Here are sage words on the business presentation introduction . . .
Words that are so sage, they hail from 1935.
The venerable Richard Borden cautions us not to “ooze” into our introduction, and his particular 1935 coinage struck me as, yes, sage.
It also strikes me as a mighty good description of what happens at the start of many business presentations.
Oozing instead of launching.
Borden offers us much more.
Business Presentation Introductions for Power and Impact
With a collection of rare books on public speaking consisting of more than 1000 volumes reaching back to 1727, it’s inevitable that I come across the occasional gem to share – this one on the business presentation introduction.
And so it is that I distill the wisdom of old-time writers into chunks of advice administered in my own classes and seminars. But occasionally, the original is so darned quaint that it carries the charm of the decade in which it was crafted.
The original can be an especially powerful tool.
Let me share some of the pithier advice that begs our attention from more than half a century ago.
Borden’s 1935 volume Public Speaking as Listeners Like it could replace any dozen modern “Business Communications” textbooks, and students would be the better for the exchange. Enjoy . . .
Use your key-issue sentence as your opening sentence.
A good conference speaker opens his comment like a knife thrower throws his knife – point first!
Conference room listeners are not leisurely listeners. They are executives who have business on hand that they are anxious to get done.
“What do you want us to do with the pending issue – and why?”
This is the question which your listeners ask the very second you rise to your feet. “What? Why?”
Don’t delay your answer. If you delay it even a few sentences, you may get an unfavorable listener reaction. “Will he ever come to the point” is an un-uttered question which forms quickly in impatient minds.
Owen D. Young was once asked how he made such swift decisions.
“A man will come to your desk, Mr. Young,” said the questioner, “and present a fairly elaborate proposal. Instead of saying that you will take it under advisement for several weeks, you say Yes or No – and your swift decision is usually right. How do you do it?”
“When I tell you how I make those swift decisions,” replied Mr. Young, “you may think that I am guided by an unreliable index – but I have found it’s an index that works. I am guided very largely by the first sentence uttered by the man interviewing me.
“I have found from experience that if my interviewer doesn’t thoroughly understand the proposal he is presenting, his first sentence will be confused.
“If he secretly doesn’t believe in the proposal, his first sentence will be evasive.
“If the details of the proposal aren’t concrete in his own mind, his first sentence will be abstract.
“On the other hand, a proposal that is opened by a sentence which is clear, compact, and concrete – is usually worthwhile.”
If you would please not only the Owen D. Youngs in your audience, but all the other conference listeners who instinctively apply the same first-sentence test, start strongly.
Don’t ooze into your speech. Begin point first – with your thumbtack key-issue sentence.
Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker.
From the time of Corax in the 5th century B.C., public speaking soon developed into what 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 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.
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.”
Skills of the Masters
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over 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 his unpopular ideas.
In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us. We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message. Yet the result has been something quite different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them, providing barriers between speaker and audience. Each new advancement in technology creates another layer of insulation.
Today’s presenters have grasped feverishly at 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 limp 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.”
In many cases, this is exactly what happens. The presenter pivots, shows us his back, and edges away from the stage to become a quasi-member of the audience.
PowerPoint and props are just tools. That’s all. You should be able to present without them. 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 will 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.
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 . . . but few bend to pick them up.
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.
Most finance folks believe that the finance presentation is king.
I’m skeptical of this hubris, but . . .
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, and there are few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.
With financial data, you can discover the firm’s profitability, general health, and potential. You can get reasonable answers to the question: “How are we doing?”
But . . .
. . . and it is an especially powerful but.
The results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.
There is something about a spreadsheet that mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.
A spreadsheet seems important.
It appears substantial. It gives the illusion of precision. Everyone nods.
As a presenter, you stare back at the screen behind you, at the phalanx of figures. You wave your hand at the screen with the words “As you can see –”
And then you call out seemingly random numbers. Your classmates or colleagues in the audience watch with glazed eyes.
It’s almost mystical.
Your professor sits sphinx-like. Some folks shuffle papers, actually digging through a handout you mistakenly distributed beforehand. Some check email, heads canted downward to their smartphones clasped below table-level.
No one has a clue as to what you’re talking about or how it actually relates to the real world.
You get through your finance presentation, finally, and you’re relieved.
And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question. This is common.
And it’s Ugly Finance Presentation
There is a best way that makes things easier for everyone.
Three Steps: Orient, Eliminate, Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context. If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet. Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you will not talk about. You strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
If you follow this basic advice, you can improve the finance portion of your presentation immensely and be on your way to an especially powerful presentation.
There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic. Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.
Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience. Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.
That’s your job. In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.
Interesting? That’s Your Job
Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you. No one cares if they interest you.
That’s not the point.
Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.
Persuades the audience.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics, wouldn’t we? But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?
I’ve found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.
Students don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.
So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.
It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.
The Tenpenny Nail?
The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.
The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone. The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”
It’s hip. And familiar.
Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.
But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.
The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.
How do you generate interest? How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:
[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.
It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.
It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.
In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.
The Business Presentation Topic Beast
And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?
Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100? I always thought so.
But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price. Instead, it has to do with . . . . Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.
Why is so much Bad PowerPoint out there in the corporate world?
I suspect that the reason for this is mimicry and corporate incest.
In the absence of good habits within an organization, bad habits perpetuate themselves, especially if senior leadership is the culprit. If the model within a firm is average or below-par, then this becomes the norm.
We unfortunately do not license users for competence or require that candidates complete a PowerPoint safety course to ensure that they commit minimal damage. As a result, bad PowerPoint technique thrives.
Mimicry Breeds Mediocrity
The natural tendency of people is to mimic the boss. They accept his style as proper. While this may serve you well as a corporate survival tool, it stunts your personal growth. Like any principle, it can be followed mindlessly, or it can serve you well if you are judicious.
Such is the case with PowerPoint. People see “professionals” use this tool in gross fashion, and they copy the bad technique.
They think it’s “the way to do it.”
I’m certain that this is how students develop such bad habits.
Some corporate vice president or successful entrepreneur shows up at your school unprepared to deliver a talk, believing that his professional achievements are enough to impress you. He or she believes that preparation is unnecessary, that faux spontaneity can carry the day.
They feel no drive to deliver a satisfying talk.
This worthy believes that anything he says will be treated as business gospel. Who can blame you for copying him and his bad habits?
But bad habits they are, and they span the disciplines. They run rampant the length of the corporate ladder. I separate these bad habits and actions into two broad categories – 1) the PowerPoint material itself, and 2) your interaction with that material during your presentation.
Let’s look at that first point.
Especially Bad PowerPoint
Oftentimes, students throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides. They cut-and-paste them from a written report with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout.
You’ve probably done this yourself. The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points and which are delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.
There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls bad slides . . .
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to cut and paste graphics from a written report onto a slide. You then project that slide onto the screen while you talk about it. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”
The results are usually poor, if not downright heinous. This is what I call the “As you can see” syndrome: AYCSS. It’s a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous. And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show.
What Makes Bad PowerPoint?
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell. PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.
This view is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling computer generated special effects and neglect the story. The films flop, one after the other. Yet Hollywood does not get the message.
You can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See 12 Angry Men. You cannot craft a winning film with no story or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about and who are buffeted by dangers and threats contrived by Industrial Light and Magic.
And it’s the same with your presentation.
Likewise, Aileen Pincus, a superb presentation coach, tells us that “Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
Start improving your slides and your use of them today. Implement the following three-step remedy.
Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.
If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet.
Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about. If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, tell your audience what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide, which should contain only the figures you refer to.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
It is incredibly easy to do the above, if you know to do it. Most folks do not. But now you do.
Try these three simple steps, and I guarantee that your presentation improves dramatically.
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures. Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.
But it is essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
And if you aren’t satisfied with the narrative of a 19th Century social scientist you never heard of, then take the theory of Charles Darwin, who in 1872 was one of the first to speculate that your body posture can have an effect of generating emotions rather than simply reflecting them.
The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it. On the other hand, the repression, as far as this is possible, of all outward signs softens our emotions . . . . Even the simulation of an emotion tends to arouse it in our minds.
So what does this have to do with powerful business presenting?
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence? Impossible, eh?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.
This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?”
No, there’s no catch. And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out.
Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power. In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly.
Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
For some reason known only to the deities of publishing, Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs is considered a great business presenter.
A bestselling book by Carmin Gallo even touts The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
But is Steve really a great presenter? Does he really have secrets that you can use? And can you learn how to be “an insanely great” presenter from this book?
No . . . no . . . and . . .
Well . . . on that last point, you can learn to become a pretty good presenter from this book.
But not from Steve Jobs.
The Extraordinary Jobs
Steve is a visionary and an extraordinary entrepreneur many times over. He has grown tremendously since the days when he thought that his self-absorbed bombast gave him license to insult Microsoft and Bill Gates mercilessly.
Jobs emerged as a celebrity CEO, a man who loves the limelight and whose strong and quirky personality guarantee him a maniacal following among a narrow slice of the American populace.
On an absolute scale, Steve is a slightly above-average presenter. Remove Steve’s high-tech prop that the entire wonk-world is waiting to see, and remove the employee/early adopter audiences that cheer his every eye-twitch, and we are left with a shabbily dressed average sort of fellow given to aimless pacing and whose high-pitched voice grates a bit on the senses with its “ummms” and “ahhhhs.”
You and I know that there is only one reason that Steve Jobs is on that stage. Only one reason that he has a book purporting to reveal the presentation secrets of Steve Jobs.
And it’s not for his presenting skills.
The Real Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
While Jobs himself is not someone whose presenting skills deserve emulation, he is obviously the subject of the book because of his built-in audience, and so we must deal with that. We can dismiss it, in fact.
But the book does have a gem.
The gem of the book is the author. The author of the Jobs book is Carmine Gallo, who is an extremely polished and superb presenter and presentation coach, and he embeds solid presenting nuggets throughout the book.
Carmine is, in fact, a much better presenter than Jobs. You can judge for yourself by watching the video here.
But even Carmine is not perfect. He begins by gushing at Jobs’s stature as a presenter that is almost embarrassing in its lavish excess: “Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage . . . He is the world’s greatest corporate storyteller!”
But . . . well, we’re selling books here, and hype is understandable. I’d probably gush, too, if given a similar opportunity, so let’s give Carmine a pass on this one.
But at the end of the video Carmine gives advice that I believe is just flat-out wrong.
He says that you, the presenter, are the hero of the presentation. That you, your product, or your service is the hero.
All of us would like to be the hero of our presentation, wouldn’t we? And we are sorely tempted to put the focus on our product and ourselves.
No. Don’t do it.
Your Audience is the Hero
There is room for only one hero in the presentation, and that hero is not you. The hero is in the audience, and you are there to help your audience become heroic.
As with all presentation instruction, you can ignore or accept what you choose, and this point is no different. You can try to be the hero. Or, you can focus on your audience and its needs and its desires.
In sum, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs offers a reasonable exposition of presentation methods that can benefit us all, but recognize that these methods have nothing to do with Steve Jobs and they do not help us become “insanely great” presenters.
But there is good news for you on the presentation front. The best news in all of this is, in fact, great news.
With dedication, coachability, and the right method, virtually anyone – and I mean anyone – can become a better business presenter than Steve Jobs.
Let’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case. Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.
Your group has produced a written analysis. It’s finished.
How do you “prepare?”
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. And 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?
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
Digest these Preparation tips, try them out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
Much more can be said about Preparation . . . Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.
If you feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills, then I congratulate you and suggest that you pass Business School Presentingalong 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 doubtless have issues with your business school and its treatment of presentations, which is why you’re reading this now.
One in 260 Million?
Of an estimated 260 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
And then . . . your mind wanders for a brief moment.
It was just a moment. But it was enough to sabotage you.
Your thoughts grind to a halt and you can’t remember what to say. Words fail you.
You have lost the proverbial “train of thought” and you’re on the cusp of a presentation meltdown.
What do You do?
Blank-Mind attacks all of us at one point or another during our business presentation career.
In fact, it happens so often that it might do us some good to think ahead to how we should react to this common presentation malady.
Too often, it leads to a presentation meltdown. But it doesn’t have to.
Presenters have developed trade tricks to help us past the rough spots. Here is one stopgap solution to get you over the speedbump of lost train of thought.
When you lose your train of thought, don’t panic or you’ll spiral quickly into a presentation meltdown.
Instead, your first reaction should be a calm academic assessment of the situation – you know what’s happened, and you already know what your first action will be. You’ve prepared for this.
Dodge Presentation Meltdown with This
Flood the room with silence.
Look slightly upward and raise your right hand to your chin, holding your hand in a semi-fist with chin perched and resting on your index finger and thumb – perhaps with your index finger curled comfortably around your chin. You know the posture.
Put your left hand on your hip. Furrow your brow as if deep in thought, which you are.
Now, while looking steadily at the floor or slightly upward at the ceiling, walk slowly in a diagonal approximately four, maybe five steps and stop, feet shoulder-width apart.
Now, assume your basic ready position and look up at your audience.
Your Bought Time
You have just purchased a good 10 seconds to regain your composure, to regain your thought pattern. Time enough to cobble together your next few sentences.
But if this brief respite was not enough to reset yourself, then shift to the default statement.
What do I mean “default statement?”
This is a rescue phrase that you craft beforehand to get you back into your speaking groove. It consists of something like this: “Let me recapitulate our three points – liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Other phrases might be: “Now is probably a good time to look again at our main themes . . .” or “We can see again that the issue boils down to the three crucial points that I began with . . .”
And then, you simply begin ticking off your three or four main points of your presentation. In doing so, you trigger thought processes that put you back onto the correct path.
Think of this method as levering a derailed train back onto the track.
If you have prepared as you should, Blank-Mind should be no more than a small bump in the road for you, a minor nuisance with minimal damage. If you panic, however, it can balloon into something monstrous.
Remember the rescue techniques: Chin-scratch and Default Statement.
You can control the damage by utilizing the Chin-scratch, which buys you time to reassert yourself. Failing that, the Default Statement can bail you out by taking you back over familiar material you’ve just covered.
If none of the above works, however, you can still stop yourself from going into total presentation meltdown by using the two rescue words I preach to all my students . . .
We’re all familiar with the droning voice of a speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace and who inflicts on us the boring presentation.
In like fashion, you can be visually monotonous.
Visual monotony – either of repetitive constant movement or of no movement whatsoever.
We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.”
We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance. Perhaps you have seen the occasional great Stoneface, but he is a rarity today.
The Right Movement
Movement can enhance or cripple your presentation.
And the right kind of movement can solve the boring presentation quite handily.
But don’t begin agitated hopping about the stage willy-nilly. Recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for quite specific reasons. Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.
At the risk over over-alliterating, mesh your movements with your message.
Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do. If you move all the time, like a pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise. Your movements then contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation.
In fact, your movements become a distraction. They leech energy and attention from your message. It’s a form of visual monotony.
The Kiss of Sleep – Your Boring Presentation
Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is again visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Sleep . . . for your audience.
You inflict . . . the boring presentation.
Those in theater know this principle well.
In his very fine Tips for Actors, Jon Jory intones that: “Your best tool to avoid this dangerous state is variety. Three lines of loud need soft. Three lines of quick need slow. A big dose of movement needs still. Or change your tactics.”
So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience. With it, you can convey a powerful and persuasive message.
The secret is not Movement alone . . . the secret is keen, decisive, proper, and exquisitely timed Movement.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.
Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have it, it’s invisible. When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.
Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.
Or so we think. Let’s back into this thing called confidence.
Take the Trip Test
Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up? You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .
. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking? Do you feel shame of some sort? If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others? Even strangers.
Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?
Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.
Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.
This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent. It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.
Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
For many, the audience is your bogeyman. For some reason you fear your audience. But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.
And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.
They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.
Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed. They want to be entertained. Please entertain us, they think.
They are open to whatever new insight you can provide. And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers. They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.
And so confidence is yours for the taking.
Seize Confidence for Yourself
Confidence is not a thing.
It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.
What does it really mean to be confident? Can you answer that direct question? Think about it a moment.
See? We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action. Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.
Is it certitude?
Is it knowledge?
Is it bravery?
Is it surety?
Think of the times when you are confident. You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument. It could be an activity.
Why are you confident?
Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty. For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful. That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.
It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience. It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.
George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .
The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness. To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake. Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously. Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.
The solution to presentation stage fright? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?
Reduce your uncertainty.
Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps: Principles, Preparation, Practice. Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.
They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement. They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.
Principles, Preparation, Practice
The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.
Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.
When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty. You are possess the facts. You are prepared. You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice. You rehearse.
There is, of course, an element of uncertainty. There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.
By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.
So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest. Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.
And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.
For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:
Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel. For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . . But do not fear them. They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck. They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand. . . . Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.
And banish stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.