Tag Archives: confidence

Wrestle Your Voice into Submission

Do you have a case of Bad Voice?

Several months ago, I here asked the rhetorical question “Do you have a case of Bad Voice.”

Rather than a mere provocation, the question is real and addresses one of the most pervasive problems in business presenting today.

It’s a problem that goes unrecognized and, as such, remains a debilitating burden for many people who could otherwise be superb speakers.

Your voice.

We tend to think that our voices are off-limits when it comes to changing, let alone improving. We believe our voice is “natural” when, in fact, it is likely the product of undisciplined and random influences – parents, peers, television, celebrities, radio, occasional mimicry.

Voices Often Develop on their Own . . . Chaotically

Many influences in our culture have, in the last decade or so, urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.  Thus, voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.

So what’s a “bad voice?”

Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?  Is it pinched?  Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone?  High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant. Pinched. Nasal. Raspy.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you. Focus on the voices. Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.

Or the sound of air rasping across vocal cords.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.  A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

A voice from reality television.  A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

Take this person called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.  This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain.  Their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication and embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

But . . . my voice is “natural!”

If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.  Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.

He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse.

Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”  You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.  Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles and coordination.

I’m sure you see the absurdity in this.

The same is true when it comes to your voice.  Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.  It’s not.

Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice.  This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as who-knows what.

This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.  You are holding yourself back.  It is also a manifestation of fear.  Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:

“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation. It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”

What is your voice but a means of communication?  Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing?  Other than communicating?  And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.

It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.  Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most effective voice you possibly can?  So that you might communicate most effectively?

Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?

For more on developing an especially powerful voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Do We Hate Presentations?

Business School is where you can develop personal competitive advantage to last a lifetime

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

But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this now.

One in 260 Million?

Of an estimated 260 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.

I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.

Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow.

I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.  But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.

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

Business school students and young executives need credible and direct resources on presenting  – solid advice and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”

In short, you want to know what works and why.

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

You want to know what is a matter of opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.

You want to know how to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

Here you find answers here to the most basic of questions.

  • What is this beast – the business presentation?
  • How do I stand? Where do I stand?
  • What do I say? How do I say it?
  • How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
  • How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
  • Where do I begin, and how?
  • How do I end my talk?
  • What should I do with my hands?
  • How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
  • How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
  • How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
2,500 Years of Presenting

Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet.

You may not like the answers.  You may disagree with the answers.  Fair enough.  Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.

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

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

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

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

If business presenting piques your interest as a keen route to personal competitive advantage, then I encourage you to consult my book, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Stop Self-Sabotage with Power Words

Power Words

We should strive to infuse our presentations with energy by using positive power words, but instead we sabotage ourselves in our presentations more often than we imagine.

Negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

I hate presentations,” is the negative phrase I hear most frequently, and it undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.  How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a porous, spongy foundation?

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.

We envision failure, humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.

Envision Success Instead

All of this negative self-talk can translate into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.

Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.

The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.  How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?

Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at the very least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we may have any chance of succeeding at business presenting.

Think Like an Athlete – Use Power Words

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition.  I work often with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of defeat?

power words -- the key to powerful presentationsQuite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.  Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

In my experience, it’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

You lace your presentation with power words to inspire both you and your audience:  confidence . . . capability . . . thought . . . vision . . . future . . . focus . . . competence . . . strong . . . ability . . . know-how . . . victory . . . success.

When we take the stage, we put our minds on what we intend, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism. With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.

More on Preparation and the Three Ps in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret # 6 – “Slob Cool” . . . isn’t

Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your business presentation audience to the realm of how you appear to your audience.

Likewise, let’s immediately dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like – it’s the message that counts.” In a word . . . no.

This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage by adopting the exact opposite perspective right now. I’d wager that most folks your age won’t, particularly those stuck in liberal arts, for better or worse. Much more dramatic to strike a pose and deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?

Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations, both in public and in private job interviews, and gain a superior competitive advantage.

Here is the bottom line. Your appearance matters a great deal, like it or not, and it is up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and the message we want to send. “Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may – but it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.

Is that “fair?”

Sure, it’s fair.

It certainly is fair! You may simply not like it. It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.

You’re on display in front of a group of buyers. They want to know if your message is credible. Your appearance conveys important cues to your audience. It conveys one of two chief messages, with very little room to maneuver between them.

First, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  Sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .

or . . .

Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  Slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.

Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job. That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend. But you blew the deal. Without even knowing it.

Think. How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard, careless appearance? How many opportunities pass you by? How many great connections do you forfeit?

Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket, but recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.

Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message. So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose. For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit. Simple.

Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You. Both of these books are worth the purchase price and are filled with the right kind of advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.

For more on developing especially powerful personal competitive advantage, consult my own book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Secret # 1 — Stance

You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation.

You achieve this goal with a number of techniques, all working simultaneously and in harmony.

Those techniques comprise our backpack full of Seven Secrets.

Your first technique – or secret – is fundamental to projecting the image of strength, competence, and confidence. This first technique is assumption of the proper stance.

Let me preface by assuring you that I do not expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk.  But the risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it is impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”

Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing.

How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception? What is your “bearing?”  How do you stand before a crowd when you speak?  Have you ever consciously thought about it?

How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others.  It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.

Whether we like this is not the point.  The point is that we are constantly signaling others nonverbally.

A message is being sent – you are sending a message to those around you, and those around us will take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.

What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400.  Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting.  If so, just what is the message you unconsciously send people?

Have you even thought about it?  Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?

Seize control of your communication this instant.  There is no reason not to.  And there are many quite good reasons why you should.

Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern.  They form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.  They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.

This has always been true; speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”

Defeat? Ennui?

Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?

Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui?  Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?  Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?

Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well.  Those effects can be positive or negative.

Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well.  The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.

But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.  There is another effect, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.

It is this:  Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience.  It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you.  Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.

Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness.  We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.

It cripples us.

Your emotions affect your body language.  They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

Reverse the Process

But . . .

You can reverse the process.

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.

You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic.  Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow.  Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.

Skeptical?

A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology.  It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange.  Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:

Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous.  Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . .  [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.

Much more recently, a Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.  Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:

[P]osing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence.  You actually feel more powerful.  This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Assume the posture of confidence.  Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing.  Square your shoulders. Affix a determined look on your face.  Speak loudly and distinctly.  In short, let your actions influence your emotions.

Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

So what is a confident posture?  Let’s begin with a firm foundation.

Foundation

For any structure to endure, we must build on strength.  And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations. You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability.  The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.

Think first of the confident man.

To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident man must take a conscious effort to strike such a pose.  Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a man, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.

That is, if he affected the confident pose and maintained it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.

Think as well of the confident woman.

How does the confident woman’s demeanor different from that of the confident man?  Virtually not at all.  The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.

Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language. It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.

This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation.  It serves as the foundation for everything else to follow.

For elaboration on Stance and the other six secrets of business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business Presenting.

Get Rid of Presentation Stage Fright

presentation stage fright
The audience won’t bite . . . in fact, 99 percent want you and your business presentation to succeed

After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.

When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.

It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.

Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.

It’s almost paradoxical.  When we have it, it’s invisible.  When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.

Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.

Or so we think.  Let’s back into this thing called confidence.

Take the Trip Test

Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up?  You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .

. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking?  Do you feel shame of some sort?  If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others?  Even strangers.

Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?

Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.

Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.

This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent.  It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.

Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.

Presentation Stage Fright Begone!

For many, the audience is your bogeyman.  For some reason you fear your audience.  But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.

And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.

They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.

Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed.  They want to be entertained.  Please entertain us, they think.

They are open to whatever new insight you can provide.  And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers.  They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.

And so confidence is yours for the taking.

Seize Confidence for Yourself

Confidence is not a thing.

It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought.  It’s a state of mind, isn’t it?  It’s a feeling.  When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.

What does it really mean to be confident?  Can you answer that direct question?  Think about it a moment.

See?  We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action.  Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.Presentation Stage Fright

Is it certitude?

Is it knowledge?

Is it bravery?

Is it surety?

Think of the times when you are confident.  You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument.  It could be an activity.

Why are you confident?

Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty.  For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful.  That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.

It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience.  It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.

This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages.  It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you.  And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.

George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .

The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness.  To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake.  Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously.  Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.

The solution to presentation stage fright?  How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?

Reduce your uncertainty.

Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps:  Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.

They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement.  They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.

Principles, Preparation, Practice

The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.

Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.

When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty.  You are possess the facts.  You are prepared.  You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice.  You rehearse.

There is, of course, an element of uncertainty.  There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.

By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.

So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest.  Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.

And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.

For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:

Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel.  For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . .  But do not fear them.  They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck.  They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand.  . . .  Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.

And banish stage fright forever.

Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.

How to Give an Interesting Presentation . . . Put it in Context!

Give an interesting presentation every time
Give an interesting presentation by broadening your context

How can you enrich your presenting in unexpected and wonderful ways so to give an interesting presentation regardless of your audience?

To deepen and broaden your perspective so that it encompasses that proverbial “big picture” we forever hear about?

You must become a 3-D presenter.

Now, this means several things, including how you utilize the stage to your utmost advantage, but a major component is the exercising of your mind.

And I talk about that here.

Three D Presentations

It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories.  Yes, it’s a process of becoming learned in new and wondrous ways.

Think of it as enlarging your world.  You increase your reservoir of usable material.

And you’re able to connect more readily with varied audiences.

You accomplish this in a pleasant and ongoing process – by forever keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area.  By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.

Expand Your World

And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily and incrementally.

By doing something daily, however brief, that stretches your mind or allows you to make a connection that otherwise might have escaped you.

By reading broadly in areas outside your specialty, and by rekindling those interests that excited and animated you early in life.

Read a book outside your specialty.  Have lunch with a colleague from a different discipline.

give an interesting presentation
How to give an interesting presentation? Expand your Context.

Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.

We sometimes cloister ourselves in our discipline, our job, our tight little world, forgetting that other fields can offer insights.  For myself, while teaching in the Fox School’s strategic management department this semester, I am also sitting in on a course sponsored by the History Department’s Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy – “Grand Strategy.”

What a leavening experience this promises to be: Thucydides, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Lincoln, and many others . . .

How will this help in preparing my own classes?  At this point, I can’t be certain.

And that’s the beauty and potential of it.

I do know that it will enrich my store of knowledge so that my own presentations continue  in 3-dimensional fashion, connected to the “real world” – textured, deep, and richer than they otherwise would have been.

It will do the same for yours, and it will likely aid in your developing into an especially powerful presenter, imbued with professional presence.

For more on how to give interesting business presentations, click HERE.

Develop Your Voice for Presentation Power

Develop your voice for advantage
Develop your voice for personal competitive advantage

The suggestion to “develop your voice” can anger some people.

Many people are fearful or resistant to adjusting their voices, for all sorts of odd reasons.

They think it’s “cheating.”  Or “unnatural.”

They revere “spontaneity” and believe that their voices are, well . . . natural.

More than likely, they have neglected the development of their voices.

Time to Develop Your Voice

For some reason, folks who neglect voice development now revere this product of their benign neglect as somehow . . . natural.

As if there is some far-off judge who weighs and measures the “naturalness” of voice.

As if there is some kind of purity benchmark or standard.

But there is no such standard for “naturalness.”

Only pleasant voices.  And unpleasant voices.  And lots of voices in-between.

Moreover, the variety of voices, from bad to good, has been with us eternally.  George Rowland Collins noted in 1923 that

“Nasality, harshness, extremes of pitch, and other unnatural vocal qualities distract the audience.  They impede communication; they clog the speaker’s transmission.  They hinder the persuasion of any audience, be it one or one thousand.”

There is nothing holy or sacrosanct or “natural” about the way you speak now.  It is not “natural” in any meaningful sense of the word, as if we are talking about breast augmentation versus the “natural” thing.

Your voice today is “natural” only in the sense that it is the product of many factors over time.  Most of these factors are unintended.  Negative factors as well as positive.  Factors you’ve probably never thought of.

So in that sense, why would you have any problem with changing your voice intentionally, the way that you want it changed?  Why not develop your voice in ways that you choose?

There is no “Natural Voice”

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad; and there are all sorts of voices in-between.  You can develop your voice to become a first-rate speaker, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Let me share with you some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of ignorance and neglect.

They eat away at your credibility.  They are easily corrected, but first you should recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power and credibility.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Verbal Grind – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word. Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his verbal grinding into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  It is manifested by a crackle and grating on the last word or syllable, as if the air supply is being pinched off.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  Almost as if a dog is growling in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

Develop your Voice for Advantage
Develop your Voice for Power and Impact

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.  The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.  It’s an affectation.  People don’t ever talk this way.  People do not talk like this, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Verbal Up-tic – This is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal” or “uptalk.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  It radiates weakness and uncertainty.  It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.  Sentence after sentence in succession is spoken as if questions.

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

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

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

In United States popular culture, Meghan McCain, the daughter of Senator John McCain, has made a brisk living off her incessant verbal up-ticking.  Listen for it in any interview you stumble upon.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them.  The last half is to consciously develop your voice for power and impact.

Interested in more on how to develop your voice?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Presentation Passion?

Presentation Passion“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days, but it sits at the core of what we call presentation passion.

The word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful business presentation.

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

What was true then is surely true today.

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

Showing Too Much Interest?

If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your business presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious.

Better to pretend you don’t care.

So the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging.  No presentation passion for you!  And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else.

For your friends, for your sports contests, for your facebook status updates, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .

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

Leave Mediocrity to Others and Embrace Presentation Passion

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

Wrap your material in you.

This means giving a business presentation that no one else can give.  A presentation that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core.

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

In the process, you craft your persona, your powerful personal brand that differentiates you from the great hoi-polloi of undistinguished speakers.  And you achieve remarkable personal competitive advantage.

Embrace your topic with earnestness, and you will shine as you deliver an especially powerful business presentation.

For more on the power presentation passion, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Business Presenter

Business Presenters are powerfulBefore computers.

Before television and radio.

Before loudspeakers.

Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker – the earliest “business presenter.”

The Business Presenter

Public speaking was considered close to an art form.  Some did consider it art.

Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people:  Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors.  The first saved your soul.  The second took your money.  The third saved you from prison.  The fourth transported you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.

Other professions utilized the proven skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen.

These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking.  To suck the life from “business presenting.”

Skills of the Masters

The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over centuries.  The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument.  The knew the power of words.

In fact, Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory.  He filled his presentations with the “wrong” ideas.

In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us.  We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to exalt our presentation message.  And yet the result has been something different.

Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have supplanted them.  Each advance in technology creates another barrier between the business presenter and the audience.

PowerPoint Can Cripple the Business Presenter
Business Presenter
Become a Powerful Business Presenter

Today’s presenters have fastened hold of the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation.

The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear.  The focus has shifted from the business presenter to the fireworks.  This has led to such a decline that the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”

And in many cases, this is exactly what happens.  Almost as if the business presenter becomes a member of the audience.

PowerPoint and props are just tools.  That’s all.  You should be able to present without them.

And when you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.

In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university.  Some of them give fabulous presentations.  Most give adequate presentations.

They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.

On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income

Waiters and waitresses are business presenters.

For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show.  The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.

Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress.  They view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard.

Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.  Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.

As a waiter, ask yourself:  “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”

Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers.  You can become a superb business presenter.  In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.

I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening.  I do mean taking your job seriously.  Learn your temporary profession’s rules and craft a business presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity.  Display enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions that make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.

The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience

Yes, heroic.  Every business presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.  Great business presenters evoke a sense of heroism in customers.  Do this, and you win every time.

I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward.  Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation. The reverse is likewise true.

The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical.  The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different.

But the principles that inform the great business presenter are the same.

And so, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking.  Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold.

Adopt the habits of the masters.  Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the great business presenters who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.

Their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful business presentations.

For more on becoming a great business presenter, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.