That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.
Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.
What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions. It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice. It’s what they sense on a subliminal level. That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.
Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.
It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message. A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.
Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow and pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, communicating with and persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays.
And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.
Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.
They would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.
If you become an automaton, you cede important personal competitive advantage.
You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.
The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker. That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.
Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective. It becomes a bad communication exercise.
It becomes an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
Rise of the Automatons
Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.
Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker. Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.
Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator: “The good man, well-spoken.”
We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.
This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.
This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.
Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd. Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™
Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?
Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them . . . and this means never, ever wing it.
Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.
Never wing it.
Always offer them your respect and your heart.
And never wing it.
Does this seem obvious?
That’s the paradox.
We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game. We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.
Sometimes we elect to go in unprepared, trusting in a cavalier attitude to carry us through . . . winging it in insulting fashion.
Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”
The Curse of Hubris
Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.
Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it. Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.
Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.
They don’t prepare.
They offer standard tropes.
They rattle off cliches.
They pull out shopworn blandishments . . .
. . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.
What he says, whatever it was, becomes gospel. However he said it becomes accepted practice, no matter how awful.
But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt. Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.
The lack of preparation by any speaker conveys a kind of contempt for the audience and the time of people gathered to listen.
I Read my Own Press Clipping Now
For instance, I recall an occasion of a successful young entrepreneur who spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea.
He related how he pitched that idea to venture capitalists.
His idea was tremendously successful and, as I gather, he sold it for millions of dollars.
Now, he stood in front of our students dressed in “cool slob.” He wore a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
He might as well have delivered a “Styrofoam speech.”
He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines. He had elected to “wing it.”
His sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?
“Make really good slides.”
That was it.
Make really good slides.
Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean? You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?
“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.
I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit. Likely as not, he offered a great idea sharply defined, practiced many times, and presented knowledgeably by a well-dressed team that won the day.
And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by to wing it.
So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.
And there is much to be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.
Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.
Do you Wing It?
In business school, you will espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.
It’s called “winging it.”
Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance. Or real nonchalance. It’s a form of defensiveness when you wing it.
You offer contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude that carries the day.
No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.
And this kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.” It is obvious to everyone watching that you elected to wing it.
Why would you waste our time this way? Why would you waste your time? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.
Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.
The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart. Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.
Who is the World’s Expert on Business School Presentations?
Assuming that there is one.
And depending, of course, on what we mean by “expert” and what we mean by “world.”
Those quibbles aside, that expert would be me.
I’m the World’s Expert on Business School Presentations. At least that’s what Google says. And what Google says must be true, right?
If you’re a regular reader – and there must be millions – then this assertion comes as no revelation. If you’re a new reader, this assertion likely strikes you as, at bare minimum, bombastic and riven with hubris.
At moments when confidence is most needed, many athletes go to their “power words.”
These are words that help visualize success and victory rather than failure and defeat.
The words can be anything that the athlete has found to negate nervousness. It can be something as simple as mentally reciting “Power!” or “Victory!” at a crucial moment. Say, just before a critical service in a tennis match.
This technique works. And it can work for you.
I collaborate occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques and who affirm the utility of Power Words.
They assert that power words can affect performance in positive ways.
All of them are of one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.
Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk.
We do this to give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.
So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?
Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation. This ignorance can mean incredible uncertainty of performance.
Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.
This fear of the unknown drives up anxiety and results in stage fright. So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.
No, of course not, and we don’t even want to. instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.
We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.
Envision Your Triumph
No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.
Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in superb closure, a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.
When we take the stage, we focus mind on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb.
We mentally recite our chosen power words to squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.
The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that nettle us.
Positive self-talk . . . power words . . . is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.
This provides a sense of closure and completion for the audience.
Begin with This . . .
The First Bookend.
This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
It can’t be a gimmick, or the audience will feel cheated.
Your grabber must startle and delight your audience. An interesting fact, a controversial statement.
A powerful phrase.
You then follow with your situation statement, which flows naturally from your grabber.
Your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences tells the audience exactly what they will hear.
Start to finish.
One of the best grabbers/situation statements I’ve ever heard was this pithy formulation:
“There’s a deal on the table. Don’t take it. Here’s why.”
That grabber is direct and is almost enough for a situation statement as well. It pulses with power. If you’re the one associated with the “deal on the table,” how could you not want to hear what comes next?
In fact, it encompasses the entire presentation in three especially powerful sentences.
That’s your first bookend.
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.
Because of the Rule of Three that I have spoken of in this space so many times. We seem to be hard-wired to receive information most efficiently in threes.
Whether it’s a slogan or a fairy tale, when information is grouped in threes, we respond well to it and we remember it better.
I own perhaps the largest vintage public speaking book collection in the United States, outside the library of congress – more than 2,000 volumes, going back to 1762. I buy presentation books even now, to see if there is, indeed, anything new under the sun.
Most often, I am disappointed.
Until now . . .
Again, I say all of this by way of prelude, because I am not given to exaggeration at all.
Presentation Skills 201
What I say next, I utter with the sincerity born of many years laboring in the vineyards of bad presentations – Mr. Steele’s Presentation Skills 201 is, page for page, the finest book on advanced presenting I have ever read.
Surely the most succinct.
It froths with superb and utterly essential advice on every . . . single . . . page.
Distilled into powerful instructional nodes, Mr. Steele’s book is spot-on again and again. I thought that I had seen and heard it all, given that I view and judge 300 individual and 75 group presentations each year – but not so.
Mr. Steele’s work is a reminder that there is always “one more thing” that each of us can learn to hone and improve our own presentation skills.
On rushing through your presentation:
One of the keys to sounding confident as a presenter is acting like you own the time. If you were told you have 15 minutes to speak, you want to act like you own those 15 minutes. Rushing makes you sound anxious to the audience. It undermines the confident image you want to project. You risk coming across like a nervous stage performer who expects the hook at any moment. Limiting your content takes the pressure off.
Presenters routinely assign the lowest priority to their live audience when preparing slides. They create slides to be their notes. Slides that are speaker notes can be anemic or crammed with too much content. Some presenters just need reminder notes, so they create slides with cryptic phrases that mean nothing to the audience. Others need the slide show equivalent of a script, so their bullet points are complete paragraphs in 10-point type. Either way, the slides are frustrating to an audience.
If you need a handout, realize that a good slide show is not a good handout – and a good handout is not a good slide show.
Money is Precious
I rarely recommend books in the presentation genre. This is one of those rare times.
I have found wisdom on every page of Mr. Steele’s tome and it holds an honored place at my right hand. I plan to reference it often as well as consult Mr. Steele’s website.
I recommend this presentations book to anyone who fancies himself or herself an outstanding presenter. You can do better, and Presentation Skills 201 is the perfect tonic to take anyone to a higher level of performance.
You build your talk in stages, and you make the case for your recommendation. Through all of this, the Rule of Three is the best method you can use.
Apply the Rule of Three . . . and apply it ruthlessly.
Here I offer controversial advice, and not every presentation guru will agree with it. But it forms the basis for an especially powerful presentation.
With it, you never go wrong.
What is this Rule of Three?
For a moment, let’s consider this “Rule of Three.”
This is always a successful method in structuring the staging portion of your presentation.
Rule of Three in presentations means selecting the three main points from your material and making that the structure for your show. Despite the fact that you may never have heard of the “rule of three,” it’s one of the most basic frameworks for public speaking.
It derives from something almost existential in the human psyche.
Think about this for a moment.
Something magical suffuses the number three. We tend to grasp information most easily in threes.
Consider these examples:
Stop, look and listen – A well–known public safety announcement
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” – William Shakespeare
Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar
“Blood, sweat and tears” – Winston Churchill
“Faith, Hope and Charity” – The Bible
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the Declaration of Independence
“The good, the bad and the ugly” – Clint Eastwood Western
“Duty – Honor – Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur
The Rule of Three in presentations is a standard structural model advocated by many presentation coaches. And with good reason. It’s a powerful framework, incredibly sturdy. Think of it as a reliable vessel into which to pour your superb beverage.
With the rule of three, you can – literally – never err with regard to your presentation structure.
Here’s an Example . . .
Offer substantiation for your thesis and ultimate recommendation in three main points.
Strip down all of your convoluted arguments, all of your evidence, all of your keen analysis to the three major points that you believe make your case.
Let’s take an example.
Say that we begin show with our introductory situation statement and ultimate recommendation, and we give three positive reasons for our chosen course of action: “ . . . this presentation demonstrates that this course of action is the best use of scarce resources among the alternatives, is fiscally sound, and serves as a basis for rapid growth.”
These three factors serve as your basic Rule of Three structure for the middle of your presentation.
Most efficient use of resources over other expansion alternatives
Financial Analysis of the projected acquisition
Projected returns and growth rate
Does this mean that other information is not important? Of course not.
It means that you’ve selected the most important points that make your case and that you want to rivet in the minds of the audience. The Rule of Three in presentations means that you select the major facts not to be “comprehensive” in your presentation, but to be persuasive in your presentation.
With respect to subsidiary points that appear in your written analysis, you have the opportunity to address those issues in a question and answer session to follow your show.
Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially if you offer criticism.
Especially where it concerns criticism of current company policy.
Especially when your team must convey bad news.
For instance, that the current strategy is “bad.” Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.
In student presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude. A harsh attitude. This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is valued.
Honesty is . . . well, it’s refreshing.
Presentation Attitude for Self-Preservation
Honesty is important, sure.
But a tremendous gulf separates honesty and candor. Let’s be clear on the difference between the two.
Honesty means you tell the truth. Candor means you spill your guts about everything that’s on your mind in the bluntest way possible.
If you say in your presentation that the current strategic direction of the company is dumb, you tread on thin ice.
Remember that you can express honesty in many ways.
Presentation prudence suggests that we learn a few of them. Use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.
In the audience may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place. They could be emotionally invested in a specific strategy.
They might be financially invested in it.
Anyone can use a sledgehammer.
But if you use one, know that the receiving end of that sledgehammer isn’t pleasant and that you should expect reciprocation somewhere down the line.
Wound an Ego, You Pay a Price
Most times it pays to use a scalpel.
With lots of consideration and skill.
We’re easily wounded where our own projects are concerned, right?
So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely doomed yourself.
Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize at stake. Whether a multi-million dollar deal. Or simply credibility and good judgment.
It takes skill and finesse to fine-tune your work.
To deliver a fine-tuned presentation.
Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive without being abrasive. When you do, you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.
That is, after all, why they’re called skills.
Your presentation will effervesce. It will join the ranks of the especially powerful.
So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy.
Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.
Business School Presentations – this site – opens a entirely new world to you and your presentation endeavors. Here, we demystify the business presentation, clear away the fog of indecision.
In the process, you can become not just a good presenter, but a great presenter. An especially powerful presenter who can declaim to audiences of 4 to 4,000 . . . with power, confidence, and competence.
Stay with us . . . come back often . . . check out the many speaking resources I link to in the left-hand menu . . . embrace the cornucopia of Presentation Wealth.
. . . launch your quest to obtain personal competitive advantage to last a lifetime.
You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus. The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.
You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.
Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.
We provide a comparison as a baseline.
For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone. Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.
This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.
But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?
Practice is easy. You just . . .
. . . do it.
Business Presentation Practice Yields . . .
First, not everyone practices. Some practice not at all.
Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.
Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you. If you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of business presentation practice.
Here’s why . . .
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. And if you develop keen-minded presentation practice habits, then likewise you’re on your way to developing a powerful personal competitive advantage.
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.
Something in our psyche seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.
When we stumble, we want a “do-over.” So that we can assemble a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.
But when we do this, what we actually practice 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?
No, of course not.
But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance? 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, conduct your presentation 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.
Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.
Treat it this way, and your chances of case competition victory increase dramatically.
Case Competition Victory?
If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters wins the day most every time.
The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.
If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it wins.
If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.
You are the presentation.
By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.
You know the techniques and skills of the masters.
You’ve become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker.
You constantly refine yourself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed: Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.
Apply the Seven Secrets
When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.
Your team’s combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory. The team then creates their first draft presentation.
It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.
Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden. Or from the written material you prepare.
The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own. You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.
Your case solution is not judged solely on its substantive merit, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it. It’s judged on how well you communicate the idea.
Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation. And you must orchestrate your presentation. Work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present.
And with the new knowledge you create.
Remember that it takes much more than a handful of last-minute presentation “tips” to achieve a case competition victory at the highest level.
Phase 2 of your business case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.
Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.
It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.
In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.” It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the competition sponsor.
Business Case Competition Preparation
Your first step – your team members read the business case once-through for general information and understanding.
You inventory issues.
You define the magnitude of the task at hand.
Here, you draw a philosophical and psychological box around the case. You encompass its main elements.
You make it manageable.
You avoid time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.
Your discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.
At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you to develop your analysis and recommendations.
The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually small. So I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.
This includes your team, of course.
Victory or Defeat?
The quality of teams is high. The output of their analyses is similar.
This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.
Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material. I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.
The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.
And so we devote minimum time here on the preparation of your arguments.
Many fine books can help you sharpen your analysis. Try this one.
This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.
We’re concerned here with the key to your competition victory.
Here is your competitive edge: While 90 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Especially Powerful Presenting.
You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.
Your own business case competition preparation distinguishes you in dramatic and substantive ways. This translates into a nuanced, direct, and richly textured presentation.
One that captivates as well as persuades.
Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants
Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged. This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.
These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate. It’s a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.
Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion. This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .
1) Substance trumps: The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.
2) Mimicry: All entries utilize the same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides. This levels the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.
Remember – hold back details of your recommendations for use and explication during the Q&A period. Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.
Don’t get down into the weeds.
Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation. A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points. Deliver them with power and impact.
They should stand out. Don’t submerge them under an avalanche of well-intentioned detail.
Avoid the urge to “get it all in.”
It’s difficult to decide what to leave out of your initial presentation. But it’s as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.
The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.
No hiding behind a resume.
No fast-talking a good game.
No “national rankings.”
Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.
Business Case Competition as Crucible
In business case competitions, your team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.
Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.
They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.
Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose.
The idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit.
Then, rate how well the teams respond.
There is, of course, no direct competition between teams. Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations. There is a time limit and specific rules.
All teams operate under the same conditions.
Business Case Competitions Far and Wide
Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.
Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives. The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.
Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.
The judging panel sometimes consists of executives from the actual company in the case.
The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition. Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event.
One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.
For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.
In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.
For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.
In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.
The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand. This is much easier than you might imagine. Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations. They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.
When we talk about body language in presentations, we really mean three distinct techniques – stance (or how we consciously position our bodies on-stage), expression (how we consciously utilize our facial expressions to enhance our meaning), and gesture (what we do with our hands to communicate).
In this post, let’s focus on gesture.
Gesture a Body Language Add-on?
Is gesture just some sort of garnish for the presentation? Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation?
Has anyone ever broken down the elements of body language for you to explain what’s good and what’s bad? What adds to and what subtracts from your show?
The fact is that you cannot separate sincerity from your appearance.
You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume, from your nuance.
And you cannot separate your words from gesture.
So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior body language messaging.
So what’s a Gesture?
It’s a wave of the hand.
A snap of the finger.
A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side in a universal embrace.
A scratch of the chin. Crossed arms.
An accusatory finger. A balled fist at the proper moment. These are all part of presentation body language that can either enhance or destroy your presentation.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This results from the presence of the speaker.
An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.
Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.
It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.”
Gestures provide energy and accent.
They add power. They add emphasis and meaning to our words.
Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture. At the proper time.
Entire books, in fact, have been written about gesture and the power it can bestow. But most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered. See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott‘s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.
Gesture is too important to leave to chance.
It is certainly too important to dismiss with the breezy trope you occasionally hear: “Move around when you talk.” Let’s understand exactly what it means.
In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today: “Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”
As part of your presentation body language repertoire, gesture should be natural. It should flow from the meaning of your words. From the meaning you wish to convey with your words.
We never gesture without reason or without a point to make. Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us naturally to gesture. Without emotion, gesture is mechanical. It’s false.
It feels and looks artificial.
Communicating Without Words
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 imbue your presentation with power. And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
For if you don’t begin to think in grand terms about yourself and your career, you remain mired in the mud.
Stuck at the bottom.
Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words. In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present. As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.
Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations.
Movements that leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.
Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers. These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities.
It’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.
Control Those Fingers!
Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”
This is a habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands.
You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what. So you develop these unconscious motions. Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”
Tugging at your fingers. I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.
Bending your fingers back in odd manner. This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced. It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell. It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.
Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement. This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.
Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.
Presentation Body Language
Why would you want to “gesture” during your business presentation?
Aren’t your words enough without resorting to presentation body language?
Frankly, words are not enough.
Gestures add force to your points. To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear. A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal such presentation body language?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning. It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language. Said James Winans in 1915:
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.
Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine in superb presentation body language.
You attain an especially powerful presentation moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy.
These three quite different men shared a respect for the power of the spoken word.
The power to deliver the persuasive presentation.
To deliver it with power and passion.
What is Rhetoric?
Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle gave us the means to deliver especially powerful presentations. The best speakers know this, either explicitly or instinctively.
We all owe a debt to Aristotle for his powerful treatise on persuasive public speaking Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the function of discovering the means of persuasion for every case.
These means of persuasion are delivered as a form of art. Aristotle identified the three necessary elements for powerful and persuasive presentations – the ethos or character of the speaker, the attitude of the audience, and the argument itself.
And the value of this powerful tool?
Just this . . .
Aristotle identified four great values of rhetoric.
First, rhetoric can prevent the triumph of fraud and injustice.
Second, it can instruct when scientific argument doesn’t work.
Third, it compels us to act out both sides of a case. When you can argue the opposite point, you are best armed to defeat it.
Finally, it’s a powerful means of defense when your opponent attacks.
As modern college texts wallow in the fever swamp of “communication theory,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers us a crystalline tool of power and efficacy – a sure guide to the proper techniques in business presenting.
Modern Persuasive Presentations
Two men as different as Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs understood the power of rhetoric to inspire people to action.
Dr. King for the transformation of society . . . Steve Jobs for the revolutionizing of six different technology industries.
Dr. King used one particular rhetorical technique that has become the touchstone of his legacy – his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” during his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.
This technique is called the anaphora.
It involves the repetition for effect of a key phrase during a presentation. Dr. King ensured that his Dream would be the emotive catalyst for action.
The anaphora is part of what Aristotle recognized as art in rhetoric and is an advantage that rhetoric has over straight “scientific” expository speech in calling people to action.
Dr. King recognized the emotive power of rhetoric. It is this power that moves listeners to action when pure logic cannot. It’s at the heart of the persuasive presentation.
A Different Venue
Steve Jobs, too, utilized the technique for a different purpose.
A more mundane purpose – the selling of electronics.
“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”
The anaphora is just one example of an especially powerful rhetorical technique. It can imbue your business presenting with persuasiveness.
And there’s more . . . so much more available to you.
When we understand the power of rhetoric and how that power is achieved, it transforms us into more capable and competent business presenters. And it can yield an especially powerful and persuasive presentation as we build our personal competitive advantage.
Perhaps not as transcendent as Dr. Martin Luther King’s, but certainly especially powerful and persuasive presentations in our own bailiwicks.
Step into the presentation. Become the animation that highlights your points of emphasis.
Don’t divide audience attention between you, the data on the screen, and a nervously darting red speck.
Instead, concentrate your audience focus on your major points, touching the screen, guiding us to the facts and figures you want us to internalize. It’s a cave painting, so run your hands over the cave wall. Show us what you want us to see with your hand.
Now, I issue a caveat here.
If the screen behind you is so high that you cannot reach it, then you might be justified in using the pointer.
But probably not.
Instead, if you want to highlight or draw attention to your points of emphasis, then utilize the highlighting animation available on most multimedia platforms.
If you’re uncertain what I mean by this, have a look at this brief video:
Nothing is more gratuitous in modern business presenting than the laser pointer. And few things more irritating than the laser pointer presentation.
Rid yourself of this awful affectation today.
Pledge never to deliver another laser pointer presentation in your business life and instead deliver especially powerful presentations invested with confidence and competence.
Here’s the difference between the two pathologies, both of which can sabotage your presentation.
No Need for Self-Sabotage
Uptalk is the bad speech habit of inflecting the voice up at the end of each sentence, as if each sentence were a question.
Uptalk is usually a 24-7 transgression. If you do it . . you do it all the time.
Uptalk is breezy, addle-pated, and weak. With uptalk, you sound air-headed, uncertain, ditzy. Whiny and pleading. Someone who doesn’t care.
You could fix uptalk easily, if you wanted to.
But at this point, if you’re still doing it, you probably don’t want to fix it.
Now look at a parallel speech pattern that sounds similar to uptalk. This pattern appears only on special occasions.
List-Talk only shows up when it can hurt you.
Break this Bad Presentation Habit Now
What is List-Talk?
You engage in List-Talk only when you deliver your business presentation.
Exactly when it does you the most damage.
List-Speak is the lilting presentation voice we sometimes assume when we give a presentation. It’s a form of “presentation voice.” Presentation Voice is an artifice some people unconsciously adopt when speaking to a group in a formal situation.
Especially when we’re attuned to reading slides instead of simply telling our story.
List-Talk creeps in. It replaces direct, declarative sentences.
List-Talk offers the lilting upswing of the voice at the end of sentences.
As if you’re reading from a mental list.
Each sentence needlessly telegraphs that there’s more to come, that you’ve not yet completed a thought.
Again. And again.
And this goes on endlessly, until you finish the last point from your slide. Only then do you mercifully let your voice drop in completion . . .
. . . only to have it go up again as the next slide materializes.
This pathology is linked to your slide. But it’s not the slide’s fault.
If given a choice, would you embrace the opportunity to develop a powerful presentation voice?
Or would you demur to take a stand for “natural” voices? Whatever the hell that is.
Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.
It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.
We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving.
We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.
Voices Often Develop Chaotically
Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, 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.
So what’s a “bad voice?”
Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang? Is it pinched? Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be to produce a powerful presentation voice, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?
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 air rasping across vocal cords. A voice that has no force. No depth. A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
A voice from reality television. A cartoon voice. The opposite of a powerful presentation voice.
The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine. Many reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
You know exemplars of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons: a group of people calling themselves “Kardashians.”
Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.
They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
And yet people mimic them.
Lots of people.
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 and coordination.
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. It’s not.
An Especially Powerful Presentation Voice
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.
This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as a noble stand for who-knows what.
This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction. You hold yourself back for no good reason. It’s also a manifestation of fear.
Clare Tree Major identified 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 effective voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?