Tag Archives: business school

Surviving the Group Presentation

Personal Competitive Advantage in group presentations
Group Presentations can test our collaboration skills

“How come I never get a good group?”

Who hasn’t uttered this pitiful refrain during business school when laboring over a group presentation?

Leaving aside the conceit of faux martyrdom for a moment, let’s recognize that group work is a necessity in the 21st century business world.  Your group has been assembled with a professional purpose in mind, not to make your life miserable.

The Group Presentation Ethos

Hold in your heart, the group presentation ethos, which is to drive forward to your common goal regardless of personal differences.

You will disagree with each other on aspects of the presentation.  How 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 group 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 group members will make time commitment choices that do not appear aligned with your group objectives.  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 person’s choice to be somewhere else to spend time in other pursuits.  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.

Group Presentations Aren’t 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 professor 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.

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 its 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 group presentation.

And consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on Group Presentations.

Group Presentation Tips for Power and Impact

Group Presentation Tips Help You Survive
Group Presentation Tip #1: Business School Presentations help you hone your collaboration skills

You find all sorts of problems in group work, so I offer here group presentation tips to help you survive this business school rite of passage.

Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows that group presentations can challenge you in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, right?  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.

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

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.

And you have the messiness of all those other people to worry about.

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.  Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.

This is very much the craftsman’s view.

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.

Group Presentation Tips Can Help You Survive and Thrive
Group Presentations need not be the torturous ordeals they are made out to be

We 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 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 scheduling.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.

Moreover, you may be several classes that require group projects.  And you 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, and consider them supplementary group presentation tips.

Group Presentation Tips to Survive and Thrive

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 watches 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluates them.

This can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work in a Complex World

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 as your #1 group presentation tip, why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

From a practical standpoint, we cannot produce major products by ourselves, because the days of the business generalist are all dead in corporate America.  Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.

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 later posts, I share group presentation tips on how to thrive and turn the group business presentation into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

For more extensive group presentation tips, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Listen, Write, Present – REVIEW!

I am all for especially powerful communication, no matter the field and no matter the topic.

Clear, concise, direct.

And while many books on presenting give promise to you, few deliver on that promise.

I collect those kinds of books – books on public speaking, on presenting, on oratory.  I own almost 1,000 of them, going back to original volumes published in 1762 . . . and to reprints of classic works from ancient Rome and Greece.  And, of course, books from our modern gurus of clear communication, only a handful of which I recommend.  Many books are good, some are bad . . . and a very few are great.

I recommend this one.

Listen, Write, Present.

The Keys to the Kingdom?

We all want the keys to the kingdom, the secrets to help us develop into powerful presenters.  Or at least we ought to want to become capable presenters if presenting is part of our mandate in the workplace.  This is crucial for those of who work in esoteric fields, such as in science or technology.

If you work in science or technology, recognize that those of us not facile in the vernacular of your specialty will have especial difficulty in receiving complex messages not delivered in a way that’s understandable.  And yet, you wonder how to communicate to those outside your priesthood.

So what can you do?

Listen, Write, Present is one answer to your dilemma.

Written by Stephanie Roberson Barnard and Deborah St. James for Yale University Press, this work is a tonic for virtually all of the ailments that plague the goodhearted presenter, who wants to communicate the core of her or his work – but finds the task daunting.  The task is clear and the mission important, because:

“What you say, how you say it, and why you say it speak volumes.  Make sure that the words coming from your mouth and the actions accompanying them truly reflect what you want to communicate.  Whether you’re communicating to your patients, your clients, your colleagues, or your boss, your success depends on structuring a clear message and delivering that message with confidence and conviction.”

Especially Powerful

And this book is packed with instruction on just how to do all of that . . . and more.  I am a big fan of books that seek to transform the reader in positive ways, and Listen, Write, Present stands tall in that category.  Ms. Barnard and Ms. St. James don’t provide useless communication “theory” – they tell you exactly what you must do to craft your message and deliver a winning presentation, particularly if you work in a technical field.

But even outside the science disciplines, this book can mold you into a more capable speaker, because many of the principles proffered are universal precepts from the canon of great speaker techniques.  Moreover, the book is a delight to read . . . clear, pleasant, and elegant prose

As the book’s preface contends, if you are a science professional who wants to achieve better outcomes with patients, gain more funding for research, or advance your career or receive that coveted promotion, then precision communication skills are required.

This book delivers on the promise to mold you into that especially powerful communicator,  provided, of course, that you actually commit to transforming yourself and your presenting habits.  I recommend that you do.

A worthy book and a proud addition to your collection!

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 Prisoner Liberated!

Eliminate uptalk in your presentationsToday, I link to an inspiring story, a story of a brave girl who, through courage and persistence, overcame her debilitating handicap – the business presentation pathology of Uptalk.

This testimony on conquering Uptalk  is too good not to share.

It relates to a young woman who recognized her own debilitating verbal pathology of Uptalk and committed herself to ovecoming it.

She corrected it. Bravo!

Uptalk Gives You a Clueless Aura

Uptalk is sometimes called, by the Brits, the “Moronic Interrogative.”

Anyone who has had my classes or read for any length of time my hectoring in this blog-space knows of my crusade against this crippling vocal trend.  Uptalk leeches all credibility from the speaker.

Sometimes called the “High rising line” or “Valley speak,” this crippling quirk confers upon the user a clueless aura of uncertainty.

This is perhaps the single biggest discriminator between mature, professional presenters and the thousands of amateurs who can’t even hear the plaintive whine in their own constantly questioning sentences.

There is a reason that powerful, confident speakers hold audiences rapt.  The strength of their oratory is its declarative nature.  You hear no constant plea for validation in their voices.  You hear no pathological valley girl uptalk.

I crusade against uptalk, but not only because of its destruction of otherwise good presentations.  Uptalk can mean professional suicide for young graduates.  The insidious thing is that the eager abuser of language, the self-victimizer, won’t even know what lost her or him the job.  Uptalk can drive job interviewers crazy.  Uptalk can drive presentation audiences crazy.

Uptalk is the line between a professional speaker and the utter amateur.  It’s completely within your power to cross that line.  The young woman in this story did.  Here’s a passage from her woman’s testimonial . . .

I wasn’t expecting a priest to equip me for life but he did.  It started on the first day of theology class in catholic high school in Pennsylvania.

My theology teacher was a blind priest.  In our discussion-based religion course, he identified students by the sound of their voices.  Like many high school girls, I was an uptalk offender.  When I talked out loud in class, everything had the spoken equivalent of an ellipsis or a question mark on the end of it.

Here’s the entire story.

Throwing off the shackles of Uptalk can be liberating.  To learn more on how to do it, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

Keys to Successful Presentation Preparation

Presentation Preparation is key to successLet’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case . . . how do you begin your business presentation preparation?

It’s not an easy question.  How we prepare and practice can be as crucial as the substance of our show.

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

Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.

What now?

The Key to Successful Presentation Preparation is . . .

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

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

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

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

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

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

Completely different.

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

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

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

    Presentation Preparation

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

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

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

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

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

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.  It’s totally wrong, and it’s totally unneccessary.

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

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

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

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

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you. Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if tPresentation Preparation . . . the winning edgehey “interest” you.  That’s not the point.

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

I have found the following to be true:

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

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

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

Let’s shed that attitude.

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

Crank up Interest

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

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

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

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

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

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

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

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

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively. And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum. 

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

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

Your slides are crammed with information.

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

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

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

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

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

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

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

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

Your Procrustean Solution

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

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

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

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

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

Only three.

Here is your task now:

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

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

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

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

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

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.

You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

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

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

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

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

For more on successful presentation preparation, consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Hook Your Presentation Audience . . . and Keep Them

Your Presentation Audience deserves your bestDo you face a listless, distracted audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?  Texting?  Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

Your Presentation Audience Needs You to Be . . .

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes me on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Here, I identify a remedy for you – how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.  Here is what you need to be for your audience.  It isn’t your listeners’ fault if you’re monotonous, unprepared, listless, nervous, or dull.  It’s your job to entertain and energize your audience with your own enthusiasm.

Giving a business presentation is much more than just showing up in front of your long-suffering presentation audience and delivering a stilted talk.  Much more.

Respect your audience and work hard to dazzle your listeners.  They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

In addition to giving you solid counsel on your audience, I also suggest how you can energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

It’s not easy, but you can do it with several techniques developed over centuries of public speaking practice.

Please overlook my bad hair day in this video as you take in this powerful advice on How to Engage With Your Presentation Audience for an especially powerful presentation.

Have a look . . .

 

 

 

Enter the Power Zone

Enter the Power Zone for Especially Powerful Presentations

Business Presenting is filled with paradoxes.

For instance . . .  the quizzical Power Zone.

It’s a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.

This is really the strangest thing, and it alwayss amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers.

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

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

They find an excuse.

No Argument Here

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

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

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

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

The latest batch of objections s

Choose to enter the Power Zone and you cannot go back to your old ways of presenting

prang from one woman’s ideology.  She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . . well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.  In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else . . . and then lecture her audience if they didn’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.

She wanted to deliver prese

ntations her way, and blame her audience if they didn’t respond positively and, presumably, with accolades.

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

And I say praise the Lord for that.

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

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

I replied to her this way . . .

Just Don’t Do it

I told her this:

“Don’t do them.  Don’t do these gestures.  Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective.  Go ahead, substitute what you know to be better.  Do exactly what you have been doing all along, and emerge from this lecture hall not having been changed one iota.  And then . . . wonder at how you have not improved.  At all.”

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

They’ll be happy you did.

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

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

A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold  of a delivery room.

A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.

An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.

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

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success.  That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.  And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scowl at this.  It requires too much of them.

Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work.  Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them.  Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have magic sparkles or something, right?

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

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

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

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

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

For more on how to enter and thrive in the Power Zone, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Voice – The Secret Video

Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being.  For instance . . .

Your voice.

There’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice.  Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.

Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?

Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It is an instrument with which you communicate.

You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.  Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

Especially Powerful Gesture – Video

Reagan Gestured like a Master. So Should You.

Why would you want to “gesture?”  Aren’t your words enough?

We gesture to add force to our points, to slam home the major theme of our presentation.

To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness . . . even fear.

A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?

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

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

Another Arrow in Your Quiver

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

Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”

Your careful, thoughtful gestures increase your talk’s persuasiveness and lend gravitas to your words.  In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to an especially powerful level, a level far above the mundane.

You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.  Let’s look at some examples . . .

Walk like Loki . . . for Professional Presentation Appearance

Your walk communicates confidence . . . or not
Walk like Loki to add to an especially powerful and professional presentation appearance

Loki is a diminutive fellow, and yet he projects a powerful and professional presentation appearance.

You get that from the first minutes of the film Thor, and in the newly released Avengers.

Loki is played by British actor Tom Hiddleston, whose other roles include F. Scott Fitzgerald in the light Woody Allen comedy Midnight in Paris.  He’s classically trained and quite good.  My humble opinion in this out-of-school-for-me area is that his best roles are ahead of him.

While he is small in stature, Hiddleston’s Loki comes across as imposing at times, even regal.  Just as evil incarnate should be.

How does this little guy pull it off?  Is it clever camera angles?  Make-up?  Voice modulator?

One reason that Loki is imposing is . . . his walk.

Walking the Walk for Professional Presentation Appearance

Loki’s walk is astonishingly good.  Graceful and especially powerful.

How is this so?  What, exactly, is he consciously doing?  And if we call Loki’s walk good, then does that mean—?

Does it mean that there is something we might call a “bad walk?”

That depends.

As a means of locomotion, I imagine most any walk can get the job done, except exaggerated striding or pimp-swaggering that can damage joints over time.

But if we consider business presenting, we see something totally different.  If we examine the walk as a means to enhance or degrade your effectiveness as a business presenter, then there most assuredly is something we can identify as a “bad walk.”

Bad Walking

Consider the “bad walks” you see every day . . . all the time.  Watch people.  On the street.  In the gym.  At the park.

You see all kinds of walks.

Pigeon-toed shuffles, duck-walks, shambling gangsta walks, choppy-stepping speedwalks.  You see  goofy addlepated walks, languorous random-walks, hunchbacks yammering into cell phones.

Let a thousand walks scourge the sidewalks!

But if you want a walk that gives you a professional competitive advantage, then . . .

Then watch actors.

Watch actors or anyone trained to perform in the public eye, and you see a distinctive difference.  A big difference, and a difference worth bridging in your own walk if you wish to take your presenting to the highest level.

Walk like Loki . . . for Professional Presentation Appearance
Don’t let a bad walk detract from your Professional Presentation Appearance when it’s simple to adopt a confident posture and magnificent stride

Why?

It should be obvious that carriage and poise play into how an audience perceives you and your message, and much of this emanates from your presentation appearance.  We must remember that no one has a right to be listened to.  It’s a privilege, and we must earn that privilege.

One way to earn the privilege is by projecting purpose and poise, which carries into your message and invests it with legitimacy.  A powerful, purposeful walk can do just that, helping you to develop an enduring professional presence.

You gain gravitas and confidence.  You add to your personal competitive advantage in a significant and yet subtle way.

Loki’s walk is classic and provides us instruction for creating an impression of power, confidence, and competence.

In an earlier time, it was called the “Indian Walk.”  Here it is:  Shoulders square, you walk with one foot in front of the other, but not as exaggerated as that of runway models.

This achieves an effect of elegance, as the act of placing one’s feet this way directs the body’s other mechanical actions to . . . well, to perform in ways that are pleasing to the eye.  It generates the confident moving body posture that invests actors, politicians, and great men and women in all fields with grace and power.

Watch Loki in film.  Understand the power generated by an especially powerful walk.

Then make it your own.  Add power to your personal brand, and walk like Loki for Professional Presentation Appearance.

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

 

 

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.

Work with PowerPoint in your Business Presentation

Work with PowerPoint for Impact
Work with PowerPoint for Presentation Impact

Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to work with PowerPoint.

And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.

Yes, brilliant.

But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.

Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.

Good Work with PowerPoint a Necessity

PowerPoint isn’t the problem.  Clueless presenters are the problem.

So just how do you use PowerPoint?

You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping other to hone theirs.

Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art.  You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up.  You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here.  She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it.

Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.

Meanwhile, if you want immediate help on-camera, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint.  It is enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.

For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.

This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.

Have a look-see . . .

The Finance Presentation – Four Words for Power and Impact

Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation
Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation

In working with your slides in your finance presentation, follow the formula Orient … Eliminate … Emphasize … Compare.

This formula produces superb results every time, especially if you are working with difficult financial information.

As preface to this, on all of your slides, ensure that you use a sans serif font and that its size is at least 30 point.

Your numbers should be at least 26 point.

Finance Presentation Clarity

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.

Tell the audience they view a balance sheet:  “This is a balance sheet for the year 2012.”

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

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  This means clicking to the next slide, which has been stripped of irrelevant data.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

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

Finance Presentation
Your finance presentation need not be unintelligible

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  Illustrate what the numbers mean by utilizing a chart or graph.

Fourth, compare your results to something else.  Remember that numbers mean nothing by themselves.  Comparison yields meaning and understanding.

For example, think of a children’s dinosaur book.  You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus.  The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.  You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.

Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.  We provide a comparison as a baseline.

For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone.  Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.  Do this to make your point and to tell your story.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against itself in prior years or quarters.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against a major competitor or several competitors.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against the industry as a whole.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against similar sized firms in select other industries.

When you Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize . . . and Compare, you create a finance presentation experience that is intelligible and satisfying to your audience.

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

The Only Presentation Structure You Need

The Complete Guide to Business Presentation Structure: What your professors don't tell you... What you absolutely must know
Do you even think about the overall structure of your business presentation, or do you plunge right in?

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.

Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this presentation 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 part 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.

Business Presentation Structure adds Impact
Your presentation structure should be simple and sturdy, smart and strong

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.

Presentation Structure Tested in 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 structure in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the 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 the book is about.

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

For a more elaborate explanation on how presentation structure can enhance the power of your presentation, 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.

 

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.

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.