You communicate far more with your face than you probably realize, so you should be aware of how expression in presentations can enhance or degrade your business presentation.
Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message. Yes, there is something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.
Look no further than the accompanying photo to absorb the lesson of how our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it.
A thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.
The problem of bad expression has plagued speakers for centuries. Some of our earliest writers on oratory lamented the poor expressive skills of the folks who take to the stage to speak.
Quintilian was a great Roman teacher of oratory in his time. He’s influenced many generations of public speakers ince the recovery of his classic manuscripts in the 15th Century.
Perhaps you’ve not heard of Quintilian? It’s time you did.
Expression in Presentation for 1,900 Years
Quintilian published his monumental Institutes of Oratory at the end of the 1st Century AD, and it continues as a powerfully influential treatise on presentations today. It’s rich with insight and practical instruction. Take this passage on expression:
[The teacher] will have to take care that the face of his pupil, while speaking, look straight forward; that his lips be not distorted; that no opening of the mouth in moderately distend his jaws. That his face be not turned up, or his eyes cast down too much, or his head inclined to either side. The face offends in various waysl. I have seen many speakers, whose eyebrows were raised at every effort of the voice. Those of others I have seen contracted. Those of some even disagreeing, as they turned up one towards the top of the head, while with the other the eye itself was almost concealed. To all these matters, as we shall hereafter show, a vast deal of importance is to be attached. For nothing can please which is unbecoming.
Would that our modern instructors of presentations would take a moment to share even the most modest of insights offered by great orators such as Quintilian. He remains relevant and incisive after 1,900 years. On the need for coordinated and thoughtful expression, and a great many other timeless techniques.
That’s staying power. And a heckuva personal brand.
And as he notes with respect to expression, nothing can please which is unbecoming. Your facial expression should reflect your spirit. It should reveal your heart and your soul, and if it does, you will be in no danger of appearing “unbecoming.”
Your face should transmit sincerity and earnestness consonant with your words. So I urge you in your presentations to smile often . . . frown sparingly . . . stare never . . . question occasionally . . . and show sincerity throughout.
Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?
Chatting in side conversations?
Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation? This is called the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.
The problem is probably you.
No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.
How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation
In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to engage your audience, an audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.
Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you. He reveals the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience. How to engage your audience for power and impact.
He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.
The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.
Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.
Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books. You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com
There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation. Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement. Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories. Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.
One of the greatest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.
His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, how to mesmerize it throughout the presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.
The Malcolm X Presentation
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye. As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.
And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage emerging. It’s sometimes explicit but most often emerges through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
A Source of Inspiration and Technique
Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.
With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience. You hear a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Put a stop to all of that nonsense with the “grabber” line, a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special. Not just another canned talk.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document. Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.
Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience. Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.
This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has captured his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, embraced his audience. He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
No Throat-clearing . . .
Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.
No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”
Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”
Straight to the point, and a bold point it is. See what comes next . . .
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.
And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
Has Malcolm studied his audience? Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?
Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.
For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience. Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk and ask yourself how he crafted it. And how it works.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.
In our battle to fight through the white noise of life to communicate with others, we often ignore the most powerful of weapons at our disposal – Presentation Passion.
Passion, emotion, earnestness, brio, energy.
Sure, we pay occasional homage to emotion and to “passion.”
But more often than not, it’s only lip service.
You don’t really believe this stuff, do you? Or maybe your fear of others’ judgments pushes out thoughts of investing your talks with something interesting.
We save our presentation passion for other activities. For our sports teams and our politics and, perhaps, religion. We separate our “real” selves from our work and from our “formal” exposition in front of an audience.
Maybe we construct a barrier for the audience, to prevent an audience from seeing our vulnerabilities. Perhaps we affect an air of nonchalance as a defensive mechanism.
Nonchalance is the Enemy
Regardless of the reason, by not investing ourselves in our presentation and in our narrative, we render ourselves less persuasive. If we purge our presentation passion, we are less effective, perhaps even ineffective.
Emotion is a source of speaker power. You can seize it. You can use it to great effect.
And you can learn to do this more easily than you imagine.
James Albert Winans was a Presenting Master early in the 20th century, and he offered this beautifully crafted description of passion’s power. Brilliant discovered words from 1915:
A speaker should feel what he says, not only to be sincere, but also to be effective. It is one of the oldest of truisms that if we wish to make others feel, we ourselves must feel. . . . We know we do not respond with enthusiasm to an advocate who lacks enthusiasm. And quite apart from response, we do not like speakers who do not seem to care. We like the man who means what he says.
Do you mean what you say? Do you even care? Or do you sleepwalk through your assignments? Reading from a note card, reading from the slides behind you, oblivious to why you are up there?
Now, one purpose of this counsel is not simply for you to display powerful emotions in service to a cause. You are not simply “being emotional” for its own sake. You want to evoke emotions in your audience. You want them to think, yes, but you also want them feel.
You want to establish a visceral connection with your audience.
Don’t Purge Presentation Passion
Sometimes it may seem as if you must purge all emotion from your presentations, especially your business presentations.
It’s as if you are instructed to behave like a robot under the guise of looking “professional” or “business-like.”
We can find that we respond too readily to these negative cues. We think that if A is “good,” then twice as much of A is twice as good. And three times as much of A is even better.
And without presentation passion, our business presentations suffer.
The Indifferent Presenter?
So, let’s accept right now that emotion and professionalism are not exclusive of each other. Conversely, shun indifference.
The opposite of earnestness is indifference. An indifferent man cares no more for one thing than for another. All things to him are the same; he does not care whether men around him are better or worse. . . . There are other opposites to earnestness besides indifference. Doubt of any kind, uncertainty as to the thought or to the truth, a lack of conviction, all these tend to destroy earnestness.
You know the indifferent man or woman, delivering a presentation that obviously means nothing to him or her. Perhaps you’ve done this. Haven’t we all at one time or another?
Unknowing of emotion, believing that we cannot show we care?
Do you just go through the motions? I understand why you might cop this attitude. Layer upon layer of negative incentives weigh down the college student. Adding to your burden is the peer pressure of blasé. It’s perceived as “uncool” to appear to care about anything, to actually do your best. Certainly to do your best on schoolwork of any kind.
Understand from this moment that this is wrong. No, it is not a matter of opinion . . . it is not a “gray area.” It is incontrovertibly wrong.
If you don’t care, no one else will. And if you don’t care, you will lose to the presenter who does care.
Lose the job you want to someone else.
Lose the contract you want to someone else.
Lose the promotion you want to someone else.
Lose the influence you want to someone else.
It’s Time to Win with Presentation Passion
Does this seem too “over the top” for you? Of course it does!
That’s because you’ve likely been conditioned to look askance at the kinds of rich, lusty pronouncements that embrace emotion rather than scorn it.
And that is a major part of the B-School Presentation Problem.
When was the last time a business professor criticized you for showing too much emotion in your presentation?
Have you ever heard anyone criticized for it? For giving a presentation with too much feeling? Or for being too interesting?
For actually making you care? For actually being memorable for more than a few moments?
Now, think for a moment of the incredible power that might be yours if you embrace emotion and presentation passion when no one else does.
The wonder and delight of this is that it is entirely within your grasp to do so.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.
Bad business presentations can be a career-killer. Of course, no one will tell you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give. them.
And yet, they are everywhere.
Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago. I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate. By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
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.
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.
“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.