I offer this superb business presentation tip – bookend your presentation or presentation segment to give the audience a satisfying experience.
What is bookending?
This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
You follow with your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences.
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points. As you wind to a conclusion, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your segment.
A Powerful Business Presentation Tip
When you have finished your presentation message and are ready to set your second bookend that concludes your presentation, call on these magic words.
You say these words: “In conclusion, we can see that . . . .” Then – repeat your situation statement.
Then say: “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”
You come full-circle. The audience gains a sense of completeness.
This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole, and your audience appreciates the closure.
This technique offers much more than a linear march, where nothing said seems to relate to anything that came before. The satisfying circularity of bookending brings your audience back to the familiar starting point.
It drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways. First, the outright repetition of your theme cements it in the minds of your listeners. Second, the story convention of providing a satisfying ending ties up loose ends and gives psychological closure.
It’s an elegant business presentation tip that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.
If you discovered that there was one thing – business presentation skill – you could learn that would immeasurably increase your chances of getting a great job after graduation, wouldn’t that be great?
What would you think of that? Too good to be true?
And what if you discovered that this skill is something that you can develop to an especially powerful level in just a handful of weeks?
What would that be worth to you?
Would it be worth the price of a book to get you started?
Worth How Much?
Think of it – business presentation skills you can learn in 4-5 weeks that can provide you lasting competitive advantage through the rest of your working life.
A skill few people take seriously.
A skill in high demand by America’s corporations.
Companies haven’t nearly enough personnel who can communicate effectively. Nor logically, comfortably, clearly, and cogently. This is why corporate recruiters rate business presentation skills more desirable in candidates than any other trait or skill.
Capable business presenting is a high-demand skill.
This is the Silver Bullet Skill
And this is the silver bullet you’ve always sought.
You, as a business student or young executive, gain personal competitive advantage vis-à-vis your peers, just by taking presenting seriously. You gain advantage by embracing the notion that you should and can become an effective and capable business presenter.
In other words, if you actually devote yourself to the task of becoming a superb speaker, you become one.
And the task is not as difficult as you imagine, although it isn’t easy, either.
You actually have to change the way you do things. This can be tough. Most of us want solutions outside of ourselves. The availability of an incredible variety of software has inculcated in us a tendency to accept the way we are and to find solutions outside ourselves. Off the shelf. In a box.
This doesn’t work. Not at all. You cannot find the secret to great business presenting outside of yourself. You already carry it with you.
But Presentation Skills Mean Change . . .
But you will have to change.
This is about transformation. Transforming the way we think, the way we view the world. Transforming the lens through which we peer at others, the lens through which we see ourselves.
It is a liberating window on the world. And it begins with your uniqueness.
No, this is not esteem-building snake-oil. It is a cool observation. I am not in the business of esteem-building. Nor do I toil in the feel-good industry. If you had to affix a name to it, you could say that I am in the business of esteem-discovery.
So you are unique, and your realization of this and belief in this uniqueness is utterly essential to your development as a powerful business presenter.
But given the tendency of modernity to squelch your imagination, to curtail your enthusiasm, to limit your vision, and to homogenize your appearance and your speech, you have probably abandoned the notion of uniqueness as the province of the eccentric. Perhaps you prefer to “fit in” rather than develop superior business presentation skills.
Some truths can be uncomfortable. Often, truths about ourselves are uncomfortable, because if we acknowledge them, we then obligate ourselves to change in some way.
But in this case, the truth is liberating.
A Shrinking World . . . Reverse the Process
Recognize that you dwell in a cocoon. Barnacles of self-doubt, conformity, and low expectations attach themselves to you, slowing you down as barnacles slow an ocean liner.
Recognize that in four years of college, a crust of mediocrity may well have formed on you. And it is, at least partially, this crust of mediocrity that holds you back from becoming a powerful presenter. Your confidence in yourself has been leeched away by a thousand interactions with people who mean you no harm and, yet, who force you to conform to a standard, a lowest common denominator.
People who shape and cramp and restrict your ability to deliver presentations. They lacquer over your innate abilities and force you into a dull conformity.
Your world has shrunk incrementally, and if you do not push it out, it will close in about you and continue to limit you.
Your most intimate acquaintances can damage you if they have low expectations of you. They expect you to be like them. They resent your quest for knowledge. They try to squelch it.
Beware of people who question you and your desires and your success. I suggest that you question whether these people belong in your life.
Yes, you are unique, and in the quest for business presentation excellence, you discover the power of your uniqueness. You strip away the layers of modern mummification. You chip away at those crusty barnacles that have formed over the years without your even realizing it.
It’s time to express that unique power in ways that support you in whatever you want to do.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad 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.
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.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
That’s right. Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent. But 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.
Let’s Have a Look
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 old chestnut is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth. On the surface, it sounds reasonable, but is such a cliche that we don’t really think about the words themselves. People don’t really talk this way. Instead, you “look someone in the eyes.” You don’t “make eye contact.” That make no sense. This gem of a cliche doesn’t tell you how to “make eye contact.” 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. Look individual audience members in the eyes long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on. This connects in a way that is comfortable for all concerned.
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. 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 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 you own work with sound power 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.
Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that business presentations must be dull?
Is there a Law of Dull?
Given the number of dull presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be. This dullness seeps into the consciousness, numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself by dint of its universality.
It’s everywhere . . . thus, we think, it must be legitimate. It perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
Here’s what I mean
You see a dull business presentation that some people praise as . . . well, pretty good. It looks like this . . . Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern, and he reads a few 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.
I saw this abomination myself at a west coast conference, with a representative from the Export-Import Bank intoning mercilessly as he stood to the side of a screen filled with a tightly-packed phallanx of tiny type. Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen, masses of aimless numbers. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides along with everyone in the audience, in unison, and you squint to make them out.
It’s boring. It’s unintelligible. The slides are unreadable or irrelevant. You can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your Blackberry between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this wasteland all there is?”
You scratch your chin and perhaps you think “Hmmm, that’s not hard at all.”
Cobble Something Together
Just 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 15-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 really have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you certainly don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something incredibly painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful. Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s painful because of the way it’s been explained to you. Because the explanations are always incomplete. You never get the whole story. Or, you don’t get the right story. Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation” courses. 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.” You don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group presentation.
Oftentimes, these instructors aren’t even in the business school, and they can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like. And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape. Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.”
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Bad presenting is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a poor presentation is 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.
Generalizations are just that – general in nature. I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them.
But for the most part, it is as I have described here. And this presents you with magnificent opportunity. Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters.
It’s time for your debut. Time to begin breaking the Law of Dull.
There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic. Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.
Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience. Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.
That’s your job. In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.
Interesting? That’s Your Job
Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you. No one cares if they interest you.
That’s not the point.
Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.
Persuades the audience.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics, wouldn’t we? But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?
I’ve found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.
Students don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.
So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.
It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.
The Tenpenny Nail?
The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.
The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone. The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”
It’s hip. And familiar.
Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.
But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.
The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.
How do you generate interest? How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:
[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.
It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.
It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.
In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.
The Business Presentation Topic Beast
And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?
Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100? I always thought so.
But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price. Instead, it has to do with . . . . Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.
One of the keys to successful and confident performance of your business presentation is practice.
The right kind of practice.
This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.
The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, cogent fashion without stumble, and 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.
Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.
But you only reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense. This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.
First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.
There is something in our psyche that seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake. When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.
But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.” We become experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.
But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation? Start over? No, of course not.
But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we stumble? We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.
We have practiced only one thing – starting over.
Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them. Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it. Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.
The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.
Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror. It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time.
There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.
Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions. But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror. Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation? That’s just bizarre.
Instead, practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.
To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.
Why is so much Bad PowerPoint out there in the corporate world?
I suspect that the reason for this is mimicry and corporate incest.
In the absence of good habits within an organization, bad habits perpetuate themselves, especially if senior leadership is the culprit. If the model within a firm is average or below-par, then this becomes the norm.
We unfortunately do not license users for competence or require that candidates complete a PowerPoint safety course to ensure that they commit minimal damage. As a result, bad PowerPoint technique thrives.
Mimicry Breeds Mediocrity
The natural tendency of people is to mimic the boss. They accept his style as proper. While this may serve you well as a corporate survival tool, it stunts your personal growth. Like any principle, it can be followed mindlessly, or it can serve you well if you are judicious.
Such is the case with PowerPoint. People see “professionals” use this tool in gross fashion, and they copy the bad technique.
They think it’s “the way to do it.”
I’m certain that this is how students develop such bad habits.
Some corporate vice president or successful entrepreneur shows up at your school unprepared to deliver a talk, believing that his professional achievements are enough to impress you. He or she believes that preparation is unnecessary, that faux spontaneity can carry the day.
They feel no drive to deliver a satisfying talk.
This worthy believes that anything he says will be treated as business gospel. Who can blame you for copying him and his bad habits?
But bad habits they are, and they span the disciplines. They run rampant the length of the corporate ladder. I separate these bad habits and actions into two broad categories – 1) the PowerPoint material itself, and 2) your interaction with that material during your presentation.
Let’s look at that first point.
Especially Bad PowerPoint
Oftentimes, students throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides. They cut-and-paste them from a written report with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout.
You’ve probably done this yourself. The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points and which are delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.
There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls bad slides . . .
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to cut and paste graphics from a written report onto a slide. You then project that slide onto the screen while you talk about it. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”
The results are usually poor, if not downright heinous. This is what I call the “As you can see” syndrome: AYCSS. It’s a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous. And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
What Makes Bad PowerPoint?
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell. PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.
This view is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling computer generated special effects and neglect the story. The films flop, one after the other. Yet Hollywood does not get the message.
You can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about and who are buffeted by dangers and threats contrived by Industrial Light and Magic.
And it’s the same with your presentation.
Likewise, Aileen Pincus, a superb presentation coach, tells us that “Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
Start improving your slides and your use of them today. Implement the following three-step remedy.
Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.
If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.
Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, tell your audience what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide, which should contain only the figures you refer to.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
It is incredibly easy to do the above, if you know to do it. Most folks do not. But now you do.
Try these three simple steps, and I guarantee that your presentation improves dramatically.
The typical start to thinking about and then preparing our presentation structure 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.”
Or a “good group.” Or you “don’t have time for this.”
These are just excuses for refusing to grapple with a task that seems amorphous.
Instead, let’s make it real and vow to tackle the initial stages of presentation structure immediately.
Tackle Presentation Structure Head-on
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here?
Think about it. How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it. You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your implicit 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 don’t usually evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.*
So this is the missing component – you typically don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum, shaping it to the visual/vocal medium. Instead, you attempt to twist the medium itself to match the written analysis.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task, and the result is predictable. You end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. The result is less than stellar.
Your slides are crammed with unreadable information.
You talk fast to force all the points in, so no one can possibly digest it.
You run over-time.
Let’s fix all of this right now.
This Time, Procrustes has Presentation Structure Right
To fix this problem, I recommend a radical solution. I advise that you take the Procrustean approach in crafting your business presentation structure.
This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thus:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. Some said that he also had a very short bed; to make passersby fit this 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.”
The “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.
Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation. Consider this: We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes. That’s our Procrustean Bed.
So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
The Rule of Three for Presentation Structure
We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show. 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.
Now, here is your modified task:
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? Just this: 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 lose them, and you fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than presenting only one point. If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly.
Your presentation should offer 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 don’t want the audience to remember how you massaged the data, analyzed it, and arranged it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions and recommendations.
Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
* Of course, there will be vociferous disagreement from my colleagues who do care a great deal about style and communication and who do evaluate presentations apart from the criteria they use to grade written work. These hardy souls are in the minority, and of course I do not refer to them. But the unfortunate truth is that too many business school professors do not take seriously enough the presentation process with regard to presenting as a skill. Is there hard data to back up that claim? Of course not, and I welcome suggestions as to how one might go about collecting data on professors, data that might indicate that their skills are substandard in a particular area. That won’t happen, of course. And so we must rely upon what is derided as “anecdotal evidence.” Because my contention relies entirely upon anecdotal evidence, you have my full cooperation in dismissing my comments here as unwarranted. Meanwhile, let’s learn something new.
Sensory Involvement is a powerful technique that imbues your presentation story with sensuality.
You engage the senses of your listeners so that they experience the story rather than simply hear it. Where possible, incorporate all five senses in your story.
The more senses you involve, the better.
Put Your Audience Inside the Presentation Story
This sensory technique positions the listener inside the presentation story. You invite the audience into the story. The audience becomes part of the action.
This is a fiction-writing technique. It draws the reader into the story by stimulating the audience’s sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.
When you use color, aromas, tastes, and powerful sound and visual imagery, your presentation evokes the emotions of your listeners. It captures their interest. You convey a more compelling message.
Your call to action is more powerful than if you recite only facts and figures.
This use of multiple sensory stimulation affects your listeners in ways that they are really unaware of. They find themselves deep inside your presentation story and feeling what you want them to feel.
And they respond to your message.
Engage as many senses as you can. The audience should hear your presentation. They should taste it. They should see it. They should feel it.
They Become Part of Your Presentation Story
The sensory technique paints a mind picture. It makes that picture vivid and powerful.
It’s powerful because it pulls the listener inside the story as a living, breathing, vicarious participant. You position the listener inside the story rather than allowing the listener to loiter outside the story as a bystander.
Engaging the Senses
Use imagery. Stimulate the senses! The 1999 supernatural film The Sixth Sense illustrates the point.
In this film, the Bruce Willis character – in spirit form – moves about within the story among living people. He can observe and, in a sense, participate in the various dramas around him. Think of Bruce Willis as the audience of your presentation.
Willis feels and senses the angst, joy, anger, sadness of those around him. Yet he is not an actual participant.
Bruce Willis is as close as he can be to the dramas around him without actually being there. Likewise, your story’s vivid and emotive sensory stimulation engages your audience in a powerful way.
Position your audience inside the presentation story.
You can place them inside the presentation story, much as the Bruce Willis character is placed into the mini-dramas that unfold around him.
Employ Masterful Writing Techniques
Dean Koontz is a master thriller writer, and he advocates involving as many of the reader’s senses as possible in a story. Koontz does this himself in his own taut novels.
Koontz engages smells, colors, sounds to enliven his descriptions. He does this in unexpected ways. Not only does Koontz involve all the senses, he combines surprising descriptions, crossing from one sense to another.
For example, he describes the glow of a bulb as a “sour yellow light.”
Koontz combines taste with color to evoke a startling and memorable image.
This is the same technique that serves powerful presenters well. It can serve you well and you should do this. For your own stories, remember to involve all of your listeners’ senses if you can – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing – and you cannot fail to engage your audience.
Give it a try in your next business presentation story for an especially powerful effect.
Storytelling has become a powerful tool in 21st century management, and it would do you well to embrace, understand, and utilize that power to advance your own personal competitive advantage. Several of the most effective storytelling books that I recommend are: The Story Factor by Annette Simmons, Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark, and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling by Steve Denning. A business storytelling blog by Gabriel Yiannis is particularly valuable.
Your presentation is for your audience, and that’s where your business hero had better be.
As much as some of us love the limelight and the adulation of the crowd, it’s wise to remember that your presentation isn’t about you, although our self-indulgence can sometimes make it seem so.
No, you’re not in this to please yourself.
And you must get them to do what you want them to by making them think that it’s what they want.
Connect With Your Business Hero
Address the needs of the people in your audience and fulfill their expectations in language they understand, with metaphors and examples that resonate with them. Your objective must be expressed in terms of how it best connects with your audience. The folks in your audience should be the business hero, not you.
Speak to their needs and fulfill them.
The good news is that your audience’s meager expectations mean that you can likely dazzle it with a merely above-average presentation. This is because the level of business presenting is so dismally low that audiences dread listening to them as much as you hate giving them.
No one seems happy at the prospect of this afternoon’s weekly “finance update.”
But remember this – regardless of the topic of your talk, every audience wants the same basic thing. Deep down, all of us wants a chance. Everyone wants to have a chance to be a hero.
No one wants to hear from Indiana Jones . . . everyone wants to be Indiana Jones. Or at least believe that we could do great things.
This is a touchstone principle long known to professional speakers. Kenneth Goode and Zenn Kaufman authored a book in 1939 called Profitable Showmanship, and their words resonate with stone-cold veracity over the subsequent 72 years, right up to today and the next quarter earnings briefing:
The audience is always on the screen, at the microphone, in the prize-fight, or in the pitcher’s box. You, the individual member of the audience, are the hero of the day. No selling can ever be completely successful that forgets this principle: that the prospect is the Hero of the Show. And, in fact, the only hero! . . . The minute you slide the spotlight off him, off his crazy ideas, off his pet peeves, particularly off his whims, your show is over. You may as well go home, for your audience is gone. . . . The hero of the [presenting] drama is the customer – or prospect. His vanities, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions – these are the stuff from which your plot is spun and on him – and him alone – must the spotlight shine.
Remember that the Business Hero is in your audience.
People want more than anything to be a hero, and if you give them that chance in your talk, you will be rewarded 1,000 times over.
It’s a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go. This is really the strangest thing, and it alwayss amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.
The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator, where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.
Yes, you can go there. And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone. But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone, most don’t go. They find an excuse.
They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.
In my presentations to various audiences, I am invariably faced with the arguer, the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not. The person who is adamant, steadfastly against what is being said. Usually for the most spurious of reasons.
No Argument Here
And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly. Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional. And so I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, from wherever they come.
The latest batch of objections sprang from one woman’s ideology. She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.
In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else . . . and then lecture her audience if they didn’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement. In short, she wanted to deliver presentations her way, and blame her audience if they didn’t respond positively and, presumably, with accolades.
She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”
And I say praise the Lord for that.
I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job if it sounds otherwise.
She complained that some of the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable” doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”
I replied to her this way . . .
Just Don’t Do it
I told her, “Don’t do them. Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’ Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective, and substitute what you know to be better.”
But do that with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field for someone else to pick up. They’ll be happy you did.
Comfort? You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures? Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try? Who cooked it up, and when did it gain currency? Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?
Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.
A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold of a delivery room. A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions. An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.
Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas? Likely as not, it’s a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achievement of a goal.
“I just don’t feel comfortable.”
Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success. That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.
And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.
But some folks scowl at this. It requires too much of them. Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work. Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them. Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have magic sparkles or something, right?
So . . . if you find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy . . . if you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you: “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”
There is no need to fume over this or that nettlesome detail. It’s completely unnecessary, because no one compels you to do anything. And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom. The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone.
I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.
If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else. Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!
But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer . . . then I extend congratulations as you step onto the path toward the Power Zone, toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.
There are two pernicious myths regarding business presentations out there that refuse to be swatted down. Well, probably more than two, but two big myths that 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.
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___.”
Really? 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.
Anyone can become an especially powerful, capable speaker . . . but it takes work, practice, and courage.
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures. Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.
But it is essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence? Impossible, eh?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power. In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.” This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.
This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.
Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit. Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.
Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations. They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations. If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be. They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?
One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak. As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.
Reality TV Infests Everything
Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way. They surround us.
Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you. Focus on the voices. Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence. Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence. A voice that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms. Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords. What do I mean by this?
Let’s have an example. Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.” It was heinous.
I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.” Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it. And apparently “totally” so. Ya know?
“Like. Like. Like. Totally! Like. Like. Like. Totally! It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever. Ya know what I mean?”
She fired them out in machine-gun fashion. A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying. Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre. It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.
A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.
The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks. Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone. No resonance came from the chest. The voice rasped on the ears.
Every sentence spoken as a question.
Dum-Dums . . .
Two major problems surface here. First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating. Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”
Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.
“Like. Totally! Ya know?Ummm. Like. Totally! It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know? Ummm. Whatever.”
Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.
Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this. And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility. Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill up the empty air with dum-dums.
Dum-dums are the result of lazy thought and lazier speech. It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.
Exaggeration? No, it’s a voice you hear every day.
Listen for it. Maybe it’s your voice.
Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption
In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a certain lowest common denominator stripe.
If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying. The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.
Cartoon Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show. You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way. You are toast before you open your mouth.
Badly burned toast.
You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.
But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.
If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions: Why do I speak like this?
Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way? Why do all of my sentences sound like questions? Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t seem to express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?
Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!
Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it! Nope, don’t change a thing!
If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on! Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers. Relish it. Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.
Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!
But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.
You make a conscious choice. Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences. You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?
Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.
When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.
Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?
Many folks seem oblivious to their expressions or to a lack of expressiveness, their faces dull and lifeless.
In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize. And this can be an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage.
Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message. Yes, there exists something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.
Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool
Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection. The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.
Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”
Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker. These are the qualities that bring success.
[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.
Consider these expressions: A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt. The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism. Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.
Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message
These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience. They increase the power of your message. They ensure that your message is clear.
Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating. The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view.
Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.
You see it in the after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.
While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do. This is especially true when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.
The Emperor’s Bad Business Presentation
If they don’t know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.
The speaker stands behind a lectern.
The speaker grips the lectern on either side.
The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.
The lectern serves as a crutch. The average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.
Many business examples illustrate this, and you’ve probably witnessed lots of them yourself.
Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.
Video rated PG-13: violence done to speaking skills
Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions where he is not speaking to a group. But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent. He reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.
He delivers excruciatingly bad business presentations.
He leans on the lectern.
He squints and reads his speech from notes in front of him. When he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.
In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University. He begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech. Have a look . . .
Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so.
No one tells them, because there’s no upside in doing it. If you worked for Mr. Kent, would you tell him so? Of course not.
Moreover, many business leaders believe their own press clippings. They invest their egos into whatever they do.
It becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves. They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.
Such as business presenting.
And this is why you see so many bad business presentations by so many smart and powerful people.
Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman. But he is a poor speaker. He delivers a bad business presentation, but . . .
But he has great potential that will probably never be realized.
And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates of their businesses.
The Bad Business Presentation Curse
As it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.
Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect.
Those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors. We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.
Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”
You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, and reads from barely relevant slides.
He then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.
Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done? The bad business presentation is, after all, the unfortunate standard.
But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .
You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.
A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.
Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being – such as our business presentation voice.
Business students get antsy when I talk about improving the presentation voice.
Because the subject implies that there might be such a thing as “bad” voices and “good” voices, and this kind of value judgment is usually verboten in most liberal arts classes they take. Supposedly, there are only “different” voices, and we are urged to “celebrate” these differences.
That may work in the test tube, but not in the cold and harsh business world, where people are judged on how well they communicate. And voice is a large part of that.
Your presentation voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of. Why not evaluate your voice today? See if it gets the presentation job done for you.
Does your voice crack? Does it whine? Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason? Do you uptalk? 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?
Develop an Especially Powerful Voice
Recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your being. It’s an instrument to communicate. You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.
Simply thinking of your voice in this way can improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically. You can build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.
Consider here several things you can do to improve your presentation voice. Nothing extreme at all. Have a look . . .
Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use. Have a look-see . . .
Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?
Chatting in side conversations?
Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation? This is called the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.
The problem is probably you.
No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.
How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation
In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to engage your audience, an audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.
Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you. He reveals the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience. How to engage your audience for power and impact.
He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.
The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.
Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.
Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books. You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com
There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation. Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement. Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories. Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.
Earlier, I related how Malcolm X did not do much throat-clearing at the beginning of his talks.
Instead, he thrust a metaphorical sword into his audience.
He drove deeply to the heart of the issue in just a few short sentences, tapping into listener sensitivities.
His initial “grabber” was not meant simply for shock or surprise like a cheap circus feat. It was shock and surprise linked to the needs of his audience, directly relevant and intertwined closely – even spiritually – with his listeners. Malcolm did not engage in academic circumlocutions, oblique arguments, or vague generalizations. He said things directly, with punch and verve, with color and power.
He shunned latinate words and phraseology and drove home his point with Anglo-Saxon directness – short, powerful, repetitive sentences, constructed of the sturdiest syllables.
And once he had audience attention, he kept it.
Holding the Audience in your Grasp
One technique he used to hold his audiences rapt was the offering a single point and then colorfully making that point by means of a repetitive technique called the anaphora. It’s a technique that you can use as well. Here’s how it works.
A powerful and carefully selected phrase is utilized at the beginning of a succession of sentences. With each repetition, the presentation builds to a climax to produce a powerful emotional effect. In Malcolm’s example we’re about to see, he uses the anaphora skillfully to identify a point of commonality among those in his audience that he holds with them.
I previously offered an example of one of Malcolm’s speeches delivered in 1963. Let’s revisit that talk, review the first couple of sentences, and then see how Malcolm uses the anaphora to powerful emotional effect. The speech was called Message to the Grass Roots, and he delivered it in Detroit. Note how Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here. And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
What comes next?
Now that Malcolm X has the full attention of his listeners, it’s time to make point # 1 – unity and commonality of purpose. He chooses the anaphora as his technique, and he does so masterfully. His phrase of choice is “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”
What you and I need to do is learn to forget our differences. When we come together, we don’t come together as Baptists or Methodists. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Baptist, and you don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist. You don’t catch hell because you’re a Methodist or Baptist, you don’t catch hell becasue you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you don’t catch hell because you’re a Mason or an Elk, and you sure don’t catch hell because you’re an American; because if you were an American, you wouldn’t catch hell. You catch hell because you’re a black man. You catch hell, all of us catch hell, for the same reason.
Malcolm has established beyond all doubt that he shares a commonality with his listeners that is directly tied to the central thesis of his talk. He drives his point home with the anaphora: “You don’t catch hell because . . . ”
He utilized the same theme, or trope, in the video below in this speech before another audience in 1964. This time his anaphora was slightly different: “We’re not brutalized because–” And it is just as powerful with its mesmerizing effect. The entire video shows a master presenter in tune with his audience and in control of his message.
Malcolm’s delivery is masterful . . . his voice, his tone, his inflection, his humor, his posture, and his gestures combine with his rhetorical techniques to establish an incredible bond with his listeners. You sense his control of the event.
So what does this have to do with you and with business presenting?
A powerful and graceful speaker, Malcolm X utilized an entire battery of oratorical weapons. He intuitively understood the oratorical methods developed over more than 2500 years, and he wielded them with grace and with power. These techniques can be yours. You need only understand them, their function, their effects, and practice them.
For instance, the anaphora of repetition. You can use anaphora as a powerful technique to hammer home your most important points and to hold your audience in the midst of your presentation.
But you may Hesitate
You may protest that Malcolm X lived and struggled in a different place and time over issues far more important that you or I will ever face. Yes, he did. The stakes were incredibly high and, for him, became quite literally a matter of his death. But regardless of the message, the techniques of powerful presenting remain the same. They are verities handed to us over centuries.
And if you refuse to learn from our great legacy of master speakers, if you do not emulate them, who then will you learn from? The CEO of Coca-Cola? Hardly.
A cornucopia of especially powerful techniques is available to you. You may not struggle for justice on an international platform, but this does not absolve you from crafting the most powerful presentation you possibly can using the techniques of the masters. Surely while the emphasis and tone of your message changes with circumstance, but not the methods themselves.The anaphora is one such technique you should incorporate into your repertoire.
Malcolm X used a multiplicity of techniques to engage his friends and to disarm his enemies. We’ll look at them in future posts.