenter, to the slide material, and to the light itself, which tends to bounce uncontrollably about the screen.
I forbid the use of laser pointers in my classes as a useless affectation.
No time for Modesty or Mediocrity
The MBA Case Competition is your chance to demonstrate a wide range of corporate business skills in a collaborative effort. You receive recognition, valuable experience, sometimes monetary reward, and perhaps an open door to corporate employment.
Work on correcting the most common errors, and you have started the journey to competition excellence.
Every presentation – every 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 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.
A Sturdy Business Presentation Structure
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
I suggest you use it to build your presentation 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.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation advice never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Bad Presentation Advice
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way. It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) I have discovered that most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Just stop.
And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.
But Bad Presentation Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.
The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice. This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor. Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.
No more strange finger-play.
No more tugging at your fingers. No more twisting and handwringing. It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth. It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.
And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors. This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.
It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.
In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.
Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning. “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion. This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.
“We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.
Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? You counted them?
I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.
They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.
Words to help you deliver a magic presentation that rivets the audience’s attention and guides them along a path that you’ve chosen. Magic presentation words that bring your audience to a conclusion that your listeners, themselves, believe they arrived at on their own.
In fact, I know a series of magic spells to use during business presentations, spells that can get you out of trouble, spells to dazzle the audience and lead them where you want to go.
But you won’t believe it’s magic.
Disbelief in Magic Presentation Words
You see, we may not know what magic is, but we do think we know what magic is not . . . and it’s surely not the seemingly mundane advice given in a blogpost about business presenting.
The trouble with offering folks a formula to help them deliver a magic presentation is that they don’t recognize that the magic isn’t for them. Not at all.
The magic is for the audience and the effect it has on the audience. And the effects are mostly subtle.
So, when I reveal the magic words, the subtle and especial incantations that move the audience en masse, it is invariably the case that the people who hear them are not happy.
They feel cheated somehow.
They just know that whatever else these words are, they surely are not “magic.” And they ignore the power of magic in their presentations, the subtle and powerful effects achieved by words so unobtrusive that the audience doesn’t even consciously register them when they’re spoken. The audience simply reacts in ways you want it to.
Here’s an example.
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble toward the end of a presentation. Having these magic words near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course. A speech flirting with disaster.
Your Magic Presentation Words
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
Your Magic Words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
Conclude a Presentation with Pith and Power
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable to what a logical, reasonable person would believe. As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear. And your audience responds with keen attention, summoned to a state of alertness by this simple yet powerful formulation.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do. And your audience is with you in spirit.
Here is what you do. Confidently add another phrase to your magic words, this way . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works? You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
. . . stop!
But you’re not done building your Personal Competitive Advantage by improving your business presentation skills . . . consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presentingfor more on magic presentation words that spellbind your audience.