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Beware the Sneer of the Wise

Thoughtful visionaries must craft compelling business presentations to make their rarefied concepts intelligible

 

George H. W. Bush might have called it “the vision thing.”

He beat me to it by about 20 years, and while it might have been a phrase suitable for ridiculing an uptight politician, I think it does capture its amorphous quality.

It seems that the vision thing is amorphous . . . to everyone but the visionary.  To the visionary, the vision is clear, rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.

And quite as hot.

At best, the visionary is surrounded by lesser minds whose feeble synapses cannot loop themselves about the vision.

At worst, they are idiots and obstructionists.

Our Visions . . .
Professional Presence means passion
Vision, passion, presence . . . your business presentation needs them all

Of course, we all have visions.

To us, our own visions are clear.  They are indeed rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.

And yes . . . quite as hot.

These are exciting visions, and visions that are bound to disappoint us as we make others aware of them.

For no one else understands.  Because . . . communicating that vision may be as difficult as confecting it in the first place.

For every sympathetic ear lent to you by a fellow visionary who has been put through the meatgrinder of negativity, there are 100 naysayers eager to turn the crank on your vision.

No . . . 1000 naysayers.

Not that naysaying is always bad, mind you.  All visions are not created equal, and some can be downright nasty.

The man or woman with a vision could easily be an artist or architect, or could well be a developer scarfing up land to lay down asphalt for a superhighway or to lay foundations for a new Trump Tower.

Or it could be an entrepreneur — wild-eyed, committed, driven by a vision.

Driven to Create

Or a would-be novelist with one good plot in him . . . or her.  Or a dozen plots seething and straining at release from the prison of our poor imagination.  A would-be novelist, driven to write.  Or driven to distraction.

Is there so much difference between an entrepreneur and a writer?  For novelists are entrepreneurs.  Each time the bold writer casts a blank page upon the screen to begin a new tale, it is a fresh project, new to the world and unlike anything that has gone before.  One hopes.

The endeavor requires a particular set of attributes.  Determination, patience, acumen, imagination, education of a sort (not necessarily formal), experience in life, literacy.  The ability to communicate . . .

This last, of course, is the trick.

For words are the medium most of us use to convey our vision, whether a novel or an idea for a product that does not yet exist.  A product that meets a need that we do not yet know we have.  A story that resonates with feelings we have not yet explored.

Even the painter must use words to “explain” his art to those unable to grasp its subtlety or significance — such explanation, by its very nature, is usually a forlorn exercise.

The vision thing.  Our visions can be great or small, creative or mundane.

In my classes on business strategy, I talk about the vision thing in oblique terms.  I actually broach the concept of businessperson as artist.  The artistically inclined in my courses (and some liberal arts folks do slip in) look askance at the idea, and most of the fact-motivated business-inclined in my courses don’t seem to care.

Or, even if they were to care, simply do not understand the point.

The notion is not warmly received.  Perhaps the point is nonexistent.  Or strained.  Or ludicrous.

Perhaps it is a futile exercise.  Maybe it is something that I see that others do not.  Even so, it is possible that this thing that I alone see does not necessarily have value.

No Boundaries to Creativity

But I do believe that there are no disciplinary bounds that contain creativity.  Many of the products of advertising agencies abound with creativity – at least in their initial stages before the corporate leavening process strips away edginess and originality and anything which might prove too startling for public sensibilities.

For corporate leavening is designed to package knowledge in comprehensible, digestible bites.  It is designed to link information seamlessly into the already-known world of popular culture, more to massage viewers with familiar verities and comfortable genuflections than to stimulate thought. It is the proverbial cooks spoiling broth.

Business School Presenting, the source of competitive advantage
Your vision should animate all you do

So it is with business generally.  There is an art to business, but it is never described as such lest such creativity be hooted from the room.This is the realm where ideas are “run up flagpoles” and such like, where outside-the-box thinking receives the obligatory tip o’ the hat, but where genuine “outside the box thinking” is neither expected nor appreciated.

The articulation of true thinking outside the corporate box is risible, if anyone unschooled in the unwritten corporate rules dares to give voice to such heresy.

This is the conundrum.  The paradox.

Now, we all engage in pop-psychology from time-to-time, and this allows us to speak of the “average person’s” attitudes, beliefs, and reactions as if we, ourselves, are free of this “average person’s” afflictions.  But indulge this hubris for a few more moments.

The conundrum is that when the artist, the visionary, thinks outside the box, it leaves others feeling threatened and insulted that they, themselves, are perceived as restricted to thinking inside this box.

Likewise, the average person tends to interpret his own inability to understand a vision as the other person’s quackery . . . whether the artist is a painter, composer, writer . . . or businessman.

There is a balance to be struck here.

Those of us without calluses on our fragile psyches can be wounded by the mass rejection of our vision, such rejection leaving us questioning our sanity and ability.  Conversely, those of us informed by our own arrogance and too callused may be deaf to legitimate criticism or to gentle suggestion.

Thus, the conundrum of the vision.  Visions are difficult.

Conundrum of the Vision

I said that not all visions are created equal.  Not all are salutary or benign.  Some are unsavory, insidious, dangerous, cold.

Others are just boring, derivative, smug, pale.

But I desire not to judge a man’s vision.  Not hereabouts, anyway.

These problems of distinguishing good vision from bad are worth essays and books in their own right, essays and books that are perhaps beyond this scribe’s abilities to pen.

Rather, at this point, I call attention to the angst and anguish of the man who perceives that his vision cannot be grasped by others.  His impatience with naysayers, his irascibility, his inability to compromise, his propensity to scoff rather than to explain.  Ultimately, his resignation that any explanation will not be enough.

For if it were explicable to the average mind, then the average mind would have long ago seized upon the vision and made it corporeal.

That is yet another conundrum for the entrepreneur, the artist, the visionary.  Perhaps it has always been this way, and it is not necessarily restricted to those of genius stature.

If the vision itself, indeed, is true art – an assemblage of something truly unique, then of course it will not be immediately apprehensible to the hoi-polloi.

And so not to sound haughty, perhaps it could be better said: “immediately apprehensible to us of the hoi-polloi,” to those of us not privy to the vision’s intricate fabric, the obscure linkages, the high concept that informs the few.

Beware the Sneer of the Wise

Let me issue a caveat that complicates the issue.

There are those in our lives who exhibit a raft of negative characteristics – irascibility, inability to compromise, the sneer of the wise – without the saving grace of having a vision or anything resembling it.  But shrewd and clever folks are afoot, and they know the trappings of the visionary, the finery of the thinker, the vernacular of the annointed.

But he is hollow.  And how to spot this poseur?

Again, I digress in the interest of clarity and refinement.  Back to the point-of-the-moment, and that point is this:

Communicating the vision is incredibly difficult.  It is difficult because of snags all along the communication chain.  It is difficult because of flaws inherent in the visionary, in the medium, and in the those receiving the message.  Given this, it is a wonder that useful communication occurs at all.

Think of the equation:  An irascible, haughty, driven, and quirky entrepreneur attempts hurried and imperfect communication with an unresponsive, suspicious, and fallow audience.

For inevitably, the recipient of a fresh, new, insightful, electrifying, unique confection of art, vision, or theory will respond in predictable manner.

The recipient of this revolutionary information responds to the truly new by filtering the information through sensors that massage and mold it into images and words and reality that are already known.  For it all has been heard before, seen before, considered before, and catalogued before.

Nothing is truly new . . . especially to the clever man, who for the most part has no personal stake in recognizing and processing novelty.

If perchance, an idea takes root, a theory is accepted, art recognized for its texture, nuance, and universalism . . . well, the problem of communication is instantly forgotten after the fact.

We’re All Geniuses . . . After The Fact

After the fact, of course, it is all different.  We all recognize novelty, genius, the great idea after the fact.  Long after the fact. It becomes “obvious.”

The unserious novels of Charles Dickens.  The absurd notion that people might appreciate a service that provides overnight delivery, a service with the ridiculously stuffy name “Federal Express.”

In each of these dramatically different cases, an entrepreneur recognized something that others, perhaps much like us, could not or would not.

Entrepreneurs and novelists are usually driven people.  I tend to believe that they are one and the same.  Would-be authors are entrepreneurs.  In fact, they are repeat performers, whether crafting fiction or non-fiction . . . every new book is an entrepreneurial effort.

They visualize what is not there, what others cannot see.  Or can see only through a mist of reality that clogs the imagination.  Imaginative and single-minded, they embrace their mission with religious zeal (and I do believe that those two words, religious and zeal, are joined at the hips, much as to “redouble one’s efforts”).

A touch of the maniacal, the obsessive, the glassy-eyed dreamer, the take-no-prisoners, uncompromising drive.  The determination that compels one to rise each day to face the idea that no one understands, to embrace yet another day alone in one’s belief.

An attitude that says “do not tamper with this vision.”

This is, of course, the only way for entrepreneurs to succeed.  If they were any other way, they wouldn’t be entrepreneurs.

Which brings me to the final point that is not so disentangled from what has gone before to be a standalone.

I have waxed on about communication and its difficulties.  The word has become almost a cliché in that everything these days can be labeled a “communication problem,” even when the problem is not lack of communication, but rather too much accurate communication.

The “communication” conundrum I refer to afflicts anyone who would write to inform others, who would convey thoughts and notions and concepts.

In fiction, and even in non-fiction, I have noted a disinclination on the part of many undergraduates and some graduate students to edit their work.  As if such editing is equivalent to the “corporate leavening process” I mentioned earlier.

They confuse the goal of clarity with senses-dulling censorship.

In their classic Elements of Style, Strunk and White touched upon this, and where Strunk and White are sometimes looked upon as too basic, their insights provide a solid technical foundation that many young writers would do well to absorb.  Strunk and White observed a tendency among young writers to confuse spontaneity with genius, to affect a breezy, careless, even world-weary style.

I believe the modern vernacular for this is the “been there, done that” posture.

But of course, such an attitude leads to ambiguity and sloppiness in writing — whether one is conveying exactly a child’s appropriate emotion in a funereal scene, or whether one is conveying the impact of various liquidity ratios on a novel business model.

Invariably, what is communicated on the page is not what the writer believes he or she is conveying.  First drafts are always afflicted with a primitivity of communication. Yet, ironically, the first draft carries for many writers an aura of spontaneity and genius that resists change.

First Draft for Spontaneity . . . Edit for Power

The solution?  Editing.

If there is a single act that can improve this communication issue, it is careful and ruthless editing.  Only through editing can clarity, focus, and especially powerful meaning be teased from the morass of words.  This is a lesson taught on Storytellers many times, but it demands repeating.

Professional Presence means passion
Chart your course, then stick to it

The daily difficulties of communication abound.  When the subject is new or the product unique, the obstacles increase dramatically, for all the reasons I have listed in such disorganized fashion.  Through the act of editing, perhaps we can at least overcome one obstacle in the difficult task of communicating our vision.

The problems lie all along the communication chain – in the personality of the visionary, in the unique nature of the vision itself, in the inadequacy of the medium with which we communicate, and in the prejudices of the recipient.

Is there a formula to address all of these issues along the communication chain?  Probably not.  I certainly do not have the answer.

But at risk of sounding like the cookie-cutter b-school professor, let me iterate that the good news is that awareness of a problem and its proper identification is a giant step toward its resolution in our personal strategic planning process.

The more rarefied the vision, the more intractable and personal the issues we must deal with.

And as a result, I suspect that each of us must define our own problems and search out our own answers to our communication issues.

For only we can grapple with them and, ultimately, deal with them.

For perspective on communicating your vision, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Voodoo Presenting: A Finance CLASSIC!

Finance Presenting offers special challenges, but it’s also a chance to increase professional presence

Whether the presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students.

“Finance is different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.

False Certitude, Faux Anchor

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  And this illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

But this is an illusion. And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The Bad News

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.  Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.  It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.  “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.  “We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.  Not only do numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all . . . if numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these presentation shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.  It may be useful.  It may be boring.  It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.  But whatever else it is, it is not a presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.  The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”  The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?

Slides from Hell.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.  Because the bar for finance presenting is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be.  Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.

Build Credibility With a Powerful Presentation

But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentation world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

For more on presenting financial information in a suitable way, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

WIIFY: Know Your Audience

WIIFY
Know your audience and craft your story with your listeners in mind . . . WIIFY

WIIFY – What’s In It For You?

This catchphrase comes loaded with a freight-train of wisdom for your business presentation.  And no, it isn’t about you . . . it’s about your audience.

Always ask yourself this question with regard to your audience . . . from the point-of-view of your audience.

This strikes at the heart of a powerful and well-received presentation, as speaking master James Winans noted back in 1915:

“The young speaker can do nothing better for himself than to fix firmly in mind that public speaking is a dialogue and to emphasize constantly the part of the audience, anticipating and watching for its response.”

This speaking basic also runs under the tag of Know Your Audience.

Know Your Audience = WIIFY?

To achieve its greatest effect, your story must focus on the needs and interests of your audience.  At its best, your presentation should focus on the deepest desires of the audience, but should do so subtly and with great skill.

Your story should fulfill a need in the audience with regard to your presentation topic and the stories you choose to illustrate that topic.

Ask yourself these questions:  Why have they come?  What is it that motivates these persons to gather in one place to hear me?  How can I speak to the audience as a group, and yet speak to each person individually?

WIIFY?  Be a Hero!

How can I make the persons in the audience feel like a hero?

The hero of your story must be in the audience.  The CEO.  The Stockholders.  Employees.

The people who are praised, instructed, lifted, motivated, excited must be the heroes of your story.

Aim your story at them and ask the question WIIFY.  Make them feel good about themselves, and they’ll surely feel more disposed to feel good about your message.

Speak with them as individual people, not as a group.  They do not attend your talk as a group, so do not address them as a group.  They attend your business presentation as individuals, because they have goals and aspirations and hopes.  They hope that your talk will benefit them in some way as an individual person.

Moreover, you must understand your audience.  You must understand their wants and needs, interests and desires.

Find what motivates them.

Find what shames them.

Find the common thread among them, then speak to that common thread as they are individuals.

Build your story with WIIFY in mind.

If the idea of corporate storytelling strikes a chord with you, note that three entire chapters of The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting are devoted to the craft of business storytelling and answering the question WIIFY.

Develop Powerful Personal Presence

Personal Presence
Personal Presence confers Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.

I should say potential power.

For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited.

Forfeiture of Power

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 describes 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.  You bring into play your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful personal presence.

Naked Information Overflow

But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow.  We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.

Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background.  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 rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.

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 an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.

The Secret of Personal Presence

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.  Gone 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.  A presenter commanding the facts and delivering compelling arguments  A presenter 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 incredible personal competitive advantage that personal presence provides?

To develop personal presence through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Avoid Two Big Practice Mistakes

Practice the right way to ensure an especially powerful performance

One of the keys to successful and confident performance of your business presentation is practice.

The right kind of practice.

This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.

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.  This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.

Mistake #1

First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

There is something in our psyche that seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.  When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.

But when we do this, what we are actually practicing 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?  Start over?  No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we stumble?  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.

Mistake #2

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, 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.

For more on the delivery of especially powerful presentations and the development of personal comptetitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Bad PowerPoint

Bad PowerPoint can destroy your business presentation
Don’t numb your audience with bad PowerPoint during your business presentation

Why is so much Bad PowerPoint out there in the corporate world?

I suspect that the reason for this is mimicry and corporate incest.

In the absence of good habits within an organization, bad habits perpetuate themselves, especially if senior leadership is the culprit.  If the model within a firm is average or below-par, then this becomes the norm.

In this way, bad presenting breeds more bad presenting.

We unfortunately do not license users for competence or require that candidates complete a PowerPoint safety course to ensure that they commit minimal damage.  As a result, bad PowerPoint technique thrives.

Mimicry Breeds Mediocrity

The natural tendency of people is to mimic the boss.  They accept his style as proper.  While this may serve you well as a corporate survival tool, it stunts your personal growth.  Like any principle, it can be followed mindlessly, or it can serve you well if you are judicious.

Such is the case with PowerPoint.  People see “professionals” use this tool in gross fashion, and they copy the bad technique.

They think it’s “the way to do it.”

I’m certain that this is how students develop such bad habits.

Some corporate vice president or successful entrepreneur shows up at your school unprepared to deliver a talk, believing that his professional achievements are enough to impress you.  He or she believes that preparation is unnecessary, that faux spontaneity can carry the day.

They feel no drive to deliver a satisfying talk.

This worthy believes that anything he says will be treated as business gospel.  Who can blame you for copying him and his bad habits?

But bad habits they are, and they span the disciplines.  They run rampant the length of the corporate ladder.  I separate these bad habits and actions into two broad categories – 1) the PowerPoint material itself, and 2) your interaction with that material during your presentation.

Let’s look at that first point.

Especially Bad PowerPoint

Oftentimes, students throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides.  They cut-and-paste them from a written report with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout.

You’ve probably done this yourself.  The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points and which are delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls bad slides . . .

“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career.  Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well.  The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”

Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to cut and paste graphics from a written report onto a slide.  You then project that slide onto the screen while you talk about it.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”

The results are usually poor, if not downright heinous.  This is what I call the “As you can see” syndrome:  AYCSS.  It’s a roadmap to disaster.

But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.  And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.

So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.

What Makes Bad PowerPoint?
Say no to Bad Powerpoint
Agile interaction with your visuals is essential for an especially powerful business presentation

Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.  PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.

This view is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling computer generated special effects and neglect the story.  The films flop, one after the other.  Yet Hollywood does not get the message.

You can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about and who are buffeted by dangers and threats contrived by Industrial Light and Magic.

And it’s the same with your presentation.

Likewise, Aileen Pincus, a superb presentation coach, tells us that “Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”

Start improving your slides and your use of them today.  Implement the following three-step remedy.

Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.

If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.  Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide.  Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, tell your audience what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide, which should contain only the figures you refer to.

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.

It is incredibly easy to do the above, if you know to do it.  Most folks do not.  But now you do.

Try these three simple steps, and I guarantee that your presentation improves dramatically.

The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting has much more on how to interact in an especially powerful manner with your slides and avoid bad PowerPoint along the way to achieving personal competitive advantage.

Business Presentation Structure . . . and Fit

Presentation Structure
Chop your content to fit a set length and presentation structure

The typical start to thinking about and then preparing our presentation structure is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”

Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Or a “good group.”  Or you “don’t have time for this.”

These are just excuses for refusing to grapple with a task that seems amorphous.

Instead, let’s make it real and vow to tackle the initial stages of presentation structure immediately.

Tackle Presentation Structure Head-on

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here?

Think about it.  How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.  You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience.  Your implicit objective is to “fit it all in.”

And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They don’t usually evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.*

So this is the missing component – you typically don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum, shaping it to the visual/vocal medium.  Instead, you attempt to twist the medium itself to match the written analysis.

Without success.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task, and the result is predictable.  You end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  The result is less than stellar.

Your slides are crammed with unreadable information.

You talk fast to force all the points in, so no one can possibly digest it.

You run over-time.

Let’s fix all of this right now.

This Time, Procrustes has Presentation Structure Right

To fix this problem, I recommend a radical solution.  I advise that you take the Procrustean approach in crafting your business presentation structure.

This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thus:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  Some said that he also had a very short bed; to make passersby fit this he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Presentation Structure
Is this the right way to approach presentation structure?

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

The “Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture.  A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this: We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.

So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

The Rule of Three for Presentation Structure

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.  If you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.

Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Only three.

Now, here is your modified task:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Just this:  If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.  They turn off and tune you out.

You lose them, and you fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than presenting only one point.  If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  You irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should offer the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.  The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You don’t want the audience to remember how you massaged the data, analyzed it, and arranged it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions and recommendations.

Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

For more on how to craft especially powerful presentation structure, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.


* Of course, there will be vociferous disagreement from my colleagues who do care a great deal about style and communication and who do evaluate presentations apart from the criteria they use to grade written work.  These hardy souls are in the minority, and of course I do not refer to them.  But the unfortunate truth is that too many business school professors do not take seriously enough the presentation process with regard to presenting as a skill. Is there hard data to back up that claim?  Of course not, and I welcome suggestions as to how one might go about collecting data on professors, data that might indicate that their skills are substandard in a particular area.  That won’t happen, of course.  And so we must rely upon what is derided as “anecdotal evidence.”  Because my contention relies entirely upon anecdotal evidence, you have my full cooperation in dismissing my comments here as unwarranted.  Meanwhile, let’s learn something new.

The Power Zone

The Power Zone for Especially Powerful Presentations

Business Presenting is filled with paradoxes.

For instance . . .  the quizzical Power Zone.

It’s a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.  This is really the strangest thing, and it alwayss amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.

The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where  everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator, where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.

Yes, you can go there.  And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone.  But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone, most don’t go.  They find an excuse.

Disbelief . . .  Principle . . . Ideology . . .  Sloth . . . Disregard . . . Fear . . . even Anger.

They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.

In my presentations to various audiences, I am invariably faced with the arguer, the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not.  The person who is adamant, steadfastly against what is being said.  Usually for the most spurious of reasons.

No Argument Here

And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly. Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional. And so I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, from wherever they come.

The latest batch of objections sprang from one woman’s ideology.  She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.

In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else . . . and then lecture her audience if they didn’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.  In short, she wanted to deliver presentations her way, and blame her audience if they didn’t respond positively and, presumably, with accolades.

She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles  “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”

And I say praise the Lord for that.

I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job if it sounds otherwise.

She complained that some of the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable”  doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”

I replied to her this way . . .

Just Don’t Do it

I told her, “Don’t do them.  Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective, and substitute what you know to be better.”

But do that with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field for someone else to pick up.  They’ll be happy you did.

Comfort?  You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures?  Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try?  Who cooked it up, and when did it gain currency?  Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.

A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold  of a delivery room.  A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.  An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.

Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas?  Likely as not, it’s a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achievement of a goal.

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success.  That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.

And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scowl at this.  It requires too much of them.  Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work.  Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them.  Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have magic sparkles or something, right?

So . . .  if you find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy . . . if you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you:  “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”

There is no need to fume over this or that nettlesome detail.  It’s completely unnecessary, because no one compels you to do anything.  And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom. The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone.

I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.

If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else.  Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!

But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer . . . then I extend congratulations as you step onto the path toward the Power Zone, toward that rarefied world of especially powerful presenters.

For more on the Power Zone, consult The Complete Guide of Business School Presenting.

Train to be a Rocket Scientist in Your Spare Time!

To become an especially powerful business presenter requires study

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5 Easy Steps to Powerful Presentations!

Pernicious Myths . . .

There are two pernicious myths regarding business presentations out there that refuse to be swatted down.  Well, probably more than two, but two big myths that persistently burden folks.

These myths influence two large groups of people.  Without knowing it, these folks subscribe to two schools of presentation thought . . . Birthers and McTips.

The first group – the “Birthers” presentation school – believes that superb public speakers are “born that way.”

Folks in this group believes that it’s nature-not-nurture and that natural talent wins the day.  Since it’s an ability you either have or you don’t, well there’s no need to even try.  Just sit back and marvel at those outstanding public speakers who make it all look so easy, but who actually utilize a host of techniques to charm and dazzle you.

Techniques that would be available to you if you would only set aside the self-defeating notion that you can’t develop especially powerful presentation skills.

Supersize Those McTips?

The second group – the “McTips” presentation school – believes that public speaking is both easy and easily learned.  Folks here believe that following a few presenting “McTips” or easy “McSteps” can turn them into tremendous speakers.  “Make eye contact” . . . “Move around when you talk” . . .  “Use your hands” . . .    Presto.

This McTips view is so pernicious that  it does more damage than good.  It’s like a get-rich-quick scheme that scams people.  And who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s a painless shortcut to one of the most universally despised activities in corporate America?

One colleague told me a while back, his fingers steepled in front of him, “I can teach my people all they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes . . . all that other stuff is just B__ S___.”

Really?  And if becoming a great presenter is so incredibly easy and the product of a few tips or steps, then why does the bar stay so low with regard to business presentations?   Why does our business landscape resemble a wasteland strewn with mind-numbing PowerPoint slides and populated with droning executive automatons?

Both views are not only wrong, but they can stunt your development as a top-notch business presenter.

Great presenters are neither born, nor are they easily made.

Anyone can become an especially powerful, capable speaker . . . but it takes work, practice, and courage.

To learn how, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Cartoon Voice, Uptalk, and Dum-Dums

Reality TV Mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation.

But judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your voice is probably pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This is a result of many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

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.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

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, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

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 at the end of every sentence.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  The voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill up the empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums are the result of lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a certain lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I speak like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t seem to express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it!  Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Gestures

Presentation gesture can be powerful

Why would you want to “gesture?”

Aren’t your words enough without getting into presentation gestures?

No, not nearly enough.

We gesture to add force to our points.

Presentation Gestures Add Power

To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness . . . even fear.   A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?

While its range is limited, presentation gesture can carry powerful meaning.  It should carry powerful meaning.  Speaking Master James Winans noted in 1915 that this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.

Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues.  Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.

Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication. You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can pack your presentation with power.  And on rare occasion, can imbue your business presentation with majesty of epic proportions.

Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”

Your careful, thoughtful presentation gestures increase your talk’s persuasiveness and lend gravitas to your words.  In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to an especially powerful level, a level far above the mundane. You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.

Presentation gesture offers a powerful means to enhance your presentation’s depth and meaning, communicating with far more power than words alone.

Let’s look at some examples . . .

So we can see that presentation gestures can increased the impact of your business presentation.  For more on presentation gesture, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Use Expression in Presentations

Work on your expression in presentation for personal competitive advantage
We should ensure that our expression in presentation is consonant with our words and accurately reflects our personal brand at all times

You communicate far more with your face than you probably realize, so you should be aware of how expression in presentations can enhance or degrade your business presentation.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.  Yes, there is something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Look no further than the accompanying photo to absorb the lesson of how our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it.

A thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.

The problem of bad expression has plagued speakers for centuries.  Some of our earliest writers on oratory lamented the poor expressive skills of the folks who take to the stage to speak.

Quintilian was a great Roman teacher of oratory in his time.  He’s influenced many generations of public speakers ince the recovery of his classic manuscripts in the 15th Century.

Perhaps you’ve not heard of Quintilian?  It’s time you did.

Expression in Presentation for 1,900 Years

Quintilian published his monumental Institutes of Oratory at the end of the 1st Century AD, and it continues as a powerfully influential treatise on presentations today.  It’s rich with insight and practical instruction.  Take this passage on expression:

[The teacher] will have to take care that the face of his pupil, while speaking, look straight forward; that his lips be not distorted; that no opening of the mouth in moderately distend his jaws.  That his face be not turned up, or his eyes cast down too much, or his head inclined to either side.  The face offends in various waysl.  I have seen many speakers, whose eyebrows were raised at every effort of the voice.  Those of others I have seen contracted.  Those of some even disagreeing, as they turned up one towards the top of the head, while with the other the eye itself was almost concealed.  To all these matters, as we shall hereafter show, a vast deal of importance is to be attached.  For nothing can please which is unbecoming.

Expression in Presentation
We still feel Quintilian’s influence after 2,000 years; his personal brand remains relevant

Would that our modern instructors of presentations would take a moment to share even the most modest of insights offered by great orators such as Quintilian.  He remains relevant and incisive after 1,900 years.  On the need for coordinated and thoughtful expression, and a great many other timeless techniques.

That’s staying power.  And a heckuva personal brand.

And as he notes with respect to expression, nothing can please which is unbecoming.  Your facial expression should reflect your spirit.  It should reveal your heart and your soul, and if it does, you will be in no danger of appearing “unbecoming.”

Your face should transmit sincerity and earnestness consonant with your words.  So I urge you in your presentations to smile often . . . frown sparingly . . . stare never . . . question occasionally . . . and show sincerity throughout.

To continue exploring the power of expression in presentations, as well as your personal brand and personal competitive advantage, consult my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Passion for Competitive Advantage

presentation passion
Imbue your business presentation with presentation passion to fire the imagination of your audience

If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing, and likewise if you don’t display presentation passion when you deliver your business presentation, well . . .  you probably shouldn’t be presenting at all.

You’re in the wrong line of work.

Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic . . .   

I have a pet peeve about this particular issue.  Folks who can’t “get excited” about their topic.

Because they think their topic is “boring.”

No Inherently Interesting Topics

Remember, there is no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.”  Interest is something you do.  It’s why you get paid the big bucks.

As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.  In fact, some of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever seen have been engineered around what some people might call uninteresting topics.

Instead of wincing at the topic at issue, the team invested themselves in the presentation enterprise to bring excitement and enthusiasm to their show.  And passion.

Because presentation passion is a powerful technique at your disposal.  It’s rarely used enough.

It’s rarely used at all, in fact, in business presentations. 

Because passion might be, well . . . “unseemly.”

And yet it can accomplish much in taking your business presentation to heretofore unreachable heights.

Presentation Passion is the Key

Presentation passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting.

Have a look at my short video on passion . . .

You needn’t contort your face or demonstrate spasms of activity to demonstrate passion.  Just be genuinely excited with the matter at hand.  If you’re not, consider moving on to activities less demanding of the passionate investment.

For top-notch presenting, you cannot do without it.

For more on investing your business presentations with presentation passion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Finance Presentations: “We’re Different”

Finance Presentations for Competitive AdvantageWhether the finance presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . .  I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students –

“Finance Presentations are different.”

“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”

“For us, the numbers tell the story.”

Finance Presentations Mysteries

Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language.  They seem less subject to manipulation.

In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort.  An income statement serves as anchor.

For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric.  This illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.

But this is an illusion.  And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.

Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.

We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast.  These demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.

As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.

The Bad News

The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica.  It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.

In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions.  Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .

“Just the facts”

Exhortations of  “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.

“Just the facts”

Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core.  But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised.

It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”  Which facts?  Why these facts and not those facts?

Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis.  Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world.  “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.

“The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me.  “We deal in hard numbers.”

There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all.  If numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.

The end result of these finance presentations shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations.  If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the  “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it.

It may be useful.  It may be boring.  It may be morale-building.  It may be team-destroying.  It may be time-wasting.

But whatever else it is, it is not a business presentation.

“Cut ’n’ Paste”

This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see.  PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font.

The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase:  “As you can see . . . ”   The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium.  The result?

Slides from Hell.

The Good News

In every obstacle exists an opportunity.

Because the bar for finance presentations is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude.  This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid.  It should be.  Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.

But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.Finance Presentations can bestow personal competitive advantage

All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity.  If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.

A situation statement must be given.

A story still must be told.

Your analysis presented.

Conclusions must be drawn.

Recommendations must be made.

And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.

If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.

But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentations world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

The Three Ps – “Preparation”

The Three Ps of Presentations can ensure an especially powerful presentation

Let’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case.  Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Your task is clear.  You must present your conclusions to an audience.  And here is where I give you one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.  Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you create your presentation from a written report?  Since you are creating an information product from a case, how can the product be different, simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

Completely different.

It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.  It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.  Have a look at the chart below.

    

These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, invisible.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  The more numbers, the better.  The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide, the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.

It’s totally wrong, and it’s totally unneccessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

An Especially Powerful Presentation Every Time

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you. Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.  No one cares if they “interest” you.

That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.  And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here?  Think about it.  How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.

And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task.  You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  The result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail.  You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture. A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Only three.

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.  They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than only one point.   If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly.  Your presentation presents the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.  The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.

You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you? Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand? Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytical gold to your client.

Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest these Preparation tips, try them out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Much more can be said about Preparation . . . Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Three Presentation Ps

Isn’t it always helpful when the key words that describe your especially powerful program all start with the same letter?

In this case, the letter is P.

And there are three presentation Ps.

Thes “Three Presentation Ps” encompass everything you must do to deliver especially powerful presentations every time.  They are, in order . . .

Principles

          Preparation

                     Practice

Now you might be head-scratching and wondering how the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting” mesh with the “Three Ps of Presenting.”

A fair question.

Implement the Three Presentation Ps

The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.

Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broad macro sense.

When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles.  And this means preparation.

It means practice.

Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from my approach.

So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.

Do We Hate Presentations?

Business School is where you can develop personal competitive advantage to last a lifetime

If you feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills, then 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 doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this now.

One in 260 Million?

Of an estimated 260 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.

Think of this place as your Official College Guide to Business School Presentations.

Business school students and young executives need credible and direct resources on presenting  – solid advice 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 a matter of opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.

You want to know how to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

Here you 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.  Fair enough.  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.

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, and 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.

If business presenting piques your interest as a keen route to personal competitive advantage, then I encourage you to consult my book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Avoid Business Presentation Meltdown!

Presentation Meltdown
Pause to Avoid Presentation Meltdown

Presentation Meltdown can strike at the oddest moments and leave us with shattered confidence.

You’re in the midst of an especially powerful presentation.  You’re really jazzing the audience.

And then . . . your mind wanders for a brief moment.

It was just a moment.  But it was enough to sabotage you.

Your thoughts grind to a halt and you can’t remember what to say.  Words fail you.

You have lost the proverbial “train of thought” and you’re on the cusp of a presentation meltdown.

What do You do?

Blank-Mind attacks all of us at one point or another during our business presentation career.

In fact, it happens so often that it might do us some good to think ahead to how we should react to this common presentation malady.

Too often, it leads to a presentation meltdown.  But it doesn’t have to.

Presenters have developed trade tricks to help us past the rough spots.  Here is one stopgap solution to get you over the speedbump of lost train of thought.

When you lose your train of thought, don’t panic or you’ll spiral quickly into a presentation meltdown.

Instead, your first reaction should be a calm academic assessment of the situation – you know what’s happened, and you already know what your first action will be.  You’ve prepared for this.

Dodge Presentation Meltdown with This

Pause.

Flood the room with silence.

Avoid Presentation Meltdown

Look slightly upward and raise your right hand to your chin, holding your hand in a semi-fist with chin perched and resting on your index finger and thumb – perhaps with your index finger curled comfortably around your chin.  You know the posture.

Put your left hand on your hip.  Furrow your brow as if deep in thought, which you are.

Now, while looking steadily at the floor or slightly upward at the ceiling, walk slowly in a diagonal approximately four, maybe five steps and stop, feet shoulder-width apart.

Now, assume your basic ready position and look up at your audience.

Your Bought Time

You have just purchased a good 10 seconds to regain your composure, to regain your thought pattern.  Time enough to cobble together your next few sentences.

But if this brief respite was not enough to reset yourself, then shift to the default statement.

If you’re thinking, then look especially thoughtful

What do I mean “default statement?”

This is a rescue phrase that you craft  beforehand to get you back into your speaking groove.  It consists of something like this:  “Let me recapitulate our three points – liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Other phrases might be: “Now is probably a good time to look again at our main themes . . .”  or “We can see again that the issue boils down to the three crucial points that I began with . . .”

And then, you simply begin ticking off your three or four main points of your presentation.  In doing so, you trigger thought processes that put you back onto the correct path.

Think of this method as levering a derailed train back onto the track.

If you have prepared as you should, Blank-Mind should be no more than a small bump in the road for you, a minor nuisance with minimal damage.  If you panic, however, it can balloon into something monstrous.

Remember the rescue techniques:  Chin-scratch and Default Statement.

You can control the damage by utilizing the Chin-scratch, which buys you time to reassert yourself.  Failing that, the Default Statement can bail you out by taking you back over familiar material you’ve just covered.

If none of the above works, however, you can still stop yourself from going into total presentation meltdown by using the two rescue words I preach to all my students . . .

“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”

For more on avoiding presentation meltdown, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Power for Competitive Advantage

Enter the Business Presentation Power ZoneWith regard to Business Presentation power, I deal with two large groups of people.

For sake of descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “Ain’t it easy!”

“Natural Born” and “Ain’t it Easy” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become an especially powerful and superior business presenter.

Neither view is remotely accurate, and none of their adherents want to enter the Business Presentation Power Zone – the province of powerful, capable presenters.

And neither group is enlightened in these matters.  Members of both groups are frustrating and irritating in their own ways and completely self-serving. Here is why . . .

We often look for folks to excuse us from what, deep down, we know we ought to do, or what we can do.  And if we look hard enough, we find what we search for, and excuses are extremely easy to find.  Let’s look at these two excuses that hold us back from fulfilling our potential as especially powerful presenters.

The First View

The first view would have us believe that great speakers are born with some arcane and unfathomable gift, combining talent and natural stage facility.  That Bill Clinton sprang from the womb declaiming that he feels our pain.  That Ronald Reagan was born orating on lower capital gains taxes.

That Oprah Winfrey began her talk show career in kindergarten and demonstrated business presentation power from age five.

If the first view holds that great speakers are born with a gift, then quite logically this view leaves the rest of us to strive with middling presentation skills.

It’s an excuse for us not to persevere.  Why bother to try?  Why not, instead, hire some of these natural born speaker types to do the heavy presentation lifting?

The rest of us can skate along and pretend that we’re not actually lazy . . . or frightened . . . or disinterested . . . or unambitious.

The Second View

The second view is the opposite of the first.  This “Ain’t it Easy” perspective would have us believe that delivering effective presentations is a snap.  So easy, in fact, that one of my colleagues assured me confidently and with not a little hubris that he could teach his undergraduates “everything they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”

He also assured me that “all that other stuff you talk about is B.S.”

Business Presentation PowerHas the presentation landscape changed so much that what was once thought a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions?

Hardly.

In the 1800s, public speaking was refined to an almost-art; “elocution” was the new science/art, and departments of elocution and public speaking flourished in universities throughout the land.  In Philadelphia, on Walnut Street in fact, the National School for Elocution and Oratory became a Mecca for would-be stars of the pulpit, the stage, the bar, and the political wars in the 1890s.

On into the first decades of next century, public speech was regarded with respect and a high-skill to be mastered with much study and practice.

The fact is that despite however much we might wish otherwise, today’s PowerPoint high-tech software multi-media offerings cannot change the fundamental truth.  The truth is that it is still you who must deliver the presentation.

So no . . . you cannot learn “everything you need to know about presenting in 30 minutes” unless you want to ply presenting as a member of the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers who populate every business and law firm from New York to Nashville, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Savannah to San Diego.

Ask yourself . . . if learning to deliver top-notch presentations with business presentation power is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?

The Third View – The Business Presentation Power Zone

There is a third group, and it is destined to remain small.

This group is privy to the truth.  Once you learn this truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way.  You are destined for the Business Presentation Power Zone.

Consider this pop culture analogy from the 1999 film The Matrix.

In The Matrix, humans live in a world that is not what it seems.  In fact, everything they believe about the world is false.  Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) offers to reveal the truth to Neo (Keanu Reeves) about his existence. Morpheus offers Neo a Blue Pill and a Red Pill.

The Blue Pill returns him to his old state of ignorance.  The Red Pill reveals the secret, and once he learns it, Neo cannot return to his old life.

The process of presentation discovery is much like the red-pill/blue-pill choice that Morpheus offers to the young computer hacker Neo . . .

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Likewise, you can stop reading this article this instant – the blue pill – and return to the righteous and relaxing world of “Natural Born” or “Ain’t it easy!”  Both viewpoints allow the average presenter to remain mired in mediocrity with an excuse that sounds plausible.

One perspective means you don’t try at all, other means you offer token effort as befits a low-level pedestrian task.  So, if you decide to take the Blue Pill, close this site and go your own way.  Bon  voyage!  I wish you a hearty good-luck and Godspeed, and perhaps you will be happier for your choice.

But if you are one of the few who thinks for a moment . . .  “Hmm. What if the Professor is right?”

Then . . . Take the Red Pill

Then you can read on to the  Business Presentation Power - the choice is yoursnext brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity.

For the truth is in the Business Presentation Power Zone, and once there, you will never be satisfied with your old presentation life again.  You cannot go back.

That’s the paradox, the Curse of Freedom.

It’s completely within your power to seize the fruits of great presenting.  It’s your choice.

You can launch an auspicious presentation career right now, right this minute.  Or you can dismiss this site as yet another fraudulent claim to revealing secrets to you, only to have it exposed as another method that requires you to actually do something.

Choose the Red Pill.

Step boldy into the Power Zone.

The Power Zone is the province of the privileged few who understand the truth that anyone can become a great presenter, with the right kind of hard work and the willingness to become a great presenter. To join this third group requires you to take on a new state of mind. If you already carry this view, that’s superb.

If you don’t . . . you can decide now to adopt it or forever be relegated to the other two groups – believing you’re not good enough, or believing you are good enough when you’re actually not.

Business Presentation Power is Yours for the Taking

Public presentations – great presentations – require study and practice and preparation and technique.  A deep philosophical, academic, and professional history undergirds public speaking.  This history informs the very best presenters and their work.

You dismiss it only to your great loss.

No, you need not become a scholar of public speaking.  In fact, few people have that deep an interest in the subject and even fewer can claim that kind of knowledge today.  But what you can and should do is this:  Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of found treasure.

You actually can become a capable presenter.

You can become a great presenter.

When you enter the Power Zone, you are both cursed and blessed with knowledge.  This knowledge represents two sides of the same coin.

You are cursed with the knowledge that the only limitation you have is you.  You are blessed with the knowledge that you can become a good – even great – speaker.  An especially powerful presenter.

You have no other real excuse.  It’s totally up to you. 

For more on acquiring Business Presentation Power, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“I feel especially powerful today!”

Powerful posing
Power posing leads to especially powerful business presentations

I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that probably elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”

It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.

Picture this.

This is a critical and powerful pose.

Then visalize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”

Several times.

Feeling Powerful?

“I feel especially powerful today!”

I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.

Which is . . . what?

Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?

First, I don’t do cute.  Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting. Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.

In short, much of what we call body language.

Body Language

We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message.  Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.

For good or ill, powerful posing has played a large role in history

For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures.  Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.But it is essential for another equally important reason.

It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power.  Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.

William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.

Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:

“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …

Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”

So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?

Everything.

We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that.  Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.

But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect?  What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?  Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

Turn Negative Energy into Positive

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.  You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.

You can control to a large extent how you feel by affecting a powerful pose

This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?” No, there’s no catch.

And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.  Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.

A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.  The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.

Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

Powerful posing is the norm among the powerful figures of history

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.

Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.

The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence.  Square your shoulders.  Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.

Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

And remember . . .

“I feel especially powerful today!”

To feel even more powerful, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.