Every presentation – every story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well. Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle. The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.
You can be innovative. You can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.
Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Build a Business Presentation to Stand the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.
Please do so. But do so with careful thought and good reason.
And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show. This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad tips zombies will be the only survivors.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Bad Presentation Tips
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.
It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) I have discovered that most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.
And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
That’s right. Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.
But Bad Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad presentation tips.
The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice. This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distraction. 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 hand-wringing. It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth. It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.
And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors. This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.
Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.
It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.
This bad presentation tip is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised. Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.
“Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion. This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “ We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality. Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? You counted them?
I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.
They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.
Bad business presentations can be a career-killer. Of course, no one will tell you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give. them.
And yet, they are everywhere.
Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – 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.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago. I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents 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. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate. By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
You’ve almost mastered your voice and material, and now it’s time to build on that and incorporate essential presentation movement.
What should you do during your talk?
Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
Today we begin to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – movement that adds power, movement that reinforces your message in positive ways.
First, think about distance. Your distance from your audience significantly impacts the degree of connectivity you share with audience members.
Distance Matters in Presentation Movement
Many speakers are unaware of the effect that distance-from-audience can have on their talk. The formal term for how distance affects the relationship between speaker and audience is called “proxemics.”
This is simply lingo for your proximity to the audience – how far from your audience you stand. Altering that distance throughout your talk can enhance your message in ways you intend.
You achieve four distinct effects by varying the distance that you maintain between you and your audience. A distinguished anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, developed the concept of how these four distances communicate vastly different messages from speaker to audience.
Let’s look at the Four Spaces and how you can use them to achieve certain effects with your presentation movement. They can animate your business presentation and enhance that 3D effect I often refer to.
First, the most common space is public space, and this is a distance of more than 12 feet from your audience. Obviously, this space is necessary when you deliver a lecture to a large audience of, say, 200 persons or more.
The second space is social space.
This space is occupied by the speaker who wants to connect in a personal way with his audience. It’s the space from four feet to 12 feet from your audience.
Think of a seminar of 12 students with a professor in close proximity. Here, eye contact is frequent and effective.
A conversational style is possible and desirable. In fact, conversational and relaxed style is essential in this scenario.
The third space is personal space. This space begins at 18 inches from a person and extends out to approximately four feet. It is conversational space and is generally not utilized in public speaking.
The fourth space is intimate space. This space is highly personal and you must be invited into this space. Without an invitation, you invade this space at your own risk. You make others feel uncomfortable, and they may respond in any number of ways, few of which will please you.
Now, it’s time to think about scripting your presentati0n movements.
Coordinate your movements with major segments of your talk. Script them into your presentation as if you were performing a play.
For instance, follow the script below. Following each quote, the indented statements describe the actions you take:
SPEAKER: “My talk has three major points. As I share these points with you tonight, I want you to consider how each of these powerful issues affect you, personally. The first major point?”
<<Bow head and walk slowly to the left. Take ready stance. Look up at audience. >>
SPEAKER: “The first major point is Humility. In this we are the same as our earliest fathers and mothers . . . .”
<<Look to your right and walk slowly, meeting the eyes of several audience members in turn. Stop in ready position. >>
SPEAKER: “The second major point is Confidence. Surely there is not one among us who has not felt the fear of failure, of being judged unworthy . . . .”
<<Look to the center and walk slowly to center-stage. Stop and assume ready position. Gesture with both hands in supplication.>>
SPEAKER: “The third and most important point is this – Understanding of a kind that passes beyond . . . etc., etc. . . .”
The movements thus accomplished are displayed in the diagram. This type of broad presentation movement accentuates the major points of your talk. You anchor each point at a different part of the stage:
Point 1 to the Left
Point 2 to the Right
Point 3 to the Center
This scripted movement series is a highly visual reinforcement to the organization of your talk. Coupled with the proper hand gestures and expressiveness of face and voice, this series movement invests your message with immediacy and dimensionality and increases its impact.
You hammer home the three points with a visual element coupled with the aural element.
All of this carefully considered presentation movement about the stage also conveys to the audience that you are in control. You own the stage. So act like you own it; don’t behave like a visitor who cannot wait to depart.
It’s your space, so make good use of it. Learn to be comfortable in that space and to utilize all of the space at your disposal.
At the same time, apply the principles found here. Do not move, just to be moving.
The combined effect of movement, position, and spoken message connects you firmly with your audience; appropriate movement deepens the connection and moves you from 2D Presenting to 3D Presenting. And when you make this jump to 3D presenting, you enhance your professional presence on the stage and add to your personal competitive advantage.
After I delivered an incredibly inspiring lecture in one of my classes last semester,* a student approached me and shared this snippet about presentation body movement.
“I stand in one spot during my presentations,” he said. “But another professor told me to move around when I talk.”
“Move around when you talk.”
“Did he tell you how?” I asked.
“Tell me what?”
“Did he tell you how to ‘move around?’ Did he tell you what it would accomplish?”
“No, he just said to ‘move around’ when you talk.”
“Just ‘move around?’”
Never just “move around when you talk”
Ponder that piece of advice a moment. Ponder it and then reject it utterly, completely. Forget you ever read it.
What rotten advice.
Never just “move around” the stage. Everything you do should contribute to your message. Presentation body movement on-stage is an important component to your message. It’s an especially powerful weapon in your arsenal of communication.
Movements can and should contribute force and emphasis to your show.
But some people move too much. Like the professor urged, they just “move around” because they don’t know better.
And why should they know better, when some professor urged them to start prowling the stage for the sake of it.
Just as there are those who are rooted to one spot and cannot move while they speak, some folks can’t stop moving. They stalk about the stage like a jungle cat, constantly moving, as if dodging imaginary bullets, afraid to cease pacing lest their feet put down roots.
Such movement is awful.
Aimless pacing around the stage is worse than no movement at all. Aimless movement usually indicates indecision, the sign of a disorganized mind.
It’s usually accompanied by aimless thoughts and thoughtless words.
“Move around when you talk.”
It’s not the worst piece of advice a professor has ever given a student, but it’s incredibly naive.
At first, the advice seems innocent enough. Even sage. Aren’t we supposed to “move around” when we talk? Don’t we see powerful presenters “move around” when they talk? Doesn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he presents?
Yes, we see them “move around” quite well.
But do you know why they “move” and to what end? Do you understand how they orchestrate their words and gestures to achieve maximum effect? Do you recognize their skilled use of the stage as they appeal to first one segment of the audience, and then another?
Do you think that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama Just “move around” when they talk?
If I tell you to “move around when you talk,” just what will you actually do? Think about it for a moment, how you might actually follow-through with that sort of vague advice.
Will you flap your arms? Do Michael Jackson isolations with your shoulders? Shake your fist at the crowd?
What Kind of Presentation Body Movement?
How? Where? When? Why? How much?
We will never know how much damage such well-meaning naiveté has done to our presentation discourse. Like much of what is said, it carries a kernel of truth, but it is really worse than no advice at all. Centuries of practice and delivery advise us on this question. Edwin Shurter said in 1903 . . .
Every movement that a speaker makes means – or should mean – something. Hence avoid indulging in movements which are purely habit and which mean nothing. Do not constantly be moving; it makes the audience also restless. Do not walk back and forth along the edge of the platform like a caged lion. Do not shrug your shoulders, or twist your mouth, or make faces.
You are well on your to mastering your voice and to speaking like a powerful motivator. Now it’s time to incorporate essential movement.
What must you actually do during your talk? Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
In coming posts, I’ll answer those questions and show you how to incorporate meaningful presentation body movement into your show – exactly the types of movement that add power, not confusion.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.
Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have it, it’s invisible. When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.
Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.
Or so we think. Let’s back into this thing called confidence.
Take the Trip Test
Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up? You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .
. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking? Do you feel shame of some sort? If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others? Even strangers.
Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?
Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.
Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.
This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent. It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.
Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
For many, the audience is your bogeyman. For some reason you fear your audience. But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.
And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.
They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.
Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed. They want to be entertained. Please entertain us, they think.
They are open to whatever new insight you can provide. And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers. They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.
And so confidence is yours for the taking.
Seize Confidence for Yourself
Confidence is not a thing.
It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.
What does it really mean to be confident? Can you answer that direct question? Think about it a moment.
See? We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action. Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.
Is it certitude?
Is it knowledge?
Is it bravery?
Is it surety?
Think of the times when you are confident. You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument. It could be an activity.
Why are you confident?
Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty. For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful. That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.
It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience. It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.
George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .
The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness. To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake. Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously. Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.
The solution to presentation stage fright? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?
Reduce your uncertainty.
Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps: Principles, Preparation, Practice. Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.
They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement. They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.
Principles, Preparation, Practice
The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.
Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.
When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty. You are possess the facts. You are prepared. You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice. You rehearse.
There is, of course, an element of uncertainty. There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.
By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.
So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest. Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.
And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.
For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:
Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel. For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . . But do not fear them. They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck. They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand. . . . Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.
And banish stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.
How can you enrich your presenting in unexpected and wonderful ways so to give an interesting presentation regardless of your audience?
To deepen and broaden your perspective so that it encompasses that proverbial “big picture” we forever hear about?
You must become a 3-D presenter.
Now, this means several things, including how you utilize the stage to your utmost advantage, but a major component is the exercising of your mind.
And I talk about that here.
Three D Presentations
It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories. Yes, it’s a process of becoming learned in new and wondrous ways.
Think of it as enlarging your world. You increase your reservoir of usable material.
And you’re able to connect more readily with varied audiences.
You accomplish this in a pleasant and ongoing process – by forever keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area. By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.
Expand Your World
And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily and incrementally.
By doing something daily, however brief, that stretches your mind or allows you to make a connection that otherwise might have escaped you.
By reading broadly in areas outside your specialty, and by rekindling those interests that excited and animated you early in life.
Read a book outside your specialty. Have lunch with a colleague from a different discipline.
Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.
We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer insights. For myself, while teaching in the Fox School’s strategic management department this semester, I am also sitting in on a course sponsored by the History Department’s Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy – “Grand Strategy.”
What a leavening experience this promises to be: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Lincoln, and many others . . .
How will this help in preparing my own classes? At this point, I can’t be certain.
And that’s the beauty and potential of it.
I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue in 3-dimensional fashion, connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.
It will do the same for yours, and it will likely aid in your developing into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.
For more on how to give interesting business presentations, click HERE.
They revere “spontaneity” and believe that their voices are, well . . . natural.
More than likely, they have neglected the development of their voices.
Time to Develop Your Voice
For some reason, folks who neglect voice development now revere this product of their benign neglect as somehow . . . natural.
As if there is some far-off judge who weighs and measures the “naturalness” of voice.
As if there is some kind of purity benchmark or standard.
But there is no such standard for “naturalness.”
Only pleasant voices. And unpleasant voices. And lots of voices in-between.
Moreover, the variety of voices, from bad to good, has been with us eternally. George Rowland Collins noted in 1923 that
“Nasality, harshness, extremes of pitch, and other unnatural vocal qualities distract the audience. They impede communication; they clog the speaker’s transmission. They hinder the persuasion of any audience, be it one or one thousand.”
There is nothing holy or sacrosanct or “natural” about the way you speak now. It is not “natural” in any meaningful sense of the word, as if we are talking about breast augmentation versus the “natural” thing.
Your voice today is “natural” only in the sense that it is the product of many factors over time. Most of these factors are unintended. Negative factors as well as positive. Factors you’ve probably never thought of.
So in that sense, why would you have any problem with changing your voice intentionally, the way that you want it changed? Why not develop your voice in ways that you choose?
There is no “Natural Voice”
Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad; and there are all sorts of voices in-between. You can develop your voice to become a first-rate speaker, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.
Let me share with you some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.
Let’s call them “verbal tics.” They are nothing more than bad habits born of ignorance and neglect.
They eat away at your credibility. They are easily corrected, but first you should recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power and credibility.
Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .
Verbal Grind – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence. The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word. Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark. Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his verbal grinding into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.
This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.” It is manifested by a crackle and grating on the last word or syllable, as if the air supply is being pinched off.
It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade. Almost as if a dog is growling in the throat. As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.
When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.
Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.” This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor. The last syllables of a word are lost in breath. The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.
The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room. It deflates the audience. In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.
Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like. Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting. It’s an affectation. People don’t ever talk this way. People do not talk like this, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.
Verbal Up-tic – This is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal” or “uptalk.” Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked. It radiates weakness and uncertainty. It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come. Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if questions.
You create a tense atmosphere with uptalk that is almost demonic in its effect. This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.
At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.
In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians. The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.
In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking. Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon.
These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting. Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them. The last half is to consciously develop your voice for power and impact.
“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days, but it sits at the core of what we call presentation passion.
The word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful business presentation.
Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory. It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”
What was true then is surely true today.
And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.”
Showing Too Much Interest?
If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your business presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious.
Better to pretend you don’t care.
So the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging. No presentation passion for you! And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else.
For your friends, for your sports contests, for your facebook status updates, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .
But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small victories. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.
Leave Mediocrity to Others and Embrace Presentation Passion
Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”
Wrap your material in you.
This means giving a business presentation that no one else can give. A presentation that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core.
It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject. It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service. You should make it yours when you present.
In the process, you craft your persona, your powerful personal brand that differentiates you from the great hoi-polloi of undistinguished speakers. And you achieve remarkable personal competitive advantage.
Embrace your topic with earnestness, and you will shine as you deliver an especially powerful business presentation.
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.
Do you like what you hear, or do you have a bad presentation voice?
Is your voice pinched?
Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone? Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?
These are symptoms of Bad Presentation Voice, which can have several manifestations that degrade our presentations.
Fix that Bad Presentation Voice!
Bad Presentation Voice has been around a long time and has plagued speakers for many generations.
Public speaking expert George Rowland Collins said back in 1923:
“The tone becomes rough and impure when the column of air passing over the vocal cords is not allowed free and unrestricted movement. The cure for impurity of tone is primarily a relaxed and open throat.”
Judging from what I hear in class, in the elevator, and in campus coffee shops, more than likely your voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.
This is a result of many influences in our modern popular culture.
Within the last decade or so, these degrading influences have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, for the most part, folks actually choose to have a bad speaking voice. voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice.
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.
Take this person called Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
She is one of several chatterers on the ABC Network daytime television show “The View.” Hasselbeck has a high-pitched, squeaky, pinched cartoon voice. I do not recommend that you watch this horrid broadcast, but if you happen to be in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing else on the television, do pay attention to the voices of the personages.
Another cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on various television shows.
These shows serve up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine is typical of many folks.
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.
Commonly called “divas,” their voices (barely serviceable for even routine communication) embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations, exhibiting habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
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.
A voice that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I most often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator each day as I commute between my office and classrooms. Conversations in the elevator are sourced from scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.
Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse. Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”
You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.
Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this. The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as ersatz individualism. This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.
With it, you hold yourself back.
It is also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation.
It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most powerful, pleasing, and effective presentation voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?
You feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills? Excellent! I congratulate you and suggest that you pass Business School Presenting along to a buddy who might profit from it.
But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you have muttered I hate presentations more than once.
And you probably have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this blog.
One in 255 Million?
Of an estimated 255 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations. I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.
Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow. I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.
But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.
I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.” In short, you want to know what works and why.
You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.
You want to know what is just opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.
You’ll find answers here to the most basic of questions.
What is this beast – the business presentation?
How do I stand? Where do I stand?
What do I say? How do I say it?
How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
Where do I begin, and how?
How do I end my talk?
What should I do with my hands?
How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of Presenting
Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet. You may not like the answers. You may disagree with the answers.
Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure. Or not.
But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience. Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .
Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.
They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting. In turn, they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom. You find those verities here.
On the other side of things, I’d like to hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.
The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs, even as they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.
So think deep.
Consider the personal competitive advantage that can be yours when you develop world class business presentation skills.