Tag Archives: business presenting

Don’t Hate Presentations

Business School, a chance to develop personal competitive advantage by becoming an especially powerful business presenter

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 – you might even hate presentations.

If you don’t, then you should suggest Business School Presenting to a buddy who might profit from it.

But if you have a distaste for even the thought of delivering a presentation, then this site’s for you.

One in 644 Million?

Of an estimated 644 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.

Approximately 644 million activie websites in the world

I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks 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 Don’t Really Want to Hate Presentations

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, because you recognize presenting as a key part of your personal professional strategy.

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.

No need to hate presentations when you can deliver them with power
You can become an especially 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.

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.

Personal Competitive Advantage . . . Through Presenting

Personal Competitive Advantage Through Presenting
Especially Powerful Personal Presence

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 in a shameless squandering of personal competitive advantage.

Forfeiture of Personal Competitive Advantage

That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.  Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.

What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.  It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice.  It’s what they sense on a subliminal level.  That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.

Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.

It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message.  A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.

Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.

Naked Information Overflow

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

Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays.  And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena, and they would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.  You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.

The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker.  That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.  Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.

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

Rise of the Automatons

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker.  Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.

Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.

This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.

This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.

Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd.  Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™

Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?

For  more on personal competitive advantage through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Wing it? . . . a CLASSIC Don’t

Professional Presence means passion
Wing it if you will . . . but expect a disastrous presentation

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

It’s Your Fault, not Theirs

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.  Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.

Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.

Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.  They rattle off cliches, and they pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

The Curse of Hubris and Contempt

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.  The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a disdain for the audience and contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.

His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.

Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup.  He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

Business Presentation
Slob Cool . . . another sure path to presentation failure

“Make really good slides.”

Say what?

That was it.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is.  What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.   It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.  Much can be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Winging It

In business school, you sometimes espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.  It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness.  This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment.  Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

This kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.” It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.” Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your own? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You never will if you “wing it.”

For more keen direction that may just save your next business presentation from disaster, consult The Complete Guide to Business Presenting.

How to Pass the Baton in Your Business Presentation

Pass the Baton
Musical Chairs during a Business Presentation is a formula for failure . . . practice how you pass the baton!

One of the least-practiced aspects of the group presentation is how you pass the baton – the transition between speakers.

Yet these baton-passing linkages within your presentation are incredibly important.

They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.

Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message?  So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?

Don’t Lose Your Message!

It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own, and then the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.

This is a formula for disaster.

The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing.  Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.

Sports teams don’t practice this way.  Serious people don’t practice this way.

Don’t you practice this way.

Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.

Pass the Baton Without Musical Chairs

This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting.  Lots of turns.   This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.

Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.

Pass the Baton!
To pass the baton in a presentation is no easy task . . . it takes preparation and the right kind of practice

I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.

Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic.  At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.

The speaker walks away while still talking.  While still citing a point.  Perhaps an incredibly important point.

Don’t rush from the stage.  Stay planted in one spot until you finish.

Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion, which should reiterate your Most Important Point.

Introduce your next segment.  Then transition.  Then pass the baton with authority.

Harmonize your Messages

Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.

Each presenter must harmonize  the message with the others of a business presentation.  These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.

“On the same page” . . .  “Speaking with one voice” . . .    These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony.  This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.

It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.

This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.

Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part.  This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time.  Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.

Remember:  Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.

You can find more discussion on how to pass the baton in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your key to personal competitive advantage in business school and beyond.

Encore! Your Especially Powerful Expression

Expression is an especially powerful technique that can imbue your presentation with gravitas and deeper meaning

Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?

Many folks are seemingly oblivious to their own expressions or to a lack of expressiveness.  Their faces appear dull and lifeless.

Nondescript.

In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize.  This can be an especially powerful source of  personal competitive advantage.

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

Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool

Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection.  The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.

Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”

Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker.  These are the qualities that bring success.

[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable  and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes.  The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.

Consider these expressions:  A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt.  The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism.  Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.

Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message

These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience.  They increase the power of your message.  They ensure that your message is clear.

Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating.  The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view.  It’s an important component of charisma.

Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.  Let’s watch how . . .

For more choice nuggets on expression, reference The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your source for enduring Personal Competitive Advantage.

Great Presentation . . . or Presentation Greatness?

Presentation Greatness and great presentations
Finding your presentation greatness means changing the way you present to achieve personal competitive advantage through great presentations

Nike has a new ad campaign that plays off the Olympics.  Its theme is “Find Your Greatness,” and it is, frankly, a great presentation on presentation greatness.

“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars.  The truth is, greatness is for us all.  This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us.”

I like the positive thrust of the ad series, which places the locus of excellence inside each of us and urges us to cultivate a desire to strive and succeed, come what may.

The Hard Truth . . . Our Greatest Enemy

Key in this is often the hard truth that often we can be our worst enemy when it comes to achieving success.

Business presenting can be like that.

More often than not, the biggest obstacle to delivering a superb presentation is our self-doubt and fear of failure.  This can stymie the best of us.  It can result in half-hearted efforts that give us an “out” when we flop.

“I wasn’t even trying,” we can say with a shrug.  And thus spare ourselves the ignominy of putting our heart and effort into a presentation, only to have it “fail.”

The exasperating truth in this is that we need not fear failure.  Or even a job poorly done.  If we invest our minds and hearts in the right kind of preparation, we need not ever “fail” at delivering serviceable, even fantastic, presentations.

We all have the tools.  We all have the potential.  We can all give a great presentation.

But . . . How to Give a Great Presentation?

But it requires us to do the most difficult thing imaginable, and that is actually change the way we present.  This may seem obvious, but it’s not.  Many folks think that a great presentation exists somewhere outside themselves – in the software, in the written notes, in the prepared speech, in the audience somewhere.

The thought that we must step outside our comfort zone and actually adopt new habits while shedding the old ones is . . . well, it’s daunting.  And I hear every excuse imaginable why it can’t be done.  Usually having to do with “comfort.”

“I’m just not comfortable with that.”

Of course you’re not “comfortable” with that.  You’re comfortable with your old bad habits.

These are new habits of superb presenting, and when you adopt them as your own, you become comfortable with them.  When you do, you will be on your way to your own greatness.

You’ll be on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations.  Great presentations!

To further your journey to delivering great presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Presentation Story MIP

Presentation Story for Personal Competitive Advantage
Presentation Story can Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.

Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes, and stories involve your audience better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.

That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.

Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the Most Important Thing.  I like to call it the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your presentation story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!

Let this be core of your story and build around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”

Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

MIP Permeates Your Presentation Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.

It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare and practice your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.

If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact. Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

Powerful presentation storytelling can be the source of incredible personal competitive advantage.  Give it a try.

And consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to develop the entire range of presenting skills.

Uptalk Undermines the Best Presentations

Uptalk can kill your professional reputation
Why handicap your business presentations with juvenile uptalk?

Uptalk is the most ubiquitous speech pathology afflicting folks under thirty.

Once it grips you, uptalking is reluctant to let go.

It’s maddening, and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.  It bellows amateur when used in formal presentations.

It cries out:  “I don’t know what I’m talking about here . . . I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation.”

If you have this affectation – and if you’re reading this, you probably do – promise yourself solemnly to rid yourself of this debilitating habit.

Quash Uptalk!

But recognize that it’s not that easy.  Students confide in me that they can hear themselves uptalking during presentations, sentence after questioning sentence.  But for some reason, they simply cannot stop.

So exactly what is this crippling Verbal Up-tic?

Uptalk is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”

This is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.

It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if a series of questions.

Uptalk  =  “I have no idea what I’m talking about”

You create a tense atmosphere with uptalking that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness, a general creepiness.

At its worst, your listeners want to cover ears and cry “make it stop!”   . . . but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism.  They call it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her uptalk.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon or popular youth-oriented television show.  Disney Channel is a training camp for uptalk.

Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way.  Their lives appear as one big query.

But you can fix it.  And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.  For many young speakers, uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.

Evaluate your own speech to identify uptalk.  Then come to grips with it.

For more on presentation pathologies like uptalk and how to overcome them in especially powerful fashion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presenting Across Cultures . . . Russia

Business presenting offers challenges across cultures
Despite superficial similarities, great differences can exist across cultures with regard to business presenting

The universalities of presenting to business audiences are actually large in number.

But . . . and it’s a big but . . . differences can be great across cultures, and these differences mainly are manifested in the speaker-audience dynamic.

My last week lecturing in Russia was punctuated with many talks in front of college student and business audiences, both at Udmurt State University and at the Izhevsk Business Incubator.

My prior experience told me to hold a bit of circumspection in the corner of my eye as a kind of third-eye view; to perceive the situation as an observer might, so that I might be aware of disjuncture between my message, delivery, and its receipt by my Russian guests.

Complications Galore

Complicating the affair was the presence of a superb interpreter, with whom I’ve worked many times in past years.  She participated half the time as my talks were mixed Russian and English, which the audience seemed to appreciate for extra clarity.

Moreover, much of my presentation material had been translated into Russian on the screen behind me, with no concurrent English writing to offer me cues.  Consequently, I was compelled to internalize my Russian bullet points and pass them back into English.

This made for, occasionally, a less-fluid talk than what I like.

Different Nonverbal Cues

The biggest difference for me as a speaker to this particular foreign audience was the lack of nonverbal audience cues.  Or, should I say, the presence of perhaps a different set of cues.

The general nonverbal cues that we all search for in an audience seemed largely absent.  The signs that we are connecting with an audience simply are not there.

By this, I don’t mean that my listeners were unreceptive, uninterested, or rude.  I mean that their demeanor was what we might call . . . stolid.  My third-eye view told me to overlook this lack of nonverbal communication and to seek other cues to responsiveness.

I found them in a more aggressive interaction pattern.

I turned up the “cold call” technique and began to call on particular listeners for feedback on certain points.  An exercise in competitive intelligence was helpful in one talk as I turned the tables and asked for generation of hypotheses from what seemed a tough audience at first.

In the end, familiarity with one of my audiences over several days and several hours of presenting eroded the barriers that had inhibited audience feedback.

The lessons for me are plain – cultivation of a keener analysis of expected audience behavior in my preparation and the inclusion of short exercises designed to remove cultural barriers early-on.

As well, a healthy humility and a searching, open mind provide the most useful tools for presenting to a foreign audience.

Many verities of business presenting carry over from culture to culture, so have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to catalog a few of them.

Super-Size those McTips?

Personal competitive advantage is yours with a devotion to becoming the best business presenter you possibly can be

With regard to presentations, I deal with two large groups of people.

For sake of descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “McTips!”

“Natural Born” and “McTips!” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become an especially powerful and superior business presenter.

Neither is remotely accurate.

And neither group is what might be called 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.  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.

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 “McTips!” 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.”

Has the presentation landscape changed so much that what was once taught as a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions of speaking “tips”?  I actually saw a headline on an article that offered 12 Tips to Become a Presentation God!  Have the demands of the presentation become so weak that great presenting can be served up in McDonald’s-style kid meals . . . “You want to super-size your speaking McTips?”

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 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.”  You cannot become an especially powerful presenter at the fastfood drive-in window, unless you want to ply presenting at the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers that 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 is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?

The Third View – The Power Zone

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

This group is privy to the truth, and once you learn the truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way.  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 “McTips!”  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 next brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity.  For the truth is in the 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 is 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 a method that requires you to actually do something.

A method that transforms you.

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.

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.

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

For the ultimate guide to developing your personal brand as an especially powerful business presenter, CLICK HERE.

Grotesque Presentation Practice Errors!

presentation practice errors
Avoid Presentation Practice Errors

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

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 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.

Presentation Practice Error #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 very good 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.  We don’t get to start over after evey blunder.  But that is exactly what you have practiced.

If you’ve practiced that way, what will you do when you stumble?  You won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since you have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

You’ve 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.

Presentation Practice Error #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 or auditorium where you’re scheduled to present.

In short, create as much of the real situation as possible ahead of time.

To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.

For more on avoiding business presentation practice errors, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Business Presentation Story

Business Presentation Story for Power
Tell a Business Presentation Story for Power and Impact

We all believe that we should weave stories into our business presentations, and who wouldn’t want to weave a compelling Business Presentation story?

But most of us rarely do.  This might be a result of simply not knowing how.

Admit it . . . most of us think we’re pretty sharp – we all think we know what a story is, don’t we?

But do we really?

What is a Business Presentation Story?

Here’s my definition of a business presentation story, and it’s honed from a series of definitions that by their nature are slippery.  It’s like trying to define “culture.”  Most folks offer up definitions to suit the points they try to make.

A story is a narrative of events, either true or untrue, that appeals to the emotions more-so than the intellect and which features a character’s struggles to overcome obstacles and reach an important goal.

A business presentation story is . . . well, it’s no different.

Now, why is this important?  Don’t we all somewhat believe, maybe, that stories are important in presenting?

Sure, but when it comes to “serious” presenting, many folks back off what they profess and offer up the usual tofu.  Who knows why, but that’s usually what happens.

Maybe it’s the fraud that many perpetuate that business presentations are a “soft skill” that must yield to . . . something else.

You choose that something else:  “facts,” “numbers,” “hard data.”

These substitutes for a compelling business presentations story offer false precision and faux comfort.

The Presentation Masquerade is Perpetuated

Now, science has come to the rescue.

Social science, at least.

Have a look at this 2007 book by Kendall Haven called Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story.

In this book, Haven compiles a wealth of sociological stories that inform us exactly what is meant by “story” and the source of its power.  He contends that stories work so well because our brains are hardwired to learn most effectively from story-based narratives.  “The mind-boggling and extraordinary truth is that each and every one of thousands of original sources agrees that stories are an effective teaching and learning tool.”

The results of this research are compelling and difficult to believe.  Here is a small sample of findings:

“Story is the best vehicle for passing on valuable information . . . .  Story structure proved equally more effective for teaching theorems, facts, concepts, and tacit information all across the curriculum and the spectrum of human communications.”

The bad news is that most folks remain ignorant of this power.  Not through any fault of their own, but because of the impetus in modern business thought that has erected barriers against story narrative.

The good news is the same point.  You can gain incredible power and advantage by embracing the power of a great business presentation story.

Have a look at Kendall Haven’s book, and be convinced.

For more on the power of telling a good business presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

“Earnestness” Can be Especially Powerful

The Earnest Presenter is an Especially Powerful Presenter

“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days.

That’s a shame, because the word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful presentation.

Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory.  It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”

What was true then is surely true today.

Without Earnestness, Only Small Victories

And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.”

If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious.  Better to pretend you don’t care.

Predictably, the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging.  And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else.  For your friends, for your sports contests, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .

But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small victories.  Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.

Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant.  Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”

Wrap your material in you.

This means giving a presentation that no one else can give, that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core.  It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject.

It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service – you should make it yours when you present.

Embrace your topic and you will shine in an especially powerful presentation.  Earnestness becomes second nature.

For more on the secrets to delivering especially powerful presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

What’s What

CAVEAT:  I do not ordinarily use profanity in my writing, even as I am a former soldier who well-understands that in certain coarse segments of society, the F-bomb is considered the most versatile tool in the English language, capably performing the functions of almost every part of speech.  Nor do I intentionally offend any group.  Having said that, far below I recount parts of an actual conversation that, without its inherent offensiveness, would lose much of its meaning and impact.  You are fair-warned.

Here I sit, afflicted with acute self-awareness such that I write about that very self-awareness and its sometime creative vacuum.

It’s not that I am at a loss for words . . . it’s just that I am uncertain which words might do justice this odd notion that came to me on a subject that has fascinated me for years.

Would I want to waste precious words on it?

This subject is the notion of fitness.  The kind of good, general fitness that leads to a physical appearance that is, in my view, an asset in presenting.

Surely this is something to strive for, and there is nary a downside to it.  But in its extreme form, it is a sub-culture in many countries.

And it is uni-dimensional, at least in my opinion.  It is limiting, and in its most extreme forms it is anti-intellectual and can be physically harmful.  Yet it holds fascination for me because of the extreme discipline that it requires to live such a “lifestyle.”

I do not refer to the life of an ascetic monk.  Is that really so debilitating?  Or is that an easy way out, to isolate oneself from the tribulations most humans face in an increasingly complex and baffling modern society?

The Physical Culture Lifestyle

No.  This sub-culture is euphemistically called “Physical Culture” by its aficionados.  Years ago, I was peripherally involved in this sub-culture.

What is physical culture?

Bodybuilding.

Bodybuilding and the accompanying “lifestyle.”

Sculpting the body, straining with lead weights for hours on end each day, crafting one’s diet to weird and untried specifications (tuna, supplements, apple juice), and of course the inevitable injections of various illegal growth hormones and steroids.

And that’s about it.

That’s the entire lifestyle, as far as I can make out.

Now in this day and age of egg-walking, you criticize at your risk.  And this bodybuilding community, after all, is a clearly identifiable minority in our society.  But having been a peripheral member of that minority, oh-so-briefly (I actually won a contest in 1983—Mr. Physique in the city of what was then West Berlin), it may give me cover to offer up a few stray opinions that someone may find interesting.

Actually, I am a person who believes in the nexus between body and mind, and I cardio-up 2-8 miles each day for the beneficial health effects, but also for the endorphin release it provides.  It helps my writing.

I think it does.  It strikes me that it could be entirely unnecessary to suffer physically, drink oneself into stupefaction, or to claim a damaged past to write well.

But what about this extreme Physical Culture thing?  Are there any novel ideas lurking in the gym, hidden ’twixt the weight plates or behind the Pilates stability ball?

Think of the wealth of possibilities for an entire series of novels on this bodybuilding lifestyle.

When you come up with any, please let me know.

But let’s pause a moment and go through the exercise.  Of what might a novel about bodybuilders consist?  What sort of dialog might we be compelled to craft?  What possible plot could one contrive?

Steroid theft?

Fixed contests?

Love in the gym?

Conflict between the “good” bodybuilders and the “bad.”

Contrived Conflict

This last one is staple of film, particularly vintage martial arts films in which the conflict is between one school and another rival school (“I fight white-stomping-horse!”), one of which is invariably “evil.”

But this contrivance isn’t limited to foreign films.  I am reminded of the movie Twister in which there were “good” stormchasers and “bad” stormchasers.  Remember that somersault?

In Twister, it wasn’t sufficient to have man and woman aligned against a powerful force of nature, so a scriptwriter came up with the subplot of “competing Stormchasers.”

The bad stormchasers were well-funded by nameless corporations, and they drove black, nazi-like vehicles in a tight little convoy.  They were motivated by money, fame, and greed.  The good stormchasers were an underfunded rag-tag outfit in a little van with makeshift equipment and the usual motley collection of good souls (at least one beard) doing it for the betterment of mankind.

Never mind that both Twister groups were engaged in studying the behavior of tornadoes so to better understand and survive them.  The film required the conflict, and it gave it to us in the form of a contrived good and bad dichotomy.

But back to the gym and our bodybuilding novel:

“You look pumped, today, Jim.”

“You, too, Apollo.”

“Where you going later?”

“Home to pop a can of tuna and rest up for my next workout.”

“Very cool.  What’s on tap?”

“Quads and hams.  Maybe some glutes.”

“I’m working on bis and tris.”

Apollo flexes his arms, admiring the vascularity and bulk in his forearms achieved through weeks of contest preparation, during which he restricted his diet to protein served in five meals per day along with handfuls of supplements and various illegal substances.

“I’m over the border to Tijuana, Jim. Wanna come with?”

“Juice?”

“Yeah, heard about a new cocktail of Human Growth Hormone and Dianabol.”

“Man, I don’t know about those injectibles,” Jim said with a shake of his head sitting atop his overdeveloped trap muscles like an orange atop Pharaoh’s pyramid. “Oral’s good enough for me.”

“Poor results, dude.  No cut, no bulk, no vascularity.  Just piss-poor all around.”

“But no acne or ball shrinkage.”

Writer’s block kicks in, and I’m grateful for that.

That’s all I can come up with at the moment, and given my languor on the subject, not much else is forthcoming.

Let me go to my gym for some primary research on a Saturday late afternoon.

So I do.

I go to my gym in mid-town Philadelphia for a Saturday evening workout and maybe a story idea or two.

Not much drama taking place along the row of treadmills—just a lone walker in spandex, arms pumping, sweat flying, her eyes riveted on the monitor overhead broadcasting CNN.

Nor is there much conflict on the hard rubber mats in front of regimented racks of various sizes and weights of dumbbells.  One tattooed African-American giant is squatting with what looks like a railroad axle on his shoulders.  Whoa, now.

He does not look conversational.

The music throbs loudly, and even as this pulsing techno beat fills the gym with false energy, I find no true spirit of the steel, no bonafide discipline of the iron.

I’m out of literary luck in this venue.

I leave.  Pumped, blood flooding the muscles, endorphins raging . . . but still out of literary luck.

But then a mere 30 minutes later . . .

I stop off at Ruby Tuesday’s on the way back to my studio apartment.  Just for a single libation in the early evening, mind you.  Replenishing those carbs.

It was there I became trapped in a social situation not of my choosing.  Believe me.

The bar area was crowded with transients, located as it is near the airport hotels.  I had sat down alone, wearing my underarmor compression tee and carrying a book on Fundamentals of Strategic Management that I planned to skim for its section on ‘case analysis.’

A buzz-cut fellow at the bar kept eyeing me.  He invited himself over.  He sat down and offered his hand.

“Brad.”

Our encounter began evenly enough, even as I tried to conduct a delicate self-intervention to prevent it.

You see, Brad wore a checkered short sleeve shirt, unbuttoned to reveal an undershirt.  And tattoos.  Lots of tattoos.

Arms.  Chest.  Ugly ominous black tattoos.  No hearts or cupids or flowers in sight.

Tattoos send a message, and in my experience it is rarely a good one.

After Brad pulled off his shirt in the bar, I saw that he had tattoos around his neck as well. Chains, skulls, knives, claws . . . dark things, dead things.

Swallowing Tobacco Juice

Brad’s message was definitely not one of sweetness and light.

He was chewing tobacco.  The wad of Copenhagen dip tobacco caused Brad’s lower lip to bulge, and it left flecks of black about his lips.

“Where’s your spit cup, Brad?”

“I swallow it.”

“You swallow tobacco juice?  Isn’t that unhealthy?  I mean, aside from the cancer risk.”

“Yeah, it might give me stomach cancer but what the hell.”

Brad waved at the bartender.

“Drink up!  Beers for my man here!  On me!

He put my Yeungling on his tab.

“Um, thanks Brad.  Why the tattoos?”

He sipped his vodka tonic, obviously the latest in a long sequence of vodka tonics stretching back into the afternoon.

“I was in a gang,” Brad said. “The AB.”

“In prison, you mean?”

“Where the fuck else?  I been in for 20 years.  I just got out eight hours ago, mother-fucker.”

“Well, I thought it might be some street gang or fraternal group.”

Brad’s eyes narrowed and he tilted his head at a funny angle.

“Whaddaya mean by that?” Brad said.  “What the fuck’s a ‘fraternal group’?  That a fag outfit?”

Descent into Madness

“It’s just a club,” I said, with an involuntary throat clearing.

“No . . . AB ain’t no club.”

“What’s AB?”

“Aryan Brotherhood.”

“I see.”

“Without your brothers, you die.”

Yes, Brad’s an ex-con.

“I just got out,” Brad said.  “Did I tell you that?  Eight hours ago.  And I’m trying to get to the West coast but got stuck here ’til Monday.  Stayin’ in that ratty motel right over there.”

Brad’s got a job lined up.

He’s going to be a rep for some kind of bodybuilding supplement company, the name of which I won’t divulge.  He claims that I, too, can be a rep and receive $3,000 of free stuff each year.

Brad keeps looking at my arms and chest.  Am I nervous?

“Hey, I ain’t no fag or nothin’, man, but I see you walk in and you know what’s what.  It’s obvious you know what’s what, right?  Dontcha?”

“Huh?”

“You know what’s what!  You ain’t dumb!”

“Yeah,” I said.  What is he talking about?  “You better believe I know what’s what.”

“I thought you did!  I knew it!”

I grin stupidly and raise my beer, and I drink that beer as fast as I can.

“Brad, what can I say?  You know what’s what, too.”

“Damn right, I do!” he said, and he smacked the table.

“What you got?  Nineteen?”  He nodded at my arms.

“Beg pardon?”

“Come on, man, you know what’s what!  Nineteen inches?”

“Almost seventeen.”  I said.

Brad nodded approvingly.  He held up a hand.

“Hey, I ain’t no fag or nothin’, but I’m just sayin’ you got what’s what.  Just admirin’ the truth, y’know.”

“Thank you.”

Brad keeps claiming that I’m “on the juice.”  That’s bodybuilder talk for steroids.  Deca, Dianabol, Equipose.  That kind of thing.

“You tellin’ me the truth, Stan?  You’re natural?  What the fuck, man!  You know what’s what!”

“All natural!  I know what’s what!”

“I thought so!”

Hepatitis Can Slow a Man Down

Another long sip on his vodka tonic.  Brad grabbed his side.

“Can’t drink too much of this with this Hepatitis C.  Bad for the liver.   Tomorrow I’m gonna feel like a fuckin’ brick right there.  Hey, you know I just got out of the pen.”

Long pause during which I know I better say something or this fellow might get nervous.  What do they say in the movies?

“I guess that’s why you know what’s what.”

“Damn right.”

“So, what were you in for?”

Brad leaned in close.

“I was in their highest level of custody,” he said, leaning closer and showing me his bureau of prisons inmate card.  A red and white plastic card with Bureau of Prisons on it, I think.  That’s what it said on the card: “Inmate.”  With a number.

“I used to have one of my brothers guard me when I went to the john,” he said. “A man outside the stall. A man guardin’ me when I took a shower. It’s hard in there, man. You got to be hard. Got to watch your back all the time.”

He nodded over his shoulder.

“See that guy there?  If he puts his hand on my shoulder, I’ll break the fucker.  I’ll snap that fucker’s arm.  I’ll put this in his fucking neck.”  He held up a pen he was using to write down the name of his supplement company for me.  He shakes it at me.  “I’ll put this in his neck right into his brain stem.”

“You just bought that guy a drink, Brad.  I don’t think he wants trouble with you.”

“I don’t care man, you gotta take care of yourself.”  He looked around.  “See these people in here, I mean I could kill anyone in this place.”

I nod.

“I believe you could, Brad.”

Brad’s Rap Sheet

I raise my glass and give a tight little grin.  What else can I do while listening to a man just out of the pen, locked up for bank robbery and boasting of three murders while in lock-up?  Challenge him?  Set him straight?

“Well, what were you in for?”

Brad sat back.

“I was in for bank robbery.  Twenty years.”

“Were you framed?”  Isn’t that what you always ask these folks?

“Nah, man, I did it!  I just got caught.  Twenty years on the inside.  Man I’m forty-four now.”

He wiped his mouth and lowered his voice.

“I did three murders, too, but that was on the inside, so they don’t count.  They were inside jobs and they don’t care nothing ’bout that. Don’t give a shit ’bout that. Those murders don’t count.”

I drained my beer.

“Uh, I have to go now, Brad . . . lots of work to catch up on.  Thank you for the beers.”

“Don’t let me hold you up.”

“Is that a joke, Brad?  Hold me up?’”

Brad points at me and offers, I think, a smile.

“Ha, ha—you’re a funny man.”

I offer my hand, and he takes it, his little finger jutting at an odd angle from a break doubtless suffered in a long-ago fight over stakes that didn’t matter.  Save survival.

“I wish you luck, Brad.  You might want to stay mellow tonight.  I don’t think anyone here will jump you, so please don’t break any arms or stick that pen into anyone.”

Brad looked at me.

“You know what’s what, man!  They arrest you for fighting, not loving.  I’m gonna be a lover from now on.”

I pointed at him and nodded.

And, blessedly, I left.

And I do not feel good having dipped my toe into that morass that grips much of humanity and turns it inhuman.  Three murders that don’t count?  Aryan Brotherhood?  In my apartment, I felt like I wanted to take a hot psychic shower to rid myself of certain images.

But there is dramatic grist here.

That man has a story.  Brad is out of the pen, he’s hawking bodybuilding supplements between vodka and tonics and is living a lifestyle now that I cannot begin to fathom.  Lord only knows how this man will spend his day tomorrow . . . and the next . . . and the one after that.

He has a story, but I just don’t know if I could stand to hear it.

Could you?

I mean . . . do you know what’s what?  Because I surely do not.

Prepare your Presentation . . . Don’t Wing it!

Prepare Your Presentations
Prepare Your Presentations . . . Don’t “Wing” Them.

Always prepare your presentation for your audience in ways that move them.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.  We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms.  We say what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.  Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message.

A message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.

Why Prepare Your Presentation?

Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.  Infused with the power, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.

They rattle off cliches, and they pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.  What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.  The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a kind contempt for the audience and for the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.  His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.

Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup.  He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

You Call That Good Advice?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is.  What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.   It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.  He obviously did not prepare, but you should prepare your presentation.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful presenters if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.  We can gain much by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Don’t Prepare Your Presentation?

In business school, you sometimes espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.  It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness.  This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect.  Just embarrassment.  Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

This kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”

It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.”  Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your own?  You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Prepare your presentation, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You never will if you “wing it.”

For more on how to prepare your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Heinous Voices

On the issue of voice, there is much to be said . . . but much better than the written word are examples.

Particularly examples of bad voices.

Egregious voices.

Heinous voices.

Voices of persons in the public eye, who really ought to know better.

I encourage people to take control of their voices rather than allowing them to develop in a chaotic and undisciplined way, perhaps mimicking the ignorant elite.  Voice development is essential for the improvement of your business presentation delivery.

Here, I point out what makes a pleasant communicative voice and what makes for annoying, weak, distracting voices.

A voice that undermines your credibility without you being aware.

CAVEAT:   Heinous Voices . . .

Here I offer two examples from reasonably well-known personages.  Examples of heinous voices that irritate and grind upon the senses.  They offer textbook instruction on what not to do if you are presenting.

The first video features actress Demi Moore, who is afflicted with two glaring voice pathologies.

Her first issue is a verbal grind that sounds as if she needs to clear her throat of something thick and unpleasant.  Her voice gurgles and grinds along because she is not pushing enough air across her vocal cords to hold a steady, let alone mellifluous, tone.

Demi also is plagued with the infuriating verbal uptick – sometimes called the moronic interrogative – in which every declarative sentence is formed as a question, as if she isn’t sure of what she’s saying, as if she is seeking validation from you for everything she says.

The grinding and upticking go on interminably . . . truly painful to hear.  It begins at the 60-second mark . . .

 

 

This second example is a young lady by the name of Danica McKellar — an actress, author, and “mathematician.”  She is certainly not a public speaker, given her cartoon voice and her own verbal grind pathology.

She sounds suspiciously like a Disney Channel-trained former kid actor, possessed as she is with the tell-tale end-of-sentence rasp and shrill cartoon words sourced direct from a pea-sized voice-box.

 

 

If you find yourself afflicted with these pathologies, you can correct them with a few minor adjustments – push air across your vocal cords, use your chest as a resonating chamber, and stop inflecting your voice up at the end of each sentence.

With just a few changes, you can dramatically improve your presenting voice.

Bad Business Presenting . . . CLASSIC COKE

Coke CEO does not present well
Even the largest and most respected corporations have speaking pathologies running rampant in the senior leadership

A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and youve seen it dozens of times.

You see it in the average corporate meeting, after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.

While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do, particularly when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.

If they dont know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss professionally not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.

The speaker stands behind a lectern.  The speaker grips the lectern on either side.  The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.

The lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.

This Video rated PG-13 for excessive violence done to good speaking skills

Many business examples illustrate this, and youve probably witnessed lots of them yourself.  Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.

Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions where he is not speaking to a group.  But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent and he reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.

He leans on the lectern.  He hunches uncomfortably.  He squints and reads his speech from a text in front of him and, when he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.  He wears glasses with little chains hanging from either side of the frame, and these dangle and sway and attract our attention in hypnotic fashion.

In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University in which he begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech. Have a look . . .

Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so.  No one will tell them so, because there’s no upside in doing it.

Why would you tell your boss, let-alone the CEO, that he needs improvement in presenting?  Such criticism cuts perilously close to the ego.

Many business leaders believe their own press clippings, and they invest their egos into whatever they do so that it becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves.  They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.

Such as business presenting.

Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman.  But he is a poor speaker.  He is a poor speaker with great potential.

And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates for their businesses.

Spreading Mediocrity

But as it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.  Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect, where those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors.  We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.

Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”

You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, reads from barely relevant slides, then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.  Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done?  This is, after all, the unfortunate standard.

But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .

You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.

A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.

Embrace the notion that you can become an especially powerful business presenter . . . you might find help in this book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Surviving the Group Presentation . . . PART 2

“How come I never get a good group?”

Recognize that your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentationHow you disagree and how you resolve those disagreements for the good of the team and of your presentation is as important as the presentation itself.

It’s essential that you maintain civil relations, if not cordial relations, with others in the group – don’t burn bridges.  You don’t want to engender dislike for people, perhaps for the rest of your life.

The people in the various group projects will form an important part of your network in years to come.  Remember that the relationship is paramount, the presentation itself is secondary.

The Arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

Your job is to craft a group experience, assign responsibilities, develop a reasonable schedule.  Some members of your group will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with the objectives of the group.  You hear phrases such as “I can’t make the meeting.”  You may hear the outright arrogance of “I don’t have time for this.”

This, of course, is simply a choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits, because everyone has the same amount of time, no more and no less.

Different people make different choices about the use of their time.  Recognize that this will happen and that it is neither good nor bad – it is simply the hand that you are dealt.

How you react to it will in large part determine the success of your group.  One part of your job to properly motivate others to contribute to the group goal.

I always communicate to my students what to expect in a 5-person group. The 2-2-1 rule will usually hold.  Two people work hard, two cooperate and are damned happy to be there, and one rarely shows up, because he or she has a “busy schedule.”  Another popular take on it is to apply the Pareto 80-20 rule: Eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people.

The corollary, of course, is that 80 percent of problems are caused by 20 percent of the people.  A different 20 percent.

“But that’s not fair!”

That’s reality.  Is it “fair?”  Maybe or maybe not, but that’s a question for philosophers of distributive justice and irrelevant to the imperatives of group work.

Regardless of how you couch it, do not take your group woes to the professor for solution.  Your professor knows well what you face.  He wants you to sort it out.  You must sort it out, because your prof is not your parent.

Your professor won’t appreciate it any more than your CEO or VP superior at your company appreciates solving your personnel issues . . . repeatedly.  It reflects badly on you and gives an impression of weakness.

Moreover, if you begin to focus heavily on who’s not carrying their “fair share,” then that becomes the dominant theme of your group dynamic rather than that of accomplishing your group goal.

And such misplaced focus and animosity reflects badly in the final product.

Keep these guiding principles in mind as you chart your course through the labyrinth of group work.  Every group is different, temporary, and frustrating in it’s own way.  Don’t allow the briars of this ephemeral activity catch your clothing and slow you down from your ultimate goal – an especially powerful presentation.

Surviving the Group Presentation . . . PART 1

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

You find all sorts of problems in group work.  Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows this.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation.  One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

It’s bad enough to face the unknown variables of case analysis and its attendant presentation, but then several other variables are added to the mix in the form of . . .  those pesky other people.

We all prefer to control our own destinies.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work.  We like to work alone.  This is very much the craftsman’s view.  Our labors are important to us.  We take pride in our work.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

Collaboration is a fact of life in business presentations . . . if you can master it, you add to your personal competitive advantage

We begin to worry that our contribution will be overlooked.  We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves becoming submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.  How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?  How will they know our contribution?

With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and schedule coordination.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.  Moreover, you may be involved in several classes that require group projects.  And you invariably are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation? It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task.  It can be downright painful.  Infuriating.  It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.  The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.  This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this.

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.  Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.  While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes must watch 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluate them.

I assure you that this can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this: You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.  So why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

The days of the business generalist are all but dead in corporate America. Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant. This means, from a practical standpoint, that we cannot produce major products by ourselves.  There is little doubt that you will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.

You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm. This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm. Major tasks are divided and divided again. Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others. The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In Part II, I show you how to not only survive the Group Presentation, but how to thrive and turn it into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

“I never get an interesting topic”

“I never get an interesting topic.”

I hear this lament more often that I care to.  There likely has never been more vintage whine or a greater self-inflicted wound than this one, uttered in ignorance of its true meaning.

Here are two scenarios.  Both are possible.

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

Ugh.  It’s not “interesting.”

And you find that you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you probably don’t hang out, probably don’t know . . . or even like.  You groan as you don’t recognize the company or the people in the case.

Such an “Old” Case

The case isn’t dated last week, so you think it’s “old.”

You complain that you don’t understand why you’re assigned this “boring” case instead of a “modern” case on something hip . . . say, an Apple innovation or a product you heard mentioned in a commercial during the latest Kardashian reality TV offering.  No, you don’t understand why it doesn’t seem to speak to you and your needs.  Roll of the eyes.  “Whatever.”

Never pausing.

Never pausing to examine the central factor that your lack of understanding is the problem.  Your framework is so cramped, your context so self-circumscribed, your interests so few that it’s impossible for you to situate the case in its proper place with the tools at your disposal.  You complain that it’s not “relevant” and so you make no attempt to understand its “relevance.”

It’s not “interesting” to you.  You never get an interesting topic.

That’s one scenario of how it goes.

Another scenario is the Embrace.  Opening the heart and mind to the new.

Embrace the Case

You’re assigned your case, and you skim over it.

And you must write a memo on the case, analyzing it and teasing out its implications for the strategic direction of the firm, and then you must work with a group of folks you don’t know and probably don’t hang out with . . . or even like.

You scratch your chin, metaphorically, and you roll up your sleeves (again, metaphorically) and you ask yourself  questions like these . . .

“What can I learn from this process?  How can I turn this whole process into an experience I can craft stories about to tell in my upcoming job interviews?   How can I take this case, digest it, and make it part of my growing context of business knowledge?”

And as for the inevitable public group presentation, ask yourself:

“How can I work best with these folks in my group to produce a spectacular presentation that will then become part of my resume?  How can I help mask the internal disagreements and personality conflicts so that our audience does not suspect that several of us detest each other?   How can I make this presentation interesting for my audience?

Remember that there are no inherently interesting topics.  Every topic has potential for generating great interest, if you do your job right.

Because please understand . . . no one cares if the topic interests you.  As a professor, I certainly don’t.

I want to know what you plan to do with the topic and the case.

Your job is to infuse the topic with power and generate interest about it for your audience.

Crown Cork and Seal is an example of such a case that many students don’t find “interesting.”  It’s a classic case that almost every MBA student must read and analyze.

The Crown Cork and Seal case is about making and selling tin cans.  And how a firm with resources identical to the other major can manufacturers managed to outperform the industry by a stretch.

That’s a mystery, and a great one to solve.

If only you embrace the case.