Tag Archives: preparation

Do You Ever Wing It?

Especially Powerful Presentations
No chance to fly at all if you “wing it.”

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them . . . and this means never, ever wing it.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Never wing it.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

And never wing it.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Sometimes we elect to go in unprepared, trusting in a cavalier attitude to carry us through . . . winging it in insulting fashion.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

The Curse of Hubris

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.

Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.  Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.

Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage
Is this how to give an especially powerful presentation?

They don’t prepare.

They offer standard tropes.

They rattle off cliches.

They pull out shopworn blandishments . . .

. . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says, whatever it was, becomes gospel.  However he said it becomes accepted practice, no matter how awful.

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.

The lack of preparation by any speaker conveys a kind of contempt for the audience and the time of people gathered to listen.

I Read my Own Press Clipping Now

For instance, I recall an occasion of a successful young entrepreneur who spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea.

He related how he pitched that idea to venture capitalists.

His idea was tremendously successful and, as I gather, he sold it for millions of dollars.

Now, he stood in front of our students dressed in “cool slob.”  He wore a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

especially powerful speech
You sometimes hear the Styrofoam Speech . . . the mark of someone “winging it.”

He might as well have delivered a “Styrofoam speech.”

He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  He had elected to “wing it.”

His sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Make really good slides.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he offered a great idea sharply defined, practiced many times, and presented knowledgeably by a well-dressed team that won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by to wing it.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.

And there is much to be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Do you Wing It?

In business school, you will espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.

It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness when you wing it.

You offer contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude that carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

And this kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”  It is obvious to everyone watching that you elected to wing it.

Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your time?  You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You will gain personal competitive advantage.

But you never will if you “wing it.”

Presentation Preparation – The Second P

Presentation Preparation - the Right Way
The Right Kind of Presentation Preparation is Key

The right kind of presentation preparation lays the groundwork for spectacular performance.

Squeeze the most from your prep time, and try doing it this way . . .

Let’s say you are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations in a business presentation.

Your first task is to prepare the business presentation . . .  the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

Presentation Preparation for your Best Shot

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

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.

And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.

They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.  Here you apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.

Presentation Preparation
Presentation Preparation invests you with confidence

Your task is clear.  It’s time to present your conclusions to an audience in the most direct and cogent manner possible.

And in this task is embodied a verity for you to internalize.

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

Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

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

It’s a different mode of communication.

Do you wonder how this is possible, since you prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?

They are different in the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same.

How Different?

It’s 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.  You’re far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controlled.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report

These differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, insignificant.

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.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

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 wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

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?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation
Presentation Preparation?

Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting is irrelevant to your task.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience.

Business 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 they “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 as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

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.

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 as you prepare the business presentation?

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.  And this 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 preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology.  The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth this way:

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

Take a Procrustean approach and forge an especially powerful 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 manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience in our presentation preparation.

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

We are using our minds 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.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

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 delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present 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 to find the nuggets.  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 analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover more on Especially Powerful Presentation Preparation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Three Ps for Especially Powerful Presentations

Especially Powerful Presentations
The Three Ps of Business Presentations can greatly enhance your presentation delivery for an especially powerful presentation every time

It’s always helpful when the key words that describe your especially powerful presentation all start with the same letter.

In this case we speak of the Three Ps of Business Presentations.

The “Three Ps of Business Presenting” encompass everything you must do to deliver especially powerful presentations every time.

They are, in order . . .

Principles

          Preparation

                     Practice

If you have spent any time at all in this space, you already know about the “Seven Secrets of Power Presenting.”

Now, you might head-scratch and wonder how the “Seven Secrets” mesh with the “Three Ps of Business Presenting.”

A fair question.

For Especially Powerful Presentations

The “Principles” referred to are the Seven Secrets, the pillars of your transformation into an especially powerful presenter.

Learning and improving on the Seven dimensions of power presenting is essential to your presentation quest in a broadest sense.

You don’t improve on the seven dimensions of presenting overnight . . . it requires application and adoption of the proper habits of behavior.

This may appear intuitive, but too often I see students who appear to understand the seven secrets but do not apply them for a host of reasons.  Perhaps good reasons, in their own minds.

3 Ps of Business
You always have a choice. Choose to implement the Three Ps of Business Presenting, and you’ll find that your delivery improves immensely

And yet, the choice cripples them in their presentations.

When it comes to individual presentations, you must apply your principles.  And this means preparation.

It means practice.

Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from the approach presented here.

So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps of Business Presenting and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.

Business Presentation Prep . . . The Second P

Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

You are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations in a business presentation.

Your task is to prepare the business presentation . . .

. . .  the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

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

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.

And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.

They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Prepare the Business Presentation

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

Your task is clear.  It’s time to present your conclusions to an audience in the most direct and cogent manner possible.

And in this task is embodied a verity for you to internalize.

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

Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.

Your business 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 prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?  But they are different.

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.

How Different?

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.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report

These many differences between the written report and the business presentation are, to many people, seemingly invisible.  Or, at least, they are not considered significant.

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.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

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 wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

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?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation

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 they “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 as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

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 as you prepare the business presentation?

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.  And this 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 preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  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

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.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

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 delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present 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 analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, you sift through mountains of information, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover how to Prepare the Business Presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Prepare the Business Presentation . . . the Second P

Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way
Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way

You are assigned the ToughBolt business case to analyze and to provide your recommendations.  Your task is to provide a report and then prepare the business presentation.

. . . to prepare it the right way.

After all, you’re performing before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation . . . and you get one shot to get it right.  Shouldn’t it be your best shot?

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

What now?

How do you “prepare?”

“Prepare” has such a sterile sound.  Almost vacuous.  And yet too many students stumble over this most mundane of activities.  They rush.  They fumble.  They grope blindly.  Perhaps you grope blindly . . . and decide at the end to “wing it.”

But here is where you tuck away one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.

Prepare the Business Presentation

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

Your task is clear.  You present your conclusions to an audience.

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 prepare the business presentation from a written report?  How can the products differ significantly simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?  But they are different.

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.

How Different?

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.

Look at the chart below.

Prepare the Business Presentation aside from your written report
As you Prepare the Business Presentation, Recognize that it Differs Significantly from the Written Report

These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, seemingly invisible.  Or, at least, they are not considered significant.

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.

Numbers Trump All?

Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.”  As they prepare the business presentation, one thought trumps all . . .

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 wrong, and it’s wholly unnecessary.

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?”

Think Hard before your Prepare the Business Presentation

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 they “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 as they prepare the business presentation.

And they miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great show.

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 as you prepare the business presentation?

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.  And this 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 preparation.

This Time, Procrustes has it Right

Take the Procrustean approach when you prepare the business presentation.  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

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.

Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation the Right Way
Procrustes Would Prepare the Business Presentation in Ruthless Fashion

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 delivering only one point.

Especially Powerful Paucity

If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it.  None of it.  And you irritate your audience mercilessly.

Your presentation should present 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 analytic gold to your client.

As you prepare the business presentation, 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.

Digest this Preparation guidance, try it out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.

Discover how to Prepare the Business Presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Presentation? It’s Your Fault

Really bad presentation

That bad presentation is your fault.

You sabotaged it.

Screwed it up.

All of us sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.  And we do it through self-defeating behaviors.

These self-defeating behaviors come in many forms, but negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.

We envision humiliation, embarrassment.  Complete meltdown.

We Set Ourselves Up for Bad Presentations

Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school.  That cliche is “I hate presentations.”  This culprit leads to awful presentations.  It undermines everything we strive for in business school presentations.

How can we build a positive presentation on such a spongy foundation?

Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice.  Shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.

Moreover, our sour and weak attitude can infect our teammates if it happens to be a group presentation.  The negative spiral down means things get worse before they get better.  If at all.

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.  How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of negativity?

Do You Think Like a World-Class Athlete?

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body.  Visualizing success is a technique they use to prepare for competition.  I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques.

All of these experts agree that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

Let’s leave aside the specific techniques and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century.  Let’s just say now that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk.  Let’s give ourselves a fighting chance of success at delivering a good presentation.  Even a great presentation.

Bad Presentation
Stop Negative Self-talk and Fix that Bad Presentation

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?  It could be the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation.  This ignorance means uncertainty of performance.

This ignorance and uncertainty breed fear.

It’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety and can result in a bad presentation.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction.

And we can reduce uncertainty through preparation and by controlling the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.

We rely on our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes.  It weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt.  And it ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

When we take the stage, we focus.  We charge forward boldly, presenting with masterful aplomb and professionalism.  With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety.  We wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

We eliminate the bad presentation.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal with unknowns that nettle us.

Positive self-talk is essential to preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.

Find more on how to eliminate the bad presentation in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

End Self-Sabotage . . .

End self-sabotage in your business presentations

Self-defeating behaviors come in many forms, but negative self-talk is one of the chief culprits.

This is especially prevalent in our business presentations.  We sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.

We tell ourselves repeatedly that we’ll fail.We envision humiliation, embarassment, and complete meltdown.

Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school – “I hate presentations.”  This is the number one culprit that leads to inevitably awful presentations.  It undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.

How can we construct any positive presentation experience on such a spongy foundation?

Think Like a World-Class Athlete

Negative self-talk translates into bodily reactions of nervousness, trembling, faltering voice, shaking knees, sweating, and flushing.  Moreover, our sour and weak attitude ensures that we aren’t the greatest source of strength to our teammates if we happen to be delivering a group presentation.

The negative spiral down guarantees that things get worse before they get better . . . if at all.

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.  How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition.  I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

Develop professional presence with confidence
Confidence is one essential key to developing a powerful professional presence on the podium

Leaving aside the specific techniques for a later time and the psychological underpinnings of it that go back more than a century, let’s say here and now that we must at least rid ourselves of the negative self-talk so that we can give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?  Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.  Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

In my experience, it’s this fear of the unknown that drives up anxiety.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.  Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?  No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.  We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.  Envision this, instead – you deliver a tight, first-rate presentation that hits all the right notes, weaves a story that grips your audience, that keeps the audience rapt, and ends in a major ovation and a satisfying feeling of a job well-done.

When we take the stage, we put our minds on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb and professionalism.  With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

The right kind of preparation allows us to deal capably with the handful of unknowns that might wiggle in to nettle us.

Positive self-talk is an essential part of your schema for preparing an especially powerful presentation and developing personal competitive advantage.

Find more on preparing the right way in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

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.

Don’t Lower the Bar . . . Jump Higher

Practice and Preparation
Training and Preparation make for a much more powerful performance

“I’m just not comfortable doing that.  It’s just not me.”

This is what passes for sage wisdom in some quarters in reaction to new ideas, new methods, different techniques, and sometimes just good advice.

What hokum.

For example, look at the big offensive lineman, who could end up starting for the football team, perhaps even take his performance to the next level of competition.  Coaches schedule his training regimen.  He responds:

“I’m just not comfortable with all these exercises.  It’s just not me.”

Hokum, yes . . .

You won’t hear that comment often in the locker room or on the battlefield, but we hear it all the time in other venues of life.

I think you know that the future isn’t bright for the player or soldier or businessman with this kind of precious attitude.

Of course not.  Developing new skills, new abilities, new strengths is uncomfortable.  It means changing our behavior in sometimes unfamiliar ways.  And instead of meeting the challenge, we can find ourselves taking a short cut.

Personal Competitive Advantage means working hard
Quiet Charisma . . . the Oxymoron

We attempt to redefine our goals to encompass what we already do, so that we no longer have to stretch or strive to meet the original tough goals.  We may find ourselves redefining what it means to excel, we lower the bar so as to meet our lower expectations . . . rather than continue to strive to excel to achieve a lofty and worthy goal.We move the goal posts closer.

Several years ago, I was delivering a lecture on how to develop charisma.  A young woman, who was surely not a charismatic speaker offered this gem  “What about people who have quiet charisma?”

“I’m sorry.  What did you say?”

“I mean people who don’t exhibit these characteristics you’ve been talking about, but show a quiet charisma.”

Those characteristics that I had referred to are personal magnetism, a seeming aura that radiates enthusiastic goodwill, a mesmerizing speaking style, and a kind of restrained hyper-kinetic internal fuel cell that you sense could move mountains if unleashed [here, of course, I exaggerate . . . but the point is made].

This person expressed that she was extremely “uncomfortable” with the techniques that, in fact, would help her become more charismatic in delivering her presentations.  But rather than experience that discomfort, she chose instead to appeal to me to redefine charisma to include her own behavior.

Unambitious Goals . . . a Lower Bar

Behavior that was the exact opposite of charismatic.  She wanted to move the goalposts closer.  She wanted to lower the bar.

Oxymoronic “quiet charisma.”  Charisma on the cheap.  Easy charisma.

There’s no such thing

To reach a worthy goal, we may have to step outside of what is sometimes called our “comfort zone.”  I prefer to think of it as enlarging our comfort zone rather than stepping outside of it.

Any time we begin to rationalize and redefine our goals, it is time to pause and reflect.  Are we selling ourselves short?  Are we fooling ourselves?

Are we telling ourselves that we possess “quiet charisma” instead of doing the hard work and practice necessary to achieve the real thing?

Think about it.

For more on developing an especially powerful professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.