Tag Archives: presenting technique

Presentation Magic . . . YOU Provide it

presentation magic in pills?
There are no presentation magic pills to rescue a lame effort

For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?

Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?

Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?

Guilty as charged?

Most of us are at one point or another.

And the results can be heinous.

Software “Presentation Magic” Cannot Save You

The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.

There is a cost for serving up what designer Nancy Duarte calls “bad slides.”  Nancy says in her book Slideology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations:

“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 simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.

Why not?

Who says this is a bad idea?

After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?  Well, I’m giving it to him.  ’nuff said.

This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document.  This is an incredibly stupid mistake.

One . . . or the Other

Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.

Presentation Magic does not exist
You Create the Presentation Magic . . . not the Software

The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.

Never let one serve in place of the other.

Prepare two separate documents if necessary, one to serve as your detailed written document, the other to serve as the basis for your show.

When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them.  Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .”  [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]

The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.

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.

No Presentation Magic in Your Slide Deck

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.

Nifty slides cannot save you.

PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.  This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story.  They bomb miserably.

On the other hand, you can craft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects: See the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.  You cannot craft a winning film with no story.

Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.

Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show.  They have no special properties.  They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.

Presenting coach Aileen Pincus makes this point in her 2008 book Presenting:

“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.”

So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?

Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.  Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.

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.”

You provide the Presentation Magic
Great Speakers like Malcolm X bring their own Presentation Magic to performance . . . and so should you

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.

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.

When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen, and you are on your way to an especially powerful presentation.  You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.

And, consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power.  You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.

Want more on providing your own presentation magic?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Practice – How to do it Right

Presentation Practice
The Right Presentation Practice can Yield Competitive Advantage

One of the keys to successful and confident performance is presentation practice.

The right kind of practice for your business presentation.

This is even more the case with a team presentation with more moving parts and variables in the mix.

But you know how to practice your presentation already, right?  Practice is easy.  You just . . .

. . . do it.  Right?

Powerful Presentation Practice Yields . . . What?

First, not everyone practices.  Some practice not at all.

Those who do practice, usually don’t practice nearly enough.

Given how important the business presentation is to your corporate success, this creates an incredible career opportunity for you, should you take the presentation enterprise seriously . . . an engage in the right kind of presentation practice.

Here is why . . .

The good effects of the right kind of diligent rehearsal is twofold: 1) your material is delivered in a logical, cogent fashion without stumble, and 2) the practice imbues you and your team with confidence so that stage fright is reduced to a minimum and your team’s credibility is enhanced.

Practice strips away the symptoms of stage fright as you concentrate on your message and its delivery rather than extraneous audience reaction to your appearance.

But you only reap the benefits of practice if your practice makes sense.

This means that you practice the way you perform and avoid the two biggest rehearsal mistakes.

Mistake #1

First, do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

Something in our psyche seems to urge us to “start over” when we make a mistake.  When we stumble, we want a “do-over” so that we can put together a perfect rehearsal from start to finish.

But when we do this, what we are actually practicing is the “starting over.”  We become experts at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Presentation Practice
Presentation Practice for added power and impact

But is that what we plan to do when we err in our actual presentation?  Start over?

No, of course not.

But if we have practiced that way, what will we do when we do stumble during our performance?  We won’t know what to do or how to handle the situation, since we have never practiced fighting through an error and continuing on.

We have practiced only one thing – starting over.

Instead of starting over when you err, practice the gliding over of “errors,” never calling attention to them.  Practice recovering from your error and minimizing it.  Perform according to the principle that regardless of what happens, you planned it.

Mistake #2

The second big mistake is practicing in front of a mirror.

Don’t practice in front of a mirror unless you plan to deliver your talk to a mirror.  It’s plain creepy to watch yourself in the mirror while talking for an extended period of time.

There is nothing to be gained by rehearsing one way . . . only to do something entirely different for the actual event.

Of course, you will observe yourself in the mirror as you adjust your stance and appearance to ensure that what you feel is what people see while you present on all occasions.  But you do not practice your finished talk in front of a mirror.

Why would you want to grow accustomed to looking at yourself present, only to be faced with an entirely different situation for the actual presentation?  That’s just bizarre.

Instead, conduct your presentation practice in front of your roommate . . . or go to the classroom where you’re scheduled to present . . . in short, create as much of the real situation as possible.

To ensure an especially powerful presentation every time, practice hard and repeatedly . . . but practice the right way.

For more on especially powerful presentation practice and the development of personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bad Presentation Tips can Sabotage Your Business Presentation

Bad Presentation Tips
The Zombies of Bad Presentation Tips Never Die . . . That’s why they’re called Zombies

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and the zombies of bad presentation tips will be the only survivors.

I say this because I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.

No, we can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely.  These zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Presentation Tips

The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way.  It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.

And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.

The notion that the presenter actually has to change his behavior is not welcome news.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad presentation tips.

Just stop.

And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits.  All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.

Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.

That’s right.

Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.

But Bad Habits Die Hard

Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.

The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad presentation tips.

This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad presentation tips zombies stalk the land.

Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.

ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”

This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.

For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor.  Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.

No more strange finger-play.  No more tugging at your fingers.  No more twisting and handwringing.

It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.

ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”

This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.

And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.

Too long, and you come across as creepy.  Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.

Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.

ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  It’s one of the worst of bad presentation tips.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.

Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.  It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.

In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all.  See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.

ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”

Really?  Which facts are those?

What does it mean, “Just the facts?”

Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core.  But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.  Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.

“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning.  “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion.  This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”

ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”

This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.

“ We’re special,” finance majors like to say.  “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”

There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.

Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.  Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.

Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques.  Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”

You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.

ZOMBIE #6 “You have too many slides.”

How do you know I have “too many” slides?

Say what?  Oh, you counted them, did you?

I assure you that you don’t know.

You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.

You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the number of slides you use somehow dictates length of a presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips can Kill your Presentation

Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.  They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.

This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.

If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.

And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.

Bad Presentation Tips Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.

It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice.  What’s the use?  Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.

You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.

And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.  And on that upbeat note, I leave you with several positive tips from the creator of the Prezi presentation package.  Peter Arvai, Prezi founder and CEO, offers sages advice here.

If you are interested in dispensing with all of these bad presentation tips and, instead, learning powerful presentation skills, I suggest you consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Improve Your Presentation Voice

You can improve your presentation voice
You can work to improve your presentation voice

Do you bristle when folks suggest that you might improve yourself in some way . . . such as how you might improve your presentation voice?

This is a natural reaction when it comes to highly personal aspects of our personality and behavior.

We bristle.

We reject coaching in certain areas.

Perhaps you kneejerk that “There’s nothing wrong with my ——–!”

Of course, it’s much easier to accept a substandard status quo than it is to opt for improvement.

One example of such an area of improvement is your business presentation voice.

Choose!

To get to the point where we can improve the speaking voice, we first must accept that there’s nothing sacred, sacrosanct, or “natural” about your speaking voice.

Your voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences.  Many of these influences might well have been unconscious acquisitions.  Perhaps adaptations of which you may be unaware.

Why not evaluate your voice today?

Film your presentation, then watch with critical eye and listen with critical ear.  Listen with an ear to how to improve your presentation voice.

See if it gets the presentation job done for you.  Does it?

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?

Do you perform a Kim Kardashian vocal fry at the end of every sentence?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence with a bad case of uptalk, turning your sentences all into questions?

Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

If you are then pleased with all of this, then carry on.  Or choose to improve the communicative power of your voice.

Why not change for the better?

Improve Your Presentation Voice

It’s time to recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your very being.  It’s an instrument with which you communicate.

You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.

Simply thinking of your voice in this way will improve its quality. Working to improve it will improve its quality dramatically and build your voice into an especially powerful skill for personal competitive advantage.

Let’s consider here several things you can do to improve your voice.

Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

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

Respect Your Audience for Presentation Power

Respect your audience and your earn their respect
Respect your audience and you earn their respect

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them – respect your audience.

Speak to your listeners in their language and to their needs.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

“Respect Your Audience” Seems Easy

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.

We say what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear.  We speak in language that gives us comfort.

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

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why folks have gathered to hear the message.  Often, a business presenter may offer an off-the-shelf message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.  She ignores the precept respect your audience.

The Curse of Hubris

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 sometime hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

But it doesn’t.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.  They rattle off cliches.  They pull out 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 and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

But the presentation emperor has no clothes.  He does not follow the precept of respect your audience.

Contempt?  Close to It

What we actually witness from presenters of this type is a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.  The lack of preparation by speakers disregards the audience.  It shows contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.  His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.

Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup.  He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.

What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

You Call That Good Advice?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

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.  Did this fellow follow the respect your audience mantra?  I think not.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.

It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.  And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.

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.  Speak to your listeners as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

We gain by following the respect your audience mantra.

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

For more on how to respect your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Laser Pointer Presentation – the Self-Destruct Button

Laser Pointer Presentation Destruction
Even Skywalker doesn’t give a laser pointer presentation

Your remote control clicker that advances your slides can have other features allegedly designed to “enhance” your presentation.

The chief culprit among these enhancements is a horrid little device called – the Laser Pointer.

Even the best of us occasionally thumb that laser pointer self-destruct button built into most remote control clickers.

That’s right . . . self-destruct button.

No Laser Pointer Presentation!

But you want to deliver a Laser Pointer Presentation!

You’ve waited your entire life for the chance to legitimately use that laser pointer!

Haven’t you?

You’ve pictured yourself be-suited and commanding the room . . . standing back, perhaps with a jaunty posture, as you sweep the screen behind you with the little bobbing speck of red light.  The meekest among us is invested with bombast and hauteur by even the most inexpensive laser pointer.

Don’t do it.

Put down the light saber, Skywalker.

The laser pointer is 21st century overkill technology.  It distances you from your presentation message at the exact moment you should meld yourself with it.

How so?

If something is so crucially important on your slideshow – perhaps a graph or a series of numbers – that you must direct audience attention to it, then step into the presentation.

Gesture to the data with your hand.

Use Cave Man Technology

Merge yourself with the data.

Step into the presentation so that you, in essence, become the animation that highlights your points of emphasis.  Don’t divide audience attention between you, the data on the screen, and a nervously darting red speck.

Instead, concentrate your audience focus on your major points, touching the screen, guiding us to the facts and figures you want us to internalize.  It’s a cave painting, so run your hands over the cave wall.  Show us what you want us to see with your hand.

Now, I issue a caveat here.

If the screen behind you is so high that you cannot reach it, then you might be justified in using the pointer.

But probably not.

Instead, if you want to highlight or draw attention to your points of emphasis, then utilize the highlighting animation available on most multimedia platforms.

If you’re uncertain what I mean by this, have a look at this brief video:

Nothing is more gratuitous in modern business presenting than the laser pointer.  And few things more irritating than the laser pointer presentation.

Rid yourself of this awful affectation today.

Pledge never to deliver another laser pointer presentation in your business life.

For more on Business Presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Jargon in Presentations

Business Jargon in PresentationsOur profession contrives business jargon and then clutches it to its breast.

It’s useful.

Especially as shorthand for keen concepts well-understood.

But the more Machiavellian among us sometimes enshrine it as a code for entry into a priesthood of the knowledgeable.

And so we have the conundrum – one man’s obfuscation is another man’s sharply drawn argument, both using “jargon.”

Who with compassion would strip a man of his outlet for facile expression, the utility of shorthand “jargon,” simply because there exist unscrupulous cads who abuse the privilege of a profession’s lexicon?

Business Jargon Struggles for Hearts and Minds?

The struggle is for clear and original expression against the encroachment of weasel-words.  The struggle is for meaningful distinctions between useful locutions and the vulgarity of “jargon.”

So it’s a struggle, yes, but it’s also an internal struggle.

I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexicon, the “jargon” to vulnerable young minds.  Minds to which business jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it’s actually already stale and reified.

It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated.

Business Jargon in PresentationsBut business jargon does perform valuable service.  If used judiciously and properly and with clear intent to the purpose for which it was created.

If it’s wielded not to obfuscate.

If it’s wielded not to mind-taser the listener into a kind of numb dumbness.

For those of us in the profession that is home to our jargon, it serves as shorthand for many thoughts already thought, not simply a comfortable refuge.  Shorthand for many debates already concluded.  Many theories already expressed. Many systems already in place.

 In fact, a deep vein of rich discussion lurks beneath the glib façade of most of our jargon.

And thus business jargon presents us with a dilemma – if it were not useful, it would not exist.  And anything that is useful can be misused.

It should come with a warning label.

A Business Jargon Warning Label?

I provide such a warning label.  But only half-heartedly.

Half-heartedly, because it is my first obligation to ensure that my charges remember the “jargon” that I serve up to them.  They must imbibe deeply and, at some point during a seemingly interminable semester, they must regurgitate the jargon.

They must drink deeply from the cup of “competitive advantage.”

They must feast heartily at the table of “core competency” and ladle large portions of “market failure” and “pioneering costs” along with a light sprinkling of what some might consider the oxymoronic garnish of “business ethics.”

More insidious than the standard business jargon is the phalanx of “new” program buzzwords that march our way in endless columns, recycling ideas of old . . . and then recycling them yet again.

Business jargon in presentationsBest Practices,” “Re-engineering,” “Six Sigma,” “TQM, “Benchmarking,” “Balanced Scorecard,” and on and on . . .

For those of us who bathe regularly in the sea of “competitive advantage” and “market saturation” and “pioneering costs” and “core competencies,” we cannot exercise the luxury of contempt.

Instead, we must labor as any wordsmith must labor.  We must not ban the hammer because some use it to bash their thumb instead of the nail.

Just as any writer seeks and secures precision in language, the business writer must labor likewise.  Constant vigilance is our only guarantor against the debasing of the language.

This is true in business and in academia as it is true in the high-minded world of the literati.

High-minded?  It might be also useful to exercise constant vigilance that high-mindedness does not become high-handedness.

Humility and the hunger for clarity.

Uncommon qualities in the business and academic worlds?  Perhaps, but surely they should be considered corollary to the jargon that seems pervasive and inescapable and that nettles us so naughtily.

But enough!  Cast all of this aside and consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting for a jargon-free entre into the high priesthood of the finest business presenters in the corporate world!

Winning the Business Case Competition

The Business Case Competition builds skillsTomorrow, I judge a series of presentations in a business case competition.

This is where students bring to bear all of their business acumen in a public demonstration of their abilities to collaborate across a range of sub-disciplines in business.

This includes finance, marketing, operations, accounting, and strategy.

It is a tough but necessary rite of passage for the best of students.  I look forward to the presentations and will review them in this space later in the week.

As a precursor, let me explain the concept of a business case competition and its parameters.

The Business Case Competition

The business case competition is an event in which business teams deliver business presentations, competing against other teams in front of a team of judges.  Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then present their conclusions and recommendations to a panel of judges.

Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, and they are quite similar to business plan competitions.  They do have a standard format and purpose.

The idea behind such competitions Business Case Competition Question and Answeris to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit and then to rate how well the teams respond with analysis, recommendations, and a presentation of same.

Each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations.

All teams compete under the same conditions of time limit and specific rules.

Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.

At times, teams engage in several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives.

No Time for Modesty or Mediocrity

The Case Competition is your chance to demonstrate a wide range of corporate business skills in a collaborative effort.  You receive recognition, valuable experience, sometimes monetary reward, and perhaps an open door to corporate employment.  The competition is a showcase for your skills.

You can also win anywhere from $1,000 to $75,000 in a single business case competition.

Click for more information on how to deliver Especially Powerful Business School Presentations and learn the key secret techniques of how to win the business case competition.

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations
Improve your speaking voice for powerful presentations

You can improve your speaking voice to become a first-rate business presenter, but you must first accept that you can and should improve it.

Some folks get skittish and think the voice they have now is somehow “natural” and should not be tinkered with.

No, your voice isn’t  “natural” in any meaningful sense.  In fact, its qualities are likely the result of years of chaotic development and influence from many factors.

Why not seize control of that development process and begin to improve  your speaking voice today?

Improve Your Speaking Voice

Face it – some voices sound good and others sound bad.  And all sorts of voices fit in-between.

Here are some of the most awful and yet ubiquitous problems that plague speakers.

Let’s call them “verbal tics.”  They are nothing more than bad habits born of  unconscious neglect and chaotic voice development over years of influence from sources as disparate as television, radio, parents, and peers.

They eat away at your credibility.  Recognize them as corrosive factors that leech your presentations of their power.  They are easily corrected.

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

Vocal Fry – This unfortunate verbal gaffe comes at the end of sentences and is caused by squeezing out insufficient air to inflate the final word of the sentence.  The result is a grinding or grating sound on the last word.

Primarily a phenomenon that affects females, its most famous male purveyor is President Bill Clinton, whose grating voice with its Arkansas accent became a trademark.  Clinton was so incredibly good along the six other dimensions by which we adjudge great speaking that he turned his vocal fry into an advantage and part of his universally recognizable persona.

This tic is likely a manifestation of 1970s “valley girl” talk or “Valspeak.”  Vocal Fry is manifested by a creaking and grating on the last word or syllable.

It actually appears to be a fashionable way to speak in some circles, pinching off the last word of a sentence into a grating, grinding fade.  As if a  frog is croaking in the throat.  As if someone has thrown sand into the voice box.

When combined with “cartoon voice,” it can reach unbearable scale for an audience.

Verbal Down-tic – This is also called the “falling line.”  This is an unfortunate speaking habit of inflecting the voice downward at the end of every sentence, letting the air rush from the lungs in a fading expulsion, as if each sentence is a labor.

The last syllables of a word are lost in breath.  The effect is of exhaustion, depression, resignation, even of impending doom.

The Verbal Down-tic leeches energy from the room.  It deflates the audience.  In your talk, you have too many things that must go right than needlessly to create a gloom in the room.

Verbal Sing-Song – The voice bobs and weaves artificially, as if the person is imitating what they think a speaker ought to sound like.  Who knows what inspires people to talk this way, usually only in public speaking or presenting.

It’s an affectation, and if you find yourself affecting a style or odd mannerism because you think you ought to, it’s probably wrong.

Uptalk – This heinous affectation is also called the “rising line” or the “high rising terminal.”  Uptalk is an unfortunate habit of inflecting the voice upward at the end of every sentence, as if a question is being asked.  If you could choose only one thing to change to improve your speaking voice, this would be it.  Uptalk is so corrosive to credibility that correcting this one pathology can transform a weak presentation and how it is received by a skeptical audience.

It radiates weakness and uncertainty and conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come.

Sentence after sentence in succession spoken as if questions.

You create a tense atmosphere with the verbal up-tic that is almost demonic in its effect.  This tic infests your audience with an unidentifiable uneasiness.

At its worst, your audience wants to cover ears and cry “make it stop!” but they aren’t quite sure at what they should vent their fury.

In certain places abroad, this tic is known as the Australian Questioning Intonation, popular among young Australians.  The Brits are less generous in their assessment of this barbarism, calling it the “moronic interrogative,” a term coined by comedian Rory McGrath.

Speech coach Susan Miller superbly describes these speech pathologies and offers remedies for both vocal fry and uptalk here.

These are the tics and gaffes that destroy our presenting.  Recognizing them is half-way to correcting them

For more tips to improve your speaking voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Most Important Point of Your Presentation

Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point
Powerful Storytelling conveys your Most Important Point

I advocate storytelling in your business presentations, and your story should embody your presentation’s Most Important Point.

Stories are powerful tools of communication that can capture complex ideas in a few telling strokes.  They involve your listeners better than any other competing technique.

They can serve you well and confer personal competitive advantage over your entire business presenting career.  And they can convey your Most Important Point better in masterful fashion.

But It Takes Practice

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

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

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

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

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

What is your Most Important Point?  Your MIP?

Decide!

Decide and make that point the focus of your story.  Rivet your attention on that salient feature!  Let this be core of your story and weave your tale around it.

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

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

Your Most Important Point

Your MIP should run through your story, both directly and indirectly.  It informs your story and keeps you on-track as you prepare your presentation.  At each stage of your presentation preparation, ask yourself and members of your group if the material at hand supports your MIP.  If it does not support your most important point, then it does not belong in your story.

Telling a story does not mean reliance upon emotion only.  You must have substance.  There must be a significant conclusion with each supporting point substantiated by research and fact and analytical rigor.

This should go without saying, but I decided to say it anyway.  Actually, Ralph Waldo Emerson said it much better than I can:

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

For more on storytelling to convey your Most Important Point in your business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Stop the Bad Presentation Habit of Finger-play

Bad Presentation Habit
Stop the Bad Presentation Habit!

In the absence of clear instruction, we can develop a bad presentation habit.

Or two . . . or three.

Take gesture.

As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.  For instance, without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations that distract and leech away the power of our message and the audience’s confidence in our competence.

Accordingly, here are a few of the more common examples of bad gesturing involving just your fingers.  These are so common that I cannot but believe that someone, somewhere is training folks in these oddities, and it’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.

Control Those Fingers!

Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”  This nervous habit can destroy your professional presence, can weaken your confidence, can take you down a dark road of  mediocrity.

This bad presentation habit many people develop unconsciously as they try to discover what to do with their hands.

You know you should do something with your appendages, but no one has told you what.  So you develop these unconscious bad presentation habits.

Many different activities come under the heading of “finger play.”

Tugging at your fingers.  I suspect that we all carry a “finger-tugging” gene embedded deep in our DNA that is suppressed only with difficulty.

Bending your fingers back in odd manner.  This is a ubiquitous movement, universally practiced.  It consists of grasping the fingers and bending them back, as if counting something, and then holding them there for a spell.  It’s almost a finger-tug, but more pronounced.

Waving your hands around with floppy wrist movement.  This is not only distracting, but the wobbly wrist action creates a perception of weakness and uncertainty.

Simply by eliminating these commonplace pathologies from your own presenting, you strengthen by subtraction.

Stop Bad Presentation Habits!

Why would you want to “gesture?”  Aren’t your words enough?

We gesture to add force to our points.  To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear.  A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal these gestures?

While its range is limited, gesture can carry powerful meaning.  It should carry powerful meaning; this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.

Said James Winans in 1915:

Gesture, within its limitations, is an unmistakable language, and is understood by men of all races and tongues.  Gesture is our most instinctive language; at least it goes back to the beginning of all communication when the race, still lacking articulate speech, could express only through the tones of inarticulate sounds and through movements.

Imagine the powerful communication you attain when, at the proper moment, your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine.

You attain a powerful communication moment when your voice, your gestures, your movement, and your expressions combine and align with the message and your visual aids to wash over your audience, suffusing them with emotion and energy.  Be spare with your gestures and be direct.

Make them count.

You’ll find more on correcting the bad presentation habit in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Gesture for Power and Impact

Presentation Gesture for Powerful Business Presentations
Presentation Gesture for Powerful Business Presentations

What is presentation gesture, and why worry about it at all?

It’s nothing more than an add-on, right?  Something nice to have, but unessential to the point of our business presentation.

The fact is that you can’t separate sincerity from your appearance.  You can’t disaggregate movement from your inflection, from your volume.  From your nuance.

And you can’t separate your words from gesture.

So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior messaging.  And, if we’re good, improve our personal competitive advantage by way of especially powerful presentations.

What’s a Presentation Gesture?

Gesture is too important to leave to chance.  Certainly too important to dismiss with the airy “move around when you talk.”

Let’s understand what it means.

In 1928, Joseph Mosher defined gesture in a way that guides us even today:

“Gesture may be broadly defined as visible expression, that is, any posture or movement of the head, face, body, limbs or hands, which aids the speaker in conveying his message by appealing to the eye.”

A wave of the hand.  A snap of the finger.

A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side.  A scratch of the chin.  Crossed arms.  An accusatory finger.

A balled fist at the proper moment.

These presentation gestures can either enhance or destroy your presentation.  Yes, destroy.  Herky-jerky moves, odd nervous dancing, strange finger-tugging, aimless pacing, injudiciously timed gesticulations – all of these can undermine an otherwise outstanding verbal performance.

Especially Powerful Gesture

Professional presentation coaches understand that much of the information transmitted in a show is visual.

This results from the presence of the speaker.  Because of this, an audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.

Presentation Gesture
Presentation Gesture can be subtle . . . or expansive.

Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience.  She contends that “at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.”

We can quibble over the exact parsing of how much communication is verbal and how much nonverbal.  But there’s no doubt that gestures inject energy and accent to our business presentations.They add power, emphasis, and meaning to our words.

Presentation Gesture in History

Throughout the history of public speaking, the finest communicators have known the importance of the proper gesture at the proper time.  Entire books, in fact, have been penned about gesture and the power it can bestow.  But most of this knowledge resides in the recesses of libraries waiting to be rediscovered.

See, for example, Edward Amherst Ott’s classic 1902 book How to Gesture.

Ott contends that gesture in your presentation should be natural.  It should flow from the meaning of your words and the meaning you wish to convey with your words.

And we never gesture idly, without a point to make.

Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us to gesture.  Without emotion, gesture is mechanical.  It is false.  It feels and looks artificial.

Communicating Without Words

Presentation Gesture for Personal Competitive Advantage
Presentation Gesture for Power and Impact

You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power.  Gesture forms a substantial part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication, and on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.

Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”

For if you do not begin to think in grand, expansive terms about yourself and your career, you will remain mired in the mud.  Stuck at the bottom.

Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words.  You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.

In short, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.

For more on presentation gesture, consult The Complete Guide to Business Presentations.

 

 

 

Powerful Business Presentation Structure

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.  Business presentation structureEvery presentation structure should reflect this framework.

Let me rephrase.

Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.

Every presentation, whether individual or group, should be organized according to this structure.

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

If you’re engaged in a group presentation, each segment of the show has this structure as well.

Your segment has this structure.

In fact, every member of a team has this same task – to deliver a portion of the presentation with a beginning, middle, and an end.

In other words, when you are the member of a 5-person team and you are presenting for, say, four minutes; during that four-minute span, you tell your story that has a beginning, middle, and an end.

Consider Your Business Presentation Structure

In the diagram below, each of the boxes represents a speaker on a five-person team delivering a group presentation.  The first speaker delivers the beginning.  The second, third, and fourth speakers deliver the middle.  The final speaker delivers the conclusion or the “end.”

Note that each speaker uses the same beginning-middle-end format in delivering his portion of the show.

Business Presentation Structure

This framework is not the only way you can build your presentation.  You can be innovative.  You can be daring, fresh, and new.

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a sense of ersatz “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.

Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.

Sparkle and pop do not spring from experimental structures and strange methods that swim against the tide of 2,500 years of experience that validate what works . . . and what fails.

Tested in the Fire

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.

I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material.  Please do so.  But do so with careful thought and good reason.

And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.

This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.

Hence, the term “Bookends.”  And in-between, you explain what your bookends are about.

Build your story within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.

For more on especially powerful business presentation structure, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Openings

The Presentation Opening
The Presentation Opening sets the tone for your Business Presentation

Of course you know how to begin a business presentation with a powerful presentation opening.

The Presentation Opening is surely easy.

Right?

But do you really know how to launch a powerful presentation?

Consider for a moment . . .

Don’t Tiptoe

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation opening, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.

Do you back into it?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?

Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices.

A Bad Presentation Opening

I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Walmart case.  The lead presenter was Janie.  She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years.

She spoke in monotone.  She flashed a timeline on the screen.

Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.

I wondered at what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.

Craft a superb presentation opening
Grab Your Audience with The Presentation Opening

I waited for her main point.  As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed.  The linking thread had not come.

The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point.  At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.

“Janie, what was that beginning all about?  How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”

“Those were just random facts,” she said.

“Random facts?”

“Yes!” she said brightly.

And she was quite ingenuous about it.

The Wrong Presentation Opening

She was reciting “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way.  I do not say this to disparage her.

Not at all.

In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously.

She has since progressed to graduate school.  And now she delivers powerful presentation openings.

But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation?  Is it the notion that anything you say for a presentation opening is okay?

Let’s go over the beginning, shall we?

Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about.  When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.

You begin with your presentation opening.  Here, you present the Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience are there.  What do you tell them?

The audience has gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution.  Or to hear of success and how it will continue.  Or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.

Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk.  Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clutter your presentation opening with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?  Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  Again, thank you for your attention and time.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

Craft a powerful presentation opening for energy
Especially Powerful hooks and grabbers for your presentation opening

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2013 and increase our market share by another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12  months from now.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.

No metaphorical throat-clearing.

No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.  Just an especially powerful and direct statement of the reason you are there.

Put the Pow in Power!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.

“We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do about it to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.

The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.  We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.  And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.

That is why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To provide your recommendations.

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

For more on crafting an especially powerful presentation opening, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

King, Jobs, Aristotle and the Persuasive Presentation

The persuasive presentation has a long history

Martin Luther King . . .

Steve Jobs . . .

Aristotle . . .

These three quite different men shared a respect for the power of the spoken word.

The power to persuade.

What is Rhetoric?  Do We Care?

Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle gave us the means to deliver powerful business presentations.  The best speakers know this, either explicitly or instinctively.

We all owe a debt to Aristotle for his powerful treatise on persuasive public speaking Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the function of discovering the means of persuasion for every case.  These means of persuasion are delivered as a form of art.  Aristotle identified the three necessary elements for powerful and persuasive presentations – the ethos or character of the speaker, the attitude of the audience, and the argument itself.

The persuasive presentation

And the value of this powerful tool?

Just this . . .

Aristotle identified four great values of rhetoric.

First, rhetoric can prevent the triumph of fraud and injustice.  Second, it can instruct when scientific argument doesn’t work.  Third, it compels us to act out both sides of a case.  When you can argue the opposite point, you are best armed to defeat it.  Finally, it is a powerful means of defense when your opponent attacks.

As modern college texts wallow in the fever swamp of “communication theory,” Aristotle’s Rhetoric offers us a crystalline tool of power and efficacy – a sure guide to the proper techniques in business presenting.

Modern Persuasive Presentations

Two men as different as Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs understood the power of rhetoric to inspire people to action.  Dr. King for the transformation of society . . . Steve Jobs for the revolutionizing of six different technology industries.

Dr. King used one particular rhetorical technique that has become the touchstone of his legacy – his repetition of the phrase “I have a dream” during his famous 1963 speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.  This technique is called the anaphora.  It involves the repetition for effect of a key phrase during a presentation.  Dr. King ensured that the Dream of which he spoke would be the emotive catalyst for action.

The anaphora is part of what Aristotle recognized as art in rhetoric and is an advantage that rhetoric has over straight “scientific” expository speech in calling people to action.

Dr. King recognized the emotive power of rhetoric, and it is this power that can move listeners to action when pure logic cannot.

The persuasive presentation

A Different Venue

Steve Jobs, too, utilized the technique for a different purpose, a much more mundane purpose – the selling of electronics.  For example:

“As you know, we’ve got the iPod, best music player in the world. We’ve got the iPod Nanos, brand new models, colors are back. We’ve got the amazing new iPod Shuffle.”

The anaphora is just one example of an especially powerful rhetorical technique.  It can imbue your business presenting with persuasiveness.  And there’s more . . . so much more available to you.

Business Presentation expert Nancy Duarte provides a comprehensive list of 16 rhetorical devices that Jobs used for his business presentations.  Devices that you can use as well.

When we understand the power of rhetoric and how that power is achieved, it transforms us into more capable and competent business presenters.

Perhaps not as transcendent as Dr. Martin Luther King, but certainly especially powerful presenters in our own bailiwicks.

For more on the persuasive presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Telling Your Story for Personal Competitive Advantage

Story for Personal Competitive AdvantageOne of the most important business presenting occasions you face in your career is the job interview.

In the interview, you present for your most important client – you.

And the question I’m asked most frequently with respect to how you present your accomplishments is this:

“How do I talk about myself and my qualifications in a way that is honest and forthright and yet does not sound like braggadocio?”

This is a reasonable concern, and if you can find a way to do so, then you will have acquired an especially powerful personal competitive advantage.

No Need to Boast . . .

Few people like to boast, instead going to the opposite extreme of false humility.  Neither boasting nor meekness is the answer.

Instead, try this . . .

Understand that you are not in the interview to talk about your resume.  Your resume got you through the door and into the interview.

Now, the recruiter is searching for something more.  And that “something” is often indefinable.

Tell your story for personal competitive advantage

The recruiter is evaluating you for other things, such as corporate fit, personality, working intelligence, verbal acuity.

Many times, the recruiter doesn’t know what he or she is actually looking for.

But the recruiter does know what is unacceptable and is thus conscious of disqualifiers.

For the young or mid-level candidate, the atmosphere can feel akin to a minefield.  Some candidates feel that if they go tightlipped, they cannot make a mistake, and so they weigh each word carefully, triangulating what they believe the recruiter wants to hear.

But it is not enough to simply survive without making a slip . . . or a “mistake.”

This approach comes off as stiff, artificial, weird.

Instead, go into your interview to make the presentation of your life about you, not what you think the recruiter is looking for.

When it comes time to talk about yourself – here is exactly how to do it.

Talk about what you learned or what you discovered about yourself.

That’s it.

Digest that for a moment.

Yes, it really is that simple.  But it’s not easy, especially if you aren’t accustomed to talking about yourself this way.  It takes practice.

Talk about a difficult group project or a difficult task that required you to adapt and use your unique skill set.  In, say, a group work setting, tell of your learning about the importance of time management, of punctuality.  Translation:

        I have a great work ethic and I’m punctual.

Tell how you learned to deal with people from different cultures and backgrounds and to value difference.  Translation:

        I get along with a wide range of people.

Tell how you discovered that you gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others do their best, drawing out their best qualities and backstopping them where they are weak.  Translation:

        I’m a team-player who subordinates my ego to get the job done for the company, recognizing that others may need help on occasion, help that I freely give.

Tell how you learned about different work styles and of the different ways of tackling problems.  Translation:

     I’m flexible and adaptable to a variety of work environments and people.

For an Especially Powerful Interview

See how it works?

You don’t talk about your strengths . . . you talk of what you learned about yourself during the course of a project or task.  So think of a major project you’ve tackled in the past and build your story around that.

For example, you could say something like this:

“I worked on a major three-month project in my International Business Capstone involving a multicultural team, and in the project, I learned a great deal about myself as well as others.  I believe that I grew not only as a professional, but as a human being.  This gave me a great deal of satisfaction, especially as I saw others developing their skills as well.”

Or, if you are a young professional, you could say:

“We received a last-minute project and it was dumped on us without warning, which made us work through the weekend.  That was pivotal.  It was then that I learned that this is the nature of business – chaotic, demanding, unforgiving, unpredictable – and how I respond to the challenge makes the difference between a win and a loss.  That experience forged me, and I’ll always be grateful for it.”

With that statement, you have conveyed a wealth of positive information to the recruiter.

Of course, it all must be true, so you must adapt your story particulars to your own work life.  And all of us have these moments and experiences, so mine your recent past for them.   Your resume itself has at least a dozen stories, and it’s up to you to find them.  When you do find them, craft them, practice them, and use them . . . you will have achieved an important personal competitive advantage.

So always remember these key words . . .

Let me share with you what I learned about myself.

For more on crafting a winning story to gain personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Better PowerPoint for 2013! — VIDEO

 

Better PowerPoint
Better PowerPoint can Enhance Credibility

Better PowerPoint can be the boon of many a business presentation.

If you correct even a few of the most egregious errors, you can lift your presentation to a much more professional level.

One key to improving is recognizing that you might be part of the problem.  And that like most any musical instrument, you can tune yourself up to play more beautiful melodies.

One strategic way of doing this is to begin broadening your professional perspective.

Your Learning Curve for Better Powerpoint

It’s the process of enriching your personal context so that you become aware of new and varied sources of information, ideas, concepts, theories.  You become learned in new and wondrous ways.

Think of it as enlarging your world.

You increase your reservoir of usable material.  And your business presentation can connect more readily with varied audiences.

You do this in a pleasant and ongoing process – by keeping your mind open to possibilities outside your functional area.  By taking your education far beyond undergraduate or graduate school.  And that process increases your personal competitive advantage steadily.

By doing something daily, however brief, that stretches your mind.  Or allows you to make a connection that otherwise might have escaped you.

Expand Your World for Better PowerPoint?

By reading broadly in areas outside your specialty, you sharpen your acumen in your specialty.  You understand its place, its context.

Read a book outside your specialty.  Have lunch with a colleague from a different discipline.  Dabble a bit in architecture, engineering, art, poetry, history, science.

It also means sampling some of the best offerings in the blogosphere on business presentations.

For instance, my three favorite PowerPoint gurus are Nancy DuarteGarr Reynolds, and Gene Zelazny.  Sample their online work . . . purchase their books, as I have.

Their works are invaluable tools of my trade.  If you become a serious business presenter, they’ll become your friends, too.

Light-Hearted Improvement

For a more immediate fix some of the worst PowerPoint pathologies, have a look at this fellow.

In this video, engineer Don McMillan demonstrates the most common PowerPoint presentation mistakes in a way that, well . . . have a look!

 

Earnestness, for an Especially Powerful Business Presentation

 Earnestness, for a Powerful Business Presentation
Be earnest . . . for a Powerful Business Presentation

“Earnestness” is a word that we neither hear much nor use much these days.

That’s a shame.

Because the word captures much of what makes for an especially powerful business presentation.

Edwin Dubois Shurter was a presenting master in the early 20th Century, and he said way back in 1903 that:

“Earnestness is the soul of oratory.  It manifests itself in speech by animation, wide-awakeness, strength, force, power, as opposed to listlessness, timidity, half-heartedness, uncertainty, feebleness.”

What was true then is surely true today.

And yet, “earnestness” is frowned upon.  Perhaps some think it somehow “uncool.”

Showing Too Much Interest?

It is uncool to show interest, because . . .   If you appear too interested in something, and then you somehow are perceived as having failed, then your business presentation “defeat” is doubly ignominious.

Better to pretend you don’t care.

So the default student attitude is to affect an air of cool nonchalance.  So that no defeat is too damaging.  And you can save your cool.  You save your best – your earnestness – for something else.

For your friends, for your sports contests, for your facebook status updates.  For your pizza discussions, for your intramural softball team . . .

But this also means that all of your presentation victories, should ever you score one or two, are small victories.  Meager effort yields acceptable results in areas where only meager effort is required.

Strive for the Powerful Business Presentation

Mediocrity is the province of the lazy and nonchalant.  The sin of the insouciant.

Shurter was a keen observer of presentations and he recognized the key role played by earnestness in a successful presentation:  “When communicated to the audience, earnestness is, after all is said and done, the touchstone of success in public speaking, as it is in other things in life.”

Earnestness means wrapping your material in you.

Embracing your topic.

This means giving a powerful business presentation that no one else can give, one that no one else can copy.  Because it arises from your essence, your core.

It means demonstrating genuine enthusiasm for your subject.  It means recognizing that the subject of your presentation could be the love of someone else’s life, whether it be their business or their product or their service – you should make it yours when you present.

In the process, you craft your persona, your powerful personal brand that differentiates you from the great hoi-polloi of undistinguished speakers.  And you achieve remarkable personal competitive advantage.

Embrace your topic with earnestness, and you will shine as you deliver an especially powerful business presentation.

For more on the power of earnestness and the key to delivering a powerful business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Stand in a Presentation

How to stand in a presentation You want to project strength, competence, and confidence throughout your presentation.

You achieve this goal with a number of techniques, all working simultaneously and in harmony.

Those techniques comprise our backpack full of Seven Secrets.

Your first technique – or secret – is fundamental to projecting the image of strength, competence, and confidence.  This first technique is assumption of the proper stance.

Your Foundation – Power Posing

Let me preface by assuring you that I do not expect you to stay rooted in one spot throughout your talk.  But the risk of sounding clichéd, let us state forthrightly that it is impossible to build any lasting structure on a soft foundation.

This foundation grows out of the notion of what we can call “power posing.”

Let’s build your foundation now and learn a little bit about the principle of power posing, the first step in learning how to stand in a presentation.

How do you stand when you converse in a group at a party or a reception?  What is your “bearing?”  How do you stand before a crowd when you speak?  Have you ever consciously thought about it?

How you stand, how you carry yourself, communicates to others.  It transmits a great deal about us with respect to our inner thoughts, self-image, and self-awareness.

Whether we like this is not the point.  The point is that we are constantly signaling others nonverbally.

Know How to Stand in A Presentation

You send a message to those around you, and those around us will take their cues based on universal perception of the messages received.

What is true in small groups is also true as you lecture or present in front of groups of four or 400.  Whether you actually speak or not, your body language is always transmitting.  If so, just wHow to Stand in a Presentationhat is the message you unconsciously send people?

Have you even thought about it?  Have you thought about the silent and constant messages your posture radiates?

Seize control of your communication this instant.  There is no reason not to.  And there are many quite good reasons why you should.

Recognize that much of the audience impression of you is forming as you approach the lectern.  They form this impression immediately, before you shuffle your papers or clear your throat or squint into the bright lights.

They form their impression from your walk, from your posture, from your clothing, from your grooming, from the slightest inflections of your face, and from your eye movement.

The importance of knowing how to stand in a presentation has been acknowledged for centuries.  Speaking Master Grenville Kleiser said in 1912 that, “The body, the hand, the face, the eye, the mouth, all should respond to the speaker’s inner thought and feeling.”

Defeat?  Ennui?

Do you stand with shoulders rounded in a defeatist posture?

Do you transmit defeat, boredom, ennui?  Do you shift from side-to-side or do you unconsciously sway back-and-forth?

Do you cross and uncross your legs without knowing, balancing precariously upon one foot, your free leg wrapped in front of the other, projecting an odd, wobbly, and about-to-tumble-down image?

Your posture affects those who watch you and it affects you as well.  Those effects can be positive or negative.

Posture, of course, is part of nonverbal communication, and it serves this role well.  The audience takes silent cues from you, and your posture is one of those subtle cues that affect an audience’s mood and receptivity.How to Stand in a Presentation

But posture and bearing are not simply superficial nonverbal communication to your audience.  There is another effect, and it can be insidious and can undermine your goals . . . or it can be an incredibly powerful ally to your mission.

It is this:  Your body language transmits your depression, guilty, fear, lack of confidence to the audience.  It also enhances and reinforces those feelings within you.  Most often, if we fear the act of public speaking, the internal flow of energy from our emotional state to our physical state is negative.

Negative energy courses freely into our limbs and infuses us with stiffness, dread, immobility and a destructive self-consciousness.  We shift involuntarily into damage-limitation mode.

It cripples us.

Your emotions affect your body language.  They influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience.  They influence what you say and how you say it.

Reverse the Process

But . . .

You can reverse the process.

You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions.

You can turn it around quite handily and seize control of the dynamic.  Instead of your body language and posture reflecting your emotions, reverse the flow.

Let your emotions reflect your body language and your posture.  Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.

Skeptical?

A venerable psychological theory contends this very thing, that our emotions evolve from our physiology.  It’s called James-Lange Theory, developed by William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange.  Speaking Master James Albert Winans noted the phenomenon in 1915:

Count ten before venting your anger, and its occasion seems ridiculous.  Whistling to keep up courage is no mere figure of speech. On the other hand, sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to everything with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers. . . .  [I]f we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves, we must assiduously, and in the first instance cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.

Much more recently, a Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others.

In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence.  The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.  Harvard researchers Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy and Andy J. Yap say in the September 2010 issue of Psychological Science that:

[P]osing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.

In other words, stand powerfully and you increase your power and presence.  You actually feel more powerful.

This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.

In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel.  Assume the posture of confidence.  Consciously affect a positive, confident bearing.  Square your shoulders. Affix a determined look on your face.  Speak loudly and distinctly.  In short, let your actions influence your emotions.

Seize control of the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.

Essential to this goal is that you know the difference between open body language and closed body language.

It is the difference between power posing and powerless posing.

For more on how to stand in a presentation and the other six secrets of business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business Presenting.

Powerful Presentation Words: “This means that . . .”

Powerful Presentation Words can transform your show

“This means that . . .”

These three powerful presentation words hold incredible promise and potential for your business presentation.

And yet they go missing more often than not.

These three powerful presentation words can transform the most mundane laundry-list presentation into a clear and compelling tale.

The Most Obvious Thing . . .

One of the biggest problems I see with student business presentations is the hesitancy to offer analysis and conclusions.  Instead, I see slide after slide of uninterpreted information.

Numbers.

Pie-charts.

Facts.

Lots of reading from the slide by the slide-reader-in-chief.

Raw data or seemingly random information is offered up just as it was found in the various consulted sources.

This may be because young presenters receive little instruction on how to synthesize information in a presentation segment into a cogent expression of “Why this is important.”

As a result, these presentations present the illusion of importance and gravitas.  They look like business presentations.  They sound like business presentations.

But something’s missing.

The audience is left with a puzzle.Powerful Presentation Words are like magic

The audience is left to figure it out for themselves.

The audience is left to figure out what it all means.  Left to interpret the data, to judge the facts.

In other words, the presentation is subject to as many interpretations as there are audience members.

Does this sound like a formula for a persuasive and powerful presentation that issues a firm call-to-action?

Of course not.  This is a failed presentation.

You know it, and it seems obvious.  But still, I see it more often than not.

If you find yourself in this fix, delivering ambiguous shows that draw no conclusions, you can remedy this with three little powerful presentation words at the end of each segment of your presentation.

“This means that . . .”

How Powerful Presentation Words Work

At the end of your explication of data or information, you say something like this:

“This means that, for our company, the indicators displayed here suggest a more aggressive marketing plan than what we’re doing now.”

Or this:

“These figures indicate that more vigilance is needed in the area of credit risk.  For our department, this means that we must hire an additional risk analyst to accommodate our heightened exposure.”

See what this does?

You hand the audience the conclusion and recommendation that you believe is warranted.  You don’t assume that the audience will get it.  You don’t leave it to your listeners to put the puzzle together.

That’s what you are paid to do in your presentation.

You are tasked with fulfilling the promise and potential of your presentation.  Don’t shrink from this task.

Instead . . . relish it.

Try it.

If you do, this means that you will invest your presentation with power, clarity, and direction.

For more powerful presentation words, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.