Tag Archives: professional presence

The Presentation Paradox

Especially Powerful Presenting
Business Presentation Paradox . . . “I don’t want all those eyes on me!”

The presentation paradox afflicts many people:

“I want to give an especially powerful presentation . . . but I don’t like to be the center of attention.”

This is the presentation paradox for more people than you might imagine.

In fact, you may be one of them.

You dream of delivering a powerful business presentation.  An interesting presentation.  A presentation that sets everyone nodding.

A show that earns the accolades of the professor and your peers.

If you’re an executive delivering a report in the C-Suite, you note with satisfaction that no one surreptitiously checks email.

It’s a presentation that exhilarates you as a fist-pumping job well-done.

And yet . . .

Presentation Paradox Paralysis

And yet, you don’t want to be the center of attention.

You believe that you can get by with directing everyone’s attention to a screen behind you.  To slides filled with gibberish in tiny font.

If the room is dark enough, people may not even see you, and you think this is fine.

You see the disconnect here.

Delivering an especially powerful business presentation means changing what you do now . . . changing your behavior to achieve what you envision yourself becoming.

You actually must do something different to achieve different results.

To deliver an especially powerful business presentation means that you must become the center of attention.  In fact, you become the message itself, a sincere proponent of a position that you convey to an audience in animated and convincing style.

Presentation Paradox
Break out of the Presentation Paradox Prison

And yet this center-of-attention is the last thing that many business students want to be.

Many presenters would rather become part of the audience.

And some actually do.

They pivot to show the audience their backs.  Then they edge backward toward the audience, almost becoming part of the assembled listeners.

They assume the role of Slide-Reader-in-Chief.

Everyone reads the slides together . . . if they’re legible at all to the audience.  And this is an awful presentation, and you know it’s an awful presentation, and yet you do it anyway.

Why?  Why not change that?

Let’s break out of the presentation paradox prison today and adopt techniques that can hone our skills to a scalpel-like edge.  This won’t happen overnight, so let’s adopt one new thing each week and practice it to start building a personal competitive advantage.

You choose which technique out of many.  My recommendation?

This one . . . especially powerful self-talk.

Start now.

 

Especially Powerful Self-Talk

End self-sabotage in your business presentations

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

This is especially prevalent in our business presentations.

We sabotage our own presentations more often than we imagine.

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

Negative self-talk begins with the most ubiquitous cliche in business school – “I hate presentations.”  This is the chief culprit that leads to inevitably awful presentations.

It undermines everything we strive for in business school presenting.

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

Think Like a World-Class Athlete

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

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

There is, in fact, no greater guarantee of failure.

How could anyone succeed at anything with this type of visualization?

The world’s elite athletes train the mind as well as the body, and visualization of successful outcomes is one of the techniques they use to prepare for competition.

I work occasionally with sports psychologists and mental toughness coaches who train athletes in visualization techniques, and all of are one opinion that the mind-body connection – healthy or unhealthy – impacts performance tremendously.

Develop professional presence with confidence
Positive Self-Talk is an Especially Powerful Technique

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

We do this to give ourselves a fighting chance of succeeding at business presenting.

So why do we talk ourselves down into the morass of self-defeat?

Quite possibly, it’s the widespread ignorance of how to deliver a powerful presentation, and this ignorance means incredible uncertainty of performance.

Ignorance, uncertainty, and pressure to perform breed fear.

This fear of the unknown can drive up anxiety.  So the key to reducing that anxiety is uncertainty reduction – thorough preparation and control of the variables within our power.

Preparation is the second of the Three Ps of Speaking Technique – Principles, Preparation, Practice.

Can we foresee everything that might go wrong?

No, of course not, and we don’t even want to . . . instead, we plan everything that will go right, and we focus on that.  We leave to our own adaptability and confidence to field the remaining unexpected 10 percent.

Envision Your Triumph

No one can win by constantly visualizing failure.

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

When we take the stage, we focus mind on our intent, and we charge forward boldly and confidently, executing our presentation with masterful aplomb.

With this kind of psychological commitment, we squeeze out the doubts and anxiety, wring them dry from our psychic fabric.

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

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

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

Become a Presentation Colossus for Executive Presence

Business Presentation Colossus and Executive Presence

Executive Presence is a quality we all wish we could have.  With it, you can become a presentation colossus!

The good news is that we can develop executive presence . . .

. . . it goes hand-in-hand with self-confidence.

The Paradox of Executive Presence

The paradox for some folks is that those with the most potential for especially powerful executive presence often intentionally diminish their capability for it.

It’s a kind of self-sabotage that many engage in.

One client I have from a foreign country has incredible charisma and the fundamental tools to develop personal magnetism and powerful personal presence; but he plays it down and attempts to diminish his presence.

Self-consciousness is his worst enemy.  So we’ve worked together on getting him to relish his natural attributes, such as his height and a distinguished bald pate.  He now extends himself to his full 6’2” height and employs his deep, resonant voice to full effect.

He has a persona that draws people to him, and now he utilizes that quality in especially powerful fashion.

In short, we’ve worked on developing especially powerful executive presence that attracts attention rather than deflects it.  How can you go about doing this?

Have a look at my short instructional video on developing the basis for a powerful initial stance and an aura of Executive Presence . . .

Executive Presence for the Business Presenter

Executive Presence
Especially Powerful Executive Presence

Business Presentations are filled with paradoxes, especially where executive presence is concerned.

For instance, the Power Zone of presentation charisma . . . a place everyone wants to be, but where almost no one wants to go.

The charisma factor of executive presence is not so difficult to achieve, nor is it so mysterious as to be unfathomable.

Yet It always amazes me anew the reasons people concoct for not becoming powerful speakers and developing especially powerful executive presence.

The Power Zone of Executive Presence

The Power Zone is a metaphor for that realm of especially powerful business presenters, a place where  everyone is a capable, confident, and competent communicator.

Where every meal’s a feast and every speech kissed by rhetorical magic.

A place for larger-than-life presentation charisma.

A place where executive presence comes naturally.

Yes, you can go there.  And almost everyone claims they want to go to the Power Zone.

But even when people are told clearly how to reach the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma, most don’t go.

They find an excuse not to.

Disbelief . . .  Principle . . . Ideology . . .  Sloth . . . Disregard . . . Fear . . . even Anger.

They contrive the darnedest reasons not to, from ideological to lazy.

No Argument Here . . . Don’t go

In my presentations to various audiences, I am sometimes faced with the gadfly who knows better, sometimes vocal, oftentimes not.  The person who opposes what I say.  Usually for spurious reasons.

And it’s an exercise in futility for the gadfly.  I make no argument against the gadfly’s objections, whatever the source.

Because the choice to enter the Power Zone is personal and completely optional.

You need not step into the Power Zone if you choose not to.  I care not for the reason, and explanations aren’t necessary.

Presentation charisma is yours for the taking.  It’s entirely up to you.

Ideological Objections to Presentation Charisma

Your Executive Presence

The latest batch of objections I heard sprang from one woman’s ideology.

You heard right.

She apparently believed in au courant political philosophy that dictates how people should behave and react to others based on . . .

Well, based on what she believed to be right and proper.

Or what ought to be right and proper.

In short, rather than communicate with people in the most effective way possible, she wanted to do something else.

And if the audience doesn’t like it?  We, she’d then lecture her audience on why they’re wrong if they don’t like her way of presenting, whether based on appearance, voice, gestures, or movement.

She wanted to deliver presentations her way.

She wanted to blame her audience if they didn’t respond with accolades.  More . . . she wanted my affirmation that this was okay, too.

Just different.

That it was just a “different” way of presenting, if not altogether superior.

She complained that my presentation of techniques, skills, and principles that build presentation charisma “sounds like it’s from 100 years ago.”

And I say praise the Lord for that.

Presentation Charisma from 25 centuries of Practice

I draw on 2,500 years of presentation wisdom of Presentation Masters like Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, Quintilian, Webster, Bryant, and Roosevelt, so I’m not doing my job well if it sounds otherwise.

The woman in question complained that the gestures seemed “too masculine” and that she would feel “uncomfortable” doing them as she believed they don’t look “feminine.”

I replied to her this way . . .

Don’t do it.  Just don’t.

“Don’t do them.  Don’t gesture this way.  Don’t do anything that makes you feel ‘uncomfortable.’  Don’t utilize gestures proven 100,000 times to be powerful and effective.  Go ahead, substitute what you know to be better.  Do exactly what you have been doing all along, and emerge from this lecture hall not having been changed one iota.  Not having learned a damned thing.  And then . . . you can wonder at how you have’t improved.  At all.”

But if you choose to go that route, do it with the full knowledge that you leave the competitive advantage you might gain just sitting on the playing field.  It’s there for someone else to pick up.

And all the ideology in the world cannot change that.

The principles of building charisma are gender neutral, and some folks have problems with that.  Too bad.  That’s the way it is.

Consult Alix Rister for a female perspective . . . that is to say, a professional perspective on how to build presentation charisma and executive presence.

Your Comfort is Irrelevant to Executive Presence

Comfort?  You don’t feel “comfortable” utilizing certain gestures?

Since when did our “comfort” become the sine qua non of everything we try?  Who cooked this  “comfort” thing up, and when did it gain currency?

Has any greater cop-out ever been devised?

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” doing something you’ve never tried before.

A baby feels anything but comfort as it springs from the womb and is forced to breathe air instead of amniotic fluid and faces the cold  of a delivery room.

A child feels anything but comfort as he learns the periodic table and the multiplication table or riding a bike or a new sport or meets new people and is forced to hear contrary opinions.

An athlete feels discomfort as she trains to develop skill, power, speed, and strength in the gym so as to perform at a superior level.

Does it feel “comfortable” to push forward and extend our capabilities into new and desirable areas?

You think developing Executive Presence and Charisma is easy and that you ought to wear it comfortably from the first minute?  It’s often a difficult process, but we certainly don’t accept “discomfort” as a reason not to do something necessary to achieve a goal.

“I just don’t feel comfortable.”

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” speaking before a group if you’ve never done it before or done so with no success.

Of course you don’t feel “comfortable” acting in charismatic ways.  Speaking with presentation charisma.  That’s the whole point of especially powerful presenting – expanding the speaker’s comfort zone to encompass powerful communication techniques that lift you into the upper echelon of business presenters.

Uncomfortable with Executive Presence?And drawing upon 25 Centuries of wisdom and practice to do so.

But some folks scoff at this.  It requires too much of them.

Or it conflicts with the way they think the world ought to work.  Or the Seven Secrets for Especially Powerful Presenting aren’t mystical enough for them.

Secrets ought to be . . . well, they ought to have something akin to magic sparkles, right?

You may find this somehow unsatisfactory and unsatisfying or in conflict with your own ideology or philosophy.  If you believe the answer should somehow be more mystical or revelatory or tied to the high-tech promises of our brave new world, then I say this to you:  “Go forth and don’t use these techniques.”

Don’t fume over this or that nettlesome detail.  It’s completely unnecessary.  No need to argue about anything.

No one compels you to do anything here.

And this is what is so infuriating for the habitual naysayers – complete freedom.  The freedom not to travel into the Power Zone of Presentation Charisma and Executive Presence.

I show you the way to the Power Zone, where you can be one of the exceptional few who excels in incredible fashion . . . but you can choose not to go.

If not, good luck and Godspeed with your own opinions and philosophies and endless search for presentation excellence located somewhere else.  Let 1,000 presentation flowers bloom!

But if you elect to draw upon the best that the Presentation Masters have to offer, then I offer congratulations as you step onto the path to Presentation Charisma.  The path toward that rarefied world of especially powerful Executive Presence.

For more on how to develop especially powerful executive presence, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

“What’s the job market like?” That’s the Wrong Question

How about make your own Job Market?Asking “What’s the job market like?” is the wrong question.

Let’s say you get an answer.

What, exactly, will you do with the answer?  Hmm?

What?

It’s reminiscent of the young man who came to me for advice on getting his MBA, and his first question was “What are the hot jobs?”

“Hot jobs?  I don’t understand your question, exactly.”

“I ask about the hot jobs, so I can move into that concentration,” he said.  He was serious.

That’s a foolish approach, and I told him so.  It’s like chasing a will-o’-the-wisp.  You expend energy, money, time.  Fruitlessly.  Or for extremely meager fruit.

Dump the “Hot Jobs” Approach

First, I don’t know what the “hot jobs” are or even what a “hot job” might consist of.  Perhaps a field that has a temporary shortage of skilled candidates?  If so, that shortage gets filled mighty quick.

Second, it gets filled mighty quick because there is no a lack of folks who latch onto the “hot jobs” mantra and swarm.Make your own Job Market

Third, if you base your studies on someone’s assessment of the “hot jobs,” you could end up in a program that you hate.

To top it off, when you graduate, that “job” might no longer be “hot.”

What a fine fix that would be, eh?

Make Your Own Job Market

In retrospect, I’m less critical now than I was at the time of such a question.  Yes, it’s a dumb question if the purpose is to guide your study.

A much better question is “How can I create personal competitive advantage so that I win in whatever kind of market exists?”

It’s become almost cliche to “do what you love.”  But there’s a good reason why successful people say this.

I recommend pursuing your passion and make it your goal to become the best at it in the entire world.  Is that a foolish goal?  Exaggerated ambition?  Hardly.

Within the bounds of a chosen profession, there is always room for the woman or man driven by passion and a thirst for self-improvement.  At the firm level, it can be called becoming “a category of one.”  I direct you to the book by Joe Calloway of the same name.

Calloway’s book demonstrates how firm’s can move their brands from the commodity column into the premium brand column.  You can do the same with yourself and your passion.

Become a Category of One

Let’s take the topic of cosmetic industry supply chain management.  I’m not jazzed by this topic, but I guarantee that somewhere, someone is.

And that person should chase that profession insanely, becoming the finest cosmetic industry supply chain manager in the world, in both the micro and macro sense: learned in the industry, knowledgeable of the major players, and steeped in the intricacies of the specialty.

Relentless focus and study sharpens you like a surgical instrument.

And as your skills increase, the number of your viable personal competitors begins to fall off.

You increase your value to potential employers . . . you speak with far greater knowledge and surety than someone more superficially educated.

And it is this way that you find your calling.  This is how you find your “blue ocean.”

It is here that you find your job market . . . not the job market.

Forget about pursuing the “hot jobs” of the moment, like the herd.

In all of this, in every bit of this, you can add value to your personal warehouse of skills by becoming a superb presenter.  Every firm and every profession lacks great presenters.

Become that Category of One and showcase your skills as a powerful and competent presenter.  Here’s how . . .

 

 

Malcolm X was a Great Presenter

Malcolm X was a Great Presenter with Professional Presence
Malcolm X was a Great Presenter. No more powerful example of a superb presenter can be found

Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way.  Malcolm X was a great presenter, and he used this technique better than most.

He could snap his audience to attention.  He compelled his listeners to sit up straight, to focus on his message.

You can do this several ways, too.  It’s up to you what method you choose, but it should fit your audience and your presentation.

One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line.  This is 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.

One of the finest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.  Yes, Malcolm X was a great presenter, and his speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful call to action.

The Effects of Rhetoric

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator.  He 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 coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases, but key words.

Malcolm X was a great presenter

You gain a sense of the gathering storm.  You almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

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.

Bad presentations launch with a peppering of routine phrases, a gripping of the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.  Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.

Especially Powerful Technique

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 leavens 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 drawn in his listeners.  He has laid out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.

He established 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?

Malcolm X was a Great Presenter with Power and Depth

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.  Ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.

In subsequent posts, we look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation and builds to his call for action at the end.

For more on how you can use Malcom X’s techniques to develop especially powerful business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Banish Presentation Stage Fright!

stage fright
Banish Stage Fright Forever!

After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about hand-wringing over presentation stage fright, well . . .

. . . if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.

When we speak of presentation stage fright, we confront the battle within ourselves as we face the challenge of our presentation.

It’s self-confidence versus self-doubt.  And we want self-confidence to win.

But confidence is one of those elusive qualities.

It’s almost paradoxical.  When we have confidence, it’s invisible.  And 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.

Confidence Conquers Presentation Stage Fright

Think for a moment of what I call 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.  Consciously purge yourself of the debilitating need for approval.

The fear of judgment.

Presentation Stage Fright Begone!

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.

For some reason you fear your audience.  The audience is your bogeyman.

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.

Confidence pushes out presentation stage frightThey want you to succeed, so that they can benefit in some way.  They are pulling for you.

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.

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?

Seize Confidence for Yourself!

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 any familiar activity.

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.

Many people do fear speaking before an audience, rational or no.

And it’s been that way since public speaking gained enough stature to warrant the first school of public speaking in 450 BC under the Greek scholar Corax of Syracuse.

Centuries of Presentation Stage Fright

This presentation stage fright has made its way down through the ages.  It’s 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:  PrinciplesPreparationPractice.  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 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.  Uncertainty grips you, 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 presentation stage fright forever.

Interested in more on how to eliminate presentation stage fright?  Consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting here.

Positive Presentation Attitude . . . Be Careful with Candor

A positive presentation attitude can make or break your business presentation
A positive presentation attitude can make or break your business presentation

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 if you offer criticism.

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 student 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 valued.

Honesty is . . . well, it’s refreshing.

Isn’t it?

Positive Presentation Attitude for Personal Preservation

Honesty is important, sure.

But a tremendous gulf separates honesty and candor.  And we must be clear on the difference between the two.

Honesty means you tell the truth . . . Candor means you spill your guts about everything that’s on your mind in the bluntest way possible.

Big difference.

If you say in your presentation that the current strategic direction of the company is dumb, you tread on thin ice when you convey that information.

In that way.

Remember that you can express honesty in many ways.  Presentation prudence suggests that we learn a few of them.  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.  They could be emotionally invested in a specific strategy.  They could be financially invested in it.

Uh-oh.

Wound Someone’s Ego, You Pay a Price

Anyone can use a sledgehammer.

Anyone.

But if you use one, know that the receiving end of that sledgehammer isn’t pleasant and that you should expect reciprocation somewhere down the line.

And so . . . most times it pays to use a scalpel.

With lots of consideration and skill.

Use tact in criticizing current policy for an especially powerful presentation with positive presentation attitude
Use tact in criticizing current policy for an especially powerful presentation with positive presentation attitude

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 contrary.

We’re easily wounded where our own projects and creations are concerned.

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 fine-tune your work.

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’re 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.

More Power Posing for Powerful Business Presentations

Power Posing for Confidence
Power Posing as Wonder Woman

Anyone who has come to this space for any length of time knows that I extol the work of Dr. Amy Cuddy in helping us to learn power posing for our business presentations.

Her now-famous 2010 Harvard study of MBAs demonstrates conclusively that we can, indeed, control our emotions to a certain extent with regard to our delivery of business presentations.

In short, we can make ourselves feel confident and powerful . . . just by striking a powerful pose.

This is heady stuff, and Dr. Cuddy herself explains the process in the video below.

Power Posing Works

Dr. Cuddy’s findings are revolutionary to the extent that she substantially confirms a theory of emotions developed more than a century ago and since discarded for supposedly more au courant notions.  Psychologists William James and Carl Lange conceived of a new way of understanding our emotions and how they work.

They reversed the prevailing dynamic this way . . .

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.

So if we feel stage fright and lack of confidence, our body language telegraphs that, 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 engage in power posing and create our own confidence?

Power Posing can Create Confidence?

Impossible, eh?

But James-Lange Theory suggests that very thing, that you can reverse the process.

And Dr. Amy Cuddy’s research proves it.  Have a look . . . 

 

Dr. Cuddy offers powerful instruction for us in the realm of nonverbal communication and in the area of self-motivation and inculcation of power-generating behavior.

But . . .

There are aspects of this video that are instructive in verbal communication as well.

As a caveat, lest we learn other less salutary lessons from the video, I call attention to aspects of Dr. Cuddy’s unfortunate verbal delivery.

This is not to gratuitously disparage Dr. Cuddy, for I am one of her biggest fans, and I advocate her approach to power posing whenever and wherever I speak.

Let’s learn a few things about verbal delivery from the video.

Three Tics to Eliminate

First, her voice often collapses at the end of sentences into a growl-like vocal fry.  This results from pinching off the flow of air before finishing a sentence, delivering the last syllables in a kind of grind.

Second, Dr. Cuddy engages frequently in uptalk.  This is a verbal tic that pronounces declarative sentences as if they are questions or as if they are statements in doubt.  It consists of running the last word or syllable in a sentence up in tone instead of letting it drop decisively.  The difference to the ear is dramatic, with uptalk conveying self-doubt, indecision, a quest for validation.

Third, Dr. Cuddy unconsciously laces her talk with words such as “like” and “you know” as filler.  Perhaps to maintain a steady drumbeat of verbiage?  Who knows the reason people use these crutches.

Eliminate these fillers from your own talks to gain power and decisiveness.  Instead of fillers, use silence.  Develop the technique of pausing instead of filling every second of your talk with noise.

And so . . . learn the lessons of power posing and engage them in your presentations to imbue them with energy.  But eliminate the verbal tics that can leech away that energy from your talk.

For more on power posing and the confidence you can gain, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Job Interview Presentation: 11 Reasons You Didn’t get the Job

Job Interview Presentation
Your Job Interview Presentation is Crucial

Your job interview presentation is probably the most important business presentation you ever make.

And you will do it frequently throughout your career, either for internal advancement in your corporation or as you move from firm to firm.

So how do you do it?

What are those job interview presentation secrets folks hide from you?

This is a superb slide show on the top 11 reasons why recent college graduates lose out on jobs.  It comes from Mark O’Toole.

Job Interview Presentation Failure

Reasons range from not doing research on the company . . . to dressing for failure . . . to not knowing how to carry on a conversation . . . to demonstrating that you’re clueless about what you want to do.

Paradoxically, the job interview presentation is such a critical node in the skein of the young person’s business career, yet anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s given not nearly the time and attention it deserves.  It’s a business presentation, crucial to your advancement.

Devote your energies to learning the basics.

This slideshow by Mr. O’Toole lays out the fact in unsentimental fashion.  And in detail.

Take his message to heart!

Have a look HERE.

Reluctant Presentation Tips . . .

Presentation Tips for fun and profit
I have always considered presentation tips – “McTips” – to be the fast food of instruction

What about those ubiquitous articles that offer “presentation tips” to help improve your business presenting?

I hate ’em.

Even so, I sometimes relent . . . and give a tip.

In fact, I’m often asked for “quick tips” to improve a presentation or a speech, and I invariably oblige . . . even though I’m philosophically opposed to the “McTips” school of presentation instruction.

Why do I relent?

Utility.

A hasty presentation McTip can sometimes offer the exact solution needed.  Often, all it takes for a fine speaker to vault to the next level is the correction of a tic or bad habit.

These tics affect us all, and they’re like barnacles on a ship, slowing us down.  They prevent us from reaching our full potential.

And so, I acknowledge that sometimes a single “tip” can make a powerful difference in the presenting trajectory of an individual person striving to tweak his delivery in a meaningful way.

So here’s a tip.

Here’s a “McTip” for the Day

We all engage in a particular debilitating phrase.  We’re all guilty of it at some point.  This phrase is like a leech, fastened onto our presentation, sucking the lifeblood from us.

No, not a lot of blood.

That’s why it’s so insidious.  It seems so harmless.

It sucks not a lot of energy.  But one leech leads to another.  And soon . . .

Well, let’s not dwell on the horror.

Instead, just stop saying it.

Stop saying this power-leeching phrase:

“As I said before . . .”

That’s it.  And it’s insidiously mundane, isn’t it?

Nondescript.  Seemingly harmless.

Don’t Say It!  Just Don’t!

I know how this phrase creeps in.  It ambushes me at times.

Deep into our presentation, we glance at the screen and we begin to make a point.  Then suddenly, we realize with horror that

Presentation Tips can be . . . okayWe already said it.

Our minds furiously spin . . .

In a flash, our imaginations suppose that the audience is filled with Gotcha! types who are poised to leap to their feet and point accusing fingers at us, shouting “You already said that!

So we reflexively qualify what we say by telegraphing that, indeed, we said it already:  “As I mentioned before–”

“As I said before–”

Or someone else on our team already said it:   “As my colleague already mentioned–”

This drags down your presentation with every utterance of this putrid phrase.  This putrid phrase, in fact, adds no value whatever, and it detracts significantly from presentation flow.

It’s a distraction.

More Presentation Tips . . . ?

It upends audience attention, sending their minds back to some previous point in the presentation that they missed any way.

Go ahead and say it again.  And again.  And again.

And again.

Say it in different ways.  Say it in the same way.

Hammer home your main points with repetition and emphasis.

And never, ever announce that you’re repeating yourself.

You’ll find more presentation tips – ugh – in my book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Become a Powerful Business Presenter . . . No Excuses

Powerful business presenter
You can become an especially powerful business presenter

With regard to presentations, I deal with two large groups of people, and none of these people seems truly to want to become an especially powerful business presenter.

For sake of descriptive simplicity, let’s call these two groups “Natural Born” and “McTips!”

“Natural Born” and “McTips!” represent two extreme views of what it takes to become a powerful business presenter.

Neither is remotely accurate.

And neither group is what might be called enlightened in these matters.  Members of both groups are frustrating and irritating in their own ways.

Here’s why . . .

We often look for folks to excuse us from what, deep down, we know we ought to do, or what we can do.  If we look hard enough, we find what we search for, and excuses are extremely easy to find.

Let’s look at these two excuses that hold us back from fulfilling our potential as especially powerful business presenters.

The First View

The first view would have us believe that great speakers are born with some arcane and unfathomable gift, combining talent and natural stage facility.  That Bill Clinton sprang from the womb declaiming that he feels our pain.  That Malcolm X was simply blessed with eloquence and power.  That Ronald Reagan was born orating on lower capital gains taxes.

That Oprah Winfrey began her talk show career in kindergarten.

If the first view holds that great speakers are born with a gift, then quite logically this view leaves the rest of us to strive with middling presentation skills.  The plateau of presentation excellence is forever denied us.

Thus, it becomes an excuse for us not to persevere.

Why bother to try?

Why not, instead, hire some of these natural born speaker types to do the heavy presentation lifting?  The rest of us can skate along and pretend that we’re not actually lazy . . . or frightened . . . or disinterested . . .

. . . or unambitious.

The Second View

The second view is the opposite of the first.

This “McTips!” perspective would have us believe that delivering effective presentations is a snap.  So easy, in fact, that one of my colleagues assured me confidently and with not a little hubris that he could teach his undergraduates “everything they need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”

He also assured me that “all that other stuff you talk about is B.S.”

Become an especially powerful business presenterHas the presentation landscape eroded so much that what was once taught as a fine skill is now mass-produced in 30-minute quickie sessions of speaking “tips”?

I actually saw a headline on an article that offered 12 Tips to Become a Presentation God!

Have the expectations of the presentation become so unexceptional?

Have our senses become so numb that we must accept the lowest common denominator of presenting, the notion that adequate presentation skills can be served up in McDonald’s-style kid meals . . . “You want to super-size your speaking McTips?”

Perhaps they have, today, but in an earlier time, respect for the powerful business presenter was near-universal.

In the 1800s, public speaking was refined to an almost-art; “elocution” was the new science/art, and departments of elocution and public speaking flourished in universities throughout the land.

In Philadelphia, on Walnut Street in fact, the National School for Elocution and Oratory became a Mecca for would-be stars of the pulpit, the stage, the bar, and the political wars in the 1890s.

On into the first decades of next century, public speech was regarded with respect and a high-skill to be mastered with much study and practice.

The fact is that despite however much we might wish otherwise, today’s PowerPoint high-tech software multi-media offerings cannot change the fundamental truth that it is still you who must deliver the presentation.

So no . . . you cannot learn “everything you need to know about presenting in 30 minutes.”

You cannot become an especially powerful presenter at the fastfood drive-in window, unless you want to ply presenting at the lowest common denominator of mundane slide-readers that populate every business and law firm from New York to Nashville, from Boston to Baton Rouge, from Savannah to San Diego.

Ask yourself . . . if learning to deliver top-notch presentations is so doggoned easy, then why are 9 out of 10 presentations such awful forgettable bore-fests?

The Third View – The Power Zone

There is a third group, and it is destined to remain small.

This group is privy to the truth, and once you learn the truth about presenting, you can never go back to viewing presentations the same way.  Consider this pop culture analogy from the 1999 film The Matrix.

In The Matrix, humans live in a world that is not what it seems. In fact, everything they believe about the world is false. Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburn) offers to reveal the truth to Neo (Keanu Reeves) about his existence. Morpheus offers Neo a Blue Pill and a Red Pill. The Blue Pill returns him to his old state of ignorance.

The Red Pill reveals the secret, and once he learns it, Neo cannot return to his old life.

The process of presentation discovery is much like the red-pill/blue-pill choice that Morpheus offers to the young computer hacker Neo . . .

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Likewise, you can stop reading this article this instant – the blue pill – and return to the righteous and relaxing world of “Natural Born” or “McTips!”  Both viewpoints allow the average presenter to remain mired in mediocrity with an excuse that sounds plausible.

An excuse not to become an especially powerful business presenter.

One perspective means you don’t try at all, other means you offer token effort as befits a low-level pedestrian task.  So, if you decide to take the Blue Pill, close this site and go your own way.  Bon  voyage!  I wish you a hearty good-luck and Godspeed, and perhaps you will be happier for your choice.

But if you are one of the few who thinks for a moment . . .  “Hmm. What if the Professor is right?”

Become a Powerful Business Presenter
Powerful Business Presenter . . . your choice
You choose to become a powerful business presenter . . . or not

Then you can read on to the next brief paragraph – the red pill – and be forever shorn of the excuse for mediocrity.  For the truth is in the Power Zone.

Once there, you’ll never be satisfied with your old presentation life again.

You cannot go back.

That’s the paradox, the Curse of Freedom.  It is completely within your power to seize the fruits of great presenting.  It’s your choice.

You can launch an auspicious presentation career right now, right this minute.  Or you can dismiss this site as yet another fraudulent claim to revealing secrets to you . . .  only to have it exposed as a method that requires you to actually do something.

A method that transforms you.

Choose the Red Pill.  Step boldy into the Power Zone.

The Power Zone is the province of the privileged few who understand the truth that anyone can become an especially powerful business presenter . . . with the right kind of hard work and the willingness to become a great presenter.

To join this third group requires you to take on a new state of mind.

If you already carry this view, that’s superb.  If you don’t . . . you can decide now to adopt it or forever be relegated to the other two groups – believing you’re not good enough to become a powerful business presenter, or believing you already are a powerful business presenter . . . when you’re actually not.

Public presentations – great presentations – require study and practice and preparation and technique.  A deep philosophical, academic, and professional history undergirds public speaking.  This history informs the very best presenters and their work.

You dismiss it only to your great loss.

No, you need not become a scholar of public speaking.  In fact, few people have that deep an interest in the subject and even fewer can claim that kind of knowledge today.

But what you can and should do is this:  Open your mind and heart to the possibilities of found treasure.

You actually can become a capable presenter.  You can become a great presenter, who delivers especially powerful business presentations.

When you enter the Power Zone, you are both cursed and blessed with knowledge.  This knowledge represents two sides of the same coin.

You are cursed with the knowledge that the only limitation you have is you.  You are blessed with the knowledge that you can become a good – even great – speaker.

An especially powerful presenter.

Now, you have no other real excuse.  It’s totally up to you.

For the ultimate guide to developing your personal brand as an especially powerful business presenter, CLICK HERE.

Your Business Presentation Appearance . . . Please, no “Statements!”

Business Presentation Appearance, the source of personal competitive advantage
Business Presentation Appearance, a source of personal competitive advantage

Many folks don’t consider that our presentation appearance transmits messages to our audience.

You ve seen enough scruffy presenters to vouch for this yourself.

Most certainly, the appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.

This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.

Your presentation appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message with your appearance.  You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your presentation appearance transmits.

And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.

Nonverbal Messages from Presentation Appearance

What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?

That you don’t care?

That you’re confident?

That you are attentive to detail?

That you care about your dignity, your physique?

Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?”  If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.

That price comes in the form of ceding competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.

Are you the “ageless rebel” battling the “Man”?

Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that presentation appearance conveys.  Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.

You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.

This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.

Business Presentation Appearance
Presentation Appearance can be a Deal-Breaker

“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad.  The message received is likely much different:  “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”

The best public speakers understand the power of appearance and mesh their dress with their message.

Take President Barack Obama, for example.  He is a superb dresser, as are all presidents.

On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.

And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress:  “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”

Politics, Schmolitics . . .  He’s a Sharp Dresser

You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up.  The messages must mesh.

The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.

Here are some basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .

For more on presentation appearance, as well as the other six elements of your personal style, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Professional Presence . . . for Personal Competitive Advantage

Professional Presence
Seize the Power of Professional Presence

Professional presence distinguishes the business presentation as a distinctly different form of communication, and it is the source of its power.

I should say potential power.

For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited.

It’s a forfeiture of competitive advantage.

Forfeiture of Power

That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.

Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.

What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.  It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice.  It’s what they sense on a subliminal level.  That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.

Here, Paulson describes the impact of Professional Presence.

It’s the tangible contribution of the messenger to convey a convincing message.  A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire.

The speaker becomes part of the message.

Here is where you become part of the message.

You bring into play your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful professional presence.

Naked Information Overflow

But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background in favor of naked information overflow.  We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.

Lots of people are fine with becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background.

And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.

personal competitive advantage can be lost
Awash in information, drowning in data

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.

They would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.

If you do this . . . if you become an automaton, then you cede important personal competitive advantage.

The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker.  That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.

Without that champion – without that powerful presence – a presentation is even less than ineffective.

It becomes an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.

The Secret of Professional Presence

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, powerful and convincing.

Gone is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.

This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter.

A presenter commanding the facts and delivering compelling arguments.

Power of Professional presence
Personal Competitive Advantage can be yours

A presenter using all the tools at his or her disposal.

This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.

Your choice is to fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd . . . or to seize the moment to begin developing your presention skills to lift yourself into the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand Skill Zone.™

Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter and seize the incredible personal competitive advantage that professional presence provides?

To develop professional presence through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Professional Appearance for Competitive Advantage

Professional Appearance
Professional Appearance Matters

Do you offer a professional appearance to your business presentation audience?

Oftentimes, we don’t consider that our physical appearance transmits messages to those around us.

Most certainly, the professional appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.

This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.

Your appearance sends a message to your audience.  And you cannot decide not to send a message to your audience.

You can’t tell an audience to disregard the message your appearance transmits.  And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.

The “Ageless Rebel” Battling the “Man”?

What’s you message?  That you don’t care?

That you’re confident?

That you’re attentive to detail?

That you care about your dignity, your physique?

Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?”  Do you offer an unprofessional appearance to make a statement of some sort?  If so, then you err grossly.  You pay a dear price for so meager a prize.

That price comes in the form of losing competitive advantage to your peers.  To your competitors, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.

Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that their appearance conveys.  Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.  Here is an example of how important professional appearance can be to an organization.

Professional Appearance for Credibility

You can’t cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.  A message that emerges from a powerful presence.

This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even into the middle management years.

“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad.  The message received is likely much different:  “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”

The best public speakers understand the power of professional appearance and mesh their dress with their message.

Take President Barack Obama, for example.  He’s a superb dresser, as are all presidents.  On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.

And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”

Politics, Schmolitics . . .  He’s a Sharp Dresser

You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up.  Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, was also a sharp dresser.  Most presidents are, because image consultants know the power of a professional appearance.

They know the personal competitive advantage of an especially powerful appearance.

The lesson is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not send conflicting signals.

Here are basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .

For more on an especially powerful and professional appearance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

How to Develop Professional Presence

professional presence for competitive advantageProfessional presence in the business presentation is the source of its power.

I should say potential power.  For much of the potential power of presentations has been forfeited.

That potential has been squandered out of corporate fear, ignorance, egotism, conformity, and simple habit.

Forfeiture of Power

Lynda Paulson describes the unique qualities that a business presentation offers, as opposed to a simple written report.

What makes speaking so powerful is that at least 85 percent of what we communicate in speaking is non-verbal.  It’s what people see in our eyes, in our movements and in our actions.  It’s what they hear through the tone of our voice.  It’s what they sense on a subliminal level.  That’s why speaking, to a group or one-on-one, is such a total experience.

Here, Paulson describes the impact of professional presence.  Entire books have been written on how to develop professional presence, and I reference one here by Peggy Noe Stevens.

Professional presence is the tangible contribution of the messenger to conveying a convincing message.  A skilled speaker exudes energy, enthusiasm, savoir faire – the speaker becomes part of the message.

You become part of the message.  You exert your unique talents and strengths to create a powerful professional presence.

You become charismatic.

Naked Information Overflow

But modern technology has swept the speaker into the background.  Now we have naked information overflow.  We see pyrotechnics that miss the entire point of the show – namely, persuading an audience.

Lots of people are fine with this.  They don’t mind becoming a slide-reading automaton swept into the background.  And they’d be happy if you faded into the background, too.

Most people don’t want to compete in the presentation arena.  They don’t want to be compared to you and your extraordinary presentation skills.  They would rather compete with you for your firm’s spoils on other terms.  Terms other than professional presence.

Become an automaton, and you cede important personal competitive advantage.

You become like everyone else.

The true differentiating power of a presentation springs from the oratorical skills and confidence of the speaker.  That, in fact, is the entire point of delivering a presentation – a project or idea has a champion who presents the case in public.  Without that champion – without that powerful professional presence – a presentation is an empty shell.

It becomes an incredibly bad communication exercise and an infuriating waste of a valuable resource – time.

The Secret of Professional Presence

Today we are left with the brittle shell of a once-powerful communication tool.  Gone is the skilled public speaker, an especially powerful presenter enthusiastic and confident, articulate and graceful, and convincing.

Gone is Quintilian’s ideal orator:  “The good man, well-spoken.”

We are left with an automaton slide-reader in a business suit.

This is surely a far cry from how we imagine it ought to be – powerful visuals and a confident presenter.  A presenter commanding the facts and delivering compelling arguments.  A presenter using all the tools at his or her disposal.

This vast wasteland of presentation mediocrity presents you with a magnificent opportunity.

You can fade into that gray background as yet another corporate mediocrity mimicking the herd.  Or you can seize the moment.  You can develop your presentation skills to contribute to a charismatic professional presence.

Isn’t it time you decided to become an especially powerful business presenter with a premium personal brand?  Why not seize the incredible personal competitive advantage of professional presence?

To develop professional presence through business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Respect Your Audience for Presentation Power

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

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

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

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

“Respect Your Audience” Seems Easy

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms.

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

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

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

The Curse of Hubris

Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.  Infused with the power and sometime hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

But it doesn’t.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.  They rattle off cliches.  They pull out blandishments.  And they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

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

Contempt?  Close to It

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

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

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

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

You Call That Good Advice?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

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

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.  Did this fellow follow the respect your audience mantra?  I think not.

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

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

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.  Speak to your listeners as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

We gain by following the respect your audience mantra.

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

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

Personal Competitive Advantage in Business Presentations

Appearance for Personal Competitive Advantage
Cultivate a Powerful Image for Personal Competitive Advantage

Let’s move from the realm of what you do and say in front of your business presentation audience to how you appear to your audience . . . an important source of personal competitive advantage.

Your appearance can cultivate this advantage.  So right now let’s dismiss the notion that “it doesn’t matter what I look like . . . it’s the message that counts.”

This is so wrong-headed and juvenile that you can turn this to immediate advantage.  You can adopt the exact opposite perspective right now and steal a march on the competition.  Most folks your age won’t go that route, particularly those stuck in liberal arts.

It’s much more dramatic to deliver a mythic blow for “individuality” than to conform to society’s diktats, eh?

Take the Smart Fork

Well, let those folks strike their blows while you spiff yourself up for your presentations.  Present a superior appearance in both public and private job interviews to gain a personal competitive advantage.

Here is the upshot.  Presentation appearance matters a great deal.  It’s up to us to dress and groom appropriate to the occasion and appropriate to our personal brand and to the message we want to send.

“Slob cool” may fly in college – and I stress may.  But it garners only contempt outside the friendly confines of the local student activities center and fraternity house.

Is that “fair?”

It’s fair for Personal Competitive Advantage

It certainly is fair!  You may simply not like it.  It may clang upon your youthful sensibilities.

But here’s the deal . . .   You’re on display in front of a group of buyers.  They want to know if your message is credible.  Your appearance conveys cues to your audience.  It can convey one of two chief messages, with little wiggle room between them.

Personal Competitive Advantage can be yoursFirst, your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  Sharp, focused, detailed, careful, bold, competent, prudent, innovative, loyal, energetic . . .

Or . . .

Your appearance telegraphs to your audience that you are:  Slow, sloppy, careless, inefficient, incompetent, weak, mercenary, stupid.

Moreover, you may never know when you are actually auditioning for your next job.  So it pays to burnish your personal brand all the time to achieve the much-coveted personal competitive advantage.

That presentation you decided to “wing” with half-baked preparation and delivered in a wrinkled suit was awful.  It might have held in the audience a human resource professional recommended to you by a friend.  But you blew the deal.  Without even knowing it.

Think.

Don’t Eliminate Yourself from Contention

How many powerful people mentally cross you off their list because of your haphazard appearance?  How many opportunities pass you by?  How many great connections do you forfeit?

Granted, it’s up to your discretion to dress in the first wrinkled shirt you pull from the laundry basket.  But recognize that you may be paying a price without even knowing it.The Brand called your for Personal Competitive Advantage

Your appearance on the stage contributes or detracts from your message.  So, as a general rule, you should dress one half-step above the audience to convey a seriousness of purpose.

For instance, if the audience is dressed in business casual (sports coat and tie), you dress in a suit.  Simple.

Personal appearance overlaps into the area of personal branding, which is beyond the scope of this space, but two books I recommend to aid you in your quest for appearance enhancement are You, Inc. and The Brand Called You.

Both of these books are worth the price.  They contain the right kind of advice to propel you into delivering Powerful Presentations enhanced by a superb professional appearance.

For more on developing especially powerful personal competitive advantage by way of your business presentations, consult my own book The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Improve Your Speaking Voice

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

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

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

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

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

Improve Your Speaking Voice

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

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

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

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

Here are four deal-breaking verbal tics . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentence after sentence in succession spoken as if questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop the Bad Presentation Habit of Finger-play

Bad Presentation Habit
Stop the Bad Presentation Habit!

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

Or two . . . or three.

Take gesture.

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

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

Control Those Fingers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Bad Presentation Habits!

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

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

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

Said James Winans in 1915:

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

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

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

Make them count.

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