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The Most Important Point – Your MIP

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.  Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes.

Stories involve your listeners 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 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 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.

Your MIP Permeates Your Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare 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.

How to Win a Case Competition

 How to win a case competitionIn earlier posts, we examined the lead-in steps for your case competition preparation.

Your team is now on the cusp of delivering a business presentation to win a case competition.

Recognize and accept that your presentation is a wholly different communication mode than your final memorandum or report.

Treat it this way, and your chances of winning your case competition increase dramatically.

How to win a Case Competition

If your analysis is robust and your conclusions are sound, as should be with all the entries, then a powerful and stunning presentation delivered by a team of confident and skilled presenters will win the day most every time.

The competency of most case competition teams is relatively even.  If a team lifts itself above the competition with a stunning presentation, it will win.

If you have reviewed the step-by-step preparation to this point and internalized its message, you understand that you and your teammates are not something exclusive of the presentation.  You are the presentation.

By now, you should be well on the way to transforming yourself from an average presenter into a powerful presentation meister.  You know the techniques and skills of the masters.  You have become an especially powerful and steadily improving speaker who constantly refines himself or herself along the seven dimensions we’ve discussed:  Stance, Voice, Gesture, Expression, Movement, Appearance, and Passion.

Employ the Seven Secrets to Win a Case Competition

When I coach a team how to win a case competition, the team members prepare all of their analysis, conclusions, and recommendations on their own.  Here are some tips how to do this.  Their combined skills, imagination, and acumen produce a product worthy of victory.  The team then creates their first draft presentation.

It is at this point that the competition is most often won or lost.

Powerful winning presentations do not spring forth unbidden or from the written material you prepare.  The numbers “do not speak for themselves.”

The “power of your analysis” does not win a case competition on its own.  You cannot point to your handout repeatedly as a substitute for a superb presentation.

Your case solution is not judged on its merit alone, as if the brilliance of your solution is manifest to everyone who reads it.  It is judged on how well you communicate the idea.  Powerfully and persuasively.

Each member of your team must enter the presentation process as a tangible, active, compelling part of the presentation.  And you must orchestrate your presentation so that you work seamlessly together with each other, with the visuals you present, and with the new knowledge you create.

For more deep secrets on how to win a case competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Case Competitions . . . Phase 2

Business Case Competition

Phase 2 of your case competition preparation begins when you’re issued the case.

Recognize that the nature of this case may differ from what you are accustomed to.  It could be more incomplete and open-ended than the structured cases you’ve dealt with before.

In fact, it could be a contemporary real-world case with no “solution.”  It could be a case crafted especially for the competition by the company sponsoring the competition.

Case Competition First Step

Your first step – your team members read the case once-through for general information and understanding, to inventory issues, and to define the magnitude of the task at hand.  You are drawing a philosophical and psychological box around the case to encompass its main elements.  Here, you make it manageable prevent time-burn in discussions of unnecessarily open-ended questions.

Discussion proceeds on defining the problem statement.

At this point, your expertise and skills gained in years of business schooling should guide you in developing your analysis and recommendations.

The difference in acumen and skill sets among teams in a competition is usually very small, so I assume that every business team will produce analytical results and recommendations that are capable of winning the competition.  This includes your team, of course.

Victory or Defeat?

The quality of teams is high, and the output of analysis similar.  This means that victory is rarely determined by the quality of the material itself.  Instead, victory and defeat ride on the clarity, logic, power, and persuasiveness of the public presentation of that material.  I have seen great analyses destroyed or masked by bad presentations.

The Presentation is the final battlefield where the competition is won or lost.

And so we devote minimum time on the preparation of your arguments.  Many fine books can help you sharpen analysis.  This post concerns how you translate your written results into a powerful presentation that is verbally and visually compelling.

We are concerned here with the key to your competition victory.

Here is your competitive edge:  While 95 percent of teams will view their presentations as a simple modified version of the written paper that they submit, your team attacks the competition armed with the tools and techniques of Power Presenting.  You understand that the presentation is a distinct and different communication tool than the written analysis.

Cut ’n’ Paste Combatants

Many teams cut-and-paste their written paper/summary into the presentation, unchanged.  This usually makes for a heinous presentation that projects spreadsheets and bullet points and blocks of text on a screen.  These monstrosities obscure more than they communicate.  It is a self-handicap and a horrendous mistake.

Sure, at times you will see winning presentations that do this – I see them myself on occasion.  This usually happens for one of several reasons, none of them having to do with the quality of the visual presentation . . .

1) Substance trumps:  The business analysis and recommendation is substantially better than all other entries and overcomes deficiencies in presentation.

2) Mimicry:  All entries utilize Business Case Competition hones your presentation skillsthe same defective method of cutting-and-pasting the final report onto PowerPoint slides, thus leveling the playing field to a lowest common denominator of visual and verbal poverty.

Don’t present all the fruits of your analysis.  Too much information and too many details can cripple your initial presentation.  Remember that you should hold back details for use and explication during the Q&A period.

A parsimonious presentation should deliver your main points.

Deciding what to leave out of your initial presentation can be as important as deciding what to include and emphasize.

For in-depth training on the Case Competition, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Next . . . Phase 3

Case Competition Guide for Presentation Victory

Your Case competition Guide, the source of competitive advantage
This case competition guide can prepare you to win your next business case competition long before you even know the case . . .

The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand by following you case competition guide, before you ever travel to the site of the competition.

Before they ever give you the sealed envelope with your business case enclosed.

This is much easier than you might imagine, and you begin by consulting your case competition guide.

The Three Ps of Business Presentations provide a roadmap to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice

Principles.

You don’t start tuning your instrument for the first time when it’s time to perform a concert, and likewise, you don’t begin honing your presentation skills when it’s time to present.  By the time of your competition, all of your team members ought to be thoroughly grounded in the principles of especially powerful presentations.

The principles offered here in this case competition guide.

This part of your competition prep should already be accomplished, with only a few review sessions to ensure everyone is sharp on the Seven Secrets:  Stance . . . Voice . . . Gesture . . . Expression . . . Movement . . . Appearance . . . Passion.

Second, Preparation

Our case competition guide divides the preparation for the competition into three phases.

Phase 1:  Lead-in to the Competition

You are made aware of the competition’s rules.  You acknowledge and embrace the rules and what they imply.  Your entire team should become intimately familiar with the parameters of the competition – think metaphorically and spacially.

Recognize that the problem has length and breadth and depth.  Understand the finite limits of the context presented to you, what you can and cannot do.  Think of it as an empty decanter that you fill with your analysis and conclusions on the day of the competition.

Later, upon receiving the actual Case, you will conduct the same process – recognize that the Case Problem has length and breadth and depth.

But now, prior to the competition, take stock of what you already know you must do . . . and then do most of it beforehand as the rules permit.

This includes embracing the problem situation long before you arrive on-site for a competition and before you receive the case in question.  Learn the parameters of the context in which you will operate.  The case competition guide breaks the competition environment into discrete elements:

Competition rules

Length of presentation

Total time available (set-up, presenting, Q&A, Close-out)

Number of presenters allowed or required

Visuals permitted or required

Sources you may use, both beforehand and during the problem-solving phase

Prohibitions

You know that you will be required to provide analysis of a case and your results and recommendations.  Why not prepare all that you can before you arrive at the competition?

Some competitions may frown on this or forbid it . . . fine, then do it when you can, at the first point that it is permissible.  This way, you can spend the majority of your case analysis time filling in the content.

Follow the Case Competition Guide

Prepare your slide template beforehand according to the principles expounded here.

Business presentations have a small universe of scenarios and limited number of elements that comprise those scenarios.  A well-prepared team that is composed of team members from different functional areas will have generic familiarity with virtually any case assigned in a competition.  The team should have no problems dealing with any case it is presented.

Determine beforehand who will handle – generally – the presentation tasks on your team as well as the analytical portions of your case.  The following is offered as an example of how the task might be approached:

Your Case competition Guide
Your Case competition Guide suggests that you distribute your tasks long before the competition . . . your business presentation will be the better for it

As part of this initial process, prepare your slide template with suitable logos, background, killer graphics, and charts and graphs requiring only that the numbers be filled in.

Leading into the competition, it’s essential that your team be familiar with sources of data that you may be permitted to utilize in conducting your case analysis – market research, industry surveys, and such like.  Familiarity with online databases like Business Source Premier, Mergent Online, and S&P NetAdvantage is necessary since not all schools may have access to the data sources you use most often.

No Place for the Unprepared

With respect to the delivery or your presentation itself, a case competition is neither time nor place for you to polish your delivery skills.  You should have honed them to razor’s edge by now.  As well, your orchestration as a team should be perfected before arriving at the site of the competition.

At the competition, you lift your performance to the next level in terms of application of all the principles, precepts, and hard skills you have applied in business school – finance, accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, analysis – and you apply them in a tightly orchestrated and professional presentation that pops.

If you have engaged the case competition guide successfully during the lead-up to the competition, then your taut case-cracking team will be ready when you are finally issued the case.  A team ready to address the issues involved in the case problem.

Coming up . . . Phase 2

 Access all of the secrets of masterful business presenting by consulting your business case competition guide:  The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Case Competitions

Business Case Competition
Business Case Competitions test your business mettle in ways you can’t imagine

The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.

No hiding behind a resume.

No fast-talking a good game.

No “national rankings.”

Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.

Business Case Competition as Crucible

In case competitions,  your business team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.

Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.

They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.

Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose.  The operative idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit and then to rate how well the teams respond.

There is, of course, no direct competition between teams.  Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations.  There is a time limit and specific rules.

All teams operate under the same conditions.

Business Case Competitions Far and Wide

Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.

Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives.  The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.

Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.

The judging panel sometime consists of executives from the actual company in the case.

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition.  Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event.  Its 2010 competition featured a case written especially for the competition on the Boeing Corporation.

Business case competitions, a source of competitive advantage
Business case competitions can enhance your personal competitive advantage

Executives from Boeing acted as judges.

One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.

For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.

In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.

For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.

In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.

The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand.  This is much easier than you might imagine.  Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations.  They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.

Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice.

In subsequent posts, we deconstruct the business case competition to help you and your team prepare to your potential and deliver an especially powerful presentation.

You can also learn the entire process of preparing to win business case competitions from The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Tip – Bookending

Especially powerful business presentation tip – Bookending
Bookending is an especially powerful business presentation tip

I offer this superb business presentation tip – bookend your presentation or presentation segment to give the audience a satisfying experience.

What is bookending?

This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative.  This is your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

You follow with your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences.

Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.  As you wind to a conclusion, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your segment.

A Powerful Business Presentation Tip

When you have finished your presentation message and are ready to set your second bookend that concludes your presentation, call on these magic words.

You say these words:  “In conclusion, we can see that . . . .”  Then – repeat your situation statement.

Then say:  “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”

You come full-circle.  The audience gains a sense of completeness.

This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole, and your audience appreciates the closure.

This technique offers much more than a linear march, where nothing said seems to relate to anything that came before.  The satisfying circularity of bookending brings your audience back to the familiar starting point.

It drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways.  First, the outright repetition of your theme cements it in the minds of your listeners.  Second, the story convention of providing a satisfying ending ties up loose ends and gives psychological closure.

It’s an elegant business presentation tip that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.

Try it.

For more especially powerful business presentation tips like this, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your essential companion throughout B-School.

Develop Powerful Personal Presence

Personal Presence
Personal Presence confers Personal Competitive Advantage

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

I should say potential power.

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

Forfeiture of Power

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

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

Here, Paulson describes the impact of Personal Presence.

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

Here is where you become part of the message.  You bring into play your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful personal presence.

Naked Information Overflow

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

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

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.  They would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

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

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

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

The Secret of Personal Presence

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.  Gone is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Business Presentation Topics for Power and Impact

business presentation topic
You get paid big bucks to infuse your business presentation topic with interest

“I never get an interesting business presentation topic.”

Perhaps you’ve said that?

I’ve certainly heard it.

I hear this lament more often than I would prefer, and it embodies much of what is wrong with individual and group presentations.

There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic.   Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.

Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience.  Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.

That’s your job.  In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.

Interesting?  That’s Your Job

Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you.  No one cares if they interest you.

That’s not the point.

Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.

Persuades the audience.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics, wouldn’t we?  But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?

I’ve found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.

Students don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.

So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.

The Tenpenny Nail?

business presentation topic
You make the business presentation topic about nails interesting . . . it’s your responsibility, in fact

The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.

The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone.  The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”

It’s hip.  And familiar.

Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.

But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.

The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.

How do you generate interest?  How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:

[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.

It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.

It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.

In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.

The Business Presentation Topic Beast

And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?

Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100?  I always thought so.

But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price.  Instead, it has to do with . . . .  Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.

The name, by the way, dates from the 15th Century, the same century as the invention of the Gutenberg printing method.

Now that’s a “killer app” with staying power.

Sound like an “interesting” business presentation topic?

For more ways to develop your acumen with regard to your business presentation topic, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

A Sensual Business Presentation Story

Presentation story, the source of competitive advantage
Presentation Story Sensuality should permeate your Business Presentations

If you want to regale your presentation audience with an especially powerful presentation story, you must position the audience inside your story with Sensory Involvement.

Sensory Involvement is a powerful technique that imbues your presentation story with sensuality.

You engage the senses of your listeners so that they experience the story rather than simply hear it.  Where possible, incorporate all five senses in your story.

The more senses you involve, the better.

Put Your Audience Inside the Presentation Story

This sensory technique positions the listener inside the presentation story.  You invite the audience into the story.  The audience becomes part of the action.

This is a fiction-writing technique.  It draws the reader into the story by stimulating the audience’s sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste.

When you use color, aromas, tastes, and powerful sound and visual imagery, your presentation evokes the emotions of your listeners.  It captures their interest.  You convey a more compelling message.

Your call to action is more powerful than if you recite only facts and figures.

Presentation Story advantage
Use imagery in your business presentation story to stimulate the senses

This use of multiple sensory stimulation affects your listeners in ways that they are really unaware of.  They find themselves deep inside your presentation story and feeling what you want them to feel.

And they respond to your message.

Engage as many senses as you can.  The audience should hear your presentation.  They should taste it.  They should see it.  They should feel it.

Smell it.

They Become Part of Your Presentation Story

The sensory technique paints a mind picture.  It makes that picture vivid and powerful.

It’s powerful because it pulls the listener inside the story as a living, breathing, vicarious participant.  You position the listener inside the story rather than allowing the listener to loiter outside the story as a bystander.

Engaging the Senses

Use imagery.  Stimulate the senses!  The 1999 supernatural film The Sixth Sense illustrates the point.

In this film, the Bruce Willis character – in spirit form – moves about within the story among living people.  He can observe and, in a sense, participate in the various dramas around him.  Think of Bruce Willis as the audience of your presentation.

Willis feels and senses the angst, joy, anger, sadness of those around him.  Yet he is not an actual participant.

Bruce Willis is as close as he can be to the dramas around him without actually being there.  Likewise, your story’s vivid and emotive sensory stimulation engages your audience in a powerful way.

Position your audience inside the presentation story.

You can place them inside the presentation story, much as the Bruce Willis character is placed into the mini-dramas that unfold around him.

Employ Masterful Writing Techniques

Dean Koontz is a master thriller writer, and he advocates involving as many of the reader’s senses as possible in a story.  Koontz does this himself in his own taut novels.

Koontz engages smells, colors, sounds to enliven his descriptions.  He does this in unexpected ways.  Not only does Koontz involve all the senses, he combines surprising descriptions, crossing from one sense to another.

For example, he describes the glow of a bulb as a “sour yellow light.”

Koontz combines taste with color to evoke a startling and memorable image.

This is the same technique that serves powerful presenters well.  It can serve you well and you should do this.  For your own stories, remember to involve all of your listeners’ senses if you can – taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing – and you cannot fail to engage your audience.

Give it a try in your next business presentation story for an especially powerful effect.

Storytelling has become a powerful tool in 21st century management, and it would do you well to embrace, understand, and utilize that power to advance your own personal competitive advantage.  Several of the most effective storytelling books that I recommend are:  The Story Factor by Annette Simmons, Around the Corporate Campfire by Evelyn Clark, and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling by Steve Denning.  A business storytelling blog by Gabriel Yiannis is particularly valuable.

To learn more about the use of images and sensuality in your business presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Your Business Presentation Hero is in the Audience

Presentation Hero
Make your audience the Presentation Hero!

For a heroic presentation, add story moments to the mix and identify your presentation hero.

You should incorporate story moments throughout your business presentation to maintain momentum and to retain audience attention.

You make the audience the hero for the same reason.

The story moment may be no more than two sentences that breathe life into a staid exposition of facts.  Or it can extend to a one-paragraph allegory that plunges your audience into the meat of your show.

This is one key to your story’s power.  You select a story the audience already knows, and you populate it with characters sympathetic to the audience.

Who’s Your Presentation Hero?

As you prepare your story moment, carry in mind that every story must have a hero.  That hero must be in the audience.  For your audience to embrace your stories wholeheartedly, portray your audience heroically.

Remember that you determine the presentation hero of your story.

Choose a presentation hero that makes your audience feel good.

If your audience is the CEO and his senior staff, then he or she is the presentation hero, aided by trusted colleagues – he is Napoleon; she is Joan of Arc.

If your audience is the shareholders, then they are the heroes of your story.  It is through their guidance and wisdom that the company is successful.

If your audience is your subordinates, then they are the heroes for providing the nuts-and-bolts of the machinery.

If your audience is your students, then they are the heroes of the subject matter as they arm themselves to slay corporate dragons.  You are but the armorer, and perhaps a former warrior.

The Heroes of UPS

Speaking coach Suzanne Bates provides an excellent example of this type of Story Moment.  She relates the example of a speech given by UPS chairman Mike Eskew to his employees. The occasion of the speech was a change of the company logo.

In speaking to his employees, Eskew crafted his message to make them the heroes . . . not himself.

Many CEOs believe erroneously that employees want to hear a story of the CEO’s vision and leadership.  Eskew instead seized the opportunity to showcase the striving of his employees and gave a masterful show, demonstrating how a CEO can tap into the sympathies of his people.

In this case, he made his audience of UPS rank-and-file employees the heroes of the UPS story:

Our brand is all about our people and keeping the UPS promise. Just as Marty Peters . . . . Marty’s the longest-tenured active employee at UPS – out of 360,000 around the world. Marty is a fifty-seven year veteran of UPS. That’s right; he started with us in 1946 . . . and guess what . . . he still shows up at the job every day as a shifter and a customer-counter clerk in Detroit.

And there’s someone else we’ve brought to New York for this special day . . . Ron Sowder, a Kentucky District feeder driver. Ron’s been with the company forty-two years. In fact, he started in 1961 . . . the year of our last logo change. When Ron started with the company . . . he wasn’t old enough to drive. But today he carries the distinction of having the most years of safe driving among active employees in the company. In my book, Ron and Marty are UPS heroes. They not only represent the brand . . . like you – they live the brand every day.

This is a superb example of the speaker transforming the audience with a powerful story.

One moment they are employees assembled to hear a speech by the CEO on the company logo.  The next moment, they are heroes in an adventure story that spans decades!  Here, Eskew does it explicitly and quite deftly.  The result is an especially powerful presentation moment that uses the trope of the presentation hero. 

He outright calls them heroes, but it isn’t a bald bid for flattery.  That kind of thing falls flat quickly.

The good news is two-fold.  First, injecting a story moment is not difficult to do.  Second, it is guaranteed to work.  By work, I mean that it transforms your presentation into something magical.

Think of it this way.

A story is magic dust.

The President Weaves Magic into His Speeches

When the President of the United States calls for national action in time of need, he doesn’t just inform us . . . he inspires us.  He alludes to the wisdom and fortitude, the strength and durability, the innovation and drive of the American people.   He sometimes refers to the Greatest Generation, the generation that fought and won World War II.

The president may talk of hardy pioneers to dramatize the American sense of adventure.  He may use story moments of American inventors to make his points about innovation – Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Steve Jobs.  He ties us to these powerful stories and he makes us the hero, not himself.  Who among us would not want to be the presentation hero?  President Ronald Reagan was a master of the Story Moment, calling on them to craft powerful speeches.

But you need not pull out the heavy artillery every time.  Use short punchy stories to launch your show or to illustrate minor points.  A great source for this kind of story-telling is Aesop’s Fables.

Why Aesop?

Aesop’s Fables are narratives that can convey your point quickly and crisply.  They are short, familiar, and freighted with morals.  Most of them also carry heavy business relevance.

You can find a fable to illustrate most any business point.  Take the familiar fable of “The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg,” which teaches that “Much wants more and then loses all.”

But the Goose fable also captures deeper lessons about discovering the true sources of wealth and nurturing the processes that create wealth.  Fables can run the gamut of lessons, from betrayal to bigotry, from deceit to damnation.

Thumb through Aesop’s for your next story.  You already know that almost no one does, and that’s the first requirement for discovering Blue Ocean market space.  Try it, and I guarantee that something good will happen.

For more on exalting your presentation hero, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Business Hero is in your Audience

Business Hero
The Hero of your Business Presentation should be in your Audience.

Your presentation is for your audience, and that’s where your business hero had better be.

As much as some of us love the limelight and the adulation of the crowd, it’s wise to remember that your presentation isn’t about you, although our self-indulgence can sometimes make it seem so.

No, you’re not in this to please yourself.

And you must get them to do what you want them to by making them think that it’s what they want.

Connect With Your Business Hero

Address the needs of the people in your audience and fulfill their expectations in language they understand, with metaphors and examples that resonate with them.  Your objective must be expressed in terms of how it best connects with your audience.  The folks in your audience should be the business hero, not you.

Speak to their needs and fulfill them.

The good news is that your audience’s meager expectations mean that you can likely dazzle it with a merely above-average presentation.  This is because the level of business presenting is so dismally low that audiences dread listening to them as much as you hate giving them.

No one seems happy at the prospect of this afternoon’s weekly “finance updBusiness Hero is in your audienceate.”

But remember this regardless of the topic of your talk, every audience wants the same basic thing.  Deep down, all of us wants a chance.  Everyone wants to have a chance to be a hero.

No one wants to hear from Indiana Jones . . . everyone wants to be Indiana Jones.  Or at least believe that we could do great things.

This is a touchstone principle long known to professional speakers.  Kenneth Goode and Zenn Kaufman authored a book in 1939 called Profitable Showmanship, and their words resonate with stone-cold veracity over the subsequent 72 years, right up to today and the next quarter earnings briefing:

The audience is always on the screen, at the microphone, in the prize-fight, or in the pitcher’s box.  You, the individual member of the audience, are the hero of the day.  No selling can ever be completely successful that forgets this principle:  that the prospect is the Hero of the Show.  And, in fact, the only hero! . . .  The minute you slide the spotlight off him, off his crazy ideas, off his pet peeves, particularly off his whims, your show is over.  You may as well go home, for your audience is gone.  . . .  The hero of the [presenting] drama is the customer – or prospect.  His vanities, his hopes, his fears, his ambitions – these are the stuff from which your plot is spun and on him – and him alone – must the spotlight shine.

Remember that the Business Hero is in your audience.

People want more than anything to be a hero, and if you give them that chance in your talk, you will be rewarded 1,000 times over.

For more on putting the business hero in your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“Move Around When you Talk” Video!

Move with purpose and power during your presentation . . . avoid aimless roaming

We are all familiar with the droning voice of the numbing speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace of a talk and who quickly loses us in monotony.

In like fashion, it is possible to be visually monotonous.

Visual monotony – either of constant repetitive movement or of no movement whatsoever.

We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.”  We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance.

And we know the statue, who moves not at all and hides behind a lectern, gripping it white-knuckled.

Go ahead and move, but . . .

Yes, incorporate movement.  But before you begin hopping about the stage willy-nilly, recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for specific reasons.  Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.

At the risk over over-alliterating, you should mesh your movements with your message.

Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do.  If you move all the time, like a constant pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise, and your movements contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation.  In fact, your movements become a distraction, leeching energy and attention from your message.

It’s a form of visual monotony.

Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Death.

So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience and to convey a powerful and persuasive message.  Watch this video for basic advice on movement in your presentation . . .

For more on especially powerful movement during your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Passion for Competitive Advantage

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

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

You’re in the wrong line of work.

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

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

Because they think their topic is “boring.”

No Inherently Interesting Topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presentation Passion is the Key

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

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

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

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

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

Especially Powerful Group Presentations

Group Presentation
Do not Scorn the Group Presentation

Four of the most dreaded words in Business School are:  “Break yourselves into groups.”

The group presentation in business school is so ubiquitous now that almost every upper level course has some form of “group work” requirement.

There’s good reason for it – industry expects new hires to have experience working in groups.

More than that, corporate America craves young people who can work well with others.  Who can collaborate.

The upshot is that you must give the “group presentation.”

 

ots of them.

Don’t Scorn the Group Presentation

You find all sorts of problems in group work.  Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems.  Surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

The uncomfortable fact is that we might be the cause of friction and not even know it.  Working in a group requires patience.  It requires the ability to see the benefits of collaboration, to listen, to understand that there are many ways to attack and resolve challenges.

Sure, you want to work by yourself.  Who wouldn’t?

But today’s complex economy disallows much of the solitary work that used to occupy executives just a generation ago.  Complex problems require collaboration.

So we face challenges.

Let’s try to understand and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.  In this interview, I address some of the dynamics of dealing in groups, particularly as a leader.

While the group presentation might not be your idea of the ideal weekend getaway, mastering its difficulties can transform you into a superb young executive, sought-after by recruiters.  Pledge yourself to understand group dynamics.  Learn the pinch points.  Listen to others.  Cultivate patience.

For more on how to deliver a powerful group presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Best Job Interview Tips for College Students

The Best of my Job Interview Tips for College StudentsOne of the most important job interview tips for college students that I give involves business presenting.

The job interview is likely the most important business presentation you will ever give.  This is because in the interview, you present for your most important client – you.

And the question I’m asked most frequently with respect to how you present your accomplishments is this:

“How do I talk about myself and my qualifications in a way that is honest and forthright and yet does not sound like braggadocio?”

The Best of My Job Interview Tips for College Students

Few people like to boast.  Instead folks go the opposite extreme of false humility.  But neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.

Instead, try this . . .

Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume.  Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.

Now, the recruiter is looking for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

The recruiter evaluates you for intangible qualities, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.  Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.

But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.

For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield.  Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake.  And so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.  But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”

This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.

Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.  The constitutes the most important of my many job interview tips for college students.

When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.

Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.

That’s it.

Digest that for a moment.

Yes, it really is that simple.  But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way.  It takes practice.

Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set.  In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality.  Translation:

     I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.

Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference.  Translation:

     I get along with a wide range of people.

Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak.  Translation:

     I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.

Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems.  Translation:

     I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.

For an Especially Powerful Interview

Can you see how it works?

You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task.  So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past.  Build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

The very best Job Interview Tips for College Students“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others.  I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being.  This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”

Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:

“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend.  That was pivotal.  It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss.  That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”

With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.

Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life.  And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them.

Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them.  When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them.  Do this, and you achieve an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on job interview tips for college students, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Story . . . Your Secret Weapon

Presentation StoryWe all believe that we should weave a business presentation story.

Sort of.

But most of us rarely do, and 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 Presentation Story?

A story is a narrative of events, either true or untrue, that appeals to the emotions more-so than the intellect.

Let me emphasize – the appeal is primarily to the emotions.  Here’s an example.

The 1995 legal thriller A Time to Kill is a superb storytelling film that exemplifies how a deep appeal to emotion and to the heart can overcome an appeal to logic and reason.

A Time to Kill is the story of the rape of a little girl and the subsequent killing of her rapists by a heartsick father and his trial for murder.  The story takes place in racially divided Mississippi and the interracial struggle for justice and understanding is the centerpiece of the narrative.

It is really several stories.  A young lawyer’s struggle, Jake (Matt McCanaughy).  A father’s struggle, Carl Lee Hailey (Samuel L. Jackson).  And a town’s struggle for its soul.

At the end of the film, Jake tells Carl that he’s going to lose the case.  That he should bargain with the prosecutor for a lesser charge to gain life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Carl rebukes his lawyer, Jake.  He urges him to “think like the jury.”

Know the Audience for Your Presentation Story

This is actually one of the keenest lessons on “know your audience” that I have ever witnessed.

“You’re one of the bad guys, Jake,” Carl says.  “That’s why I picked you.  You’re one of them white folk.  You think like them.  That’s why you can set me free.  Throw out all your ‘points of law’ and talk to them like one of them.”

How does Jake respond?

He responds with the Power of Presentation Story.

Literally.

Jake prepares a closing argument without his “points of law.”  He appeals to the emotions of the jury instead of their logic or sense of duty to the laws of man.  He appeals to their humanity, and to do this, he must tell a presentation story.

It must be the most compelling story of his young legal career.

Jake first apologizes to the jury for his ineptitude due to his inexperience.  He waves away any appeal to “points of law.”  He pauses.  Jake then places his hand in his pocket, and he gestures with his other hand . . . gently, firmly.

He approaches the jury box.  Simultaneously, he utters the magical words, almost like an incantation.

“Now I’m gonna tell you a story.”

His Words Transform the Courtroom

Everyone in the film leans forward.  The prosecutor.  The defendant.  The members of the jury.

All of them.  You feel yourself lean forward.  Perhaps you shift in your seat with expectation.

Why?

Because everyone loves a story.  A story that touches emotions.  A story that makes them laugh.

In this case, a sad and heinous story that makes them weep.

Why does Jake do this?  Because stories touch the emotions in ways that straight exposition cannot.  Jake wants the jury to feel, not just to think, and this scene of Jake pleading for his client’s life is a masterful demonstration of story’s power.

The armor we wear against fact and logic is porous and vulnerable to the gentle probing of a story.  As Jake weaves his spellbinding and horrible story of rape and trauma, the stolid men and women of the jury begin to crumble.  Eyes glisten.  Hard swallowing.

Even the most callous and racist man on the jury is affected by Jake’s tale.

Perhaps even you are moved by the heart-rending summation.

“Let me tell you a story.”

For more on how to tell a compelling corporate presentation story, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Six Most Powerful Words . . .

The six most powerful words are key to your presentation success
We in business are awash in great stories . . . use them in your presentations for especially powerful effect

Your business presentation begins to founder.

Despite your best efforts to energize the audience, to convey yourself in authentic and enthusiastic terms, to laser your talk with über focus . . . in spite of all of that, you can’t gain traction.

Here is when you reach into your quiver and pull out your Golden Arrow.

An arrow guaranteed to hit your target every time.

The Golden Arrow

When you find yourself adrift, pause thoughtfully, eye your audience with sincerity, and say this . . .

“Let me tell you a story.”

You immediately rivet attention on yourself.  Why?  Presentation Master J. K. Horner shares the reason with us from 1929:

Probably everyone has experienced the universal interest and attention which results in a dull and abstract lecture when the speaker says, ‘That reminds me of a story.’ Like a dog at the back door waiting for a bone, an audience will prick up its ears at the approach of the speaker with a story or illustration that arouses mental imagery.

Why?

Because such stories are concrete, the opposite of abstract, and tend to arouse pictures which vivify an idea, setting it out in relief with bold colors against a background of drab and hazy abstractions.

Six Most Powerful Words for Business Presentations

“Let me tell you a story” are the six most powerful words you can utter in a business presentation.  If your goal is to grip your audience, entertain them, persuade them, and move them to action, you always generate interest with these six most powerful words:  Let me tell you a story.

“Let me tell you a secret” is just as compelling, but when you think about it, it’s really the same storytelling device worded in slightly different fashion.

The story is a powerful communicative tool.  Let me say it again:  It puts incredible power in your hands, on your lips.

This power of story has been known for ages.  Stories are “windows that let the light in.”

And the story is an incredibly versatile tool.

Presentation Master Katherine Cather observed that its emotive effect is akin to what one finds in high art: “Because the story has power to awaken the emotions and to enlarge the range of experience, it is a tool of universal adaptability.  Its appeal is like that of music, sculpture, or painting.”

We live in the 21st Century age of dazzling kaleidoscopic multimedia.  Right now, a kindergartener has at his disposal more computing power in a laptop than did Neil Armstrong in his lunar module when he landed on the moon in 1969.

In such an age, why speak of an anachronism like “storytelling?”

Just this . . .

A Timeless and Powerful Tool for the 21st Century

Stories still serve as our main form of entertainment – we see and hear stories every day from many sources.

Newspapers are filled with “stories.”  Films, television shows, novels, even technical manuals regale us with stories.  You tell stories all the time.

Stories are as old as man and still hold fascination for us.

In an age of pyrotechnic special effects that boggle the mind, film producers have found that without a strong story populated with sharply drawn and sympathetic characters, the film flounders.  And fails.

Some stories are more interesting than others, of course.  But even the most pedestrian of tales keep our attention far better than dry exposition of facts delivered in a monotone.  Unlike straight exposition, stories appeal to the emotions.  This is the secret of their power.

And it is incredible power.

The Six Most Powerful Words

If you search for a verity in the human condition, a key that unlocks the power of persuasion, then this is it – the appeal to emotion.

Katherine Cather was a master storyteller of her generation, and her masterpiece written in 1925 captures the universal appeal of this mode of communication.  We seem to have left it behind in favor of cynicism and wry gimcrackery at one end of the scale and a barren “newspeak” at the other end.  Said Ms. Cather:

Human emotions are fundamentally the same in every country and in every period of history, regardless of the degree of culture or the color of the skin. Love and hate lie dormant in the human heart; likewise gratitude, and all the other feelings that move mortals to action. They manifest themselves according to the state of civilization or enlightenment of those in whose souls they surge, but the elemental urge, the motive that actuates men to right or wrong doing, is the same now as it was at the beginning of time.

The story has power to nurture any one of the emotions . . . . What is the secret of the power of either the spoken or written tale to shape ideals and fix standards? Because it touches the heart. It arouses the emotions and makes people feel with the characters whose acts make the plot. Mirth, anger, pity, desire, disdain, approval, and dislike are aroused, because the characters who move through the tale experience these emotions.

So use the story device to leaven your presentation with color and spice.  Hook your audience and enthrall them with the Six Most Powerful Words in the English language.

Remember that this secret is powerful because it hearkens back to an almost primal urge we have as humans to share experiences with each other, and this is the ultimate source of its appeal.

When you tap the power of story, you tap into a wellspring of history and practice as old as mankind itself.  So pull the Six Most Powerful Words from your quiver when you desperately need to hit your target.

Learn even more about the Six Most Powerful Words in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombies of Bad Presentation Tips

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

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

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

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

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Presentation Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Just stop.

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

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

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

But Bad Habits Die Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ZOMBIE #2     “Make eye contact.”

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

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

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

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

ZOMBIE #3     “Move around when you talk”

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

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

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

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

ZOMBIE #4     “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

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

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

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

ZOMBIE #5     “The numbers tell the story.”

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

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

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

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

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

ZOMBIE #6    “You have too many slides.”

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

Say what?  You counted them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Hate Presentations

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

You don’t hate presentations?

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

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

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

One in 255 Million?

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

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

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

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

Don’t hate presentations!

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

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

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

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

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

 2,500 Years of Presenting

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

Fair enough.

Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land.  Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.  Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .

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

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

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

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

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

So think deep.

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

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