Class had ended, and I was giving final feedback for a group that had just presented their business case.
Not a bad group presentation by any means, but individual students needed work, and I like to give advice that young folks can carry with them beyond the classroom and on into the workaday world.
Not just advice, mind you, but nuggets that can confer personal competitive advantage for a lifetime.
As I briefed the presenters, a professor came into the classroom and stood by, listening in. He’s a colleague of mine. Smart man. I respect him for his knowledge of finance.
A curious fellow, too.
He took in my feedback as I advised students to eliminate a verbal gaffe called the “rising line” or the “verbal up-tic,” as I call it. I was demonstrating this awful turn of voice.
The Verbal Up-tic or “uptalk” as it is sometimes called, is a verbal pathology that afflicts at least 50 percent of young presenters and is manifested by transforming simple statements of fact into questions. The Brits call this the “Moronic Interrogative,” and you can probably guess that it is not a compliment.
By eliminating this awful verbal tic, you take a giant step toward presenting excellence.
My students packed up and left, and my colleague stepped up beside me.
By now, I’m accustomed to the raised eyebrow of colleagues who look askance at some of the techniques I advocate. It goes with the territory. There is, after all, a kind of lock-step sameness in the faculty view of business presentations.
Deviations from the barebones structure are not appreciated nor are they recognized for the value they can add.
“You could very well say that, Roger . . . there’s a big helping of drama here. It’s much like putting on a show. It’s why I call my presentations ‘shows’ and my students my ‘show-people.’”
Because this, in essence, is what visual and verbal communication is all about and how it differs drastically from written work.
It’s no accident that I use the word “show.” This is what we do when we give a presentation . . . when we present. We don’t deliver a presentation; we present.
The presentation is not something behind you on a screen. The presentation is not on a whiteboard or butcher paper. It’s not on a flip chart.
The presentation is you.
A large part of you is how you express yourself – your presence, your expression. We are at our best when we incorporate drama into our presentations, and this is the catalyst that provides the grist for our expression and enthusiasm.
By drama, I do not mean the phony excitement and angst of “relationships” gone wrong, the depression of being brought low by a downer “text,” the anxiety of the “drama queen” or the pomposity of “King Drama.”
I mean the “dramatic situation.”
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color.
You have drama inherent in any situation where there is conflict or the potential for conflict. We in business, engaged as we are in competing to provide goods and services to our customers, are blessed with dramatic situations.
Business cases are chock full of drama – conflict, suspense, turning points, great decisions. You simply must learn to recognize them and to bring them out. It does not mean exaggerated behavior during your presentation, as noted by one of my favorite Speaking Masters of all time, Grenville Kleiser:
This is not a recommendation of paroxysms of feeling, wild gesticulation, tearing and combing of the hair with the fingers, violent pacing up and down the platform, and other manifestations of old-style oratory, happily now obsolete, but rather to suggest a power which, when properly used, will give life, variety, intensity, and color to the spoken message.
Life. Variety. Intensity. Color. These are what you strive for.
This theatrical aspect of presenting can, in theory, surely be overdone. But given the staid status of business presenting, the danger of this in business presentations is nil. I never see overdone business presentations, but I’d surely welcome one.
You can harness dramatic techniques to your business presenting style, and a number of books delve into this. One of the finest books available on the subject is Ken Howard’s Act Natural, and I strongly urge its purchase if you are serious about taking your presenting power to a whole new level.
The speaking secret of expression is an advantage that should be yours and not just restricted as a privilege for those toiling in the theater or in film.
Remember that you have incredible power at your disposal in the form of expression that makes use of drama.
A curl of the lip.
A raise of one eyebrow.
Sincere furrows in the forehead.
Speaking Master Joseph Mosher gave us one key secret to expression in 1928, and we would be wise to recognize his observation of the importance of the mouth and eyes.
[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes. The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.
The secret power of expression is yours for the taking. You need only seize it to develop an especially powerful presentation.