Tag Archives: business story

No Business Scrooge Here


No such thing as business scrooge
When asked if the university stifles writers, Flannery O’Conner quipped that the university unfortunately doesn’t stifle enough of them.

Indeed.

My naturally autocratic tendencies, which have held me back in the literary world for years, compel me constantly to cast a pall on the enthusiasms of my young charges.

To stifle the urge to ponderous first-person narratives sourced from an uncomfortable chair at an outdoor bistro on the Champs-Élysées.

To replace it with clarity and precision and vision.

At this time of year, such endeavor might be considered . . . Scrooge-like.

But no.  You won’t find Scrooge in the Business School.  There is no such thing as a Business Scrooge.

Scrooge is commonplace, but not here.

It’s Time for Mind-Clearing

This is about shaking off the bad habits learned over in the liberal arts college . . . about clearing the mind . . . scattering gnat-like notions to the winds . . .

Accordingly, as a business school professor, I urge my students to dispense with their fanciful flights picked up in undisciplined liberal arts courses.  To dispense with the bad and the ugly . . . and to embrace the good.

In class, my students look at me, expectantly.  Yes, we’re here – in class – now:

“You remember those idyllic scenes conjured by your imagination, back when you were young and unjaded?  High school seniors . . . or even freshmen here in university?  When college had its sheen?”

I roam the floor, the space in front of the rows of desks with their internet connections.

“Remember those scenes of professors and students out on the lawn under a late summer sun, students sitting cross-legged, perhaps chewing on blades of grass?  Your kindly bearded professor, a tam resting upon his head, gesturing grandly while reciting something beautiful?

“Perhaps a passage from Faulkner?  Perhaps a trope from Camus. Or verse from an angry beat poet?  The occasional angry finger-point at the business school with all its philistinism?  The house of Business Scrooge?”

One student speaks up.

“I saw a group out theThere's no Business Scrooge . . . but plenty of pinched brows in liberal artsre last spring!  Why can’t we do that?”

“Because it’s winter now, of course.  But wouldn’t that be nice,” I respond.

Nods around the room.

Broad smiles.

“No, it would not be nice,” I say.  “That’s not genuine.  It’s not authentic.  Just actors performing for touring visitors and posing for publicity shots.  College isn’t like that.  There is no authentic college of your dreams waiting for you to discover.  Remember the lesson of Oliver Wendell Douglas.”

“Who?”

“Oliver . . . Wendell . . . Douglas.”

I’m concerned at this lack of essential preparatory knowledge of the modern college student at a major university.

Search for the Authentic

“The star of Green Acres, the greatest television show of all time.  Don’t you watch Nickelodeon or TV Land?  See Youtube.”

Green Acres.  I explain.

It was really an allegory, a metaphor for our time.

Mr. Douglas was forever in search of the authentic.  He had an idyllic conception of the rural experience.  He abandoned his big city lawyer’s life in a quest for authentic Americana.

Instead, Mr. Douglas found a bizarre world populated by characters that could have been confected by Stephen King.

Hank Kimball.The business scrooge myth

Mr. Haney.

Sam Drucker.

Eb.

Frank Ziffle.

Everyone was an actor in a surreal drama staged for the benefit of Mr. Douglas’s dreams of the authentic rural life.

The unifying theme of the show was Sam Drucker’s general store, where many of the crucial insights were revealed.  Rural folk did not use oil lamps, “’cause we all got ’lectricity.”  The barrel in Sam Drucker’s general store was filled with plastic pickles.

The store was a magical place for Mr. Douglas, a crossroads for many of the strange characters who nettled him so naughtily.  For the most part, they gave Mr. Douglas exactly what he wanted to see, because in the immortal words of Sam Drucker:  “City folks seem to expect it.”

The idyllic outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature-scene.

Students seem to expect it.

High Expectations

Expectations that inevitably collapse under the weight of real challenges, real work . . . and in the process, a true generosity of spirit takes root.

“I suppose that no one in this classroom has seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan?  And if you have, I’m betting you completely missed the theme of Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy of Utilitarianism expressed by Spock throughout the film.  Never mind the obvious references to Melville’s Moby Dick?”

“Is this class Global Strategic Management, Professor?”

Again, those naturally autocratic tendencies assert themselves.

“This class is what it isBusiness Scrooge?,” not unmindful of the evasiveness.  “And it is not about outdoor-on-the-grass-communing-with-nature instruction.  It’s about  . . authentic.”

I snap my fingers.

“How many people here believe in this . . . this muse?”

Silence.  No movement.

“You know.  This writing trope.  This muse.

Anyone ever heard of this muse?  Don’t hide from me.  I know you were exposed to this . . . this muse over in that heinous liberal arts college.”

Hands begin to go up.  Cautious hands.  More hands than I expect.  More hands than are comfortable.

Time to disabuse them, time to explode their fantasies.

“There is no muse.”

A simple declarative sentence, but with the unsentimental power and imperious grandeur of a Thomas Carlyle proclamation.

Puzzled looks.  A few of them distraught.  Then, anger.

“But there is.  There’s a muse . . . there is!”

“Humbug!  There is no muse!  Get that Birkenstock notion out of your callow head.”

“But my English prof said—”

“Your English prof is teaching because she cannot earn a living foisting this muse-myth on folks who live and breathe and work and play in the real world.  People who build bridges, harvest corn, make tires, feed hormones to beef, fly you home over holiday break, and who serve you every day at the 7-ll.  People who pay taxes and die.”

Gasp.

The myth of business scrooge

“You must know only one thing.”

My voice drops low, just above a whisper, and I lean forward.

Pause.

“You must know only one thing.”

The students sense something profound coming.  They won’t be disappointed.

“Yes, there is a muse . . . I am your muse.”

I smile.  A benevolent smile.  I see several people actually taking notes, writing this down.

The Muse Whispers “There is No Business Scrooge”

“I am on your shoulder whispering to you in those moments when you lack inspiration.  I am your solution to the blank computer screen.”

My voice rises, I lean back and spread my hands wide, just as I have seen evangelicals do when working a crowd.

“I am the muse, the answer to your writer’s block and the source of your inspiration.”

Titters of laughter ripple through the room, and I scowl.

“You think I’m joking . . . that this is a joke?”

I pace like a panther, my hands clasped behind my back.  I stalk the room, the entire space in front of the classroom and right in front of the giant PowerPoint projection screen.

I stop and face them, squaring my shoulders and flexing my jaw.

“I want you to remember that one thing when you’re up at night and time is trickling by, and you have an assignment but no ideas and no hope . . . .”

They are silent, and they watch me.

The Incantation . . .

“I will perch on your shoulder, and I will whisper to you just four words.  I want you to remember those four words.  Just four little words – just five little syllables.  They are magic words!  An incantation!  A mantra to warm you on those cold nights bereft of imagination, as you trek that barren wasteland of words without order, without discipline, without a point.”

I have their attention now.  They are rapt.

Will I win them over this time?  Can I break through?  Can I help them make the leap from soaring idealism to mundane responsibility?

“Remember these words:  Love … the … Value … Chain!”

Groans.

They’ve heard this before.  They sound disappointed.  Cheated.

So many fail to see the beauty of disaggregating the firm into its functional components.  The analytic precision it provides, the world of discovery that it opens up!  So many stop short of making that final connection . . . except this time . . .

“I love the value chain, Professor!”

“Really?”

I’m skeptical, jaded.  I search for signs of duplicity.  But detect only enthusiasm.

“Which part of the value chain do you feel most strongly about?”

“Since I’m chronologically oriented, Professor, I’m partial to Inbound Logistics!”

There is a general murmuring and uneasiness in the class.  Inbound logistics?

I nod sagely.  “That’s fine, MBusiness Scrooges. Zapata.  It’s okay to privilege one segment of the value chain over another, if it gives you the key to identifying competitive advantage!”

A hand shoots up and a voice cries out before I can acknowledge it.

Operations!  That’s the ticket for me.”

And yet another!

After sale Service!” a voice in the back calls out.  “Professor, Customer Relationship Management has a symmetry and logic about it that outstrips anything we touched on in my basic philosophy courses!”

The dam had finally burst, and the classroom buzzed with talk of core competencies, competitive analysis, environmental scans, core products, strategy formulation processes, Five Forces analysis, and competitive advantage!

They are convinced – finally – that strategy and value chain analysis can be an art.

I even say positive things about accounting and accountants, observing that there is a bit of art and flair and imagination necessary to produce a product desired by the employer . . . or patron.  Think of Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel for his patron.

The Value Chain!  Inbound logistics, Operations, Outbound logistics, Sales and Marketing, and Service.

If ever there were a time for sentimentality and outright weeping, this was it!  For this is the key to wealth creation and the bettering of people’s lives in a thousand different ways.  It’s our cornucopia, the secret that has propelled civilization from the Renaissance to the Age of Google.

But then . . .

But then, one of the most staid literary conventions of all time reared its ugly head.  Yes, one of the worst literary devices known to fictioneers.

I woke up.

I awoke from a dream.

A Sweet, Impossible Dream

It was nothing but a sweet dream.  Students excited at the prospect of writing a paper on value chain analysis . . . on identifying a company’s core competency and developing a strategic plan to gain sustained competitive advantage based on that competency . . . students who loved the value chain . . . who could see the art and creativity demanded of the accountant and financial manager.

Who could see the beauty in efficient operations management.

Who would strive for efficiency because it was the right thing to do!

It was all a sweet dream.

cruel dream.

I awoke to a cold, winter world where idealistic students still sleepwalk and irresponsible students still party and wiseacre students still wisecrack with a tiresome world-weariness and faux freshness.  Who write with an undisciplined lackadaisical casualness that drives me to distraction.

It is the little things that do this.

I close my eyes and maybe . . . perhaps I can recapture a bit of the magic.  Recapture the dream.

I look up, startled to find a group of students gathered round my desk after I have dismissed class.  They are heading home in the cold for their winter break.

“What’s this?”

“A gift, Professor.”

There is no such thing as the Business Scrooge“Thank you.”

“Won’t you open it now?”

I peel the wrap away in a crinkle of coated Christmas paper.  It’s a book.  A copy of Peter Drucker’s Management.

It’s a first edition, and I feel my eyes tearing up.

“We know how much you like Green Acres.  And Drucker’s general store.”

Smiles abound.  I cock an eyebrow, as I am wont to do.

“You do know that it wasn’t Peter Drucker’s store?  It was Sam Drucker’s store.”

“Does it really matter, Professor?”

“In the grand scheme of things, I suppose that it does not.  Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas!”

Why do I offer a hearty Merry Christmas instead of something ecumenically blasé?

Well, because I can.  Because I’m authentic.  Because I have authoritarian tendencies.

Because I offer others a piece of my world.

And I heartily accept Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Season’s Greetings from anyone and everyone else who cares to send ’em my way.

Now, let me go read Sam Drucker’s book on managing a general store in Hooterville.

No business scrooge here.  I’m such an idealist.

 

The Most Important Point of Your Presentation

Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point
Powerful Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations, and your story should embody your presentation’s Most Important Point.

Stories are powerful tools of communication that can capture complex ideas in a few telling strokes.  They involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

They can serve you well and confer personal competitive advantage over your entire business presenting career.  And they can convey your Most Important Point better in masterful fashion.

But It Takes Practice

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We become 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 story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!  Let this be core of your story and weave your tale 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 Most Important Point

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 support your most important point, 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 decided to 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.

For more on storytelling to convey your Most Important Point in your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Best Presentation Books for 2013!

One of the Best Presentation books of 2013
Best Presentation Books

It occurred to me to compile a list of the best presentation books to recommend to readers of this blog.

It’s really an obvious exercise, isn’t it?

“Best of” lists are always popular.

To recommend books chock full of presentation wisdom to hone our skill set.  Great advice to lift our presentation to what we all sometimes refer to as “the next level.”

And then the equally obvious thought occurred to me – that list already exists.

The List of Best Presentation Books

In fact, I’m certain that several lists are already out there making the rounds.

And so I do the next best thing in this space . . .

I offer you a list of the 35 best presentation books compiled and judged by giants in the field . . . (and I offer my own view of what I consider to be the top three on the list).  Yes, you can learn something about business presenting from a book.  Quite a bit, actually.

The trick is to find the right book.

My Top Three Best Presentation Books

My personal favorites are Presenting to Win, by Jerry Weissman and Slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, The Story Factor, by Annette Simmons.

These three books, for me, capture the spirit, the art, and the craft of especially powerful business presenting.

They advocate change.  You must change the way your deliver your presentations in ways that, at first, may discomfort you.  But they are changes that you must accept to become an especially powerful business presenter.

Best Presentation Books for 2013
Best Presentations Books . . . this one on PowerPoint Slides

The Story Factor, in particular, is strong in transforming your presentations into sturdy narratives that capture an audience and propel your listeners to action.  Consult Annette Simmons for deep learning about the power of storytelling.

A fourth book does not appear on the list.  Actually, it does, but only in a modified form.  This is Dale Carnegie’s The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking.  This is an “updated” version of his classic from mid-way the last century Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business.  In my view, the update strips much useful material from the book, and so I prefer the original.

You can find dozens of copies of the original classic for sale on ebay.  This, in my opinion, is the most useful public speaking book ever penned.

Best Presentation books
Best Presentation Book on Storytelling

If I were forced to choose one . . . this would be it.  And My Book?

My own just-published book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, does not appear on this superb list of 35 books.  And so here I offer the most generous and self-aggrandizing interpretation possible . . . it just hasn’t circulated among the cognoscenti nearly enough to have created a buzz-worthy impact.

I know that you, as do I, eagerly await its appearance on next year’s “Best of” list.

Until then, enjoy the creme-de-la-creme of the best presentation books as exemplified on the 2012 list!

 

Telling Your Story for Personal Competitive Advantage

Story for Personal Competitive AdvantageOne of the most important business presenting occasions you face in your career is the job interview.

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?”

This is a reasonable concern, and if you can find a way to do so, then you will have acquired an especially powerful personal competitive advantage.

No Need to Boast . . .

Few people like to boast, instead going to the opposite extreme of false humility.  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 searching for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

Tell your story for personal competitive advantage

The recruiter is evaluating you for other things, 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.

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

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 and build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

“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 . . . you will have achieved an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on crafting a winning story to gain personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Presentation Story MIP

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

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

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

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

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

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

MIP Permeates Your Presentation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“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.

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.

WIIFY: Know Your Audience

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

WIIFY – What’s In It For You?

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

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

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

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

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

Know Your Audience = WIIFY?

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

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

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

WIIFY?  Be a Hero!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find what motivates them.

Find what shames them.

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

Build your story with WIIFY in mind.

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

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.

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.