You don’t start tuning your instrument for the first time when it’s time to perform a concert, and likewise, you don’t begin honing your presentation skills when it’s time to present. By the time of your competition, all of your team members ought to be thoroughly grounded in the principles of especially powerful presentations.
The principles offered here in this case competition guide.
This part of your competition prep should already be accomplished, with only a few review sessions to ensure everyone is sharp on the Seven Secrets: Stance . . . Voice . . . Gesture . . . Expression . . . Movement . . . Appearance . . . Passion.
Our case competition guide divides the preparation for the competition into three phases.
Phase 1: Lead-in to the Competition
You are made aware of the competition’s rules. You acknowledge and embrace the rules and what they imply. Your entire team should become intimately familiar with the parameters of the competition – think metaphorically and spacially.
Recognize that the problem has length and breadth and depth. Understand the finite limits of the context presented to you, what you can and cannot do. Think of it as an empty decanter that you fill with your analysis and conclusions on the day of the competition.
Later, upon receiving the actual Case, you will conduct the same process – recognize that the Case Problem has length and breadth and depth.
But now, prior to the competition, take stock of what you already know you must do . . . and then do most of it beforehand as the rules permit.
This includes embracing the problem situation long before you arrive on-site for a competition and before you receive the case in question. Learn the parameters of the context in which you will operate. The case competition guide breaks the competition environment into discrete elements:
Length of presentation
Total time available (set-up, presenting, Q&A, Close-out)
Number of presenters allowed or required
Visuals permitted or required
Sources you may use, both beforehand and during the problem-solving phase
You know that you will be required to provide analysis of a case and your results and recommendations. Why not prepare all that you can before you arrive at the competition?
Some competitions may frown on this or forbid it . . . fine, then do it when you can, at the first point that it is permissible. This way, you can spend the majority of your case analysis time filling in the content.
Follow the Case Competition Guide
Prepare your slide template beforehand according to the principles expounded here.
Business presentations have a small universe of scenarios and limited number of elements that comprise those scenarios. A well-prepared team that is composed of team members from different functional areas will have generic familiarity with virtually any case assigned in a competition. The team should have no problems dealing with any case it is presented.
Determine beforehand who will handle – generally – the presentation tasks on your team as well as the analytical portions of your case. The following is offered as an example of how the task might be approached:
As part of this initial process, prepare your slide template with suitable logos, background, killer graphics, and charts and graphs requiring only that the numbers be filled in.
Leading into the competition, it’s essential that your team be familiar with sources of data that you may be permitted to utilize in conducting your case analysis – market research, industry surveys, and such like. Familiarity with online databases like Business Source Premier, Mergent Online, and S&P NetAdvantage is necessary since not all schools may have access to the data sources you use most often.
No Place for the Unprepared
With respect to the delivery or your presentation itself, a case competition is neither time nor place for you to polish your delivery skills. You should have honed them to razor’s edge by now. As well, your orchestration as a team should be perfected before arriving at the site of the competition.
At the competition, you lift your performance to the next level in terms of application of all the principles, precepts, and hard skills you have applied in business school – finance, accounting, marketing, operations, strategy, analysis – and you apply them in a tightly orchestrated and professional presentation that pops.
If you have engaged the case competition guide successfully during the lead-up to the competition, then your taut case-cracking team will be ready when you are finally issued the case. A team ready to address the issues involved in the case problem.
George H. W. Bush might have called it “the vision thing.”
He beat me to it by about 20 years, and while it might have been a phrase suitable for ridiculing an uptight politician, I think it does capture its amorphous quality.
It seems that the vision thing is amorphous . . . to everyone but the visionary. To the visionary, the vision is clear, rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.
And quite as hot.
At best, the visionary is surrounded by lesser minds whose feeble synapses cannot loop themselves about the vision.
At worst, they are idiots and obstructionists.
Our Visions . . .
Of course, we all have visions.
To us, our own visions are clear. They are indeed rational, bright as white phosphorus burning on a moonless night.
And yes . . . quite as hot.
These are exciting visions, and visions that are bound to disappoint us as we make others aware of them.
For no one else understands. Because . . . communicating that vision may be as difficult as confecting it in the first place.
For every sympathetic ear lent to you by a fellow visionary who has been put through the meatgrinder of negativity, there are 100 naysayers eager to turn the crank on your vision.
No . . . 1000 naysayers.
Not that naysaying is always bad, mind you. All visions are not created equal, and some can be downright nasty.
The man or woman with a vision could easily be an artist or architect, or could well be a developer scarfing up land to lay down asphalt for a superhighway or to lay foundations for a new Trump Tower.
Or it could be an entrepreneur — wild-eyed, committed, driven by a vision.
Driven to Create
Or a would-be novelist with one good plot in him . . . or her. Or a dozen plots seething and straining at release from the prison of our poor imagination. A would-be novelist, driven to write. Or driven to distraction.
Is there so much difference between an entrepreneur and a writer? For novelists are entrepreneurs. Each time the bold writer casts a blank page upon the screen to begin a new tale, it is a fresh project, new to the world and unlike anything that has gone before. One hopes.
The endeavor requires a particular set of attributes. Determination, patience, acumen, imagination, education of a sort (not necessarily formal), experience in life, literacy. The ability to communicate . . .
This last, of course, is the trick.
For words are the medium most of us use to convey our vision, whether a novel or an idea for a product that does not yet exist. A product that meets a need that we do not yet know we have. A story that resonates with feelings we have not yet explored.
Even the painter must use words to “explain” his art to those unable to grasp its subtlety or significance — such explanation, by its very nature, is usually a forlorn exercise.
The vision thing. Our visions can be great or small, creative or mundane.
In my classes on business strategy, I talk about the vision thing in oblique terms. I actually broach the concept of businessperson as artist. The artistically inclined in my courses (and some liberal arts folks do slip in) look askance at the idea, and most of the fact-motivated business-inclined in my courses don’t seem to care.
Or, even if they were to care, simply do not understand the point.
The notion is not warmly received. Perhaps the point is nonexistent. Or strained. Or ludicrous.
Perhaps it is a futile exercise. Maybe it is something that I see that others do not. Even so, it is possible that this thing that I alone see does not necessarily have value.
No Boundaries to Creativity
But I do believe that there are no disciplinary bounds that contain creativity. Many of the products of advertising agencies abound with creativity – at least in their initial stages before the corporate leavening process strips away edginess and originality and anything which might prove too startling for public sensibilities.
For corporate leavening is designed to package knowledge in comprehensible, digestible bites. It is designed to link information seamlessly into the already-known world of popular culture, more to massage viewers with familiar verities and comfortable genuflections than to stimulate thought. It is the proverbial cooks spoiling broth.
So it is with business generally. There is an art to business, but it is never described as such lest such creativity be hooted from the room.This is the realm where ideas are “run up flagpoles” and such like, where outside-the-box thinking receives the obligatory tip o’ the hat, but where genuine “outside the box thinking” is neither expected nor appreciated.
The articulation of true thinking outside the corporate box is risible, if anyone unschooled in the unwritten corporate rules dares to give voice to such heresy.
This is the conundrum. The paradox.
Now, we all engage in pop-psychology from time-to-time, and this allows us to speak of the “average person’s” attitudes, beliefs, and reactions as if we, ourselves, are free of this “average person’s” afflictions. But indulge this hubris for a few more moments.
The conundrum is that when the artist, the visionary, thinks outside the box, it leaves others feeling threatened and insulted that they, themselves, are perceived as restricted to thinking inside this box.
Likewise, the average person tends to interpret his own inability to understand a vision as the other person’s quackery . . . whether the artist is a painter, composer, writer . . . or businessman.
There is a balance to be struck here.
Those of us without calluses on our fragile psyches can be wounded by the mass rejection of our vision, such rejection leaving us questioning our sanity and ability. Conversely, those of us informed by our own arrogance and too callused may be deaf to legitimate criticism or to gentle suggestion.
Thus, the conundrum of the vision. Visions are difficult.
Conundrum of the Vision
I said that not all visions are created equal. Not all are salutary or benign. Some are unsavory, insidious, dangerous, cold.
Others are just boring, derivative, smug, pale.
But I desire not to judge a man’s vision. Not hereabouts, anyway.
These problems of distinguishing good vision from bad are worth essays and books in their own right, essays and books that are perhaps beyond this scribe’s abilities to pen.
Rather, at this point, I call attention to the angst and anguish of the man who perceives that his vision cannot be grasped by others. His impatience with naysayers, his irascibility, his inability to compromise, his propensity to scoff rather than to explain. Ultimately, his resignation that any explanation will not be enough.
For if it were explicable to the average mind, then the average mind would have long ago seized upon the vision and made it corporeal.
That is yet another conundrum for the entrepreneur, the artist, the visionary. Perhaps it has always been this way, and it is not necessarily restricted to those of genius stature.
If the vision itself, indeed, is true art – an assemblage of something truly unique, then of course it will not be immediately apprehensible to the hoi-polloi.
And so not to sound haughty, perhaps it could be better said: “immediately apprehensible to us of the hoi-polloi,” to those of us not privy to the vision’s intricate fabric, the obscure linkages, the high concept that informs the few.
Beware the Sneer of the Wise
Let me issue a caveat that complicates the issue.
There are those in our lives who exhibit a raft of negative characteristics – irascibility, inability to compromise, the sneer of the wise – without the saving grace of having a vision or anything resembling it. But shrewd and clever folks are afoot, and they know the trappings of the visionary, the finery of the thinker, the vernacular of the annointed.
But he is hollow. And how to spot this poseur?
Again, I digress in the interest of clarity and refinement. Back to the point-of-the-moment, and that point is this:
Communicating the vision is incredibly difficult. It is difficult because of snags all along the communication chain. It is difficult because of flaws inherent in the visionary, in the medium, and in the those receiving the message. Given this, it is a wonder that useful communication occurs at all.
Think of the equation: An irascible, haughty, driven, and quirky entrepreneur attempts hurried and imperfect communication with an unresponsive, suspicious, and fallow audience.
For inevitably, the recipient of a fresh, new, insightful, electrifying, unique confection of art, vision, or theory will respond in predictable manner.
The recipient of this revolutionary information responds to the truly new by filtering the information through sensors that massage and mold it into images and words and reality that are already known. For it all has been heard before, seen before, considered before, and catalogued before.
Nothing is truly new . . . especially to the clever man, who for the most part has no personal stake in recognizing and processing novelty.
If perchance, an idea takes root, a theory is accepted, art recognized for its texture, nuance, and universalism . . . well, the problem of communication is instantly forgotten after the fact.
We’re All Geniuses . . . After The Fact
After the fact, of course, it is all different. We all recognize novelty, genius, the great idea after the fact. Long after the fact. It becomes “obvious.”
The unserious novels of Charles Dickens. The absurd notion that people might appreciate a service that provides overnight delivery, a service with the ridiculously stuffy name “Federal Express.”
In each of these dramatically different cases, an entrepreneur recognized something that others, perhaps much like us, could not or would not.
Entrepreneurs and novelists are usually driven people. I tend to believe that they are one and the same. Would-be authors are entrepreneurs. In fact, they are repeat performers, whether crafting fiction or non-fiction . . . every new book is an entrepreneurial effort.
They visualize what is not there, what others cannot see. Or can see only through a mist of reality that clogs the imagination. Imaginative and single-minded, they embrace their mission with religious zeal (and I do believe that those two words, religious and zeal, are joined at the hips, much as to “redouble one’s efforts”).
A touch of the maniacal, the obsessive, the glassy-eyed dreamer, the take-no-prisoners, uncompromising drive. The determination that compels one to rise each day to face the idea that no one understands, to embrace yet another day alone in one’s belief.
An attitude that says “do not tamper with this vision.”
This is, of course, the only way for entrepreneurs to succeed. If they were any other way, they wouldn’t be entrepreneurs.
Which brings me to the final point that is not so disentangled from what has gone before to be a standalone.
I have waxed on about communication and its difficulties. The word has become almost a cliché in that everything these days can be labeled a “communication problem,” even when the problem is not lack of communication, but rather too much accurate communication.
The “communication” conundrum I refer to afflicts anyone who would write to inform others, who would convey thoughts and notions and concepts.
In fiction, and even in non-fiction, I have noted a disinclination on the part of many undergraduates and some graduate students to edit their work. As if such editing is equivalent to the “corporate leavening process” I mentioned earlier.
They confuse the goal of clarity with senses-dulling censorship.
In their classic Elements of Style, Strunk and White touched upon this, and where Strunk and White are sometimes looked upon as too basic, their insights provide a solid technical foundation that many young writers would do well to absorb. Strunk and White observed a tendency among young writers to confuse spontaneity with genius, to affect a breezy, careless, even world-weary style.
I believe the modern vernacular for this is the “been there, done that” posture.
But of course, such an attitude leads to ambiguity and sloppiness in writing — whether one is conveying exactly a child’s appropriate emotion in a funereal scene, or whether one is conveying the impact of various liquidity ratios on a novel business model.
Invariably, what is communicated on the page is not what the writer believes he or she is conveying. First drafts are always afflicted with a primitivity of communication. Yet, ironically, the first draft carries for many writers an aura of spontaneity and genius that resists change.
First Draft for Spontaneity . . . Edit for Power
The solution? Editing.
If there is a single act that can improve this communication issue, it is careful and ruthless editing. Only through editing can clarity, focus, and especially powerful meaning be teased from the morass of words. This is a lesson taught on Storytellers many times, but it demands repeating.
The daily difficulties of communication abound. When the subject is new or the product unique, the obstacles increase dramatically, for all the reasons I have listed in such disorganized fashion. Through the act of editing, perhaps we can at least overcome one obstacle in the difficult task of communicating our vision.
The problems lie all along the communication chain – in the personality of the visionary, in the unique nature of the vision itself, in the inadequacy of the medium with which we communicate, and in the prejudices of the recipient.
Is there a formula to address all of these issues along the communication chain? Probably not. I certainly do not have the answer.
But at risk of sounding like the cookie-cutter b-school professor, let me iterate that the good news is that awareness of a problem and its proper identification is a giant step toward its resolution in our personal strategic planning process.
The more rarefied the vision, the more intractable and personal the issues we must deal with.
And as a result, I suspect that each of us must define our own problems and search out our own answers to our communication issues.
For only we can grapple with them and, ultimately, deal with them.
The business case competition puts you in front of Corporate America in naked competition against the best students from other schools.
No hiding behind a resume.
No fast-talking a good game.
No “national rankings.”
Just pure performance that puts you in the arena under lots of pressure.
Business Case Competition as Crucible
In case competitions, your business team delivers a business presentation in competition against other teams in front of a panel of judges.
Teams display how quickly, thoroughly, and skillfully they can ingest a case, analyze it, and then prepare their conclusions.
They then present their recommendations to a panel of judges.
Business case competitions vary greatly in the details, but they do have a standard format and purpose. The operative idea behind such competitions is to provide a standard case to competing teams with a given time limit and then to rate how well the teams respond.
There is, of course, no direct competition between teams. Rather, each team is judged independently how well it handles the assigned case and presents its analysis and recommendations. There is a time limit and specific rules.
All teams operate under the same conditions.
Business Case Competitions Far and Wide
Competitions can be internal to the Business School or involve teams from several different schools.
Sometimes there are several rounds of competition, with the final round typically judged by outside company executives. The teams prepare a solution to the case and deliver a written report.
Teams then prepare a presentation of their analysis and recommendations and deliver the timed presentation before a panel of judges.
The judging panel sometime consists of executives from the actual company in the case.
The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business is good about this in its renowned Global Business Case Competition. Twelve to fourteen schools from around the globe compete in this week-long event. Its 2010 competition featured a case written especially for the competition on the Boeing Corporation.
Executives from Boeing acted as judges.
One excellent aspect of case competitions that are judged by outsiders is that they provide a truer indication of the competitors’ mettle.
For the most part, they are far removed from the internal politics of particular institutions, where favored students may receive benefits or rewards related more to currying favor than to the quality of their work.
In some competitions, additional twists make the competition interesting and more complicated.
For instance, Ohio State University CIBER hosts an annual Case Challenge and creates teams from the pool of participants (i.e., members will be from different schools) instead of allowing the group of students from each school to compete as a team.
In this case, once students are assigned to teams, there is a day of team-building exercises.
The key to doing well in case competitions is to differentiate yourselves beforehand. This is much easier than you might imagine. Start with the Three Ps of Business Presentations. They provide a steady guide to ready you for your competition.
Principles . . . Preparation . . . Practice.
In subsequent posts, we deconstruct the business case competition to help you and your team prepare to your potential and deliver an especially powerful presentation.
Most finance folks believe that the finance presentation is king.
I’m skeptical of this hubris, but . . .
Financial analysis of the firm is essential, and there are few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.
With financial data, you can discover the firm’s profitability, general health, and potential. You can get reasonable answers to the question: “How are we doing?”
But . . .
. . . and it is an especially powerful but.
The results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.
There is something about a spreadsheet that mesmerizes students and faculty alike. A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.
A spreadsheet seems important.
It appears substantial. It gives the illusion of precision. Everyone nods.
As a presenter, you stare back at the screen behind you, at the phalanx of figures. You wave your hand at the screen with the words “As you can see –”
And then you call out seemingly random numbers. Your classmates or colleagues in the audience watch with glazed eyes.
It’s almost mystical.
Your professor sits sphinx-like. Some folks shuffle papers, actually digging through a handout you mistakenly distributed beforehand. Some check email, heads canted downward to their smartphones clasped below table-level.
No one has a clue as to what you’re talking about or how it actually relates to the real world.
You get through your finance presentation, finally, and you’re relieved.
And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question. This is common.
And it’s Ugly Finance Presentation
There is a best way that makes things easier for everyone.
Three Steps: Orient, Eliminate, Emphasize
First, orient your audience to the overall financial context. If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then display the sheet in its entirety to orient the audience. Tell the audience they view a balance sheet. Walk to the screen and point to the information categories. Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”
Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you will not talk about. You strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.
Third, emphasize the important points by increasing the size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers. You can illustrate the meaning of the numbers by utilizing a chart or graph.
If you follow this basic advice, you can improve the finance portion of your presentation immensely and be on your way to an especially powerful presentation.
After reading about the symptoms and hearing so much about handwringing over stage fright, if you weren’t fearful of business speaking before, you certainly are now.
When we speak of 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.
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 school presentation journey.
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? 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?
Paradoxically, it’s 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 fear has made its way down through the ages. It has afflicted and paralyzed thousands of speakers and presenters who have come before you. Generations of speakers have tackled this fear. George Rowland Collins is a speaking 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? How have centuries of speakers successfully tackled this bete noire of stage fright?
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 forthcoming 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 in possession of 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. 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.
Whether the presentations class is in Philadelphia . . . or Mumbai . . . or Cali . . . or Chennai . . . I hear the same universal and eerie refrain from finance students.
“Finance is different.”
“We don’t do all of that soft-skill presentations stuff.”
“For us, the numbers tell the story.”
Numbers seem to enchant business-people in deep and mysterious ways, as if numerical constructs are somehow less malleable than the English language, less subject to manipulation.
In a chaotic world, a spreadsheet exudes familiarity, a firm valuation offers comfort, an income statement serves as anchor.
False Certitude, Faux Anchor
For some, numbers convey a certitude and precision unavailable to mere rhetoric. And this illusion of certitude and precision exerts influence on finance folks to believe that, well . . . that the laws of human nature that stymie the rest of us do not apply to them in the coldness and hardness of objective numerical analysis.
But this is an illusion. And the result is 2D presenting, full of voodoo and bereft of nuance and subtle analysis.
Where business presentations are concerned, finance folks are not different, special, unique or otherwise gifted with special powers or incantations denied the mere mortals who toil in marketing or human resources.
We are all subject to the same demands placed upon us by the presentations beast, demands that nettle us equally and indiscriminately during the business presentation process.
As with most things, there is bad news and good news in this slice of life provided here.
The Bad News
The bad news is that modern finance presentations are a vast wasteland of unreadable spreadsheets and monotonous, toneless recitations of finance esoterica. It seems that there must be a requirement for this in finance.
In fact, many finance presentations devolve into basic meeting discussions about a printed analysis distributed beforehand, with the group of presenters merely standing while everyone else sits and interrupts with strings of questions. Several presentation cliches guarantee this sorry state of affairs a long life . . .
“Just the facts”
Exhortations of “Just the facts” serve as little more than a license to be unoriginal, uninteresting, and unfocused.
“Just the facts”
Folks believe that this phrase gives the impression that they are no-nonsense and hard-core. But there is probably no more parsimoniously pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase yet to be devised. It achieves incredible bombast in just three syllables.
What does it mean, “Just the facts?” Which facts? Why these facts and not those facts?
Events are three-dimensional and filled with people; they require explanation and analysis. Mere “facts” are flat, two-dimensional, unemotional, and unsatisfactory proxies for what happens in the real world. “Just the facts” masks much more than it reveals.
“The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of folks who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling,” finance majors often tell me. “We deal in hard numbers.”
There’s so much wrong with this that it’s difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point. Not only do numbers, by themselves, tell no story at all . . . if numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a considerably incomplete story, giving a distorted picture of reality.
The end result of these presentation shenanigans is an overall level of mediocrity and outright bad presentations. If firms want nothing more than a group discussion about a handout, with the only thing distinguishing the “presenters” from the audience is that they are standing, then so be it. It may be useful. It may be boring. It may be morale-building. It may be team-destroying. It may be time-wasting. But whatever else it is, it is not a presentation.
“Cut ’n’ Paste”
This is the heinous data dump that all of us inevitably see. PowerPoint slides crammed with data in tiny, unreadable font. The display of these heinous slides is accompanied by a sweep of the arm and the awful phrase: “As you can see . . . ” The cause of this pathology is the rote transfer of your written report to a PowerPoint display, with no modification to suit the completely different medium. The result?
Slides from Hell.
The Good News
In every obstacle exists an opportunity. Because the bar for finance presenting is so low, if you invest your presentations with the powerful principles that apply to all business presentations, your own shows will outstrip the competition by an order of magnitude. This, of course, implies that your content is rock-solid. It should be. Your ratio analysis, your projected earnings, your sophisticated modeling should all reflect the superb finance education you have received.
But how you present that content is the key to presentation victory.
All of the presentation principles that we discuss here apply to finance presentations, particularly the parsimonious display of numbers and the necessity for their visual clarity. If anything, finance presentations must be more attentive to how masses of data are distilled and displayed.
A situation statement must be given.
A story still must be told.
Your analysis presented.
Conclusions must be drawn.
Recommendations must be made.
And external factors must be melded with the numbers so that the numbers assume clarity and meaning in an especially powerful 3D presentation.
If you do the above, and nothing more, then your finance presentations will outshine the hoi polloi with ease.
But if you delve even more deeply into the masterful techniques and principles available to you, learning to use your tools skillfully, you can rise to the zenith of the finance presentation world precisely because you are part of the tiny minority who seizes the opportunity to deliver an especially powerful presentation.
I offer this superb business presentation tip – bookend your presentation or presentation segment to give the audience a satisfying experience.
What is bookending?
This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
You follow with your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences.
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points. As you wind to a conclusion, you hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your segment.
A Powerful Business Presentation Tip
When you have finished your presentation message and are ready to set your second bookend that concludes your presentation, call on these magic words.
You say these words: “In conclusion, we can see that . . . .” Then – repeat your situation statement.
Then say: “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”
You come full-circle. The audience gains a sense of completeness.
This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole, and your audience appreciates the closure.
This technique offers much more than a linear march, where nothing said seems to relate to anything that came before. The satisfying circularity of bookending brings your audience back to the familiar starting point.
It drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways. First, the outright repetition of your theme cements it in the minds of your listeners. Second, the story convention of providing a satisfying ending ties up loose ends and gives psychological closure.
It’s an elegant business presentation tip that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.
“The young speaker can do nothing better for himself than to fix firmly in mind that public speaking is a dialogue and to emphasize constantly the part of the audience, anticipating and watching for its response.”
This speaking basic also runs under the tag of Know Your Audience.
Know Your Audience = WIIFY?
To achieve its greatest effect, your story must focus on the needs and interests of your audience. At its best, your presentation should focus on the deepest desires of the audience, but should do so subtly and with great skill.
Your story should fulfill a need in the audience with regard to your presentation topic and the stories you choose to illustrate that topic.
Ask yourself these questions: Why have they come? What is it that motivates these persons to gather in one place to hear me? How can I speak to the audience as a group, and yet speak to each person individually?
WIIFY? Be a Hero!
How can I make the persons in the audience feel like a hero?
The hero of your story must be in the audience. The CEO. The Stockholders. Employees.
The people who are praised, instructed, lifted, motivated, excited must be the heroes of your story.
Aim your story at them and ask the question WIIFY. Make them feel good about themselves, and they’ll surely feel more disposed to feel good about your message.
Speak with them as individual people, not as a group. They do not attend your talk as a group, so do not address them as a group. They attend your business presentation as individuals, because they have goals and aspirations and hopes. They hope that your talk will benefit them in some way as an individual person.
Moreover, you must understand your audience. You must understand their wants and needs, interests and desires.
Find what motivates them.
Find what shames them.
Find the common thread among them, then speak to that common thread as they are individuals.
Many folks do not realize that the skill set of business presenting can serve them well in many situations outside the formal business presentation.
I am compelled to write about this now, as I sit in the Hong Kong International Airport, because of a recent and amazing online exchange.
Just when I think that most folks get it, something happens to explode those high hopes. Here, I refer to how you present yourself to the outside world in professional venues – especially those venues that hold possibilities for professional advancement. Language, dress, attitude, grammar, even-keeled composure . . . all of it make much more of a difference than you can possibly imagine.
This would seem common sense.
But no, some folks get so wrapped around the axle, get so absorbed in themselves that they forget that they are on display for the world to judge. Now, if you don’t care what the “world” thinks, great!
But if you recognize the linkages, possibilities, unseen treasure, then you won’t alienate folks with . . . Well, with untoward behavior that leaves folks entertained, but wondering at your grip on sanity.
More later as I flesh out the breathtaking self-absorbed and unselfaware commentary I’ve been privy to . . . now, the battery on laptop gets low, my flight to Singapore is about to board, and my greetings to you for success and prosperity go out now until I find time to post from the City of the Lion.