Every presentation – every story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this structure.
Beginning . . . Middle . . . End
If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well. Your segment has this structure.
In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.
In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes, during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation. The first speaker delivers the beginning. The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle. The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”
Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.
This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.
You can be innovative. You can be daring, fresh, and new.
You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.
Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.
Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.
Build a Business Presentation to Stand the Fire
Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.
I suggest you use it to build your presentation in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation structure to better suit your material.
Please do so. But do so with careful thought and good reason.
And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.
One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends. You should Bookend your show. This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.
Hence, the term “Bookends.” And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.
Bad business presentations can be a career-killer. Of course, no one will tell you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give. them.
And yet, they are everywhere.
Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago. I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate. By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
You’ve almost mastered your voice and material, and now it’s time to build on that and incorporate essential presentation movement.
What should you do during your talk?
Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
Today we begin to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – movement that adds power, movement that reinforces your message in positive ways.
First, think about distance. Your distance from your audience significantly impacts the degree of connectivity you share with audience members.
Distance Matters in Presentation Movement
Many speakers are unaware of the effect that distance-from-audience can have on their talk. The formal term for how distance affects the relationship between speaker and audience is called “proxemics.”
This is simply lingo for your proximity to the audience – how far from your audience you stand. Altering that distance throughout your talk can enhance your message in ways you intend.
You achieve four distinct effects by varying the distance that you maintain between you and your audience. A distinguished anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, developed the concept of how these four distances communicate vastly different messages from speaker to audience.
Let’s look at the Four Spaces and how you can use them to achieve certain effects with your presentation movement. They can animate your business presentation and enhance that 3D effect I often refer to.
First, the most common space is public space, and this is a distance of more than 12 feet from your audience. Obviously, this space is necessary when you deliver a lecture to a large audience of, say, 200 persons or more.
The second space is social space.
This space is occupied by the speaker who wants to connect in a personal way with his audience. It’s the space from four feet to 12 feet from your audience.
Think of a seminar of 12 students with a professor in close proximity. Here, eye contact is frequent and effective.
A conversational style is possible and desirable. In fact, conversational and relaxed style is essential in this scenario.
The third space is personal space. This space begins at 18 inches from a person and extends out to approximately four feet. It is conversational space and is generally not utilized in public speaking.
The fourth space is intimate space. This space is highly personal and you must be invited into this space. Without an invitation, you invade this space at your own risk. You make others feel uncomfortable, and they may respond in any number of ways, few of which will please you.
Now, it’s time to think about scripting your presentati0n movements.
Coordinate your movements with major segments of your talk. Script them into your presentation as if you were performing a play.
For instance, follow the script below. Following each quote, the indented statements describe the actions you take:
SPEAKER: “My talk has three major points. As I share these points with you tonight, I want you to consider how each of these powerful issues affect you, personally. The first major point?”
<<Bow head and walk slowly to the left. Take ready stance. Look up at audience. >>
SPEAKER: “The first major point is Humility. In this we are the same as our earliest fathers and mothers . . . .”
<<Look to your right and walk slowly, meeting the eyes of several audience members in turn. Stop in ready position. >>
SPEAKER: “The second major point is Confidence. Surely there is not one among us who has not felt the fear of failure, of being judged unworthy . . . .”
<<Look to the center and walk slowly to center-stage. Stop and assume ready position. Gesture with both hands in supplication.>>
SPEAKER: “The third and most important point is this – Understanding of a kind that passes beyond . . . etc., etc. . . .”
The movements thus accomplished are displayed in the diagram. This type of broad presentation movement accentuates the major points of your talk. You anchor each point at a different part of the stage:
Point 1 to the Left
Point 2 to the Right
Point 3 to the Center
This scripted movement series is a highly visual reinforcement to the organization of your talk. Coupled with the proper hand gestures and expressiveness of face and voice, this series movement invests your message with immediacy and dimensionality and increases its impact.
You hammer home the three points with a visual element coupled with the aural element.
All of this carefully considered presentation movement about the stage also conveys to the audience that you are in control. You own the stage. So act like you own it; don’t behave like a visitor who cannot wait to depart.
It’s your space, so make good use of it. Learn to be comfortable in that space and to utilize all of the space at your disposal.
At the same time, apply the principles found here. Do not move, just to be moving.
The combined effect of movement, position, and spoken message connects you firmly with your audience; appropriate movement deepens the connection and moves you from 2D Presenting to 3D Presenting. And when you make this jump to 3D presenting, you enhance your professional presence on the stage and add to your personal competitive advantage.
“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days, but it sits at the core of what we call presentation passion.
The word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful business presentation.
Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that “Earnestness is the soul of oratory. It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”
What was true then is surely true today.
And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon, perhaps, as somehow “uncool.”
Showing Too Much Interest?
If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your business presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious.
Better to pretend you don’t care.
So the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance, so that no defeat is too damaging. No presentation passion for you! And you save your best – your earnestness – for something else.
For your friends, for your sports contests, for your facebook status updates, for your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .
But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are necessarily small victories. Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.
Leave Mediocrity to Others and Embrace Presentation Passion
Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant. Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation: “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”
Wrap your material in you.
This means giving a business presentation that no one else can give. A presentation that no one else can copy . . . because it arises from your essence, your core.
It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject. It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service. You should make it yours when you present.
In the process, you craft your persona, your powerful personal brand that differentiates you from the great hoi-polloi of undistinguished speakers. And you achieve remarkable personal competitive advantage.
Embrace your topic with earnestness, and you will shine as you deliver an especially powerful business presentation.
You feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills? Excellent! I congratulate you and suggest that you pass Business School Presenting along to a buddy who might profit from it.
But if you are like most of the 1.3 million English-speaking business school population worldwide, you have muttered I hate presentations more than once.
And you probably have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this blog.
One in 255 Million?
Of an estimated 255 million websites worldwide, this is the only site devoted exclusively to business school presentations. I could be wrong about that, and I hope that I am.
Even if this is a lonely outpost today, we know that as quickly as the online community responds to the needs of its users, that could change tomorrow. I trust you’ll let me know, so that I can link to these nooks and crannies of the web that may hold secrets that we all need.
But right now, this instant, I do believe that this is it.
I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.” In short, you want to know what works and why.
You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.
You want to know what is just opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.
You’ll 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. Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .
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. 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.
So think deep.
Consider the personal competitive advantage that can be yours when you develop world class business presentation skills.