But the more Machiavellian among us sometimes enshrine it as a code for entry into a priesthood of the knowledgeable.
And so we have the conundrum – one man’s obfuscation is another man’s sharply drawn argument, both using “jargon.”
Who with compassion would strip a man of his outlet for facile expression, the utility of shorthand “jargon,” simply because there exist unscrupulous cads who abuse the privilege of a profession’s lexicon?
Business Jargon Struggles for Hearts and Minds?
The struggle is for clear and original expression against the encroachment of weasel-words. The struggle is for meaningful distinctions between useful locutions and the vulgarity of “jargon.”
So it’s a struggle, yes, but it’s also an internal struggle.
I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexicon, the “jargon” to vulnerable young minds. Minds to which business jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it’s actually already stale and reified.
It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated.
But business jargon does perform valuable service. If used judiciously and properly and with clear intent to the purpose for which it was created.
If it’s wielded not to obfuscate.
If it’s wielded not to mind-taser the listener into a kind of numb dumbness.
For those of us in the profession that is home to our jargon, it serves as shorthand for many thoughts already thought, not simply a comfortable refuge. Shorthand for many debates already concluded. Many theories already expressed. Many systems already in place.
In fact, a deep vein of rich discussion lurks beneath the glib façade of most of our jargon.
And thus business jargon presents us with a dilemma – if it were not useful, it would not exist. And anything that is useful can be misused.
It should come with a warning label.
A Business Jargon Warning Label?
I provide such a warning label. But only half-heartedly.
Half-heartedly, because it is my first obligation to ensure that my charges remember the “jargon” that I serve up to them. They must imbibe deeply and, at some point during a seemingly interminable semester, they must regurgitate the jargon.
They must drink deeply from the cup of “competitive advantage.”
They must feast heartily at the table of “core competency” and ladle large portions of “market failure” and “pioneering costs” along with a light sprinkling of what some might consider the oxymoronic garnish of “business ethics.”
More insidious than the standard business jargon is the phalanx of “new” program buzzwords that march our way in endless columns, recycling ideas of old . . . and then recycling them yet again.
What is there left to say? After two or three posts?
Doesn’t that cover it?
That’s the attitude of many young people, including my daughter, who ought to know better.
One of my former colleagues even believes he can inculcate adequate presentation skill in, as he says, “30 minutes.”
Such is the myth of the soft skill.
Adolescent Attitude Toward Business Presentations Skills
One of the conundrums of business presenting is that it’s what is known in the parlance as a “soft skill.”
This suggests that skill at business presenting is somehow “softer” than, say, accounting. It therefore needs less attention or development.
It must be somehow “easier.”
That it’s something that can be “picked up along the way.”
Many people believe this. It can damage the early careers of young people, who form a wrong impression of the craft of speaking publicly.
Public Speaking – excellent public speaking – is tough. Delivering a superb business presentation is one of the tougher tasks, because it often requires coordination with others in a kind of ballet.
The Reality of Business Presentation Skills
And it requires practice, just like any other discipline.
But invariably, the “soft skill” label moves it down the priority list of faculty and college administrators and, hence, of the students they serve.
I can quickly gauge the attention on business presenting skills at an institution by simply watching a cross-section of presentations. To be generous, student business presentations are usually poor across a range of dimensions.
They come across most often as pedestrian. Many are quite bad.
But this is not to say that they are worse than what passes for presenting in the corporate world. They’re usually as good – or as bad – as what is dished out in the “real world.”
The Great Embarrassment
The great embarrassment is that the majority of business students have untapped potential for becoming competent and especially powerful business presenters. But they never realize that potential because they never progress out of the swamp of poor business presentation skills.
Some students pass through the business school funnel with only cursory attention to business presentation skills. Perhaps I’m too demanding, and the degree of attention I’d like to see just isn’t possible. But . . .
But the craft of business presenting needs only the proper focus and priority to transform young people into quite capable and competent presenters.
And some institutions get it right.
I’m blessed to serve an institution that takes business presentation skills seriously. My school’s winning results in case competitions demonstrates this commitment to preparing business students to excel in the most-demanded skill that corporate recruiters seek. A coterie of professors, particularly in finance, have recognized the power bestowed by sharp business presentation skills.
And they emphasize these skills far beyond the norm in most schools.
Administrators, too, insist that students pass through rigorous workshops that inculcate in students the presenting skills to last a business lifetime.
Business Presentation Skills Build a Powerful Personal Brand
The results can be phenomenal.
Merely by exposure to the proper techniques, students gain tremendous personal career advantage.
By elevating business presentation skills to the same level of the sub-disciplines of, say, marketing, operations, or risk management, B-Schools can imbue their students and faculty with the appropriate reverence for the presentation enterprise.
One result of this is the creation of young executives who tower over their peers in terms of presenting skills. And especially powerful business presentation skills are in high demand by corporate recruiters.
This highly refined skill of delivering stunning business presentations becomes part of a powerful and distinctive personal brand. A brand that cannot be copied easily and so becomes part of a personal competitive advantage that can last a lifetime.
So, back to the original contention of folks who wonder what could one possibly write about in a “business presenting blog” . . . just as there is much to be learned, it means there is much to write about.
There is much to be distilled from 2500 years of recorded presentation wisdom.
The wisdom is there. It remains for us to seize it and make it our own for enhanced personal competitive advantage.
Here’s a presenter who carefully follows the Three Ps of business presenting and quite obviously succeeds at his performance in a Gangnam Style Presentation.
The Three Ps, of course, are: Principles . . . Preparation . . . and Practice.
The presenter calls himself Psy.
In this Gangnam Style presentation, Psy engages the Seven Secrets of presenting – the principles of Voice, Expression, Gesture, Appearance, Stance, Passion, and Movement – for a stunning performance. Note that the acronym formed by those seven words is appropriate to this particular presentation:
Applying the Three Ps
Moreover, while Psy exhibits incredible professional presence, he doesn’t rely solely on his charisma to carry his presentation. He and his support team prepared meticulously for this performance, and they’ve obviously practiced much.
The presenter engages his audience, gives them exactly what they expected to receive, and encourages audience participation.
He exhibits tremendous focus on his main point, repeating his main point several times so that it isn’t lost – otherwise known as his song’s chorus – and he uses the same repeated choral movement to emphasize visually his song’s chorus.
View this Gangnam Style Presentation with these precepts in mind.
The comparison to superb business presenting is by no means a reach.
When you present, you give your audience a show. Accordingly, you should prepare your show according to principles almost identical to those used by any stage performer.
You might not expect the kind of crazed enjoyment of your business presentation exhibited by the audience in the video (and I congratulate you if you achieve it). But you can apply the precepts of presenting to meet your audience expectations, engage your listeners, and drive home your main point with repetition and focus.
Deliver a Gangnam Style Presentation
You can thoroughly prepare and practice your presentation, just as any worthy stage performer does. Respect for your audience and your message demands no less than that you employ the Three Ps of business presenting.
Do this consistently, and you increase your personal competitive advantage tremendously as someone known for capable and competent business presenting.
They aren’t secrets if you know them. And they are not magical. They are quite mundane in fact, and this disappoints folks who believe that “secrets” ought to carry the heft of incantation.
The real secret of Strategic Thinking Skills is implementing a program for thinking strategically in both our personal and professional lives.
And like so many other things . . . following through on that program.
Strategic Thinking Skills for Competitive Advantage
This takes discipline, and sometimes it takes courage. The payoff is increased personal competitive advantage, and who wouldn’t want more of that?
As you develop a keen sense of strategy, you may find that your perspective on the world has undergone profound transformation as you begin to see patterns and routines, to identify categories, and to sense the broader macro-shifts in your own particular correlation of forces. You gain clarity. You begin to see the fog of uncertainty begin to clear.
By adopting combinations of techniques and tools of analysis, and by seizing a substantial role in developing your circumstances, you improve your chances of achieving your objectives.
This is the great gift of strategic thinking: clarity and efficacy of action in a forever changing and chaotic world.
In this interview on the Goldstein on Gelt show, I touch on several useful precepts of strategic thinking. It’s enough to get started for 2013 . . .
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 some think it somehow “uncool.”
Showing Too Much Interest?
It is uncool to show interest, because . . . 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. And you can save your cool. 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 small victories. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.
Especially Powerful Business Presenting
Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. The sin of the insouciant.
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.”
Earnestness means wrapping your material in you.
Embracing your topic.
This means giving a powerful business presentation that no one else can give, one that no one else can copy. Because it arises from your essence, your core. It’s the source of your personal competitive advantage.
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.
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.
Your Foundation – Power Posing
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.
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, the first step in learning how to stand in a presentation.
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.
Know How to Stand in A Presentation
You send 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.
The importance of knowing how to stand in a presentation has been acknowledged for centuries. 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.”
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.
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.
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.
If you discovered that there was one thing – one skill – that could give you incredible personal competitive advantage after graduation, wouldn’t that be great?
What would you think of that? Too good to be true?
And what if you discovered that this skill is something that you can develop to an especially powerful level in just a handful of weeks?
What would that be worth to you?
Worth How Much?
Would it be worth the price of a book to get you started? Think of it – a skill you can learn in 4-5 weeks that can provide you lasting competitive advantage through the rest of your working life.
A skill that few people take seriously.
A skill that is in high demand by America’s corporations.
Companies haven’t nearly enough personnel who can communicate effectively, logically, comfortably, clearly, and cogently. This is why corporate recruiters rate the ability to communicate more desirable in candidates than any other trait or skill.
Capable business presenting is a high-demand skill.
This is the Silver Bullet Skill
And this is the silver bullet you’ve always sought.
You, as a business student or young executive, gain personal competitive advantage vis-à-vis your peers, simply by taking presenting seriously. You gain incredible advantage by embracing the notion that you should and can become an effective and capable business presenter.
In other words, if you actually devote yourself to the task of becoming a superb speaker, you become one.
And the task is not as difficult as you imagine, although it isn’t easy, either.
You actually have to change the way you do things. This can be tough. Most of us want solutions outside of ourselves. The availability of an incredible variety of software has inculcated in us a tendency to accept the way we are and to find solutions outside ourselves.
Off the shelf. In a box.
This doesn’t work. Not at all.
You cannot find the secret to great business presenting outside of yourself. You already carry it with you.
But . . .
But you will have to change.
This is about transformation.
Transformation of the way we think, of the way we view the world, of the lens through which we peer at others, of the lens through which we see ourselves.
It is a liberating window on the world. And it begins with your uniqueness.
No, this is not esteem-building snake-oil. It is a quite cool observation.
I am not in the business of esteem-building, nor do I toil in the feel-good industry. If you had to affix a name to it, you could say that I am in the business of esteem-discovery.
So you are unique, and your realization of this and belief in this uniqueness is utterly essential to your development as a powerful business presenter.
But given the tendency of modernity to squelch your imagination, to curtail your enthusiasm, to limit your vision, and to homogenize your appearance and your speech, you have probably abandoned the notion of uniqueness as the province of the eccentric. Perhaps you prefer to “fit in.”
Some truths can be uncomfortable. Often, truths about ourselves are uncomfortable, because if we acknowledge them, we then obligate ourselves to change in some way.
But in this case, the truth is liberating.
Don’t Shrink . . . Grow!
Recognize that you dwell in a cocoon. Barnacles of self-doubt, conformity, and low expectations attach themselves to you, slowing you down as barnacles slow an ocean liner.
Recognize that in four years of college, a crust of mediocrity may well have formed on you. And it is, at least partially, this crust of mediocrity that holds you back from becoming a powerful presenter.
Your confidence in yourself has been leeched away by a thousand interactions with people who mean you no harm and, yet, who force you to conform to a standard, a lowest common denominator.
People who shape and cramp and restrict your ability to deliver presentations. They lacquer over your innate abilities and force you into a dull conformity.
Your world has shrunk incrementally, and if you do not push it out, it will close in about you and continue to limit you.
Your most intimate acquaintances can damage you if they have low expectations of you. They expect you to be like them.
They resent your quest for knowledge and try to squelch it.
Beware of people who question you and your desires and your success. I suggest that you question whether these people belong in your life.
Yes, you are unique, and in the quest for business presentation excellence, you discover the power of your uniqueness. You strip away the layers of modern mummification. You chip away at those crusty barnacles that have formed over the years without your even realizing it.
It’s time to express that unique power in ways that support you in whatever you want to do.
In short, much of what we call body language. Power Posing.
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures. Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message, and power posing is some of the most effective body language you can use.
But it is essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood. It’s a secret that I’ve use with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So how does this relate to powerful business presenting?
Every way you can think of.
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language. We ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive with Power Posing
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture. Consciously strike a pose that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be. This is power posing.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous that power posing can actually imbue us with power.
Our results show that posing 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.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power and yourself with professional presence. In our 21st Century vernacular, power posing means you should stand the way you want to feel.
Power posing – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face.
Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation, but judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your speaking voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.
This results from many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.
It is sometimes called the puberphonic voice, and this is not meant as a compliment.
Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon speaking voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.
One cartoon voice belongs to someone 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, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit. Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.
Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations. They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations. If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be. They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?
One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak. As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.
Reality TV Infests Everything
Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way. They surround us.
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 a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence. A voice fry that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I often hear this cartoon speaking voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms. Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords. What do I mean by this?
Let’s have an example. Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.” It was heinous.
I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.” Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it. And apparently “totally” so. Ya know?
“Like. Like. Like. Totally! Like. Like. Like. Totally! It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever. Ya know what I mean?”
She fired them out in machine-gun fashion. A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying. Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre. It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.
A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.
The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks. Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone. No resonance came from the chest. Her cartoon speaking voice rasped on the ears.
Every sentence spoken as a question.
Dum-Dums . . .
Two major problems surface here. First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating. Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”
Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.
“Like. Totally! Ya know?Ummm. Like. Totally! It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know? Ummm. Whatever.”
Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.
Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this. And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility. Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill empty air with dum-dums.
Dum-dums result from lazy thought and lazier speech. It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.
Exaggeration? No, it’s a voice you hear every day.
Listen for it. Maybe it’s your voice.
Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption
In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a lowest common denominator stripe.
If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying. The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who wait to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.
Cartoon Speaking Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show. You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way. You are toast before you open your mouth.
Badly burned toast.
But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.
If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions: Why do I talk like this?
Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way? Why do all of my sentences sound like questions? Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?
Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!
Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone. But you don’t have to do it!
Nope, don’t change a thing!
If you recognize that you have a Cartoon Speaking Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on! Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers. Relish it. Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.
Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!
But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.
You make a conscious choice. Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences. You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?
Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.
When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.
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 – you might even hate 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 Don’t Really Want to Hate Presentations
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, because you recognize presenting as a key part of your personal professional strategy.
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.
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.
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?
It is my privilege to not only travel a great many miles to special places, but also to work with some of the brightest young people of the latest generation who constitute the business leaders of tomorrow.
Take India, for instance.
India is a potential economic powerhouse, whose engine of domestic and international commerce is only just starting.
With incredible knowledge resource capability and government that finally recognizes the power of individual initiative and the economic benefits that accrue from relaxing regulation, India is set for an economic renaissance to stagger the world when its gears finally engage.
Drive and Initiative
The MBA students at the Welingkar Institute of Management in Mumbai, who appear on this page, show a drive, determination, optimism, and coachability that should be the envy of the world.
Inquisitive and cosmopolitan to a startling degree, these young people are poised to enter middle-management as a sage class of entrepreneurial knowledge workers, steeped in the latest management techniques and armed with the techniques of especially powerful presenting that confer unmatched competitive advantage.
I’d go so far as to say that they constitute a new cadre of global executives, a new breed of 21st Century Managers, unencumbered with outdated notions held over from the industrial revolution. A cadre imbued with the qualities of . . .
Flexibility and Adaptability
Personal and Professional Aligned Strategic Focus
And with an incredible hunger to become the best business presenters possible, embracing the range of instruction found in The Guide to Business School Presenting. . . quite revolutionary to the Indian education system.
The rest of the business world does need to take note. India is an economic giant that no longer sleeps.
They connect the conclusion of one segment and the introduction of the next.
Shouldn’t this connecting link be as strong as possible, so that your audience receives the intended message? So the message isn’t lost in a flurry of scurrying presenters moving about the stage in unpracticed, chaotic fashion?
Don’t Lose Your Message!
It sounds absurd, but group members often develop their individual presentation segments on their own, and then the group tries to knit them together on the day of the group show.
This is a formula for disaster.
The result is a bumbling game of musical chairs and hot-baton-passing. Imagine a sports team that prepared for its games this way, with each player practicing his role individually and the players coming together as a team only on the day of the game and expecting the team to work together seamlessly.
Sports teams don’t practice this way. Serious people don’t practice this way.
Don’t yield to the tendency on the part of a team of three or four people to treat the presentation as a game of musical chairs.
Pass the Baton Without Musical Chairs
This happens when each member presents a small chunk of material, and the presenters take turns presenting. Lots of turns. This “pass the baton” can disconcert your audience and can upend your show.
Minimize the passing of the baton and transitions, particularly when each person has only three or four minutes to present.
I have also noticed a tendency to rush the transition between speakers.
Often, a presenter will do fine until the transition to the next topic. At that point, before finishing, the speaker turns while continuing to talk, and the last sentence or two of the presentation segment is lost.
The speaker walks away while still talking. While still citing a point. Perhaps an incredibly important point.
Don’t rush from the stage. Stay planted in one spot until you finish.
Savor your conclusion, the last sentence of your portion, which should reiterate your Most Important Point.
Introduce your next segment. Then transition. Then pass the baton with authority.
Harmonize your Messages
Your message itself must mesh well with the other segments of your show.
Each presenter must harmonize the message with the others of a business presentation. These individual parts should make sense as a whole, just as parts of a story all contribute to the overall message.
“On the same page” . . . “Speaking with one voice” . . . These are the metaphors that urge us to message harmony. This means that one member does not contradict the other when answering questions.
It means telling the same story and contributing crucial parts of that story so that it makes sense.
This is not the forum to demonstrate that team members are independent thinkers or that diversity of opinion is a good thing.
Moreover, everyone should be prepared to deliver a serviceable version of the entire presentation, not just their own part. This is against the chance that one or more of the team can’t present at the appointed time. Cross-train in at least one other portion of the presentation.
Remember: Harmonize your messages . . . Speak with one voice . . . Pass the baton smoothly.
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.