Personal presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.
I should say potential power.
For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited in a shameless squandering of personal competitive advantage.
Forfeiture of Personal Competitive Advantage
That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit. Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.
What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal. It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions. It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice. It’s what they sense on a subliminal level. That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.
Here, Paulson has described the impact of Personal Presence.
It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message. A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.
Here is where you become part of the message and bring into play your unique talents and strengths.
Naked Information Overflow
But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow and pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, communicating with and persuading an audience.
Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background, into that indistinguishable mass of grays. And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.
Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena, and they would just as soon compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.
Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage. You forfeit an especially powerful opportunity.
The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker. That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public. Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.
It becomes a bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.
Rise of the Automatons
Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool. Faded is the notion of the skilled public speaker. Gone is the especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.
Absent is Quintilian’s ideal orator: “The good man, well-spoken.”
We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.
This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter, in command of the facts and delivering compelling arguments using all the tools at his or her disposal.
This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.
Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd. Or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™
Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the personal competitive advantage it provides?
What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?
Oftentimes, we don’t consider that our physical appearance transmits messages to those around us . . . Most certainly, the presentation appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.
This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.
Your presentation appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message to your audience.
You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your appearance transmits. And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.
Are you the “Ageless Rebel” Battling the “Man”?
What’s you message? That you don’t care?
That you’re confident?
That you’re attentive to detail?
That you care about your dignity, your physique?
Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?” If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.
That price comes in the form of losing competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.
Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that their appearance conveys. Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.
Presentation Appearance as Your Destiny
You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence. That conveys a powerful professional presence.
This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.
“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad. The message received is likely much different: “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”
The best public speakers understand the power of appearance and mesh their dress with their message.
Take President Barack Obama, for example. He is a superb dresser, as are all presidents. On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.
And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”
Politics, Schmolitics . . . He’s a Sharp Dresser
You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up. Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, was also a sharp dresser.
The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.
Here are some basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .
One surefire way to gain personal competitive advantage is to pledge to become an especially powerful business presenter. In fact, it’s an open secret, very much like a football laying on the field, waiting to be picked up and run for a touchdown.
If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing.
You’re in the wrong line of work.
Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing presentation passion, you shouldn’t be presenting at all.
Remember, there is no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.” As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.
You Provide the Presentation Passion
Interest is something that you do. You invest your presentation, regardless of the topic, with power, zest, verve, bravura, and excitement.
One powerful technique at your disposal is “passion.”
Inject Presentation Passion
This means to embrace your topic. Regardless of whether you personally believe it to be interesting. Your task is to take a topic – any topic – and turn it into a masterpiece of presentation passion.
Whether your subject is floor polish, chocolate milk, or bed linen, you create a presentation that holds your audience rapt.
You seize your audience by the metaphorical lapels, and you don’t let go.
Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.
Passion is your solution, a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience.
Passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting. In fact, there is so little of this done today, that demonstrating presentation passion can become an important component of your personal brand and the source of personal competitive advantage.
One of the country’s finest presentation coaches, Carmine Gallo, offers this interesting contribution to what we know about effective presentations . . . let’s call it PowerPoint Superiority.
The upshot of his Forbes column is that “PowerPoint superiority” by way of pictures is a “new” style of presenting.
I’m delighted that Carmine urges the corporate community away from the heinous habit of cluttered and wordy PowerPoint slide presentations. But he misses the mark on why this is an effective mode of presenting . . . and why it needs considerably more effort than merely posting happy snaps on the screen as a backdrop.
Here’s why . . .
PowerPoint Transformation . . .
Carmine makes an important observation, but he leaves out the utterly crucial point that it is the presenter who must change for the slide change technique to work at all, much less result in an especially powerful business presentation.
Without a significant shift in mindset and activity of the presenter, just altering what’s on the slides is nothing more than cosmetic.
You must dedicate yourself to change and the generation of positive energy. Not submit to the easy lure of “making great slides,” which won’t help you at all if you continue to engage in bad habits.
How a speaker sounds, moves, gestures, stands, and expresses herself or himself is absolutely the most important congeries of techniques that makes or breaks a presentation.
When a presenter moves from cluttered bullet-point slides to high-impact visuals, the technique of the presenter must change as well.
Before 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.
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 trying to save your soul, the second to take your money, the third to save your life, the fourth to transport you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.
Skills of the Masters
Other professions utilized the proven communication 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 “presenting.”
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over the course of centuries. The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument, the persuasive powers of words.
Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory, coupled 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 improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message.And yet the result has been something quite different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them. Each new advancement in technology creates another barrier between the speaker and the audience.
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 speaker to the fireworks, and this has led to such a decline to the point where in extreme cases the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”
And in many awful cases, this is exactly what happens. It’s almost as if the 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
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. 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, learning your temporary profession’s rules, crafting a presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity, and then displaying enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.
The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience
Yes, heroic. Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience.
Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you’ll 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 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 maestros who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.
They and their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful presentations.
“Of course I know how to begin a presentation. What kind of fool does this guy think I am?”
But do you? Really?
Does your intro have Pow? Consider for a moment . . .
Do you begin confidently and strongly? Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, like so many people in school and in the corporate world?
Do you sidle into it? Do you edge into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing? Do you back into it?
Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points? Is your story even relevant? Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?
Do you shift and dance?
Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown? Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker? Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?
One major problem with all of this is that you exhibit horrendous body language that destroys your credibility.
Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement
You begin with your grabber . . . then follow immediately with your Situation Statement.
The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear. It’s the reason you and your audience are there.
What will you tell them? The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.
Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here. Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk. Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.
A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow! It focuses everyone on the topic.
Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk, thanking the board for the “opportunity,” thanking the conference staff, thanking the bartender for generous pours.
Don’t tip-toe into it. Don’t be vague. Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.
What do I mean by this?
You Need Pow!
Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:
“Good morning, how is everyone doing? Good. Good! It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity. I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia. Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation. We’re hoping that—”
No . . . no . . . and no.
Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!
Try starting this way:
“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2011 and increase our market share. By another 10 percent. A campaign to lead us into the next year to result in a much stronger and competitive market position.”
You see? This is not the best intro, but it’s solid. No “random facts.” No wasted words. No metaphorical throat-clearing.
No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.
You have set the stage for a powerful business presentation.
Put the Pow into Your Powerful Business Presentation!
Now, let’s add some Pow to it. A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:
“As we sit here today — right now — changes in our industry attack our firm’s competitive position three ways. How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival . . . or collapse. Our recommended response? Aggressive growth. We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and our marketing team’s solution to regain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”
Remember in any story, there must be change. The reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.
We must explain this change. We must craft a response to this change.
And we must front-load our introduction with Pow! to include our recommendation.
That’s why you have assembled your team. To explain the threat or the opportunity. To provide your analysis. To recommend action!
Remember, put Pow into your beginning. Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive. Right at the start.
Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.
For more on putting the Pow! into powerful business presentations, have a look here.
Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook and hold your audience as you start your presentation.
And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle. In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.
Get them über-focused on you and your message.
So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?
Start your Presentation with Explosives
Think of your message or your story as your explosive device. To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.
This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”
This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.
This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon. Something special.
Start your presentation with this provocative line, and you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next. The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.
But they must step off with you from the beginning. You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you very much . . .”
You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:
“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction. Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be here tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children. And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”
That sort of thing.
Folks in your audience are already checking their email. In fact, they’re no longer your audience. And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.
Why do people talk this way? Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives. You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.
You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.
You believe that a listless audience is natural.
Not at all! The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting as you start your presentation!
You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention. You must say something provocative, but relevant. You must grab your listeners and keep them. You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.
Something like this:
“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot. And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling. The letters etched in granite became visible one by one. My breath caught when I read the inscription–”
Or this . . .
“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”
Or this . . .
“I was stupid, yes stupid. I was young and impetuous. And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did. I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”
Or this . . .
“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”
Or this . . .
“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . . I thought that she must be a special woman. And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”
You get the idea. Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you. Your listeners want to hear what comes next. Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey. If you engage in theatrics for their own sake, you’ll earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.
So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.
And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.
Do you ever consider how you actually appear to people with regard to your facial expressions?
Many folks are seemingly oblivious to their own expressions or to a lack of expressiveness. Their faces appear dull and lifeless.
In your business presentation, you communicate far more with your face than you probably realize. This can be an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage.
Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message. Yes, there exists something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.
Your Especially Powerful Communication Tool
Expression is sometimes discussed in conjunction with gesture, and indeed there is a connection. The power of expression has always been recognized as a vital communication tool, reinforcing words and even, at times, standing on their own.
Joseph Mosher was one of the giants of the early 20th Century public speech instruction, and he dares venture into territory rarely visited by today’s sterile purveyors of “business communication.”
Mosher actually addressed the personality of the speaker. These are the qualities that bring success.
[T]here is no one element of gesture which furnishes as unmistakable and effective an indication of the speaker’s thought and feeling as does the expression of the mouth and eyes. The firm-set mouth and flashing eye speak more clearly than a torrent of words; the smile is as good as, or better than, a sentence in indicating good humor; the sneering lip, the upraised brow, or the scowl need no verbal commentary.
Consider these expressions: A curl of the lip to indicate disapproval . . . or even contempt. The raising of one eyebrow to indicate doubt . . . or skepticism. Sincere furrows in the brow to indicate sincerity . . . or great concern.
Expressions Increase Power . . . or Weaken Your Message
These expressions, coupled with the appropriate words, have a tremendous impact on your audience. They increase the power of your message. They ensure that your message is clear.
Facial expressions can erase ambiguity and leave no doubt in the minds of your listeners what you are communicating. The appropriate facial expression can arouse emotion and elicit sympathy for your point of view. It’s an important component of charisma.
Our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it, and thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator. Let’s watch how . . .
While it does seem to be spreading like a virus, Uptalk does not spell the end of civilization.
No, the rapid spread of this debilitating voice pathology is not as alarming as, say, the spread of the Rage virus in the film 28 Days Later . . .
But . . .
Uptalk does show an incredible degradation of the language and of clear ideas, confidently expressed . . . especially in business presentations.
And as with most obstacles, there is an opportunity buried inside this one.
This infestation of uptalk offers you an valuable opportunity. For this opportunity to work for you to its maximum, you must keep it to yourself so that the gulf and the contrast between you and them is as great as can be.
If you can overcome your own tendency toward uptalk, which is a hoi-polloi kind of thing, you will have lifted yourself above the horde of uptalking babblers that seems to increase daily.
You can do this by training yourself to speak with a forthright confidence.
The Uptalk Pathology
Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences that transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.
As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation. Looking for others to nod in agreement.
Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation. It screams amateur when used in formal presentations.
It cries out: “I don’t know what I’m talking about here. I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation. I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”
Poet and social commentator Taylor Mali has this to say about this voice pathology . . .
Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt. It conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come. A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.
You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking 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.
Uptalk = “I don’t know what I’m talking about”
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, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.
Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way. Their lives appear as one big query.
But you can fix this.
In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology. If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.
For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.
And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to use it.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint either contributes to the creation of an especially powerful presentation, or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on sound PowerPoint use.
Nike has a new ad campaign that plays off the Olympics. Its theme is “Find Your Greatness,” and it is, frankly, a great presentation on presentation greatness.
“Somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is only for the chosen few, for the superstars. The truth is, greatness is for us all. This is not about lowering expectations; it’s about raising them for every last one of us.”
I like the positive thrust of the ad series, which places the locus of excellence inside each of us and urges us to cultivate a desire to strive and succeed, come what may.
The Hard Truth . . . Our Greatest Enemy
Key in this is often the hard truth that often we can be our worst enemy when it comes to achieving success.
Business presenting can be like that.
More often than not, the biggest obstacle to delivering a superb presentation is our self-doubt and fear of failure. This can stymie the best of us. It can result in half-hearted efforts that give us an “out” when we flop.
“I wasn’t even trying,” we can say with a shrug. And thus spare ourselves the ignominy of putting our heart and effort into a presentation, only to have it “fail.”
The exasperating truth in this is that we need not fear failure. Or even a job poorly done. If we invest our minds and hearts in the right kind of preparation, we need not ever “fail” at delivering serviceable, even fantastic, presentations.
We all have the tools. We all have the potential. We can all give a great presentation.
But . . . How to Give a Great Presentation?
But it requires us to do the most difficult thing imaginable, and that is actually change the way we present. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. Many folks think that a great presentation exists somewhere outside themselves – in the software, in the written notes, in the prepared speech, in the audience somewhere.
The thought that we must step outside our comfort zone and actually adopt new habits while shedding the old ones is . . . well, it’s daunting. And I hear every excuse imaginable why it can’t be done. Usually having to do with “comfort.”
“I’m just not comfortable with that.”
Of course you’re not “comfortable” with that. You’re comfortable with your old bad habits.
These are new habits of superb presenting, and when you adopt them as your own, you become comfortable with them. When you do, you will be on your way to your own greatness.
You’ll be on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations. Great presentations!
Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds? Texting? Chatting in side conversations?
Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?
The problem is probably you.
No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.
Your Presentation Audience Needs You to Be . . .
In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes me on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.
Here, I identify a remedy for you – how to hook and reel-in an errant audience. Here is what you need to be for your audience. It isn’t your listeners’ fault if you’re monotonous, unprepared, listless, nervous, or dull. It’s your job to entertain and energize your audience with your own enthusiasm.
Giving a business presentation is much more than just showing up in front of your long-suffering presentation audience and delivering a stilted talk. Much more.
Respect your audience and work hard to dazzle your listeners. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.
In addition to giving you solid counsel on your audience, I also suggest how you can energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.
It’s not easy, but you can do it with several techniques developed over centuries of public speaking practice.
Please overlook my bad hair day in this video as you take in this powerful advice on How to Engage With Your Presentation Audience for an especially powerful presentation.
Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being. For instance . . .
There’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice. Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.
Why not evaluate your voice today? See if it gets the presentation job done for you.
Does your voice crack? Does it whine? Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence? Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?
Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?
Why not change for the better?
Develop an Especially Powerful Voice
It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being. It is an instrument with which you communicate.
You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice. Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.
Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice. Nothing extreme at all. Have a look . . .
Why would you want to “gesture?” Aren’t your words enough?
We gesture to add force to our points, to slam home the major theme of our presentation.
To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness . . . even fear.
A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?
While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning. It should carry powerful meaning. Speaking Master James Winans noted in 1915 that this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.
Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues. Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.
Another Arrow in Your Quiver
Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication. You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can pack power into your presentation. On rare occasion, they can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.
Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”
Your careful, thoughtful gestures increase your talk’s persuasiveness and lend gravitas to your words. In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to an especially powerful level, a level far above the mundane.
You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present. Let’s look at some examples . . .
You get that from the first minutes of the film Thor, and in the newly released Avengers.
Loki is played by British actor Tom Hiddleston, whose other roles include F. Scott Fitzgerald in the light Woody Allen comedy Midnight in Paris. He’s classically trained and quite good. My humble opinion in this out-of-school-for-me area is that his best roles are ahead of him.
While he is small in stature, Hiddleston’s Loki comes across as imposing at times, even regal. Just as evil incarnate should be.
How does this little guy pull it off? Is it clever camera angles? Make-up? Voice modulator?
One reason that Loki is imposing is . . . his walk.
Walking the Walk for Professional Presentation Appearance
Loki’s walk is astonishingly good. Graceful and especially powerful.
How is this so? What, exactly, is he consciously doing? And if we call Loki’s walk good, then does that mean—?
Does it mean that there is something we might call a “bad walk?”
As a means of locomotion, I imagine most any walk can get the job done, except exaggerated striding or pimp-swaggering that can damage joints over time.
But if we consider business presenting, we see something totally different. If we examine the walk as a means to enhance or degrade your effectiveness as a business presenter, then there most assuredly is something we can identify as a “bad walk.”
Consider the “bad walks” you see every day . . . all the time. Watch people. On the street. In the gym. At the park.
You see all kinds of walks.
Pigeon-toed shuffles, duck-walks, shambling gangsta walks, choppy-stepping speedwalks. You see goofy addlepated walks, languorous random-walks, hunchbacks yammering into cell phones.
Let a thousand walks scourge the sidewalks!
But if you want a walk that gives you a professional competitive advantage, then . . .
Then watch actors.
Watch actors or anyone trained to perform in the public eye, and you see a distinctive difference. A big difference, and a difference worth bridging in your own walk if you wish to take your presenting to the highest level.
It should be obvious that carriage and poise play into how an audience perceives you and your message, and much of this emanates from your presentation appearance. We must remember that no one has a right to be listened to. It’s a privilege, and we must earn that privilege.
One way to earn the privilege is by projecting purpose and poise, which carries into your message and invests it with legitimacy. A powerful, purposeful walk can do just that, helping you to develop an enduring professional presence.
You gain gravitas and confidence. You add to your personal competitive advantage in a significant and yet subtle way.
Loki’s walk is classic and provides us instruction for creating an impression of power, confidence, and competence.
In an earlier time, it was called the “Indian Walk.” Here it is: Shoulders square, you walk with one foot in front of the other, but not as exaggerated as that of runway models.
This achieves an effect of elegance, as the act of placing one’s feet this way directs the body’s other mechanical actions to . . . well, to perform in ways that are pleasing to the eye. It generates the confident moving body posture that invests actors, politicians, and great men and women in all fields with grace and power.
Watch Loki in film. Understand the power generated by an especially powerful walk.
Then make it your own. Add power to your personal brand, and walk like Loki for Professional Presentation Appearance.
Microsoft’s PowerPoint multimedia software has gotten a bum rap, and this unfair reputation springs from the thousands of ugly presentations given every day from folks who don’t know how to work with PowerPoint.
And yet, PowerPoint is a brilliant tool.
But just as any tool – say, a hammer or saw – can contribute to the construction of a masterpiece . . . or a monstrosity, PowerPoint can contribute to the creation of an especially powerful presentation.
Or it becomes the weapon of choice to inflict yet another heinous public-speaking crime on a numbed audience.
Good Work with PowerPoint a Necessity
PowerPoint isn’t the problem. Clueless presenters are the problem.
So just how do you use PowerPoint?
You can start by consulting any of several PowerPoint experts who earn their living sharpening their own skills and helping other to hone theirs.
Folks such as Nancy Duarte, who has elevated PowerPoint design to a fine art. You can subscribe to her newsletter here by scrolling to the page bottom and signing up. You can also enjoy her supremely interesting blog here. She’s done all the heavy lifting already – now you can take advantage of it.
Garr Reynolds is another giant of the PowerPoint kingdom, and his concepts approach high art without being too artsy.
Meanwhile, if you want immediate help on-camera, do have a look at my own short video on how to work with PowerPoint. It is enough to get you started and, I hope, whet your appetite for more instruction.
For once you create those marvelous slides inspired by Nancy and Garr . . . you then must use them properly in a ballet of visual performance art called a business presentation.
This short video reviews several of my own techniques that provide basic guidance on how to work with PowerPoint.
With regard to presentations, I deal with two large groups of people.
For sake of descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “McTips!”
“Natural Born” and “McTips!” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become an especially powerful and superior business presenter.
Neither is remotely accurate.
And neither group is what might be called enlightened in these matters. Members of both groups are frustrating and irritating in their own ways and completely self-serving.
Here is why . . .
We often look for folks to excuse us from what, deep down, we know we ought to do, or what we can do. If we look hard enough, we find what we search for, and excuses are extremely easy to find. Let’s look at these two excuses that hold us back from fulfilling our potential as especially powerful presenters.
The First View
The first view would have us believe that great speakers are born with some arcane and unfathomable gift, combining talent and natural stage facility. That Bill Clinton sprang from the womb declaiming that he feels our pain. That Ronald Reagan was born orating on lower capital gains taxes. That Oprah Winfrey began her talk show career in kindergarten.
If the first view holds that great speakers are born with a gift, then quite logically this view leaves the rest of us to strive with middling presentation skills.
It’s an excuse for us not to persevere. Why bother to try? Why not, instead, hire some of these natural born speaker types to do the heavy presentation lifting? The rest of us can skate along and pretend that we’re not actually lazy . . . or frightened . . . or disinterested . . . or unambitious.
The Second View
The second view is the opposite of the first.
This “McTips!” perspective would have us believe that delivering effective presentations is a snap. So easy, in fact, that one of my colleagues assured me confidently and with not a little hubris that he could teach his undergraduates “everything they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”
He also assured me that “all that other stuff you talk about is B.S.”
Has the presentation landscape changed so much that what was once taught as a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions of speaking “tips”? I actually saw a headline on an article that offered 12 Tips to Become a Presentation God! Have the demands of the presentation become so weak that great presenting can be served up in McDonald’s-style kid meals . . . “You want to super-size your speaking McTips?”
In the 1800s, public speaking was refined to an almost-art; “elocution” was the new science/art, and departments of elocution and public speaking flourished in universities throughout the land. In Philadelphia, on Walnut Street in fact, the National School for Elocution and Oratory became a Mecca for would-be stars of the pulpit, the stage, the bar, and the political wars in the 1890s.
On into the first decades of next century, public speech was regarded with respect and a high-skill to be mastered with much study and practice.
The fact is that despite however much we might wish otherwise, today’s PowerPoint high-tech software multi-media offerings cannot change the fundamental truth that it is still you who must deliver the presentation.
So no . . . you cannot learn “everything you need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.” You cannot become an especially powerful presenter at the fastfood drive-in window, unless you want to ply presenting at the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers that populate every business and law firm from New York to Nashville, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Savannah to San Diego.
Ask yourself . . . if learning to deliver top-notch presentations is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?
The Third View – The Power Zone
There is a third group, and it is destined to remain small.
This group is privy to the truth, and once you learn the truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way. Consider this pop culture analogy from the 1999 film The Matrix.
In The Matrix, humans live in a world that is not what it seems. In fact, everything they believe about the world is false. Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) offers to reveal the truth to Neo (Keanu Reeves) about his existence. Morpheus offers Neo a Blue Pill and a Red Pill. The Blue Pill returns him to his old state of ignorance. The Red Pill reveals the secret, and once he learns it, Neo cannot return to his old life.
The process of presentation discovery is much like the red-pill/blue-pill choice that Morpheus offers to the young computer hacker Neo . . .
You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Likewise, you can stop reading this article this instant – the blue pill – and return to the righteous and relaxing world of “Natural Born” or “McTips!” Both viewpoints allow the average presenter to remain mired in mediocrity with an excuse that sounds plausible.
One perspective means you don’t try at all, other means you offer token effort as befits a low-level pedestrian task. So, if you decide to take the Blue Pill, close this site and go your own way. Bon voyage! I wish you a hearty good-luck and Godspeed, and perhaps you will be happier for your choice.
But if you are one of the few who thinks for a moment . . . “Hmm. What if the Professor is right?”
Then . . . Take the Red Pill
Then you can read on to the next brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity. For the truth is in the Power Zone, and once there, you will never be satisfied with your old presentation life again.
You cannot go back.
That’s the paradox, the Curse of Freedom. It is completely within your power to seize the fruits of great presenting. It’s your choice.
You can launch an auspicious presentation career right now, right this minute. Or you can dismiss this site as yet another fraudulent claim to revealing secrets to you . . . only to have it exposed as a method that requires you to actually do something.
A method that transforms you.
Choose the Red Pill. Step boldy into the Power Zone.
The Power Zone is the province of the privileged few who understand the truth that anyone can become a great presenter, with the right kind of hard work and the willingness to become a great presenter. To join this third group requires you to take on a new state of mind. If you already carry this view, that’s superb. If you don’t . . . you can decide now to adopt it or forever be relegated to the other two groups – believing you’re not good enough, or believing you are good enough when you’re actually not.
Public presentations – great presentations – require study and practice and preparation and technique. A deep philosophical, academic, and professional history undergirds public speaking. This history informs the very best presenters and their work. You dismiss it only to your great loss.
No, you need not become a scholar of public speaking. In fact, few people have that deep an interest in the subject and even fewer can claim that kind of knowledge today.
But what you can and should do is this: Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of found treasure.
You actually can become a capable presenter. You can become a great presenter. When you enter the Power Zone, you are both cursed and blessed with knowledge. This knowledge represents two sides of the same coin.
You are cursed with the knowledge that the only limitation you have is you. You are blessed with the knowledge that you can become a good – even great – speaker.
An especially powerful presenter.
Now, you have no other real excuse. It’s totally up to you.
For the ultimate guide to developing your personal brand as an especially powerful business presenter, CLICK HERE.
“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days.
That’s a shame, because the word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful 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.
Without Earnestness, Only Small Victories
And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.”
If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious. Better to pretend you don’t care.
Predictably, the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging. And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else. For your friends, for your sports contests, 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.
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 presentation that no one else can give, 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.
Embrace your topic and you will shine in an especially powerful presentation. Earnestness becomes second nature.
Do you put passion in presentations, or do you settle for being an emotionless automaton?
Do you save your passion for other things? Meaningless things?
Do you even know what infuses you with passion?
Think about it.
What is Your Passion?
What is it you long to do? What is it that fills you with the thrill of discovery, the adrenaline of newness? What can compare with the natural high of applying yourself to a task that excites you?
What generates those endorphins? What brings a smile to your face involuntarily? What furrows your brow?
Is it “world hunger?” Or European soccer? Is it social injustice? Is it political theory? Is it comic book collecting?
Is it Chess? Numismatics? Tennis? Travel to exotic locations? Helping others solve problems? Writing essays? Fashion design? Financial manipulations? Reading a good book?
What’s your passion? Do you even have one?
Yes, you do have a passion. But likely as not, it’s been buried under a ton of necessity, the debris we call the business of life.
Is your Passion buried?
If you find that your passion is buried, then this is the time to rescue it as one of the most potent factors in delivering your most powerful presentations.
Once you explore your own visceral feelings, your passion, it becomes that much easier to invoke passion in presentations. To actually feel passion for the subjects of your shows. Can you generate passion? Of course you can. Will it be “artificial” passion? Of course not.
With a tip o’ the hat to Gertrude Stein . . . passion is passion is passion.
Unless you have passion for a subject and demonstrate that passion, you will always be at a disadvantage with respect to those who passionately embrace their subject. If you are in competition with several other teams pitching a product or service to a company for millions of dollars – and there is no noteworthy difference in the quality or price of the service – then how does the potential customer decide?
Put Passion in Presentations!
If he sees a real passion for the work in one team, if he feels the energy of a team driven to success and truly excited about the offering, don’t you think he’ll be inclined to the team that stirs his emotions? The team that makes him see possibilities? The team that demonstrates passion in presentation?
The team that helps him visualize a glorious future? The team that shares his own love and passion for his product or service and sees in you a shared passion for achieving something special in partnership?
Reread the previous paragraph, because it encapsulates so much of what is absent in presentations today, and so much of what is needed.
Passion cannot substitute for substance . . . but when it augments substance, it wins every time.
Passion has served as a crucial element in verbal communication for centuries. Two of my favorite quotations on its power follow:
“True emotional freedom is the only door by which you may enter the hearts of your hearers.”
Brees and Kelley, 1931
“Earnestness is the secret of success in any department of life. It is only the earnest man who wins his cause.”
S.S. Curry, 1895
Recognize in yourself the capacity for passion and the necessity of putting passion in presentations for power and impact. Recognize that you have the wherewithal to embrace even the most staid material, the “dullest” project. Remember always that it is you who make it better. You who invest it with excitement. You are the alchemist.
It’s your job to make it interesting
Many times you hear an “interesting” presentation about an “interesting” topic. It is well-done, and it engaged you. And you wonder why you never seem to get the “interesting” projects.
Have you ever admitted to yourself that you might be the missing ingredient? That perhaps it is your task to invest a project with interest and zest? That what makes a project “interesting” is not the topic . . . but rather the interaction between material and presenter.
Ultimately, it is your task to transform a “case” or business situation into an interesting and cogent presentation. It is your task to find the key elements of strategic significance and then to dramatize those elements in such a way that the audience is moved in powerful and significant ways.
Yes, you can do this. You don’t need an “interesting” case to do it.