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. For instance . . .
There’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice. Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.
Why not evaluate your voice today? See if it gets the presentation job done for you.
Does your voice crack? Does it whine? Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence? Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?
Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?
Why not change for the better?
Develop an Especially Powerful Voice
It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being. It is an instrument with which you communicate.
You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice. Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.
Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. Have a look . . .
Why would you want to “gesture?” Aren’t your words enough?
We gesture to add force to our points, to slam home the major theme of our presentation.
To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness . . . even fear.
A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning. It should carry powerful meaning. Speaking Master James Winans noted in 1915 that this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.
Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues. Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.
Another Arrow in Your Quiver
Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication. You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can pack power into your presentation. On rare occasion, they can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”
Your careful, thoughtful gestures increase your talk’s persuasiveness and lend gravitas to your words. In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to an especially powerful level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present. Let’s look at some examples . . .
Executive Presence is a quality we all wish we could have.
The good news is that we can develop it, and it goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence.
The paradox for some folks is that those with the most potential for especially powerful executive presence often intentionally diminish their capacity for it. It’s a kind of self-sabotage that many engage in.
One client I have from a foreign country has incredible charisma and the fundamental tools to develop personal magnetism and powerful personal presence; but he plays it down and attempts to diminish his presence.
An Especially Powerful Stance
Self-consciousness is his worst enemy, and so we’ve worked together on getting him to relish his natural attributes, such as his height and a distinguished bald pate. He now extends himself to his full 6’2” height and employs his deep, resonant voice to full effect. He has a persona that draws people to him, and now he utilizes that quality in especially powerful fashion.
In short, we worked together on developing an especially powerful presence that attracts attention rather than deflects it. How can you go about doing this?
Have a look at my short instructional video on developing the basis for a powerful initial stance . . .
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 work with PowerPoint.
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 can contribute 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.
Good Work with PowerPoint a Necessity
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping other to hone theirs.
Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art. You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up. You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here. She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it.
Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.
Meanwhile, if you want immediate help on-camera, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint. It is enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.
For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.
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 stunt. 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 spoke 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.
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.
We are all familiar with the droning voice of the numbing speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace of a talk and who quickly loses us in monotony.
In like fashion, it is possible to be visually monotonous.
Visual monotony – either of constant repetitive movement or of no movement whatsoever.
We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.” We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance.
And we know the statue, who moves not at all and hides behind a lectern, gripping it white-knuckled.
Go ahead and move, but . . .
Yes, incorporate movement. But before you begin hopping about the stage willy-nilly, recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for specific reasons. Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.
At the risk over over-alliterating, you should mesh your movements with your message.
Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do. If you move all the time, like a constant pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise, and your movements contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation. In fact, your movements become a distraction, leeching energy and attention from your message.
It’s a form of visual monotony.
Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Death.
So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience and to convey a powerful and persuasive message. Watch this video for basic advice on movement in your presentation . . .
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.