Tag Archives: presenting technique

Presentation Body Language – Gesture for Power

presentation body language
Good gestures are more than a garnish for your presentation . . . presentation body language is essential to taking your show to the professional level

What is gesture, and why worry about business presentation body language at all?

Gesture is nothing more than an add-on, right?

Something perhaps nice to have, but unessential to the point of our presentation.

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

And you cannot separate your words from gesture.

So let’s add the power of gesture to our words to achieve superior messaging.

What’s a Gesture?

A wave of the hand.

A snap of the finger.

A stride across the stage with arms outstretched to either side in a universal embrace.

A scratch of the chin.  Crossed arms.

An accusatory finger.  A balled fist at the proper moment.  These are all part of presentation body language that can either enhance or destroy your presentation.

Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual.  This results from the presence of the speaker.  An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation.

presentation body language
Especially powerful presentation body language is the tool of the finest presenters

Executive coach Lynda Paulson is spot-on when she notes the power of gestures to persuade an audience . . . or to alienate an audience, because “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.”

Gestures provide energy and accent.  They add power.  They add emphasis and meaning to our words.

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 written 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.

Gesture is too important to leave to chance.

It is certainly too important to dismiss with the breezy trope you occasionally hear:  “Move around when you talk.”  Let’s understand exactly 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.”

As part of your presentation body language repertoire, gesture should be natural.  It should flow from the meaning of your words.  From the meaning you wish to convey with your words.

We never gesture without reason or without a point to make.  Typically, the emotion and energy in a talk leads us naturally to gesture.  Without emotion, gesture is mechanical.  It’s false.  It feels and looks artificial.

Communicating Without Words

Gesture is part of our repertoire of non-verbal communication.

You have many arrows in the quiver of gesture from which to choose, and they can imbue your presentation with power.  And on rare occasion, can imbue your presentation with majesty of epic proportions.

Presentation body language
Presentation Body Language is especially powerful when coordinated with a strongly articulated message

For if you don’t begin to think in grand terms about yourself and your career, you’ll remain mired in the mud.  Stuck at the bottom.

Proper gesture increases your talk’s power and lends emphasis to your words.  In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to a superior level, a level far above the mundane.

You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.

As with every craft, there is a correct way to gesture . . . and a wrong way.  Without a clear notion of how gesture can enhance our business presentations, we’re left with aimless ejaculations.  Movements that 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.  It’s the equivalent of self-sabotage.

Control Those Fingers!

Under no circumstances engage in “finger play.”

This is a 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 motions.  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.

Presentation Body Language

Why would you want to “gesture” during your business presentation?  Aren’t your words enough without resorting to presentation body language?

Frankly, words are not enough.

Gestures add force to your points.  To demonstrate honesty, decisiveness, humility, boldness, even fear.  A motion toward the door, a shrug, a lifted eyebrow – what words can equal such presentation body language?

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 in superb presentation body language.  You attain an especially powerful presentation 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 your presentation body language count.

For more on presentation body language, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Seven Secrets of Business Presentations

Business Presentation

7 Secrets of Powerful Business Presentations.

Could there be anything more tantalizing?

Everyone loves secrets.  Dark secrets.  Sweet secrets.  Secrets to tickle the fancy.  Secrets to gain the upper hand.

Not just one . . . but seven of them!

I offer you – beginning here and now – 7 Secrets of Power Presenting.

Seven consecutive posts of Secrets to gain the upper hand in business presenting.

These 7 Secrets promise to launch you on your way to personal competitive advantage in an ever more challenging job market.  Incredibly powerful techniques and secrets are coming to you over the next weeks, right here.

These secrets have been hidden from you.  They certainly don’t appear in your business communication textbooks.  Face it . . . has anything good ever come out of a business communication textbook?  So where do these secrets come from?

They reside in the collective wisdom of more than 2,500 years of history.  This is the link that you share with every great speaker that history has seen fit to remember – you share their humanity.  This is why their secrets speak to us across the mists of time to inform our business presentations.

Cicero in 50 BC?

You in 2011 AD?

More than two millennia separate you from the Roman Republic’s greatest orator, so what could you possibly have in common with a man half-a-world away and 2,000 years ago?

Here’s the link

Perhaps Cicero spoke to the Roman Senate during the last days of the Roman Republic, while you now speak to your Business Policies class with PowerPoint on the screen behind you . . . but you both share a core necessity.

You share the necessity to convince your audience by using a handful of reliable tools that have not changed in two millennia.  For your purposes, the greatest orators in history are still alive with respect to their techniques, their tools, their words, and their abilities to sway audiences.

Demosthenes

     Cicero

          Quintilian

               Frederick Douglass

                    William Jennings Bryan

                           Daniel Webster

                                 Abraham Lincoln

What could these long-gone people possibly say to you to help you become a superior presenter here in the 21st Century?

All of these orators and many more utilized the highly refined and powerful secrets of elocution, declamation, debate, and oratory to command the stage and to sway audiences.  They were the superior presenters of their day.  The techniques and tools comprise the 7 Secrets of Power Presenting.

The best speakers of the past 50 years use and have used these Secrets – Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, John F. Kennedy, Oliver North, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King.

They don’t announce that they’re using secret techniques and tricks of the trade, of course.  They wouldn’t be secrets any more.  So they let you believe that they were gifted with special talents.  Not a chance.  Techniques, practice, personal branding . . . and 7 Secrets.

Business Presentation Secrets Used by Every Orator

They are the secrets utilized by every great orator until the age of television, radio, and the computer rendered them lost to the vast majority of us.  They faded from use.  They were supplanted by technology in the mistaken belief that technology had rendered you, the presenter, superfluous.

And so presenting as a skill has withered.  Until now.

These secrets do not appear in today’s textbooks.  They appear only in partial form in many trade books.

Many students don’t even know about them.  They think great presenting is alchemy, magic, or a product of superior talent.  Many don’t reach the point at which you read these words right now.  Many who read these words this second sneer at them with a world-weary sigh.

But a tiny minority reads on.

And that select few will begin to acquire the power, dexterity, energy, and charisma to grow into a bold presenter – at home on the stage, at ease with yourself, and facile with the material.  You will become a fabulous business presenter.

Master these Seven Secrets, which form the Seven Pillars of your personal speaking platform, and you will soar higher in the business world than you possibly could have imagined.  And your career will soar farther and faster than you ever thought possible.

I hope that you are in that tiny minority that continues to read.

Let’s convene here later for Secret #1.

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

Do you ooze into your Business Presentation Introduction?

Business presentation Introduction

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, its 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.

Bordens 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.

For more pithy commentary on the foibles of oozing into your business presentation introduction, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Occupy This!

When you deliver a presentation, one of the most important factors that figures into the success of your talk is . . . where you stand.

Don’t take the example of most afterdinner speakers or professors, who hide behind the lectern, shuffling notes, looking down, gripping the edges of the podium with white-knuckled fervor.

This is grotesque.

It induces your audience to doze, to drift, to check out.

The Abominable Lectern!

The lectern is an abomination.  If you happen to be a liberal arts student who drifted here by mistake, think of the lectern as The Oppressor or The Other.  It puts a barrier between you and those whom you address.  For many students, it is a place to hide from the audience.

I recommend using the lectern only once, as a tool . . . and this is the occasion to walk from behind it to approach your audience at the very beginning of your talk.  This is an action of communication, a reaching out, a gesture of intimacy.

Do not lean upon the lectern in nonchalant fashion, particularly leaning upon your elbow and with one leg crossed in front of the other.

Fix this now.

Move from behind the lectern and into the Command Position.  In today’s fleeting vernacular, occupy the command position.

The Command Position is the position directly in front of a lectern and 4-8 feet from your audience.  It extends approximately 4 feet to either side of you.  You are not a visitor in this space.

As a presenter or speaker, this is your home.  You own this space, so make it yours.  You must always perform as if you belong there, never there as a visitor.

Occupy it!

Occupy it now for democracy, social justice, and an especially powerful presentation.

For more sloganeering and outright good presentation advice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

The Rule of Three in Presentations

Rule of Three in Presentations
Your Business Presentation structure can rarely do better than this powerful Rule of Three in Presentations

Apply the Rule of Three to the middle section of your presentation.

You build your talk in stages, and you make the case for your recommendation.  Through all of this, the Rule of Three is the best method you can use.

Yes, apply the Rule of Three . . . and apply it ruthlessly.

Here I offer controversial advice, and not every presentation guru will agree with it.  But it forms the basis for an especially powerful presentation.

With it, you never go wrong.

What is this Rule of Three?

For a moment, let’s consider this “Rule of Three.”  This is always a successful method in structuring the staging portion of your presentation.

The Rule of Three in presentations means selecting the three main points from your material and making that the structure for your show.  Despite the fact that you may never have heard of the “rule of three,” it’s one of the most basic frameworks for public speaking, and it derives from something almost existential in the human psyche.

Think about this for a moment.  There is something magical about the number three.  We tend to grasp information most easily in threes.  Consider these examples:

Stop, look and listen – A wellknown public safety announcement

“Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” – William Shakespeare

Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar

“Blood, sweat and tears” – Winston Churchill

“Faith, Hope and Charity” – The Bible

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the Declaration of Independence

“The good, the bad and the ugly” – Clint Eastwood Western

“Duty – Honor – Country.  Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur

The Rule of Three in presentations is a standard structural model advocated  by many presentation coaches.  And with good reason.  It’s a powerful framework, incredibly sturdy.  Think of it as a reliable vessel into which to pour your superb beverage.

With the rule of three, you can – literally – never err with regard to your presentation structure.

Here’s an Example . . .

Offer substantiation for your thesis and ultimate recommendation in three main points.

Strip down all of your convoluted arguments, all of your evidence, all of your keen analysis to the three major points that you believe make your case.

In the Toughbolt Corporation example above, note that in our thesis statement and ultimate recommendation, we mentioned three positive reasons for our chosen course of action:  “ . . . this presentation demonstrates that this course of action is fiscally sound, the best use of scarce resources among the alternatives, and a basis for rapid growth.”  These three factors serve as your basic Rule of Three structure for the middle of your presentation.

  1. Most efficient use of resources over other expansion alternatives
  2. Financial Analysis of the projected acquisition
  3. Projected returns and growth rate

Does this mean that other information is not important?  Of course not.

It means that you have selected the most important points that make your case and that you want to rivet in the minds of the audience.  The Rule of Three in presentations means that you select the major facts not to be “comprehensive” in your presentation, but to be persuasive in your presentation.

With respect to subsidiary points that appear in your written analysis, you have the opportunity to address those issues in a question and answer session to follow your show.

Follow the Rule of Three.

For more proven techniques like the Rule of Three in presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombies Ahead . . . Classic!

Bad Advice Zombies never die . . . they keep leading presentations astray

The zombies of bad advice never die.We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Advice

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.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.  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 can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.  The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice.

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

Let’s Have a Look

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.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way.  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? You counted them?

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 from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.  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.

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

Bad Advice 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 you own work with sound power 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.

For more on building especially powerful presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Perfect Presentation Practice . . .

Presentation Practice

You already know that the key to successful and confident performance is presentation practice.

But what you think you know about practice may not be quite right.

The effect 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.

The Right Presentation Practice

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 it’s absolutely essential that you practice the correct way.

This means that you practice the way you perform.  This means you do not start your presentation repeatedly, as almost all of us have done at points in our presentation careers.

There is something in our psyche that 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 very good at “starting over” when we make a mistake.

Start Over?  Bad Mistake!

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 stumble?  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.

Practice according to the principles enunciated here at Business School Presenting and according to the hard preparation you have conducted leading up to your presentation.

Practice it all for an especially powerful presentation.

For more on perfect presentation practice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Competitive Advantage

A positive presentation attitude can make or break your business presentation
A positive presentation attitude goes far in conferring personal competitive advantage on the business presenter

Your positive presentation attitude is one of the most neglected aspects of your business presentation.

For any presentation, really.

Maintain a positive presentation attitude, especially where criticism of current company policy is concerned.

Especially when your team must convey bad news, for instance, that the current strategy is “bad.”  Or that the current executive team is not strong enough.

In class presentations, I sometimes see that students take an adversarial attitude.  A harsh attitude.

This is the natural way of college students, who believe that this type of blunt honesty is sought-after and valued.

Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation

Honesty is important, sure.  But there is a difference between honesty and candor, and we must be clear on the difference.

If you say that the current strategic direction of the company in your presentation is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.  Remember that there are many ways of being honest.

You must use the right words to convey the bad news to the people who are paying you.  These may be the people responsible for the bad situation in the first place, or who are emotionally invested in a specific strategy.

Anyone can use a sledgehammer.

Anyone.

But most times it pays to use a scalpel.

Use tact in criticizing current policy for an especially powerful presentation with positive presentation attitude
Don’t attack the current policy with too much gusto in your business presentation . . . you may undermine your own case

But we must remember that as much as we would like to believe that our superiors and our clients are mature and want to hear the “truth” – warts and all – human nature is is contrary.  We are easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.

And if you wound someone’s ego, you will pay a price.

So, if you attack the current strategy as unsound, and the person or persons who crafted that strategy sit in the audience, you have most likely and needlessly doomed yourself.  Expect an also-ran finish in the competition for whatever prize is at stake, whether a multi-million dollar deal.  Or simply credibility and good judgment.

It takes skill and finesse to deliver a fine-tuned presentation.  Learn to deliver a masterpiece of art that conveys the truth, but with a positive presentation attitude that is constructive and persuasive without being abrasive.  When you do, then you will have developed incredible personal competitive advantage through the vehicle of your presentation skills.

That is, after all, why they are called skills.

Your presentation will effervesce . . . it will join the ranks of the especially powerful.

So remember that tact and a positive presentation attitude is as important to your presentation as accuracy.  Internalize that lesson, and you’re on your way to delivering especially powerful presentations that persuade more than they insult.

For more on shaping a powerful and positive presentation attitude that stays on point and helps to build your personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

In Praise of Business Jargon . . .

Business Jargon

I struggle with an entire macro-profession that cultivates its jargon . . .  business jargon.

The arena is academia fused with that of the larger battlefield of the business world, and the struggle is between those of us in the noble minority (of course we must posture as such) and those legions of who wear smiling faces, furrowed serious brows, and who are imbued with the best of intentions and the zeal of those who labor in the vineyards of the professions. 

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.”

Every profession contrives jargon and then clutches it to its breast.

It is useful, yes.  Incredibly so.

But some of the more Machiavellian among us contrive it as a second 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 could 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?

Struggling with Business Jargon

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

This struggle is waged within me – I’m torn, because it is my bane to be charged with teaching the lexicon, the “business jargon” to vulnerable young minds.  Minds to which the jargon sounds fresh and innovative, when it is actually already stale and reified.  It’s an axiom that once something makes it into a textbook, it likely is already outdated.

“Business Jargon.”

But 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 is wielded not to obfuscate.  If it is 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, say, business jargon.

And thus “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 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 master it.

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.”

In praise of business jargonMore insidious than the standard 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.  “Best 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.

We must ensure the proper usage (use?) of our tools.

Just as any writer seeks and secures precision in language, the business writer must labor likewise to secure our business jargon from misuse and abuse.  Constant vigilance is our only guarantor against the debasing of the language, and 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 business jargon that seems pervasive and inescapable and that nettles us so naughtily.

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

How to Give a Finance Presentation

Your Finance Presentation
Present numbers the right way in your finance presentation, or you may be pronouncing a death sentence on it

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.

Spreadsheet Hypnosis

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

So ugly.

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.

For more on delivering a powerful finance presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Zombie Advice . . . an Especially Powerful Classic

Beware the Zombies of bad business presentation advice

Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad advice never die.

We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.

When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.

But let’s give it a shot anyway.

Bad Advice

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.

Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. 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 can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.  The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice. This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.

Let’s Have a Look

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 old chestnut is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth.  On the surface, it sounds reasonable, but is such a cliche that we don’t really think about the words themselves.  People don’t really talk this way.  Instead, you “look someone in the eyes.”  You don’t “make eye contact.”  That make no sense.  This gem of a cliche doesn’t tell you how to “make eye contact.”  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.  Look individual audience members in the eyes long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.  This connects in a way that is comfortable for all concerned.

ZOMBIE #3     “Move around when you talk”

This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors.  This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. 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? You counted them?

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 from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use. 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 Advice 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 you own work with sound power 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.

Interested in more? Click here to consult the only book in the English language devoted to business school presenting.

Avoid Two Big Practice Mistakes

Practice the right way to ensure an especially powerful performance

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

The right kind of practice.

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

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.

There is something in our psyche that 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.

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 stumble?  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, 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 the delivery of especially powerful presentations and the development of personal comptetitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Global Presentation Skills

Global Presentation SkillsI’ve just arrived in Mumbai, a vibrant, bustling city, and part of my mandate is to teach Global Presentation Skills.

Mumbai surely bustles – I’m unsure of the meaning of “bustle,” but if there is such at thing, then it is surely happening here.  I found myself bustling across 5 lanes of traffic at Sion Circle today, in fact.  Caught in the seasonal monsoons on my way to  . . . well, at that point, to buy an umbrella.

And then back to my room to prepare my seminar:  Global Presentation Skills  

The seminar is brilliantly titled to indicate its content and purpose.  In fact, I brilliantly titled it myself.

It encompasses the notion that presenting to foreign audiences can be an infuriating process, especially for those business folks relatively inexperienced in dealing with the foreign business cultures.

As your perspicacity tells you, this is a seminar designed to aid businessmen and business students in emerging markets to craft business presentations that follow the contours of the local business culture.  I’ve delivered Global Presentation Skills to firms in Colombia and to groups of Middle Eastern businessmen to what I’ve heard called “much acclaim.”

And as an untapped area rich with potential for competitive advantage, it’s one reason for my presence in Mumbai.  To work with Indian businessmen keen on international expansion.

What’s the benefit of Global Presentation Skills?

Americans can be pesky audiences at best, especially for non-westerners.  Why not gain an advantage over competitors in selling to the American market?  Global Presentation Skills are a greatly neglected link in the chain of selling?  Lots of shrewd folks are saying “Why not, indeed?”

Cultural stereotypes may be ingrained in the American psyche through popular culture and news reports.  Global Presentation Skills helps businessmen surmount communication difficulties that can arise from American misunderstandings of foreign cultures.

Moreover, in a kind of reverse aikido, it helps turn perceived negatives into positives.  Global Presentation Skills can turn self-perceived weaknesses into strengths and transform stereotypes into launch-points for winning presentations.

So now I return to preparing for my Global Presentation Skills utilizing my three Ps – Principles, Preparation, and Practice.

Yes, I practice what is preached on my blog . . . and I hope to deliver an especially powerful presentation.

For more on Global Presentation Skills, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Bad PowerPoint

Bad PowerPoint can destroy your business presentation
Don’t numb your audience with bad PowerPoint during your business presentation

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.

In this way, bad presenting breeds more bad presenting.

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?
Say no to Bad Powerpoint
Agile interaction with your visuals is essential for an especially powerful business presentation

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.

The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting has much more on how to interact in an especially powerful manner with your slides and avoid bad PowerPoint along the way to achieving personal competitive advantage.

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Pernicious Myths . . .

There are two pernicious myths regarding business presentations out there that refuse to be swatted down.  Well, probably more than two, but two big myths that persistently burden folks.

These myths influence two large groups of people.  Without knowing it, these folks subscribe to two schools of presentation thought . . . Birthers and McTips.

The first group – the “Birthers” presentation school – believes that superb public speakers are “born that way.”

Folks in this group believes that it’s nature-not-nurture and that natural talent wins the day.  Since it’s an ability you either have or you don’t, well there’s no need to even try.  Just sit back and marvel at those outstanding public speakers who make it all look so easy, but who actually utilize a host of techniques to charm and dazzle you.

Techniques that would be available to you if you would only set aside the self-defeating notion that you can’t develop especially powerful presentation skills.

Supersize Those McTips?

The second group – the “McTips” presentation school – believes that public speaking is both easy and easily learned.  Folks here believe that following a few presenting “McTips” or easy “McSteps” can turn them into tremendous speakers.  “Make eye contact” . . . “Move around when you talk” . . .  “Use your hands” . . .    Presto.

This McTips view is so pernicious that  it does more damage than good.  It’s like a get-rich-quick scheme that scams people.  And who wouldn’t want to believe that there’s a painless shortcut to one of the most universally despised activities in corporate America?

One colleague told me a while back, his fingers steepled in front of him, “I can teach my people all they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes . . . all that other stuff is just B__ S___.”

Really?  And if becoming a great presenter is so incredibly easy and the product of a few tips or steps, then why does the bar stay so low with regard to business presentations?   Why does our business landscape resemble a wasteland strewn with mind-numbing PowerPoint slides and populated with droning executive automatons?

Both views are not only wrong, but they can stunt your development as a top-notch business presenter.

Great presenters are neither born, nor are they easily made.

Anyone can become an especially powerful, capable speaker . . . but it takes work, practice, and courage.

To learn how, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Cartoon Voice, Uptalk, and Dum-Dums

Reality TV Mimicry is a formula for Business Presentation Failure

No, I’ve never heard you speak or deliver a presentation.

But judging from what I hear in the classroom, in the elevator, on the subway, and in the campus coffee shops, the odds are good that your voice is probably pinched and smaller than it ought to be.

This is a result of many influences in our popular culture that, within the last decade or so, have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice.

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

Raspy.

A voice from reality television.

A cartoon voice.

Cartoon Voice

The cartoon voice is more prevalent than you might imagine.  Several reasonably-known celebrities have cartoon voices, and they usually dwell in the wasteland of daytime television.

One cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on a show called “Live with Regis and Kelly.”  This ABC Network television program, an abysmal daytime offering, serves up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes.

This show is worth watching, once, if only to hear Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine.

Two other champions of the squeaky, whiney cartoon voice are people who appear to have achieved a degree of questionable fame for all of the wrong reasons:  Kim Kardashian and Meghan McCain, who appear on television for some reason unknown to all but the producers of the shows they inhabit.  Commonly called “divas,” their voices are barely serviceable for even routine communication.

Granted, these young women are not delivering business presentations, but their negative influence has infected an entire generation of young people who do deliver presentations.  They embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations.  If this sounds harsh, it is meant to be.  They exhibit habitual pathologies of the worst sort.

Where do these people learn to speak this way, in this self-doubting, self-referential, endlessly qualified grinding whine?

One culprit appears to be the Disney Channel, inculcating a new generation of young folks into the practice of moron-speak.  As well, numerous other popular young adult shows occupy the lowest rung of the speech food chain, passing on lessons in weak voice and poor diction.

Reality TV Infests Everything

Most anywhere, you can hear people who talk this way.  They surround us.

Next time you stand in line at the convenience store, listen to the people around you.  Focus on the voices.  Listen for the trapped nasal sound, the whine of precious self-indulgence.  Or the sound of a voice rasping across vocal cords at the end of every sentence.  A voice that has no force.  No depth.

A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.

I often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator as I commute between my office and classrooms.  Elevator conversations are often sourced from lazy, scratchy voices.  These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.  What do I mean by this?

Let’s have an example.  Two young ladies entered my elevator the other day (any day, really), and one chattered to the other about her “boyfriend” and his despicable antics on “Facebook.”  It was heinous.

I shifted eyes to the owner of this raspy voice whose favorite word in the English language was quite evidently “like.”  Everything was “like” something else instead of actually it.  And apparently “totally” so.  Ya know?

“Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  Like.  Like.  Like.  Totally!  It was like . . . ummmm. . . okay . . . whatever.  Ya know what I mean?”

She fired them out in machine-gun fashion.  A verbal stutter and punctuation mark, apparently unsure of anything she was saying.  Her voice was a lab experiment of bad timbre.  It cracked and creaked along, word after squeaky word.

A pickup truck with a flat tire flopping along to the service station.

The air barely passed over her vocal cords, just enough to rattle a pile of dry sticks.  Not nearly enough air to vibrate and give pitch and tone.  No resonance came from the chest.  The voice rasped on the ears.

Every sentence spoken as a question.

Dum-Dums . . .

Two major problems surface here.  First, the cracking and grinding sound, which is at the very least, irritating.  Second, the primitive infestation of what I call “dum-dums.”

Dum-dums are moronic interjections slipped into  virtually every sentence like an infestation of termites.

“Like.  Totally!  Ya know?  Ummm.  Like.  Totally!  It was like, okay, you know . . . ya know?  Ummm.  Whatever.”

Dum-dums right off the Disney Channel.

Be honest and recognize that adults don’t speak like this.  And if you choose to speak like this, you will never be taken seriously by anyone of import considering whether to give you responsibility.  Cartoon voice peppered with Dum-dums gives the impression that you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so you fill up the empty air with dum-dums.

Dum-dums are the result of lazy thought and lazier speech.  It started on the west coast as an affectation called “Valley Speak” and has seeped into the popular culture as relentlessly as nicotine into the bloodstream.

Exaggeration?  No, it’s a voice you hear every day.

Listen for it.  Maybe it’s your voice.

Your Ticket to Failure or a Chance for Redemption

In the abstract, there is probably nothing wrong with any of this if your ambitions are of a certain lowest common denominator stripe.

If you’re guilty of this sort of thing, in everyday discourse you can probably get by with this kind of laziness, imprecision, and endless qualifying.  The problem arises when you move into the boardroom to express yourself in professional fashion to a group of, say, influential skeptics who are waiting to be impressed by the power of your ideas and how you express them.

Cartoon Voice infested with Dum-dum words – this debilitating pathological combination destroys all business presentations except one – a pitch for yet another moronic reality TV show.  You cannot deliver a credible business presentation speaking this way.  You are toast before you open your mouth.

Badly burned toast.

You’re on the express train to failure with a first-class ticket.

But the good news is that all of this is reasonably easy to correct – if you can accept that your voice and diction should be changed.

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice and that you pepper your speech with dum-dums, ask yourself these questions:  Why do I speak like this?

Why can’t I utter a simple declarative sentence without inserting dum-dums along the way?  Why do all of my sentences sound like questions?  Do I really want and need to sound like this – a ditz – just because the people around me can’t seem to express themselves except in staccato dum-dums with a cracking voice?

Sure, You Can Hang on to that Bad Voice!

Deciding to change one’s voice is a bold move that takes you out of your current cramped comfort zone, but you don’t have to do it!  Nope, don’t change a thing!

If you recognize that you have Cartoon Voice, and you are comfortable slathering your speech with Dum-Dums, and you see no reason to change just because someone recommends it, well then . . . keep on keepin’ on!  Sure, it’s okay for your inner circle of chatterers.  Relish it.  Hang onto it, and don’t even give a backward glance.

Let 1,000 dum-dums flourish!

But do so with the clear-eyed recognition that Dum-Dums make you sound like a moron.

You make a conscious choice.  Dum-Dums make you sound like a reality TV show lightweight unable to utter an original thought or even speak in complete sentences.  You sacrifice personal competitive advantage so that you can continue to . . . do what?

Recognize that if you want to succeed in an intensely competitive business climate, you should consider leaving Disney Channel behind.

When you want to be taken seriously in a business presentation . . . speak like an adult.

For more on improving your professional presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Gestures

Presentation gesture can be powerful

Why would you want to “gesture?”

Aren’t your words enough without getting into presentation gestures?

No, not nearly enough.

We gesture to add force to our points.

Presentation Gestures Add Power

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, presentation gesture can carry powerful meaning.  It should carry powerful meaning.  Speaking Master James Winans noted in 1915 that this form of nonverbal language predates spoken language.

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.

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

Yes, I said “majesty of epic proportions.”

Your careful, thoughtful presentation gestures increase your talk’s persuasiveness and lend gravitas to your words.  In fact, gesture is essential to take your presentation to an especially powerful level, a level far above the mundane. You limit yourself if you do not gesture effectively as you present.

Presentation gesture offers a powerful means to enhance your presentation’s depth and meaning, communicating with far more power than words alone.

Let’s look at some examples . . .

So we can see that presentation gestures can increased the impact of your business presentation.  For more on presentation gesture, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

How to Use Expression in Presentations

Work on your expression in presentation for personal competitive advantage
We should ensure that our expression in presentation is consonant with our words and accurately reflects our personal brand at all times

You communicate far more with your face than you probably realize, so you should be aware of how expression in presentations can enhance or degrade your business presentation.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.  Yes, there is something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Look no further than the accompanying photo to absorb the lesson of how our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it.

A thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.

The problem of bad expression has plagued speakers for centuries.  Some of our earliest writers on oratory lamented the poor expressive skills of the folks who take to the stage to speak.

Quintilian was a great Roman teacher of oratory in his time.  He’s influenced many generations of public speakers ince the recovery of his classic manuscripts in the 15th Century.

Perhaps you’ve not heard of Quintilian?  It’s time you did.

Expression in Presentation for 1,900 Years

Quintilian published his monumental Institutes of Oratory at the end of the 1st Century AD, and it continues as a powerfully influential treatise on presentations today.  It’s rich with insight and practical instruction.  Take this passage on expression:

[The teacher] will have to take care that the face of his pupil, while speaking, look straight forward; that his lips be not distorted; that no opening of the mouth in moderately distend his jaws.  That his face be not turned up, or his eyes cast down too much, or his head inclined to either side.  The face offends in various waysl.  I have seen many speakers, whose eyebrows were raised at every effort of the voice.  Those of others I have seen contracted.  Those of some even disagreeing, as they turned up one towards the top of the head, while with the other the eye itself was almost concealed.  To all these matters, as we shall hereafter show, a vast deal of importance is to be attached.  For nothing can please which is unbecoming.

Expression in Presentation
We still feel Quintilian’s influence after 2,000 years; his personal brand remains relevant

Would that our modern instructors of presentations would take a moment to share even the most modest of insights offered by great orators such as Quintilian.  He remains relevant and incisive after 1,900 years.  On the need for coordinated and thoughtful expression, and a great many other timeless techniques.

That’s staying power.  And a heckuva personal brand.

And as he notes with respect to expression, nothing can please which is unbecoming.  Your facial expression should reflect your spirit.  It should reveal your heart and your soul, and if it does, you will be in no danger of appearing “unbecoming.”

Your face should transmit sincerity and earnestness consonant with your words.  So I urge you in your presentations to smile often . . . frown sparingly . . . stare never . . . question occasionally . . . and show sincerity throughout.

To continue exploring the power of expression in presentations, as well as your personal brand and personal competitive advantage, consult my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Coca-Cola CEO Gives a Bad Business Presentation

Bad Business Presentation
Bad Business Presentations Infest Corporate America

Lets look at one of the pathologies of the bad business presentation – the poor stance of the speaker.

A wholly unsatisfactory stance infests the business landscape, and you’ve seen it dozens of times.

You see it in the average corporate meeting

You see it in the after-dinner talk, finance brief, or networking breakfast address.

While unrelenting positivity is probably the best approach to presentation improvement, it helps at times to see examples of what not to do.  This is especially true when the examples involve folks of lofty stature who probably ought to know better.

The Emperor’s Bad Business Presentation

If they dont know better, this is likely a result of the familiar syndrome of those closest to the boss not having the guts to tell the boss he needs improvement.

The speaker stands behind a lectern.

The speaker grips the lectern on either side.

The speaker either reads from notes or reads verbatim from crowded busy slides projected behind him.

The lectern serves as a crutch.  The average speaker, whether student or corporate VP, appears afraid that someone might snatch the lectern away.

Many business examples illustrate this, and youve probably witnessed lots of them yourself.

Let’s take, for instance, Mr. Muhtar Kent, the Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola.

Video rated PG-13:  violence done to speaking skills

Mr. Kent appears to be a genuinely engaging person on occasions where he is not speaking to a group.  But when he addresses a crowd of any size, something seizes Mr. Kent.  He reverts to delivering drone-like talks that commit virtually every public speaking sin.

He delivers excruciatingly bad business presentations.

He leans on the lectern.

He hunches.

He squints and reads his speech from notes in front of him.  When he does diverge from his speech, he rambles aimlessly.

In the video below, Mr. Kent delivers an October 2010 address at Yale University.  He begins badly with a discursive apology, grips the lectern as if it might run away, does not even mention the topic of his talk until the 4-minute mark, and hunches uncomfortably for the entire 38-minute speech. Have a look . . .

 

Successful C-Suite businessmen and businesswomen, such as Mr. Kent, are caught in a dilemma – many of them are terrible presenters, but no one tells them so.

No one tells them, because there’s no upside in doing it.  If you worked for Mr. Kent, would you tell him so?  Of course not.

Moreover, many business leaders believe their own press clippings.  They invest their egos into whatever they do.

It becomes impossible for them to see and think clearly about themselves.  They tend to believe that their success in managing a conglomerate, in steering the corporate elephant of multinational business to profitability, means that their skills and judgment are infallible across a range of unrelated issues and tasks.

Such as business presenting.

And this is why you see so many bad business presentations by so many smart and powerful people.

Mr. Kent is by all accounts a shrewd corporate leader and for his expertise received in 2010 almost $25 million in total compensation as Coca-Cola CEO and Board Chairman.  But he is a poor speaker.  He delivers a bad business presentation, but . . .

But he has great potential that will probably never be realized.

And this is tragic, because many business leaders like Mr. Kent could become outstanding speakers and even especially powerful advocates of their businesses.

The Bad Business Presentation Curse

As it stands now, executives such as Mr. Kent exert an incredibly insidious influence in our schools and in the corporate world generally.

Let’s call it the “hem-of-garment” effect.

Those of us who aspire to scale the corporate heights imitate what we believe to be winning behaviors.  We want to touch the hem of the garment, so-to-speak, of those whom we wish to emulate.

Because our heroes are so successful, their “style” of speaking is mimicked by thousands of young people who believe that, well, this must be how it’s done:  “He is successful, therefore I should deliver my own presentations this way.”

Especially Powerful Business Presentations
“Yes, we can turn him into a capable Business Presenter.”

You see examples of this at your own B-School, as in when a VP from a local insurance company shows up unprepared, and reads from barely relevant slides.

He then takes your questions in chaotic and perhaps haughty form.

Who could blame you if you believe that this is how it should be done?  The bad business presentation is, after all, the unfortunate standard.

But this abysmal level of corporate business presenting offers you an opportunity . . .

You need only become an above-average speaker to be considered an especially powerful presenter.

A presenter far more powerful than Mr. Muhtar Kent or any of 500 other CEOs.

It is completely within your power to do so.

For more on avoiding the bad business presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Your Business Presentation Voice for Power and Impact

Fix your presentation voice
Start Improving your Presentation Voice Today

Not many of us readily accept coaching or suggestions of how to improve ourselves, particularly when it comes to highly personal aspects of our very being – such as our business presentation voice.

Business students get antsy when I talk about improving the presentation voice.

Why?

Because the subject implies that there might be such a thing as “bad” voices and  “good” voices, and this kind of value judgment is usually verboten in most liberal arts classes they take.  Supposedly, there are only  “different” voices, and we are urged to  “celebrate” these differences.

That may work in the test tube, but not in the cold and harsh business world, where people are judged on how well they communicate.  And voice is a large part of that.

Your Presentation Voice isn’t Sacred

Your current speaking voice is neither sacrosanct nor “natural.”

Your presentation voice is the product of many years of development from numerous influences, many of which you may be unaware of.  Why not evaluate your voice today?  See if it gets the presentation job done for you.

Does your voice crack?  Does it whine?  Does it tic up at the end of every sentence for no good reason?  Do you uptalk?  Do you lard your conversation with nonsensical filler such as “whatever,” “umm,” “totally,” and “like” hundreds of times per day?

Why not change for the better?

Develop an Especially Powerful Voice

Recognize that your voice is not a sacred artifact, nor is it some precious extension of your being.  It’s an instrument to communicate.  You can sharpen your communication skills by improving your voice.

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

Consider here several things you can do to improve your presentation voice.  Nothing extreme at all.  Have a look . . .

For more especially powerful techniques to improve your presentation voice, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.