A pestilence infests the business landscape, and you’ve seen it dozens of times – the bad business presentation.
You see it in the average corporate meeting, after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.
While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do. This is particularly true when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.
If they don’t know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss professionally not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.
Grafted to the Lectern
The speaker stands behind a lectern.
The speaker grips the lectern on either side.
The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.
You quickly recognize that the lectern serves as a crutch, and the average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.
Many business examples illustrate this. You’ve probably witnessed many of them yourself. Take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.
I have relayed this video of Mr. Kent before, but it bears repeating since it embodies so much of what is wrong with corporate presenting, both explicitly and implicitly.
And why so little improvement is possible if we attempt to mimic corporate drones.
Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions when he is not speaking to a group. But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent.
He reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.
He leans on the lectern.
He hunches uncomfortably.
He squints and reads his speech from a text in front of him and, when he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.
He wears glasses with little chains hanging from either side of the frame, and these dangle and sway and distract us, drawing our gaze in hypnotic fashion.
This Video rated PG-13
In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University in which he begins badly with a discursive apology. He then grips the lectern as if it might run away.
He does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and he hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech.
Have a look . . .
Successful C-Suite businesspeople, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so. No one will tell them so, because there’s no upside in doing it.
Why would you tell your boss, let-alone the CEO, that he needs improvement in presenting?
Such criticism cuts perilously close to the ego.
Many business leaders believe their own press clippings, and they invest their egos into whatever they do so that it becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves.
They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.
Such as business presenting.
Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman.
But he is a poor speaker. He is a poor speaker with great potential.
And this is tragic. Many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates for their businesses.
Spread of the Bad Business Presentation
But as it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.
Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect.
Those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors. We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.
Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done: “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”
You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, reads from barely relevant slides, then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.
Who could blame you now if you believe that this is how it should be done?
This is, after all, the unfortunate standard.
But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .
You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter and gain incredible personal competitive advantage.
A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.
For more on especially powerful business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.