Tag Archives: Business presentations

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.

Stop Self-Sabotage with Power Words

Power Words

We should strive to infuse our presentations with energy by using positive power words, but instead we sabotage ourselves in our presentations more often than we imagine.

Negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

I hate presentations,” is the negative phrase I hear most frequently, and it undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.  How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a porous, spongy foundation?

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.

We envision failure, humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.

Envision Success Instead

All of this negative self-talk can translate into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.

Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.

The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.  How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?

Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at the very least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we may have any chance of succeeding at business presenting.

Think Like an Athlete – Use Power Words

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition.  I work often with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of defeat?

power words -- the key to powerful presentationsQuite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.  Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

In my experience, it’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

You lace your presentation with power words to inspire both you and your audience:  confidence . . . capability . . . thought . . . vision . . . future . . . focus . . . competence . . . strong . . . ability . . . know-how . . . victory . . . success.

When we take the stage, we put our minds on what we intend, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism. With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.

More on Preparation and the Three Ps in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Passion – Your Secret Weapon

Presentation Passion means power
Presentation Passion means developing a professional and charismatic presence in delivering your business presentations

In our battle to fight through the white noise of life to communicate with others, we often ignore the most powerful of weapons at our disposal – Presentation Passion.

Passion, emotion, earnestness, brio, energy.

Sure, we pay occasional homage to emotion and to “passion.”

But more often than not, it’s only lip service.

You don’t really believe this stuff, do you?  Or maybe your fear of others’ judgments pushes out thoughts of investing your talks with something interesting.

We save our presentation passion for other activities.  For our sports teams and our politics and, perhaps, religion.  We separate our “real” selves from our work and from our “formal” exposition in front of an audience.

Maybe we construct a barrier for the audience, to prevent an audience from seeing our vulnerabilities.  Perhaps we affect an air of nonchalance as a defensive mechanism.

Nonchalance is the Enemy

Regardless of the reason, by not investing ourselves in our presentation and in our narrative, we render ourselves less persuasive.  If we purge our presentation passion, we are less effective, perhaps even ineffective.

Emotion is a source of speaker power.  You can seize it.  You can use it to great effect.

And you can learn to do this more easily than you imagine.

James Albert Winans was a Presenting Master early in the 20th century, and he offered this beautifully crafted description of passion’s power.  Brilliant discovered words from 1915:

A speaker should feel what he says, not only to be sincere, but also to be effective.  It is one of the oldest of truisms that if we wish to make others feel, we ourselves must feel.  . . .   We know we do not respond with enthusiasm to an advocate who lacks enthusiasm.  And quite apart from response, we do not like speakers who do not seem to care.  We like the man who means what he says.

Do you mean what you say? Do you even care? Or do you sleepwalk through your assignments?  Reading from a note card, reading from the slides behind you, oblivious to why you are up there?

Now, one purpose of this counsel is not simply for you to display powerful emotions in service to a cause.  You are not simply “being emotional” for its own sake.  You want to evoke emotions in your audience.  You want them to think, yes, but you also want them feel.

You want to establish a visceral connection with your audience.

Dont Purge Presentation Passion

Sometimes it may seem as if you must purge all emotion from your presentations, especially your business presentations.

It’s as if you are instructed to behave like a robot under the guise of looking “professional” or “business-like.”

We can find that we respond too readily to these negative cues.  We think that if A is “good,” then twice as much of A is twice as good.  And three times as much of A is even better.

And without presentation passion, our business presentations suffer.

The Indifferent Presenter?

So, let’s accept right now that emotion and professionalism are not exclusive of each other.  Conversely, shun indifference.

The opposite of earnestness is indifference. An indifferent man cares no more for one thing than for another. All things to him are the same; he does not care whether men around him are better or worse. . . .  There are other opposites to earnestness besides indifference. Doubt of any kind, uncertainty as to the thought or to the truth, a lack of conviction, all these tend to destroy earnestness.

You know the indifferent man or woman, delivering a presentation that obviously means nothing to him or her.  Perhaps you’ve done this.  Haven’t we all at one time or another?

Unknowing of emotion, believing that we cannot show we care?

Do you just go through the motions?  I understand why you might cop this attitude.  Layer upon layer of negative incentives weigh down the college student.  Adding to your burden is the peer pressure of blasé.  It’s perceived as “uncool” to appear to care about anything, to actually do your best.  Certainly to do your best on schoolwork of any kind.

Understand from this moment that this is wrong.  No, it is not a matter of opinion . . . it is not a “gray area.”  It is incontrovertibly wrong.

If you don’t care, no one else will.  And if you don’t care, you will lose to the presenter who does care.

Lose the job you want to someone else.

Lose the contract you want to someone else.

Lose the promotion you want to someone else.

Lose the influence you want to someone else.

It’s Time to Win with Presentation Passion

Does this seem too “over the top” for you?  Of course it does!

That’s because you’ve likely been conditioned to look askance at the kinds of rich, lusty pronouncements that embrace emotion rather than scorn it.

And that is a major part of the B-School Presentation Problem.

When was the last time a business professor criticized you for showing too much emotion in your presentation?

Have you ever heard anyone criticized for it?  For giving a presentation with too much feeling?  Or for being too interesting?

For actually making you care?  For actually being memorable for more than a few moments?

Now, think for a moment of the incredible power that might be yours if you embrace emotion and presentation passion when no one else does.

The wonder and delight of this is that it is entirely within your grasp to do so.

More on presentation passion and personal competitive advantage here . . .

How to Build a Business Presentation

How to Build a Business Presentation
Build a Business Presentation that Exudes Power

Build a Business Presentation with this simple structure:  Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.

Every presentation – every story – has this framework.

Let me rephrase.

Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.

You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well. Your segment has this structure.

In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.

In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation.  The first speaker delivers the beginning.  The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.  The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”

Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.

How to Build a Business Presentation
Build a Business Presentation that Convinces

This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.

You can be innovative.  You can be daring, fresh, and new.

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.

Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.

Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.

Build a Business Presentation to Stand the Fire

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.

I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.

Please do so.  But do so with careful thought and good reason.

And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.  This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.

Hence, the term “Bookends.”  And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.

Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.

To learn more on how to build a business presentation that has power and impact, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombies of Bad Presentation Tips

Business School Presenting, the source of personal competitive advantage
Bad Presentation Tips Zombies Never Die

Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.

We can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad tips zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Presentation Tips

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.

It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) I have discovered that most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.

The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.

Just stop.

And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits.  All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.

Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.  Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.

But Bad Habits Die Hard

Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad presentation tips.

The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.  This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

 ZOMBIE #1     “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it.  From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.

For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distraction.  Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.

No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and hand-wringing.  It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2     “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable.  But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.

And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.

Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.

Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3     “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.

Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.

It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.

This bad presentation tip is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4     “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.

“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.

“Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5     “The numbers tell the story.”

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

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”

You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6    “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what?  You counted them?

I assure you that you don’t know.  You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.

Business School Presenting, the source of personal competitive advantage
You can defeat the bad Tips zombies by incorporating especially powerful presentation techniques into your business presentations

Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.

They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.

This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.

It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use?  Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.

You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward acquiring especially powerful personal competitive advantage.

If you are interested in acquiring proper and powerful presentation skills,  I suggest you consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Business Presentations

Are Bad Presentations necessary?
Add spice to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations

Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that business presentations must be bad?

Is there a Law of Bad?

Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.

This dullness seeps into the consciousness.  It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.

Bad business presentations can be a career-killer.  Of course, no one will tell you this.

A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give. them.

And yet, they are everywhere.

Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere

Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.

They must be the norm.  They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is.  But this is myth.

And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.

You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good.  It looks like this . . .

Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern.  He reads from slides with  dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides.  He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him.  He rarely looks at you.

A Wasteland On the Screen

Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen.  Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence.  The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.  You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.

It’s boring.

It’s unintelligible.

The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.

It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns.  You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”

If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.”  I can be as bad as the next person.

Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation

Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation.  And why wouldn’t you think that?

It seems to have all the elements:  A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.

Bad Business Presentations are the career kiss of death
Stop giving bad business presentations!

But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.

You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.

You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.

And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way.  Instead, you see it as something painful.  Because it is painful.  It’s painful and awful.

Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . .  just awful.

It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.

Because the explanations are incomplete.  Because you never get the whole story.

Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.

This can be a problem.  A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present.  And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.

I Feel Your Pain

Sure, there are “presentation”courses.  But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.

They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.”  But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.

Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school.  They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.

And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.

For most of your professors, presenting is secondary.  This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching.  Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.

It is the same in the corporate world.  Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.

Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.”  What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.

The Malaise in Corporate America

I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago.  I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals.  Primarily PowerPoint visuals.

Monotone voices.

Busy slides with tiny letters.

Listeners shifting in their seats.

Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.

Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.

No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.

Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.

This is more common than you might imagine.  Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.

The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-.  The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-.  When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.

This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools.  Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.

Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity

Generalizations are just that – general in nature.

I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway.  Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform.  Good for them.  But for the most part, it is as I have described here.

And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.

Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters.  Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.  By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power.  Presentations that are anything but dull.  So . . .

It’s time for your debut.

Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.

Interested in more on fixing bad business presentations?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Business Presentation Movement

You’ve almost mastered your voice and material, and now it’s time to build on that and incorporate essential presentation movement.Presentation Movement for Competitive Advantage

What should you do during your talk?

Where to do it?  How to do it?  Why should you do it . . . and when?

Today we begin to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – movement that adds power, movement that reinforces your message in positive ways.

First, think about distance.  Your distance from your audience significantly impacts the degree of connectivity you share with audience members.

Distance Matters in Presentation Movement

Many speakers are unaware of the effect that distance-from-audience can have on their talk.  The formal term for how distance affects the relationship between speaker and audience is called “proxemics.”

This is simply lingo for your proximity to the audience – how far from your audience you stand.  Altering that distance throughout your talk can enhance your message in ways you intend.

You achieve four distinct effects by varying the distance that you maintain between you and your audience.  A distinguished anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, developed the concept of how these four distances communicate vastly different messages from speaker to audience.

Let’s look at the Four Spaces and how you can use them to achieve certain effects with your presentation movement. They can animate your business presentation and enhance that 3D effect I often refer to.

First, the most common space is public space, and this is a distance of more than 12 feet from your audience.  Obviously, this space is necessary when you deliver a lecture to a large audience of, say, 200 persons or more.

The second space is social space.

Utilizing the space available can enhance your presentation movement
Knowledge of how distance from your audience can impact your business presentation is crucial to crafting a winning show

This space is occupied by the speaker who wants to connect in a personal way with his audience.  It’s the space from four feet to 12 feet from your audience.

Think of a seminar of 12 students with a professor in close proximity. Here, eye contact is frequent and effective.

A conversational style is possible and desirable.  In fact, conversational and relaxed style is essential in this scenario.

The third space is personal space. This space begins at 18 inches from a person and extends out to approximately four feet.  It is conversational space and is generally not utilized in public speaking.

The fourth space is intimate space.  This space is highly personal and you must be invited into this space.  Without an invitation, you invade this space at your own risk.  You make others feel uncomfortable, and they may respond in any number of ways, few of which will please you.

Now, it’s time to think about scripting your presentati0n movements.

Coordinate your movements with major segments of your talk.  Script them into your presentation as if you were performing a play.

For instance, follow the script below.  Following each quote, the indented statements describe the actions you take:

SPEAKER:   “My talk has three major points.  As I share these points with you tonight, I want you to consider how each of these powerful issues affect you, personally.  The first major point?”

<<Bow head and walk slowly to the left.  Take ready stance. Look up at audience. >>

SPEAKER:   “The first major point is Humility.  In this we are the same as our earliest fathers and mothers . . . .”

<<Look to your right and walk slowly, meeting the eyes of several audience members in turn.  Stop in ready position. >>

SPEAKER:   “The second major point is Confidence.  Surely there is not one among us who has not felt the fear of failure, of being judged unworthy . . . .”

<<Look to the center and walk slowly to center-stage.  Stop and assume ready position.  Gesture with both hands in supplication.>>

SPEAKER:   “The third and most important point is this – Understanding of a kind that passes beyond . . . etc., etc. . . .”

The movements thus accomplished are displayed in the diagram.  This type of broad presentation movement accentuates the major points of your talk. You anchor each point at a different part of the stage:

Point 1 to the Left

Point 2 to the Right

Point 3 to the Center

This scripted movement series is a highly visual reinforcement to the organization of your talk.  Coupled with the proper haBusiness Presentation Movementnd gestures and expressiveness of face and voice, this series movement invests your message with immediacy and dimensionality and increases its impact.

You hammer home the three points with a visual element coupled with the aural element.

All of this carefully considered presentation movement about the stage also conveys to the audience that you are in control.  You own the stage.  So act like you own it; don’t behave like a visitor who cannot wait to depart.

It’s your space, so make good use of it.  Learn to be comfortable in that space and to utilize all of the space at your disposal.

At the same time, apply the principles found here.  Do not move, just to be moving.

The combined effect of movement, position, and spoken message connects you firmly with your audience; appropriate movement deepens the connection and moves you from 2D Presenting to 3D Presenting.  And when you make this jump to 3D presenting, you enhance your professional presence on the stage and add to your personal competitive advantage.

Interested in more?  You can find all of this and much more on presentation movement in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Get Rid of Presentation Stage Fright

presentation stage fright
The audience won’t bite . . . in fact, 99 percent want you and your business presentation to succeed

After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.

When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.

It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.

Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.

It’s almost paradoxical.  When we have it, it’s invisible.  When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.

Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.

Or so we think.  Let’s back into this thing called confidence.

Take the Trip Test

Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up?  You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .

. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking?  Do you feel shame of some sort?  If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others?  Even strangers.

Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?

Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.

Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.

This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent.  It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.

Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.

Presentation Stage Fright Begone!

For many, the audience is your bogeyman.  For some reason you fear your audience.  But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.

And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.

They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.

Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed.  They want to be entertained.  Please entertain us, they think.

They are open to whatever new insight you can provide.  And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers.  They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.

And so confidence is yours for the taking.

Seize Confidence for Yourself

Confidence is not a thing.

It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought.  It’s a state of mind, isn’t it?  It’s a feeling.  When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.

What does it really mean to be confident?  Can you answer that direct question?  Think about it a moment.

See?  We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action.  Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.Presentation Stage Fright

Is it certitude?

Is it knowledge?

Is it bravery?

Is it surety?

Think of the times when you are confident.  You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument.  It could be an activity.

Why are you confident?

Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty.  For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful.  That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.

It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience.  It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.

This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages.  It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you.  And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.

George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .

The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness.  To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake.  Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously.  Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.

The solution to presentation stage fright?  How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?

Reduce your uncertainty.

Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps:  Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.

They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement.  They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.

Principles, Preparation, Practice

The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.

Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.

When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty.  You are possess the facts.  You are prepared.  You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice.  You rehearse.

There is, of course, an element of uncertainty.  There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.

By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.

So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest.  Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.

And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.

For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:

Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel.  For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . .  But do not fear them.  They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck.  They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand.  . . .  Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.

And banish stage fright forever.

Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.

I Hate Presentations

I hate presentations can destroy your motivation
Develop your presentation skills to achieve a personal competitive advantage . . . and learn not to hate presentations

You don’t hate presentations?

You feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills?  Excellent!  I congratulate you and suggest that you pass Business School Presenting along to a buddy who might profit from it.

But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you have muttered I hate presentations more than once.

And you probably have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this blog.

One in 255 Million?

Of an estimated 255 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.  I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.

Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.  I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.

But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.

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

Don’t hate presentations!

I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting  – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”  In short, you want to know what works and why.

You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.

You want to know what is just opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.

You’ll find answers here to the most basic of questions.

  • What is this beast – the business presentation?
  • How do I stand? Where do I stand?
  • What do I say? How do I say it?
  • How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
  • How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
  • Where do I begin, and how?
  • How do I end my talk?
  • What should I do with my hands?
  • How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
  • How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
  • How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?

 2,500 Years of Presenting

Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.  You may not like the answers. You may disagree with the answers.

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.  Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .

Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama  – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.

They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting.  In turn, they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom.  You find those verities here.

I hate presentations!
The confidence and surety of President Reagan made him a powerful presenter

On the other side of things, I’d like to hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.

The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs, even as they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.

So think deep.

Consider the personal competitive advantage that can be yours when you develop world class business presentation skills.

And learn not to hate presentations by consulting my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.