More precisely, the delivering of business presentations across cultures.
The pathologies that afflict American Business Presentations show themselves in India . . . in France . . . in Russia. And now, I discover yet another country and cultural commonality. This time in Colombia.
My Seven Secrets seminar with Colombian Businessmen and Businesswomen at Corn Products International here in Cali confirms the core truths of the speaking masters from the past 25 centuries.
Even with regard to international business presentations.
It confirms that they are universally applicable across a range of cultures and languages. Have a look at the company here:
Colombian C-Suite and midlevel managers react much as their American and Indian counterparts with regard to the most common pathologies that destroy what could be outstanding presentations. These include bad voices, roaming presenters, slide-reading, back to the audience, hip-shots. Add-in jittery feet, strange habitual actions, finger play, mumbling, and jammed/busy/ugly/unreadable slides.
All of this we see here in the United States. It plagues Colombian business as well.
International Business Presentations Incorporate Ambition
But my Colombian colleagues – at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Corn Products International, Johnson & Johnson, Javeriana University – show themselves to be receptive to coaching. In fact, they are far more receptive to coaching and development of especially powerful presentation skills than their American counterparts generally.
Why this should be so, I cannot guess. Unless it relates to the difficulties of presenting in a second language and the ambition that accompanies the potential of a growing Colombian business sector that is becoming increasingly internationalized.
Presenting in a second language is, of course, an impressive feat in itself.
All of this demonstrates that there exist iron-clad truths in presenting. And we ignore these truths at our presentation peril.
The eternal and ubiquitous verities in the presentation milieu serve to anchor us in a superficially uncertain world that the avatars of “change management” urge us to adapt to. Certitude, not “change,” is the key to especially powerful presenting.
Learn the verities and practice the universals in your international business presentations, and you’ll go incredibly right. Whether in the United States, or in India . . . or in Colombia.
One of the greatest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.
His speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, how to mesmerize it throughout the presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.
The Malcolm X Presentation
Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator who drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.
Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye. As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats, to feel the repetition of key phrases, and to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.
And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage emerging. It’s sometimes explicit but most often emerges through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.
You gain a sense of the gathering storm, you almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.
A Source of Inspiration and Technique
Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.
With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience. You hear a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.
Put a stop to all of that nonsense with the “grabber” line, a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special. Not just another canned talk.
Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document. Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.
Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience. Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.
This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963. Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course will leaven our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.
We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us. We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.
We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem. Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.
In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has captured his listeners and layed out a situation statement that, at that moment, embraced his audience. He establishes a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement – “America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?
No Throat-clearing . . .
Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.
No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”
Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”
Straight to the point, and a bold point it is. See what comes next . . .
America’s problem is us. We’re her problem. The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.
And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted. Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.
Has Malcolm studied his audience? Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?
Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?
He surely has.
Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.
For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience. Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk and ask yourself how he crafted it. And how it works.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation, building to his call for action at the end.
For some reason known only to the deities of publishing, Apple’s iconic CEO Steve Jobs is considered a great business presenter.
A bestselling book by Carmin Gallo even touts The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs.
But is Steve really a great presenter? Does he really have secrets that you can use? And can you learn how to be “an insanely great” presenter from this book?
No . . . no . . . and . . .
Well . . . on that last point, you can learn to become a pretty good presenter from this book.
But not from Steve Jobs.
The Extraordinary Jobs
Steve is a visionary and an extraordinary entrepreneur many times over. He has grown tremendously since the days when he thought that his self-absorbed bombast gave him license to insult Microsoft and Bill Gates mercilessly.
Jobs emerged as a celebrity CEO, a man who loves the limelight and whose strong and quirky personality guarantee him a maniacal following among a narrow slice of the American populace.
On an absolute scale, Steve is a slightly above-average presenter. Remove Steve’s high-tech prop that the entire wonk-world is waiting to see, and remove the employee/early adopter audiences that cheer his every eye-twitch, and we are left with a shabbily dressed average sort of fellow given to aimless pacing and whose high-pitched voice grates a bit on the senses with its “ummms” and “ahhhhs.”
You and I know that there is only one reason that Steve Jobs is on that stage. Only one reason that he has a book purporting to reveal the presentation secrets of Steve Jobs.
And it’s not for his presenting skills.
The Real Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs
While Jobs himself is not someone whose presenting skills deserve emulation, he is obviously the subject of the book because of his built-in audience, and so we must deal with that. We can dismiss it, in fact.
But the book does have a gem.
The gem of the book is the author. The author of the Jobs book is Carmine Gallo, who is an extremely polished and superb presenter and presentation coach, and he embeds solid presenting nuggets throughout the book.
Carmine is, in fact, a much better presenter than Jobs. You can judge for yourself by watching the video here.
But even Carmine is not perfect. He begins by gushing at Jobs’s stature as a presenter that is almost embarrassing in its lavish excess: “Steve Jobs is the most captivating communicator on the world stage . . . He is the world’s greatest corporate storyteller!”
But . . . well, we’re selling books here, and hype is understandable. I’d probably gush, too, if given a similar opportunity, so let’s give Carmine a pass on this one.
But at the end of the video Carmine gives advice that I believe is just flat-out wrong.
He says that you, the presenter, are the hero of the presentation. That you, your product, or your service is the hero.
All of us would like to be the hero of our presentation, wouldn’t we? And we are sorely tempted to put the focus on our product and ourselves.
No. Don’t do it.
Your Audience is the Hero
There is room for only one hero in the presentation, and that hero is not you. The hero is in the audience, and you are there to help your audience become heroic.
As with all presentation instruction, you can ignore or accept what you choose, and this point is no different. You can try to be the hero. Or, you can focus on your audience and its needs and its desires.
In sum, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs offers a reasonable exposition of presentation methods that can benefit us all, but recognize that these methods have nothing to do with Steve Jobs and they do not help us become “insanely great” presenters.
But there is good news for you on the presentation front. The best news in all of this is, in fact, great news.
With dedication, coachability, and the right method, virtually anyone – and I mean anyone – can become a better business presenter than Steve Jobs.
Let’s say that you are assigned the ToughBolt business case. Now, you must present before the directors of the Toughbolt Corporation.
Your group has produced a written analysis. It’s finished.
How do you “prepare?”
Apply the sound method of correct Preparation – the second of the Three Ps.
Your task is clear. You must present your conclusions to an audience. And here is where I give you one of the most important gems of wisdom necessary to giving a first-rate show.
Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report. Let me repeat that, because it is so misunderstood and ignored.
Your presentation is a completely different product than your written report.
It’s a completely different mode of communication.
Do you wonder how this is possible, since you create your presentation from a written report? Since you are creating an information product from a case, how can the product be different, simply because one product is written and the other visual and vocal?
It is different in exactly the same way that a film is a completely different product than a novel, even if the story is supposedly the same. It is different in the way that a play read silently from the page differs from a play acted out on stage.
You operate in a different medium.
You have time constraints.
A group is receiving your message.
A group is delivering the message.
You have almost no opportunity for repeat.
You have multiple opportunities to miscommunicate.
In short, you are in a high-risk environment and you are vulnerable, far more vulnerable than you might be in a written report, where the risk is controllable. Have a look at the chart below.
These many differences between written and oral reports are, to many people, invisible.
Many folks believe that there is no difference.
And this is why those same folks believe that delivering a presentation is “easy.” It consists of little more than cutting and pasting a written report’s points onto a half-dozen cramped slides, and then reading them in public.
As absurd as this might appear in print, it actually has currency. People believe this, because they’ve not been told otherwise.
Finance people are especially prone to this habit, believing that the “numbers tell the story.” The more numbers, the better. The more obtuse the spreadsheet, the tinier the font, the more complex the chart, the more stuff packed on each slide, the better.
Such a vague, incomprehensible, numbers-heavy mess seems to be the currency of many business presentations.
It’s totally wrong, and it’s totally unneccessary.
Part of your preparation is the crafting of clear, compelling, and on-point graphics that support your message . . . not obscure it. Rid your presentation of chart junk. Zero-in to achieve what I call über focus.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Perhaps you’ve said that? I’ve certainly heard it.
“How come I never get assigned an interesting topic?”
Now, whether any topic is inherently interesting or not is irrelevant to your task. It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience. Cases are not assigned to you so that they will interest you. Your tasks as a project manager or consultant don’t come to you on the basis of whether they interest you. No one cares if they “interest” you.
That’s not the point.
We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting” topics. But what’s an “interesting” topic?
I have found the following to be true:
The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned inherently interesting topics. They don’t recognize them as interesting. And they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.
Moreover, it is your job to presenting an especially powerful and scintillating presentation, regardless of the topic.
Face it. If you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t prepare any differently for an “interesting” topic than you would for a “boring” topic. You simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience or client.
Let’s shed that attitude.
Great presenters recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case. They invariably craft an interesting presentation whether the topic concerns tenpenny nails or derivatives or soap.
Crank up Interest
How do you generate interest? Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions:
[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.
Let’s go . . .
The typical start to a presentation project is . . .
. . . procrastination.
You put it off as a daunting task. Or you put it off because you believe you can “wing it.” Or you lament that you don’t have an “interesting topic.”
Let’s say that your task is to provide a SWOT within the body of a group presentation, and your time is 4-5 minutes. What is your actual task here? Think about it. How do you usually approach the task? How do you characterize it?
Here is my guess at how you approach it.
You define your task as:
“How can I fit X amount of information into this limited time?”
In your own mind, the objective is not to communicate clearly to your audience. Your only objective is to “fit it all in.” And if you “achieve” this dubious objective, then in your mind you will have succeeded.
Unfortunately, your professor might agree with you, since many b-school professors look only for “content.” They do not evaluate whether the content has been communicated clearly and effectively.
And this is what is missing – you don’t analyze how or why or in what way you can present the information in a public forum.
If a written paper has already been produced, this complicates your task. You feel the irresistible allure of cut ’n’ paste.
The result is less than stellar, and you end up trying to shovel 10 pounds of sand into a five-pound pail. The result is predictable.
Your slides are crammed with information.
You talk fast to force all the points in. You run over-time.
You fail. You fail to deliver a star-spangled presentation for lack of proper preparation.
This Time, Procrustes has it Right
Take the Procrustean approach. This approach is named after Procrustes, a figure from Greek mythology. The Columbia Encyclopedia describes the myth thusly:
He forced passersby to lie on a very long bed and then stretched them to fit it. If they were too tall to fit his bed, he sawed off their legs. Using Procrustes’ own villainous methods, Theseus killed him.
Surely Procrustes was a villain, what with sawing off people’s legs or stretching them to fit an arbitrary standard. In modern-day parlance, it has retained its negative connotation with the term “Procrustean solution.”
“Procrustean solution” is the undesirable practice of tailoring data to fit its container or some other preconceived stricture. A common example from the business world is embodied in the notion that no résumé should exceed one page in length.
But in this case, let’s give Procrustes a break.
Your Procrustean Solution
Let’s take a Procrustean approach and make a better presentation. Consider this:
We have no choice in the length of our presentation. It’s four minutes. Or five minutes. That’s our Procrustean Bed. So let’s make the most of it and manipulate the situation to our benefit and to the benefit of our audience.
We’re not stretching someone or something. And we’re not hacking off legs.
We are using our mind and judgment to select what should be in our show and what should not be in our show.
And if you find the decision of what to include too difficult, then let’s do even more Procrustean manipulation. Pick only three major points that you want to make.
Pick three points to deliver in 4-5 minutes. If you must deliver an entire SWOT, then select one strength, one weakness, one opportunity, and one threat.
Why do we do this? Here’s why:
If you try to crowbar an entire SWOT analysis into a four-minute presentation, with multiple points for each category, you overwhelm your audience. They turn off and tune you out. You will lose them, and you will fail.
Presenting too many points is worse than only one point. If you present, say, a total of 5 strengths, 3 weaknesses, 4 opportunities, and 3 threats, no one remembers it. None of it. You irritate your audience mercilessly. Your presentation presents the results of analysis, not a laundry list of facts on which you base your analysis. The SWOT is, in fact, almost raw data.
You want the audience to remember how you massage the data, analyze it, and arrange it. You want the audience to remember your conclusions.
You take information and transforming it into intelligence.
You winnow out the chaff and leave only the wheat.
You reduce the static and white noise so that the communicative signal can be heard.
You are panning for gold, washing away the detritus so the nuggets can be found. When you buy gold, you don’t buy the waste product from which it was drawn, do you? Do you buy a gold ring set in a box of sand? Of course not, and neither should you offer up bucketfuls of presentation sand when you present your analytical gold to your client.
Your job is to sift through the mountains of information available, synthesize it, compress it, make it intelligible, then present it in a way that is understandable and, if possible, entertaining.
Digest these Preparation tips, try them out in your next presentation, and watch yourself produce and deliver the most powerful presentation of your young career.
Much more can be said about Preparation . . . Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.
Don’t assume that you know what I mean by preparation and practice, because we likely have different conceptions of both, and I’m betting you’ll like the results you get from my approach.
So, settle in . . . and for the next couple of days, we will explore the Three Ps and how their assiduous application can transform you into the Especially Powerful Presenter that you always knew you could be.
And then . . . your mind wanders for a brief moment.
It was just a moment. But it was enough to sabotage you.
Your thoughts grind to a halt and you can’t remember what to say. Words fail you.
You have lost the proverbial “train of thought” and you’re on the cusp of a presentation meltdown.
What do You do?
Blank-Mind attacks all of us at one point or another during our business presentation career.
In fact, it happens so often that it might do us some good to think ahead to how we should react to this common presentation malady.
Too often, it leads to a presentation meltdown. But it doesn’t have to.
Presenters have developed trade tricks to help us past the rough spots. Here is one stopgap solution to get you over the speedbump of lost train of thought.
When you lose your train of thought, don’t panic or you’ll spiral quickly into a presentation meltdown.
Instead, your first reaction should be a calm academic assessment of the situation – you know what’s happened, and you already know what your first action will be. You’ve prepared for this.
Dodge Presentation Meltdown with This
Flood the room with silence.
Look slightly upward and raise your right hand to your chin, holding your hand in a semi-fist with chin perched and resting on your index finger and thumb – perhaps with your index finger curled comfortably around your chin. You know the posture.
Put your left hand on your hip. Furrow your brow as if deep in thought, which you are.
Now, while looking steadily at the floor or slightly upward at the ceiling, walk slowly in a diagonal approximately four, maybe five steps and stop, feet shoulder-width apart.
Now, assume your basic ready position and look up at your audience.
Your Bought Time
You have just purchased a good 10 seconds to regain your composure, to regain your thought pattern. Time enough to cobble together your next few sentences.
But if this brief respite was not enough to reset yourself, then shift to the default statement.
What do I mean “default statement?”
This is a rescue phrase that you craft beforehand to get you back into your speaking groove. It consists of something like this: “Let me recapitulate our three points – liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Other phrases might be: “Now is probably a good time to look again at our main themes . . .” or “We can see again that the issue boils down to the three crucial points that I began with . . .”
And then, you simply begin ticking off your three or four main points of your presentation. In doing so, you trigger thought processes that put you back onto the correct path.
Think of this method as levering a derailed train back onto the track.
If you have prepared as you should, Blank-Mind should be no more than a small bump in the road for you, a minor nuisance with minimal damage. If you panic, however, it can balloon into something monstrous.
Remember the rescue techniques: Chin-scratch and Default Statement.
You can control the damage by utilizing the Chin-scratch, which buys you time to reassert yourself. Failing that, the Default Statement can bail you out by taking you back over familiar material you’ve just covered.
If none of the above works, however, you can still stop yourself from going into total presentation meltdown by using the two rescue words I preach to all my students . . .
I truly don’t mean to be a pain to my long-suffering students, but one exercise that probably elicits more scorn than it deserves is called “Especially Powerful.”
It consists of everyone rising to a standing position and striking a confident stance with feet shoulder-width apart and arms outstretched to either side, palms turned upward.
This is a critical and powerful pose.
Then visalize a slight tilt of the head up and, in unison and in the best tradition of the deep-voiced Darth Vader, everyone repeats after me . . . “I feel especially powerful today!”
“I feel especially powerful today!”
I’m not satisfied until the room reverberates with the appropriate tone and volume, indicating a robust and vibrant embrace of the exercise and what we’re trying to accomplish.
Which is . . . what?
Why do I engage in what, to some, might appear gimmicky or cute?
First, I don’t do cute. Second, the exercise accomplishes several superb physiological goals that improve a range of characteristics associated with business presenting. Voice . . . stance . . . posture . . . confidence . . . poise.
In short, much of what we call body language.
We hear in some circles that nonverbal communication – your body language – comprises more than 50 percent of your message. Some studies contend that it comprises more than 70 percent.
For no other reason than this, we should be concerned with the messages we transmit with our posture, our expressions, our gestures. Yes, body language is critical to conveying your message.But it is essential for another equally important reason.
It’s a reason not generally well-known or understood, and it constitutes a secret that I’ve utilized with my presentation students for years to invest them with confidence and new-found presentation power. Its core idea stretches back well more than a century, to one of the world’s first theories of emotion: James-Lange Theory.
William James and the Danish physiologist Carl G. Lange developed the theory independently of each other in the 1880s.
Here’s a taste of the real thing from Mr. James himself:
“My theory … is that the bodily changes follow directly the perception of the exciting fact, and that our feeling of the same changes as they occur is the emotion. Common sense says, we lose our fortune, are sorry and weep; we meet a bear, are frightened and run; we are insulted by a rival, are angry and strike. The hypothesis here to be defended says that this order of sequence is incorrect … and that the more rational statement is that we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble …
Without the bodily states following on the perception, the latter would be purely cognitive in form, pale, colorless, destitute of emotional warmth. We might then see the bear, and judge it best to run, receive the insult and deem it right to strike, but we should not actually feel afraid or angry.”
We generally believe that our emotions affect our body language, and we ourselves have experienced the effects of stage fright. Emotions influence the way you stand, the way you appear to your audience. They influence what you say and how you say it.
So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that. Moreover, once we become conscious of the effects of our fears, they worsen, and we get caught in a downward spiral of cause-and-effect.
But what if we could reverse that cause-and-effect? What if we could, say, strike a confident pose and suddenly find ourselves infused with confidence? Impossible, eh?
But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.
Turn Negative Energy into Positive
You can use your gestures, movement, posture, and expression to influence your emotions. You can consciously affect body language associated with the emotion you want to experience – namely, confidence – and so gain confidence.
This means that we should lay the groundwork for our emotions to reflect our body language and our posture. Consciously strike a bearing that reflects the confident and powerful speaker you want to be.This may sound too easy and leave you asking “what’s the catch?” No, there’s no catch.
And now that recent research has scientifically confirmed the dynamic I just described, the secret is out. Several theories later and after many attempts to debunk James-Lange Theory, the most recent research at Harvard University and the Kellogg School of Business would seem to give Mr. James and Mr. Lange the proverbial last laugh.
A 2010 Harvard study substantiated James-Lange Theory and found that power posing substantially increases confidence in people who assume them while interacting with others. The Kellogg study early this year yielded the same findings.
In short, the way you stand or sit either increases or decreases your confidence. The study’s conclusion is unambiguous and speaks directly to us.
Our results show that posing in high-power displays (as opposed to low-power displays) causes physiological, psychological, and behavioral changes consistent with the literature on the effects of power on power holders — elevation of the dominance hormone testosterone, reduction of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases in behaviorally demonstrated risk tolerance and feelings of power.
This finding holds tremendous significance for you if you want to imbue your presentations with power.
In our 21st Century vernacular, this means you should stand the way you want to feel. Posing with power – “I feel especially powerful today!” – improves your entire presentation delivery tremendously and in ways you’ve likely not imagined.
Power Posing can flood your system with testosterone and can suppress stress-related cortisol, so you actually do invest yourself with confidence and relieve the acute anxiety that presentations sometimes generate.
The lesson here is to affect the posture of confidence. Square your shoulders. Fix a determined look on your face. Speak loudly and distinctly. Extend your arms to either side and take up lots of space.
Seize the emotional energy flow and make it work for you.
For your presentation, do you ever throw together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, with dozens of bullet points peppered throughout?
Guilty as charged? Most of us are at one point or another.
And the results can be heinous.
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, and this is an incredibly stupid mistake.
One . . . or the Other
Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.
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 is 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 Magic Pills
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 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.”
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.
We’re all familiar with the droning voice of a speaker who rarely varies pitch, tone, or pace and who inflicts on us the boring presentation.
In like fashion, you can be visually monotonous.
Visual monotony – either of repetitive constant movement or of no movement whatsoever.
We know well the “rocker” and the “swayer.” We know Mr. “busy-hands” and the “Foxtrotter,” who quicksteps in a tight little dance. Perhaps you have seen the occasional great Stoneface, but he is a rarity today.
The Right Movement
Movement can enhance or cripple your presentation.
And the right kind of movement can solve the boring presentation quite handily.
But don’t begin agitated hopping about the stage willy-nilly. Recognize that you should incorporate movement into your presentation for quite specific reasons. Your movements should contribute to your presentation by reinforcing your message.
At the risk over over-alliterating, mesh your movements with your message.
Remember that every single thing you do onstage derives its power by its contrast with every other thing you do. If you move all the time, like a pacing jungle cat, it becomes the equivalent of white noise. Your movements then contribute no meaning whatever to your presentation.
In fact, your movements become a distraction. They leech energy and attention from your message. It’s a form of visual monotony.
The Kiss of Sleep – Your Boring Presentation
Likewise, if you remain stationary 100 percent of the time, the result is again visual monotony. You lull your audience into inattention, especially if you combine verbal and visual monotony in a single presentation – The Kiss of Sleep . . . for your audience.
You inflict . . . the boring presentation.
Those in theater know this principle well.
In his very fine Tips for Actors, Jon Jory intones that: “Your best tool to avoid this dangerous state is variety. Three lines of loud need soft. Three lines of quick need slow. A big dose of movement needs still. Or change your tactics.”
So, think of movement as one more tool in your repertoire to evoke feeling from your audience. With it, you can convey a powerful and persuasive message.
The secret is not Movement alone . . . the secret is keen, decisive, proper, and exquisitely timed Movement.
A debilitating pathology of bad presentation technique afflicts many presenters.
It starts innocently enough . . .
You click the remote and a new slide appears.
You cast a wistful look back at the screen. You pause.
And then you reach for the easy phrase.
That’s when AYCS Syndrome can strike even the best of us, cutting us down in our presentation prime.
“As you can see.”
The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that there must be a school somewhere that trains people to utter this reflexive phrase-hiccup.
Is there an AYCSS Academy? Probably!
The bain of AYCSS is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet or array of baffling numbers. Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.
And the audience most assuredly cannot see. In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.
And that’s why we reach for the phrase.
Because we can’t “see,” either.
We look back at an abstruse slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show. At that point, AYCS Syndrome attacks.
Numb and Dumb Your Audience with AYCSS
Finance students seem particularly enamored of AYCSS.
In fact, some rogue finance professors doubtless inculcate this in students.
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, of course. There are only few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.
Financial data are where you discover the firm’s profitability, stability, health, and potential.
But the results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.
Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas. It seems important, substantial.
Too often, you display an Excel spreadsheet on the screen that is unedited from your written report. You cut-and-paste it into your presentation. You splash the spreadsheet onto the screen, then talk from that spreadsheet without orienting your audience to the slide.
This is the incredibly bad presentation technique displayed by finance students, in particular, that is accompanied by the dreaded words: “As you can see.”
You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers.
Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . . “As you can see—”
And then you call out what seem to be random numbers. Random? Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.
You have not provided the context needed for understanding. No one knows what you’re talking about. Your classmates watch with glazed eyes. Perhaps one or two people nod.
Your professor sits sphinx-like.
And no one has a clue. You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved. And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.
AYCS Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide. And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.
It can’t be good. Not for the audience, not for presenter.
All of this sounds heinous, I know. And probably too familiar for comfort. But you can beat bad presentation techniques with a few simple changes that we’ll discuss in days to come.
Too often, you find yourself rambling or roaming in a presentation, rather than putting focus on your audience.
This is a symptom of an chaotic presentation, and it can have any of several causes.
Among other things, this results from not establishing a tightly focused subject and not linking it to a tightly focused conception of your audience.
Without tight focus in your subject, you cannot help the audience to visualize your topic or its main points with concrete details. Without details in your message, you eventually lose the attention of the audience.
So how do you include meaningful details in your presentation, the right details?
The Devil’s in the Details
By reversing the process and visualizing the audience in detail.
This is akin to the branding process in the marketing world. Your brand must stand for something in the customer’s mind. And, conversely, you must be able to visualize the customer in your own mind.
If you can’t visualize the kind of person who desperately wants to hear your message, then you haven’t focused your talk enough. Go back and retool your message – sharpen and hone it.
Think of the various consumers of products and services such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Whole Foods Market, Mercedes Benz, Pabst Blue Ribbon. Can you actually visualize the customers for these products, picture them in your mind in great detail?
Likewise, can you clearly visualize the consumers for Greenpeace, the National Rifle Association, a Classic 70s Rock radio station? Sure you can – you immediately imagine the archetype of the customer base for each of these. These firms put focus on their audiences.
Do you focus on your audience in the same relentless manner?
Now, in the same way, can you visualize the consumers of Chevrolet? Tide? Folgers? United Way? The American Red Cross?
Of course you can’t, because these brands have lost focus. The message is too broad.
Put Relentless Focus on Your Audience
The lesson here is to focus your message on a tightly circumscribed audience type. Who is in your audience, and what do they want from you?
Prepare your talk with your audience at the forefront. Visualize a specific person in your audience, and write to that person. Make that person the hero. Talk directly to that person.
The upshot is a tightly focused message. A message with key details that interest an audience that you have correctly analyzed and visualized. You speak directly to audience needs in a way that they clearly understand and that motivates them.
Craft your message in this way, focus on your audience, and you’ll be on-target every time.
What is gesture, and why do we worry about it at all? It’s 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.
A scratch of the chin.
An accusatory finger.
A balled fist at the proper moment.
These are all gestures that can either enhance or destroy your presentation. Yes, I said destroy.
Professional presentation coaches understand that most of the information transmitted in a show is visual. This is a result of the presence of the speaker. An audio recording of a talk is not nearly as powerful as an actual live presentation. 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, 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. Certainly too important to dismiss with the airy “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.”
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. We never gesture without reason or 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
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. 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. 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 presentations, we are left with aimless ejaculations that can 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 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.
The Power of Gesture
Why would you want to “gesture?” Aren’t your words enough? To 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 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.
Look for more detailed analysis on the gestures available to you in this space in coming weeks.
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble, and having this rescue device near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course, that is flirting with disaster.
Your Life Preserver to Conclude a Presentation
Occasionally we must be reminded of this quite simple device that can serve us well near the end of our talk.
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
Conclude a Presentation with Pith and Power
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable in terms that a logical, reasonable person would believe. As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do.
Here is what you do. Confidently tack on another phrase . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works? You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
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.
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.
Your Foundation – Power Posing
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.
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.
A message is being sent – you are sending 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 what 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.
This has always been true; 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.”
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.
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.
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.
So what is a confident posture? Let’s begin with a firm foundation.
For any structure to endure, we must build on strength. And I mean this both in the metaphorical and in the literal sense with regard to business presentations. You must not only project strength and stability, you must feel strength and stability. The two are inseparable, and a moment’s thought reveals to you why.
Think first of the confident man.
To appear unstable and fearful before an audience, a confident man must take a conscious effort to strike such a pose. Likewise, it would take a conscious effort for a man, who has planted himself firmly in the prescribed confident posture, to feel nervous, uncertain, or unsure of himself.
That is, if he affected the confident pose and maintained it relentlessly against all of the body’s involuntary urges to crumple and shift, to equivocate and sway.
Think as well of the confident woman.
How does the confident woman’s demeanor different from that of the confident man? Virtually not at all. The point and the goal is to establish a foundation that exudes strength, competence, and confidence.
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.
This strong personal foundation is your ready position, your standard posture for your presentation. It serves as the foundation for everything else to follow.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation tips never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation tips completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad tips zombies will be the only survivors.
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) I have discovered that 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 is not welcome news.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice.
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 presentation tips.
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.
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 distraction. 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 hand-wringing. 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.
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.
This bad presentation tip 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 chestnut 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 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 your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, boring, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.
This dullness seeps into the consciousness. It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.
Bad business presentations can be a career-killer. Of course, no one will tell you this.
A conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and the people who give. them.
And yet, they are everywhere.
Bad Business Presentations are Everywhere
Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.
They must be the norm. They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is. But this is myth.
And this myth perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition.
You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good. It looks like this . . .
Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern. He reads from slides with dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides. He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him. He rarely looks at you.
A Wasteland On the Screen
Unreadable spreadsheets appear on the screen. Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence. The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you. You realize, finally, that he is reading the slides together with everyone in the audience.
The slides are unreadable or irrelevant.
It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns. You could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”
If bad business presentations are the norm, you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.” I can be as bad as the next person.
Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation
Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation. And why wouldn’t you think that?
It seems to have all the elements: A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a five-minute time slot to fill with talk.
But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.
You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.
You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.
And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way. Instead, you see it as something painful. Because it is painful. It’s painful and awful.
Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . . just awful.
It’s a bad business presentation that is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.
Because the explanations are incomplete. Because you never get the whole story.
Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.
This can be a problem. A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present. And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.
I Feel Your Pain
Sure, there are “presentation”courses. But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.
They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.” But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.
Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school. They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – things like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Five Forces, and such like.
And on occasion, professors in your business courses demonstrate the same malaise that plagues business at-large.
For most of your professors, presenting is secondary. This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching. Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes unaddressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.
It is the same in the corporate world. Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.
Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” What what we get is the bad business presentation as the standard.
The Malaise in Corporate America
I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago. I had the occasion to dip my toes into some of the worst speaking I have ever heard coupled with use of incredibly bad visuals. Primarily PowerPoint visuals.
Busy slides with tiny letters.
Listeners shifting in their seats.
Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.
Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.
No preparation and no practice attended these presentations.
Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.
This is more common than you might imagine. Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.
The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-. The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-. When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.
This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools. Is it uniformly bleak? No, of course not.
Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity
Generalizations are just that – general in nature.
I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway. Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform. Good for them. But for the most part, it is as I have described here.
And this presents you with magnificent opportunity.
Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of superior presenters. Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate. By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power. Presentations that are anything but dull. So . . .
It’s time for your debut.
Time to break the Law of Bad Business Presentations.
You’ve almost mastered your voice and material, and now it’s time to build on that and incorporate essential presentation movement.
What should you do during your talk?
Where to do it? How to do it? Why should you do it . . . and when?
Today we begin to incorporate meaningful movement into your presentation – movement that adds power, movement that reinforces your message in positive ways.
First, think about distance. Your distance from your audience significantly impacts the degree of connectivity you share with audience members.
Distance Matters in Presentation Movement
Many speakers are unaware of the effect that distance-from-audience can have on their talk. The formal term for how distance affects the relationship between speaker and audience is called “proxemics.”
This is simply lingo for your proximity to the audience – how far from your audience you stand. Altering that distance throughout your talk can enhance your message in ways you intend.
You achieve four distinct effects by varying the distance that you maintain between you and your audience. A distinguished anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, developed the concept of how these four distances communicate vastly different messages from speaker to audience.
Let’s look at the Four Spaces and how you can use them to achieve certain effects with your presentation movement. They can animate your business presentation and enhance that 3D effect I often refer to.
First, the most common space is public space, and this is a distance of more than 12 feet from your audience. Obviously, this space is necessary when you deliver a lecture to a large audience of, say, 200 persons or more.
The second space is social space.
This space is occupied by the speaker who wants to connect in a personal way with his audience. It’s the space from four feet to 12 feet from your audience.
Think of a seminar of 12 students with a professor in close proximity. Here, eye contact is frequent and effective.
A conversational style is possible and desirable. In fact, conversational and relaxed style is essential in this scenario.
The third space is personal space. This space begins at 18 inches from a person and extends out to approximately four feet. It is conversational space and is generally not utilized in public speaking.
The fourth space is intimate space. This space is highly personal and you must be invited into this space. Without an invitation, you invade this space at your own risk. You make others feel uncomfortable, and they may respond in any number of ways, few of which will please you.
Now, it’s time to think about scripting your presentati0n movements.
Coordinate your movements with major segments of your talk. Script them into your presentation as if you were performing a play.
For instance, follow the script below. Following each quote, the indented statements describe the actions you take:
SPEAKER: “My talk has three major points. As I share these points with you tonight, I want you to consider how each of these powerful issues affect you, personally. The first major point?”
<<Bow head and walk slowly to the left. Take ready stance. Look up at audience. >>
SPEAKER: “The first major point is Humility. In this we are the same as our earliest fathers and mothers . . . .”
<<Look to your right and walk slowly, meeting the eyes of several audience members in turn. Stop in ready position. >>
SPEAKER: “The second major point is Confidence. Surely there is not one among us who has not felt the fear of failure, of being judged unworthy . . . .”
<<Look to the center and walk slowly to center-stage. Stop and assume ready position. Gesture with both hands in supplication.>>
SPEAKER: “The third and most important point is this – Understanding of a kind that passes beyond . . . etc., etc. . . .”
The movements thus accomplished are displayed in the diagram. This type of broad presentation movement accentuates the major points of your talk. You anchor each point at a different part of the stage:
Point 1 to the Left
Point 2 to the Right
Point 3 to the Center
This scripted movement series is a highly visual reinforcement to the organization of your talk. Coupled with the proper hand gestures and expressiveness of face and voice, this series movement invests your message with immediacy and dimensionality and increases its impact.
You hammer home the three points with a visual element coupled with the aural element.
All of this carefully considered presentation movement about the stage also conveys to the audience that you are in control. You own the stage. So act like you own it; don’t behave like a visitor who cannot wait to depart.
It’s your space, so make good use of it. Learn to be comfortable in that space and to utilize all of the space at your disposal.
At the same time, apply the principles found here. Do not move, just to be moving.
The combined effect of movement, position, and spoken message connects you firmly with your audience; appropriate movement deepens the connection and moves you from 2D Presenting to 3D Presenting. And when you make this jump to 3D presenting, you enhance your professional presence on the stage and add to your personal competitive advantage.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over presentation stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of presentation stage fright, we are really talking about the battle within ourselves as we prepare to deliver our presentation.
It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.
Confidence is one of those elusive qualities.
It’s almost paradoxical. When we have it, it’s invisible. When we don’t have it, it’s all too apparent to us.
Confidence in public speaking is hard to come by.
Or so we think. Let’s back into this thing called confidence.
Take the Trip Test
Have you ever stumbled on the sidewalk, your toe catching an impossibly small defect in the concrete, enough to trip you up? You stumble and stagger a bit. And then . . .
. . . and then do you glance quickly around to see who might be looking? Do you feel shame of some sort? If not shame, then . . . something that gives you to mildly fear the judgment of others? Even strangers.
Or do you stride purposely forward, oblivious to others’ reactions, because they truly don’t matter to you?
Recognize this “trip test” as a measure of your self-confidence, your conception of yourself.
Recognize that you don’t need the validation of others in what you do.
This doesn’t mean to act in ways immature and self-indulgent. It means charting your own course with your internal moral and professional compass and having the strength of mind and purpose not to yield to kibitzers, naysayers, and kneejerk critics.
Now, bring that strength of mind and purpose to the realm of business presentations.
Presentation Stage Fright Begone!
For many, the audience is your bogeyman. For some reason you fear your audience. But understand that they are not gathered there to harm you . . . they are gathered to hear what you have to say.
And 99.9 percent of them mean you well.
They want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.
Yes, even your fellow students want you to succeed. They want to be entertained. Please entertain us, they think.
They are open to whatever new insight you can provide. And they know, for a fact, that they will be in your same place many times during their careers. They are fellow-travelers in the business presentation journey.
And so confidence is yours for the taking.
Seize Confidence for Yourself
Confidence is not a thing.
It cannot be grasped or packaged or bought. It’s a state of mind, isn’t it? It’s a feeling. When we get right down to it, it really is just the mental context within which we perform.
What does it really mean to be confident? Can you answer that direct question? Think about it a moment.
See? We can’t even think of confidence outside of doing something, of performing an action. Our confidence – or lack of confidence – provides us the context of our activities.
Is it certitude?
Is it knowledge?
Is it bravery?
Is it surety?
Think of the times when you are confident. You might be confident at playing a certain sport or playing a musical instrument. It could be an activity.
Why are you confident?
Confidence is largely the absence of uncertainty. For it’s uncertainty that makes us fearful. That, and the dread of some consequence – embarrassment or ridicule.
It should be recognized that many people do fear speaking before an audience. It is so universal and it is so pervasive that we must come to grips with it.
This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages. It has paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. And generations of speakers have tackled this fear.
George Rowland Collins is an old master who recognized the phenomenon in 1923 and its awful effect on the would-be presenter . . .
The very first problem that faces the average man in speech-making is the problem of nervousness. To stand up before an audience without a scrap of paper or a note of any kind, to feel the eyes of dozens and even hundreds of people upon you, to sense the awful silence that awaits your own words, to know that you must depend upon yourself and yourself alone to hold the audience’s attention is as trying a task as it is possible to undertake. Most men find the task too great and shun it religiously. Those who do attempt it, voluntarily, or involuntarily, testify to the severity of the physical and mental suffering it involves.
The solution to presentation stage fright? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire?
Reduce your uncertainty.
Reduce your uncertainty by applying the Three Ps: Principles, Preparation, Practice. Through these, you achieve a wealth of self-confidence, and we’ll talk about the Three Ps in days and weeks to come.
They are so utterly essential to Power Presenting that they bear repetition and constant reinforcement. They are the cornerstone upon which you build your style, your confidence, your performance pizzazz.
Principles, Preparation, Practice
The 7 principles of presenting offered here at Business School Presenting™ – the “secrets” of the masters – are grouped under Stance, Voice, Gesture, Movement, Expression, Appearance and Passion. Each of these deserves its own chapter and, indeed, has its own chapter in my book The Official College Guide to Business School Presenting.
Prepare your talk, then practice your talk at least 4 times, exactly as you will deliver it – without stopping.
When you apply the Three Ps, you reduce uncertainty. You are possess the facts. You are prepared. You know what to expect because you have been there before, and because you practice. You rehearse.
There is, of course, an element of uncertainty. There is uncertainty because you cannot control everything or everybody, and this causes a tinge of anxiety, but that’s fuel for your creative engine.
By controlling the 90 percent that you can, you are more than ready to handle the 10 percent of uncertainty that awaits you.
So the key for you is to control what you can and to dismiss your fear of the rest. Recognize that this fear is what makes you human, and it is this humanity that gives us commonality with all the public speakers and presenters who have come before us.
And it is their advice that we heed to our improvement.
For instance, master J. Berg Esenwein from 109 years ago:
Even when you are quaking in your boots with the ague of fear, and your teeth fain would beat “retreat,” you must assume a boldness you do not feel. For doing this there is nothing like deep stately breathing, a firm look at the dreaded audience . . . . But do not fear them. They want you to succeed, and always honor an exhibition of pluck. They are fair and know you are only one man against a thousand. . . . Look at your audience squarely, earnestly, expressively.
And banish stage fright forever.
Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright? Click here.
Do you like what you hear, or do you have a bad presentation voice?
Is your voice pinched?
Do you use your chest as the resonating chamber it ought to be, or does your voice emanate from your throat alone? Do you swallow your voice in the back of your throat so that you produce a nasal twang?
These are symptoms of Bad Presentation Voice, which can have several manifestations that degrade our presentations.
Fix that Bad Presentation Voice!
Bad Presentation Voice has been around a long time and has plagued speakers for many generations.
Public speaking expert George Rowland Collins said back in 1923:
“The tone becomes rough and impure when the column of air passing over the vocal cords is not allowed free and unrestricted movement. The cure for impurity of tone is primarily a relaxed and open throat.”
Judging from what I hear in class, in the elevator, and in campus coffee shops, more than likely your voice is pinched and smaller than it ought to be.
This is a result of many influences in our modern popular culture.
Within the last decade or so, these degrading influences have urged on us a plaintive, world-weary whine as voice-of-choice. Thus, for the most part, folks actually choose to have a bad speaking voice. voice becomes a matter of style – not just in the slang we choose to use, but in the way our voices sound when we use that slang.
High-pitched. Small. Weak. Unpleasant.
A voice from reality television. A 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.
Take this person called Elizabeth Hasselbeck.
She is one of several chatterers on the ABC Network daytime television show “The View.” Hasselbeck has a high-pitched, squeaky, pinched cartoon voice. I do not recommend that you watch this horrid broadcast, but if you happen to be in a doctor’s waiting room with nothing else on the television, do pay attention to the voices of the personages.
Another cartoon voice belongs to someone called Kelly Ripa, who participates on various television shows.
These shows serve up Ms. Ripa not for her voice, but for other attributes. Ms. Ripa’s slam-on-the-brakes whine is typical of many folks.
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.
Commonly called “divas,” their voices (barely serviceable for even routine communication) embody all that is wrong with regard to delivering powerful presentations, exhibiting habitual pathologies of the worst sort.
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.
A voice that has no force. No depth.
A voice you could swat away as you would backhand a fly.
I most often hear this cartoon voice in the elevator each day as I commute between my office and classrooms. Conversations in the elevator are sourced from scratchy voices. These voices are ratcheted tight in the voice box with barely enough air passed across the vocal cords.
But . . . my voice is “natural!”
If you want to become a good speaker, but you do not accept that you can and should improve your voice, it means that you are much like an un-coachable football player.
Oh, you want to become a superb football player, but you refuse to listen to the coach.
He tells you to develop your muscles and coordination in the gym, but you refuse. Instead, you respond that your body’s musculature is “natural.”
You believe that you can become a great football player without “cheating” with weight training or cardio conditioning.
Or by modifying your “natural” physique by exercising and building your muscles.
I’m sure you see the absurdity in this. The same is true when it comes to your voice. Voice is an extremely personal attribute, and people don’t take criticism lightly, perhaps viewing it as a self-esteem issue or an attack on personhood.
Don’t bristle at the notion that you should change your voice. This is naiveté and vanity and ego masquerading as ersatz individualism. This is a self-imposed handicap and an excuse for inaction.
With it, you hold yourself back.
It is also a manifestation of fear. Clare Tree Major observed this fear almost a century ago in college students of her time:
“People are exceedingly sensitive about changing their methods of speech for fear it will bring upon them the ridicule of their families and friends. . . . Charm and grace and beauty will come only when speech is unconscious – not while you have to think of every word and tone. If a thing is right there can be no question of affectation.
It is a greater affectation to do the wrong merely to pander to the less cultured tastes of others. If you know a thing is right, do it. If you have not this ideal and this courage, then it will waste your time to study correct speech. ”
What is your voice but a means of communication?
Does it have purposes other than speaking or singing? Other than communicating? And if we consider this carefully, it’s easy to see that clear communication depends upon the timbre of your voice.
It does matter what others think of your voice, since you use it to communicate, and it is others who receive your messages.
Doesn’t it make sense, then, to cultivate the most powerful, pleasing, and effective presentation voice you possibly can? So that you might communicate most effectively?
Put another way, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate what is unpleasant, ineffectual, shrill, and dissonant from your voice, if possible?