Tag Archives: personal competitive advantage

The Scourge of Cartoon Speaking Voice!

Cartoon voice is a pathology
Reality TV mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

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.

High-pitched.  Small.  Weak.  Unpleasant.  Pinched.  Nasal.

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Speaking Voice

The cartoon speaking voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.

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.

Cartoon Speaking Voice is a professional killer
Cartoon Speaking Voice goes with Uptalk

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.

For more on improving your professional presence and rid yourself of cartoon speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Don’t Hate Presentations

Business School, a chance to develop personal competitive advantage by becoming an especially powerful business presenter

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.

If you don’t, then you should suggest Business School Presenting to a buddy who might profit from it.

But if you have a distaste for even the thought of delivering a presentation, then this site’s for you.

One in 644 Million?

Of an estimated 644 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations.

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

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

Approximately 644 million activie websites in the world

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

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

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

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

You 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.

Fair enough.

Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure.  Or not.

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

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

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

No need to hate presentations when you can deliver them with power
You can become an especially powerful presenter

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

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

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

How to Move During a Business Presentation

You should move during a business presentation with power and purpose
You should move during a business presentation with power and purpose

Some of the worst presentation advice I’ve ever heard given someone is this . . .

“Move around when you talk.”

That’s it.  Nothing else.

This smacks of oral tradition and myth posing as wisdom.

“Move around when you talk.”

How Do You Move During a Business Presentation?

As with most myths, it’s based in a tiny kernel of truth.  Maybe you should “move around” when you talk.

How should you move?  We know we should.  But how?

Specifically, how does this advice help anyone to become a better presenter?  Do we roam aimlessly about the stage?  Do we roll our shoulders in isolation movements?

Do we shuffle to-and-fro?

Aimless and purposeless movement is worse than no movement at all.  The late Steve Jobs was infamous for his aimless roaming.

But wait!  Didn’t Steve Jobs “move around” when he gave his famous Apple product launch keynotes?

Indeed he did!  But you don’t have the luxury of a worshipful audience of 5,000 fanatics clamoring to see the latest technology that you plan to introduce.  You do not have 35 years of political and business capital carefully cultivated and primed.  You are not a billionaire celebrity CEO.

So you cannot learn how to move during a business presentation from a charismatic billionaire celebrity CEO who wields incredible power.

What you Do Have . . .

What you do have is the power to incorporate purposeful movement into your presentation.  When you do, you will find your presentation gains power and impact.  You make your points with vigor and confidence.

And your audience responds with the same passion that you invest.

In the video below, I suggest incorporating movement into your presentation in specific ways that enhance the power and impact of your message.  [To watch directly on Youtube, click HERE]

For more insight on how to move during a business presentation for power and impact, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage . . . Through Presenting

Personal Competitive Advantage Through Presenting
Especially Powerful Personal Presence

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?

For  more on personal competitive advantage through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage – Craft Yours Now

Personal Competitive Advantage.

Business Presentations can yield Personal Competitive Advantage
Only you can build Personal Competitive Advantage that is specific to your capabilities, intentions, and resources.

It sounds incredibly beguiling.

It sounds like something we definitely ought to acquire in this competitive business world.

But what is it?

While many definitions are about, I’d say it’s that congeries of qualities, skills, experience, and brio that sets you apart from your peers in a narrow slice of your own professional bailiwick.

It’s something peculiar to yourself and your own experience.  It’s up to you to discover, build, enhance, nurture.

Personal Competitive Advantage

Personal Competitive Advantage involves consciously positioning yourself against the competition.

It’s easy to offer a laundry list of qualities that we might imagine constitutes Personal Competitive Advantage.  Charisma . . . confidence . . . style . . . panache . . . smarts.

Personal Competitive Advantage surely comprises much of that . . . maybe.  Because Advantage can vary from person to person, from field to field.

Personal Competitive Advantage
Gain Personal Competitive Advantage through a carefully crafted strategy

This frustrates folks.

I know this sounds vague, and there’s an excellent reason for it.

Only you can assess capabilities, intentions, and resources.

Only you can develop a winning Unique Selling Proposition.

And only you can then identify a winning position for you to carve out and make your own.

Many students feel cheated when they realize they must actually craft this position themselves rather than find it in a mythical “success manual.”

But craft it you must.

Here’s One Guide

One way to position yourself for personal competitive advantage is to utilize the “Four Actions Framework” developed by the authors of the business bestseller Blue Ocean Strategy.

This framework involves examining the standard metrics along which you compete in your chosen profession.  You then manipulate those metrics in four ways to yield something fresh and new.

Something attuned to your particular value offering.

Eliminate.  Reduce.  Raise.  Create.

First, Eliminate . . .

. . . decide how you compete in your particular bailiwick.  Identify the competitive metrics.

Personal Competitive Strategy
Personal Strategy for Competitive Advantage

Then, eliminate the metrics that don’t concern you or on which you are weak and see no low-cost way of improving.

Second, Reduce . . . lower emphasis on low-profile and low-value metrics.

Maintain your competitive presence on these dimensions, but only enough for credibility.

Third, Raise . . . emphasize the key metrics in your field that you believe are key success factors.  These are metrics that most people believe are substantial and essential to their own well-being.

Fourth, Create . . . innovate and create new metrics.  You thus become #1 in a new category – your own category.

Overarching all of this . . .

Inventory your present skill set, your deepest professional desires, and the raw materials now available to you.  These three factors constitute your capabilities, intentions, and resources.

Evaluate whether your capabilities, intentions, and resources are consistent.  Are they aligned with one another?  Do they have strategic fit?

Does it make sense when you eyeball it?

These are the first steps toward crafting a Personal Competitive Advantage.  Start thinking this way to lay the groundwork.

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.

Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for more on gaining Personal Competitive Advantage.

Next Generation Leadership . . . India

The next generation of Indian business leaders

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 . . .

Cultural Competence

Technical Proficiency

Flexibility and Adaptability

Cosmopolitan Outlook

Team-work orientation

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.

How to Pass the Baton in Your Business Presentation

Pass the Baton
Musical Chairs during a Business Presentation is a formula for failure . . . practice how you pass the baton!

One of the least-practiced aspects of the group presentation is how you pass the baton – the transition between speakers.

Yet these baton-passing linkages within your presentation are incredibly important.

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 you 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.

Pass the Baton!
To pass the baton in a presentation is no easy task . . . it takes preparation and the right kind of practice

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.

You can find more discussion on how to pass the baton in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your key to personal competitive advantage in business school and beyond.

Where’s Your Presentation Passion?

Presentation Passion is an especially powerful source of personal competitive advantage
Imbue your business presentations with passion for especially powerful impact

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.

Tough?  Yes.

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.

Have a look at my short video on passion . . .

For more on presentation passion and professional presence consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

“PowerPoint Superiority” isn’t Enough

Especially Powerful PowerPoint can boost your presentations . . . but you still must adopt good habits

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.

Many posts on this blog address the aspects of voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement.  I address all of these and much more in my new book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting available from Anthem Press, Amazon.com, and bookstores everywhere.

Take to heart Carmine’s advice, but also pledge to transform yourself accordingly so that his advice on PowerPoint Superiority makes sense.

Business Presenting (The Secret for Higher Waitstaff Tips)

Cicero was the greatest of Roman orators
Business presentation software such as PowerPoint wasn’t available to Cicero, and this likely was one reason he was an especially powerful presenter

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.

The “presenter.”

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

Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people:  Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors.  The first 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.

Business School Presenting, the source of competitive advantage
Becoming a skilled presenter is the open secret to achieving personal competitive advantage and professional presence

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.

The rest of the story is found here.

Put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations

Especially Powerful Business Presentations mean personal competitive advantage
Powerful Business Presentation Skills Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

You can front-load your introduction and put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations to  seize your audience from the first second of your show.

Or you can tiptoe into your business presentation so no one notices you.

Which would you choose?

You’d choose the introduction with Pow, of course!

But many people don’t.

Many folks in business school, in fact, simply don’t launch powerful business presentations for one excellent reason.

The Reason Why Many Business Presentations Sputter

Many folks don’t know how to begin a presentation.

Do you?

What?

“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?

Powerful Business Presentation
Do you poke your head out instead of delivering a powerful business presentation?

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.

 powerful business presentations
Personal Competitive Advantage through Powerful Business Presentations

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.

How to Start Your Presentation

Powerful presentations require powerful openings -- a grabber, or a hook
Blast into the mind . . . start your presentation with a hook or grabber, a lead sentence that seizes your audience’s attention.

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.”

Your “hook.”

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!

Mind-Blasting

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–”

Start your Presentation
The opening of your business presentation should be explosive . . . metaphorically speaking, of course

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.

For more on how to start your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Encore! Your Especially Powerful Expression

Expression is an especially powerful technique that can imbue your presentation with gravitas and deeper meaning

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.

Nondescript.

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 . . .

For more choice nuggets on expression, reference The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your source for enduring Personal Competitive Advantage.

Uptalk is not the Rage Virus, but . . .

Eliminate uptalk from your speaking style
Fix this one voice pathology of Uptalk and vault yourself into the upper echelon of folks who sound like they know what they’re talking about

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.

Evaluate your own speech to identify the up-tic.

Then come to grips with it, and, you know . . .

Eliminate it.  Totally.

For a wealth of energizing instruction on exactly how to craft especially powerful presentations without uptalk, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

More on Those Pesky Slides . . . CLASSIC Video!

PowerPoint is a great tool for our business presentations . . . when we use it correctly

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.

Have a look-see . . .

Great Presentation . . . or Presentation Greatness?

Presentation Greatness and great presentations
Finding your presentation greatness means changing the way you present to achieve personal competitive advantage through great presentations

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!

To further your journey to delivering great presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Group Presentation Tips for Power and Impact

Group Presentation Tips Help You Survive
Group Presentation Tip #1: Business School Presentations help you hone your collaboration skills

You find all sorts of problems in group work, so I offer here group presentation tips to help you survive this business school rite of passage.

Anyone who has participated in even one group project in college knows that group presentations can challenge you in all sorts of ways.

Perhaps you believe these challenges are external to you?  Others cause problems, right?  Because surely you must not be contributing to the challenges facing your group?

Let’s examine, understand, and overcome these challenges before they get out-of-hand.

Why We Have Problems with Group Presentations . . .

The first major reason is the unpredictability of your situation.  One key characteristic of your group presentation is its rampant unpredictability.  The project appears submerged in ambiguity that we seem powerless to affect.

And you have the messiness of all those other people to worry about.

We all prefer to control our own destinies.  Most all of us want to be judged on our own work.  We like to work alone.  Our labors are important to us. We take pride in our work.

This is very much the craftsman’s view.

But with group work, the waters muddy.  It becomes difficult to identify who is doing what, and consequently, we worry about who will get the credit.

We worry if there will even be any credit to distribute if our presentation collapses under the burden of multiple minds and differing opinions and people who seem not to care.

Group Presentation Tips Can Help You Survive and Thrive
Group Presentations need not be the torturous ordeals they are made out to be

We worry that our contribution will be overlooked.  We worry that someone else will take credit for our work and we’ll be left with the crumbs.

We see ourselves submerged, and as we sink into a kind of group ethos, our individual identity is threatened.

How will the boss, the professor, or anyone else, know what we do?  How will they know our contribution?

With every additional person, the unknown variables multiply.  Worse, what if we get saddled with a reputation for poor work because someone else screwed up?

The second major reason for group failure is the ordeal of time management and scheduling.  Six different students, each with differing class schedules and who often are working part-time, must somehow work together.

Moreover, you may be several classes that require group projects.  And you are faced with the pathology of one or two team members who “don’t have time for this.”

So the difficulties mentioned here multiply.

Why the Group Presentation?  It’s a Complex World

The group presentation is not an easy task.  It can be downright painful.  Infuriating.

It can turn student-against-student faster than anything else in college outside of Greek rush.

So why do your professors require them?  Why do all of your B-school professors seem determined to put you through this misery?

You’ve probably heard the spurious reasons.  One pervasive student myth is that professors assign group work so they can cut their own grading work load.

The reasoning goes something like this: it is much easier for a professor to grade six presentations or papers than to grade 30 individual papers.

This myth is so pervasive that it has become conventional wisdom among students.  There are three big problems with this, and consider them supplementary group presentation tips.

Group Presentation Tips to Survive and Thrive

First, by definition, individual work is not group work.  If group work is an essential part of the workplace experience, then individual papers or other assignments do not contribute to the learning experience that is specifically designed to prepare you for the workplace.

Second, professors often are required to assign some form of group work in their courses.  The prevailing pedagogy in most business schools advocates the group work experience as essential to prepare students for the 21st Century workplace.

Frankly, this is the way it should be.

Third, this myth assumes that professors enjoy watching students stumble their way through awkward presentations, poorly prepared and half-heartedly delivered.

While you, as a student, prepare for only one or two presentations, the professor oftentimes watches 25 presentations or more during a semester and then evaluates them.

This can be an unpleasant experience.

Embrace Group Work in a Complex World

The proverbial bottom line that we all talk about in business school is this:  You do “group work” because it is essential to the 21st Century business world.  In fact, corporate recruiters list it as the second-most-desired skill in the job candidates they consider.

So as your #1 group presentation tip, why not embrace the group presentation as a necessary component of your school experience?

From a practical standpoint, we cannot produce major products by ourselves, because the days of the business generalist are all dead in corporate America.  Specialization rules the business workplace, and the manipulation of knowledge is ascendant.

You will become one of these knowledge-workers upon graduation.

You also will begin to specialize in certain work, especially if you join a large firm.  This is because business operations today are incredibly complex and fast-paced.

These two factors make it almost impossible for any one person to isolate himself or herself from the combined operations of the firm.  Major tasks are divided and divided again.  Think of it as an extreme form of division of labor.

So we must work with others.  The globalized and complex business context demands it.

In later posts, I share group presentation tips on how to thrive and turn the group business presentation into the cornerstone experience for your first job out of school . . . or your next job after getting your MBA.

For more extensive group presentation tips, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Presentation Story MIP

Presentation Story for Personal Competitive Advantage
Presentation Story can Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations.

Stories can capture powerful ideas in a few telling strokes, and stories involve your audience better than any other competing technique.

But in telling a story, we can sometimes veer off-course.  We get so enamored with our own words that they build a momentum of their own, and they draw us along with their own impetus.

That’s why it’s imperative that we stay tethered to our main point.

Professional storyteller Doug Lippman calls this the Most Important Thing.  I like to call it the MIP – the Most Important Point.

Christopher Witt is a competent coach for today’s executives, and he makes a powerful point about a story’s MIP.  He calls it the Big Idea:

A good movie tells one simple, powerful story.  If you can’t sum it up in a sentence or two, it’s not a good story – and it won’t make a good movie. The same is true for a speech.  A movie tells one story.  A speech develops one idea.  But it’s got to be a good idea – a policy, a direction, an insight, a prescription.  Something that provides clarity and meaning, something that’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging.  It’s got to be what I call a Big Idea.

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your presentation story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!

Let this be core of your story and build around it.

I urge you to focus on one point, because our tendency as business people is to include everything initially, or to add-on infinitum until the story collapses under its own weight.  The military calls this “mission creep,” and we can call it “story creep.”

Simple awareness of story creep is usually sufficient guard against it.

MIP Permeates Your Presentation Story

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.

It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare and practice your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.

If it does not, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.  This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

Eloquence must be grounded on the plainest narrative.  Afterward it may warm itself until it exhales symbols of every kind and color, and speaks only through the most poetic forms; but, first and last, it must still be at bottom a statement of fact.  The orator is thereby an orator, that he keeps his feet ever on a fact. Thus only is he invincible.  No gifts, no graces, no power of wit or learning or illustration will make any amends for want of this.

Powerful presentation storytelling can be the source of incredible personal competitive advantage.  Give it a try.

And consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to develop the entire range of presenting skills.

Keys to Successful Presentation Preparation

Presentation Preparation is key to successLet’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case . . . how do you begin your business presentation preparation?

It’s not an easy question.  How we prepare and practice can be as crucial as the substance of our show.

Your group has produced a written analysis.  It’s finished.

Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.

What now?

The Key to Successful Presentation Preparation is . . .

Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Your task is clear.  You must present your conclusions to an audience.  Here is where I give you one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.  Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.

It’s a completely different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you create your presentation from a written report?  Since you are creating an information product from a case, how can the product be different, simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

Completely different.

It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.  It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.

You operate in a different medium.

You have time constraints.

A group is receiving your message.

A group is delivering the message.

You have almost no opportunity for repeat.

You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.

In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable.  Have a look at the chart below.

    Presentation Preparation

These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, invisible.

Many folks believe that there is no difference.

And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.”  It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.

As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency.  People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  The more numbers, the better.  The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide, the better.

Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.  It’s totally wrong, and it’s totally unneccessary.

Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it.  Rid your presentation of chart junk.  Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Perhaps you’ve said that?  I’ve certainly heard it.

“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.  Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you. Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you.

No one cares if tPresentation Preparation . . . the winning edgehey “interest” you.  That’s not the point.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics.  But what’s an “interesting” topic?

I have found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics.  They don’t recognize them as interesting.  And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.

Face it.  If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic.  You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.

Let’s shed that attitude.

Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.

Crank up Interest

How do you generate interest?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

Let’s go . . .

The typical start to a presentation project is . . .

. . . procrastination.

You put it off as a daunting task.  Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.”  Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”

Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes.  What is your actual task here?  Think about it.  How do you usually approach the task?  How do you characterize it?

Here is my guess at how you approach it.

You define your task as:

“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”

In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.”  And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.

Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.”  They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively. And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum. 

If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task. You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.

The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail.  The result is predictable.

Your slides are crammed with information.

You talk fast to force all the points in.  You run over-time.

You fail. You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper presentation preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:

He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it.  If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.

Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard.  In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”

“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture. A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.

But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.

Your Procrustean Solution

Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation.  Consider this:

We have no choice in the length of our presentation.  It’s four minutes.  Or five minutes.  That’s our Procrustean Bed.  So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.

We’re not stretching someone or something.  And we’re not hacking off legs.

We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.

And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation.  Pick only three major points that you want to make.

Only three.

Here is your task now:

Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes.  If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.

Why do we do this? Here’s why:

If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience.  They turn off and tune you out.  You will lose them, and you will fail.

Presenting too many points is worse than only one point.   If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly.  Your presentation presents the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis.  The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.

You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it.  You want the audience to remember your conclusions.

You take information and transforming it into intelligence.

You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.

You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.

You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found.  When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you? Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand? Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytical gold to your client.

Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.  An especially powerful presentation.

Digest these presentation preparation tips and try them out in your next presentation.  Watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

For more on successful presentation preparation, consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Hook Your Presentation Audience . . . and Keep Them

Your Presentation Audience deserves your bestDo you face a listless, distracted audience?

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.

Have a look . . .