Before television and radio.
Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker – the earliest “business presenter.”
The Business Presenter
Public speaking was considered close to an art form. Some did consider it art.
Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people: Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors. The first saved your soul. The second took your money. The third saved you from prison. The fourth transported you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.
Other professions utilized the proven skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen.
These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking. To suck the life from “business presenting.”
Skills of the Masters
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over centuries. The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument. The knew the power of words.
In fact, Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory. He filled his presentations with the “wrong” ideas.
In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us. We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to exalt our presentation message. And yet the result has been something different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have supplanted them. Each advance in technology creates another barrier between the business presenter and the audience.
PowerPoint Can Cripple the Business Presenter
Today’s presenters have fastened hold of the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.
The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear. The focus has shifted from the business presenter to the fireworks. This has led to such a decline that the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”
And in many cases, this is exactly what happens. Almost as if the business presenter becomes a member of the audience.
PowerPoint and props are just tools. That’s all. You should be able to present without them.
And when you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.
In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university. Some of them give fabulous presentations. Most give adequate presentations.
They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.
On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income
Waiters and waitresses are business presenters.
For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show. The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.
Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress. They view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard.
Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it. Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.
As a waiter, ask yourself: “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”
Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers. You can become a superb business presenter. In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.
I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening. I do mean taking your job seriously. Learn your temporary profession’s rules and craft a business presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity. Display enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions that make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.
The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience
Yes, heroic. Every business presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience. Great business presenters evoke a sense of heroism in customers. Do this, and you win every time.
I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward. Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation. The reverse is likewise true.
The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical. The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.
But the principles that inform the great business presenter are the same.
And so, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking. Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold.
Adopt the habits of the masters. Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the great business presenters who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.
Their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful business presentations.
For more on becoming a great business presenter, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.