If you could have only one business presentations guide . . .

This is one Business Presentations GuideIf you could have only one business presentations guide to help you with your presentations, what would it be?   [Aside from my own]

You have many from which to choose.  Too many, in fact.

Hundreds of them.

So this question is part rhetorical and part genuine inquiry to discover what motivates, trains, and aids students and young executives in their development into capable presenters.  No, not just into capable presenters . . . especially powerful presenters.

I have my own answer to this question, of course, and I’ll share it with you in a moment.  It’s based on reviewing a skein of presentation and public speaking books published over the course of 2,500 years.  All of ’em?  Close to it.

It’s an esoteric subject with a tightly circumscribed group of recognized and established authors and scholars.  The mid- to late 1800s was the golden age for modern oratory and presenting, when Philadelphia was host to the National School of Elocution and Oratory.  Departments of public speaking flourished in universities across the land.

Today’s Tedious Tofu

Today, we have “communications” courses that offer tofu and tedious texts.  They offer impractical and vague suggestions that are often impossible to put into practice.

Today we have The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs supplanting the rich and powerful books of speaking masters who offer the soundest and most-proven presentation instruction in all of recorded history.  This is not to so harshly criticize The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs as to imply that is isn’t useful at all.

The author, Carmine Gallo, is a delightfully engaging public speaker himself.

Gallo pens a superb column for BusinessWeek.  And sure, this book has a pocketful of useful “tips.”

Business Presentations GuideBut the book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, is more about Steve Jobs than it is about you.  It’s more about Steve Jobs than about presentation secrets that you can actually use.

Let’s put it this way:  Steve Jobs’s #1 presentation “secret” was to speak only at Apple product launch extravaganzas populated with early adopter evangelicals and to ensure that he was unveiling the next generation high-technology gadget hyped in the world press for the previous 12 months.

In such a scenario, don’t you believe that you and I could paint our faces blue and dress like Jack Sparrow and deliver a successful and quite powerful presentation?

Of course we could, and that was Steve Jobs’s actual “secret.”

Jobs was an above-average speaker with a distinctive style.  His public appearances were highly orchestrated.  His competition in America’s C-Suite was, and remains, abysmal.

In short, Jobs was a celebrity CEO armed with a built-in audience poised to cheer his every word.

That’s surely a “secret,” but it’s not very helpful to the average presenter.

So, will you learn anything from Mr. Gallo’s book?  Sure, but it has nothing to do with Jobs or what he does.

Mr. Gallo laces enough fundamental advice throughout the book to help a neophyte improve his presenting in several aspects.  But the question I asked at the beginning is this:

If you could have only one book to help you with your business presentations, what would it be?

Not that one.

In fact, I could recommend a dozen books that are utterly superb, none of which published after 1950, that far outstrip today’s pedestrian offerings.  Books that offer a wealth of powerful and mysterious techniques to transform you into the most dynamic speaker you possibly can be.

Books to stretch you to your utmost limits, books that propel you to fulfill your fullest presentation potential.

Single books that are worth any 10 “business communication” texts costing more than $1,000 in toto.

But if I had to choose one . . . and only one business presentations guide . . .

It would be this book . . . a book first published in 1913.

This Business Presentations Guide

Subsequent to its original publication, this incredible tome went into more than 58 editions and was constantly in print until 1962.  In that year, it was revised and given a different title, and it went into another 28 editions, the last one I can find published in 1992.  Its title was again revised and a new edition published in 2006.

This book remains in print today.  Many reprint editions are available and are quite inexpensive.  Like diamonds upon the ground that no one recognizes.

And of all the more than 500 presentation books I own, dating from 1762 to the present day (and reprints back to 430 BC), this is the one book I commend to you.  You can search it on Amazon.com and purchase an inexpensive copy today.

The one book I recommend is . . .

Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, by Dale Carnegie.The Business Presentations Guide for all time

Post-1962, the book is called The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Public Speaking, an edition revised by Carnegie’s wife [I dislike the new title, because it gives the mistaken impression that great public speaking can be “quick and easy,” an addition to the original book added much later, but I’ll not cavil on that point here].

The newest edition is called:  Public Speaking for Success.

Of course, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business doesn’t mention the PowerPoint software package, for obvious reasons.

Instead, this powerful business presentations guide focuses on the most important elements of any presentation, whether delivered by Pericles to the Athenians in 430 BC or by you to your Global Business Policies course in 2012 – you . . . your message . . . your audience.

Buy this book . . .

Read this book. . .

Learn from this book . . .

. . . and then enjoy the fruits.

And if you have room in your library for another business presentations guide, you can always add this superb volume, The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presenting Across Cultures . . . Russia

Business presenting offers challenges across cultures
Despite superficial similarities, great differences can exist across cultures with regard to business presenting

The universalities of presenting to business audiences are actually large in number.

But . . . and it’s a big but . . . differences can be great across cultures, and these differences mainly are manifested in the speaker-audience dynamic.

My last week lecturing in Russia was punctuated with many talks in front of college student and business audiences, both at Udmurt State University and at the Izhevsk Business Incubator.

My prior experience told me to hold a bit of circumspection in the corner of my eye as a kind of third-eye view; to perceive the situation as an observer might, so that I might be aware of disjuncture between my message, delivery, and its receipt by my Russian guests.

Complications Galore

Complicating the affair was the presence of a superb interpreter, with whom I’ve worked many times in past years.  She participated half the time as my talks were mixed Russian and English, which the audience seemed to appreciate for extra clarity.

Moreover, much of my presentation material had been translated into Russian on the screen behind me, with no concurrent English writing to offer me cues.  Consequently, I was compelled to internalize my Russian bullet points and pass them back into English.

This made for, occasionally, a less-fluid talk than what I like.

Different Nonverbal Cues

The biggest difference for me as a speaker to this particular foreign audience was the lack of nonverbal audience cues.  Or, should I say, the presence of perhaps a different set of cues.

The general nonverbal cues that we all search for in an audience seemed largely absent.  The signs that we are connecting with an audience simply are not there.

By this, I don’t mean that my listeners were unreceptive, uninterested, or rude.  I mean that their demeanor was what we might call . . . stolid.  My third-eye view told me to overlook this lack of nonverbal communication and to seek other cues to responsiveness.

I found them in a more aggressive interaction pattern.

I turned up the “cold call” technique and began to call on particular listeners for feedback on certain points.  An exercise in competitive intelligence was helpful in one talk as I turned the tables and asked for generation of hypotheses from what seemed a tough audience at first.

In the end, familiarity with one of my audiences over several days and several hours of presenting eroded the barriers that had inhibited audience feedback.

The lessons for me are plain – cultivation of a keener analysis of expected audience behavior in my preparation and the inclusion of short exercises designed to remove cultural barriers early-on.

As well, a healthy humility and a searching, open mind provide the most useful tools for presenting to a foreign audience.

Many verities of business presenting carry over from culture to culture, so have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting to catalog a few of them.

Russia in Spring

It pays to open the mind and heart to new and different ways of presenting.  This is especially so when presenting before an audience in another country.

Cultural and language differences can transform a familiar scenario into one freighted with unpredictable difficulties in communication, but it also opportunities for learning new techniques.

And so I launch my week-long Russian sojourn, with business consulting seminars in the city of Izhevsk, Russia.  An oil city of 700,000 people located about 900 kilometers east of Moscow, Izhevsk boasts a major university that is innovative and progressive – Udmurt State University.

I’ve always had superb experience lecturing bright young Russians at the university over the past 11 years, and I expect that this time will be no different.  Lectures on Business Strategy, Foreign Policy, and History will alternate with delightful sessions of the ubiquitous and exquisite Russian hospitality.

I hope to share insights upon my return.  I’m certain they will be made known to me . . . I learn something new on each visit.

I feel especially powerful today.

The Finance Presentation – Four Words for Power and Impact

Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation
Add Power and Impact to your Finance Presentation

In working with your slides in your finance presentation, follow the formula Orient … Eliminate … Emphasize … Compare.

This formula produces superb results every time, especially if you are working with difficult financial information.

As preface to this, on all of your slides, ensure that you use a sans serif font and that its size is at least 30 point.

Your numbers should be at least 26 point.

Finance Presentation Clarity

First, orient your audience to the overall financial context.  If you take information from a balance sheet or want to display company profit growth for a period of years, then briefly display the balance sheet in its entirety to orient the audience.

Tell the audience they view a balance sheet:  “This is a balance sheet for the year 2012.”

Walk to the screen and point to the information categories.  Touch the screen.  Say “Here we have this number” . . . “Here we have this category.”

Second, eliminate everything on the screen that you do not talk about.  This means clicking to the next slide, which has been stripped of irrelevant data.  If you do not refer to it, it should not appear on your slide. Strip the visual down to the basic numbers and categories you use to make your point.

Sure, put the entire balance sheet or spreadsheet on your first slide, orient your audience as to what it is to provide context, and then click to the next slide.  This next slide should display only the figures you refer to.

Finance Presentation
Your finance presentation need not be unintelligible

Third, emphasize the important points by increasing their size, coloring them, or bolding the numbers.  Illustrate what the numbers mean by utilizing a chart or graph.

Fourth, compare your results to something else.  Remember that numbers mean nothing by themselves.  Comparison yields meaning and understanding.

For example, think of a children’s dinosaur book.  You’ve seen the silhouette of a man beside a Triceratops or a Stegosaurus, or a Brontosaurus.  The silhouette provides you a frame of reference so you understand the physical dimensions of something new and strange.  You can compare the size of a man with the new information on dinosaurs.

Likewise, we want to provide a frame of reference so that our audience understands the results of our analysis.  We provide a comparison as a baseline.

For instance, if you are talking about financial performance, and you have selected an indicator (such as ROI, or yearly sales revenue growth, or something similar), don’t simply present the information as standalone.  Compare your company’s financial performance against something else.  Do this to make your point and to tell your story.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against itself in prior years or quarters.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against a major competitor or several competitors.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against the industry as a whole.

Compare your firm’s financial performance against similar sized firms in select other industries.

When you Orient . . . Eliminate . . . Emphasize . . . and Compare, you create a finance presentation experience that is intelligible and satisfying to your audience.

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

The Only Presentation Structure You Need

The Complete Guide to Business Presentation Structure: What your professors don't tell you... What you absolutely must know
Do you even think about the overall structure of your business presentation, or do you plunge right in?

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End.

Every presentation – every story – has this framework.

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

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

Beginning . . . Middle . . . End

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

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

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

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

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

Business Presentation Structure adds Impact
Your presentation structure should be simple and sturdy, smart and strong

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

You can also fail miserably if you plunge into uncharted “innovative” territory just for a false sense of “variety” or “fresh ideas” or self-indulgence.  Sparkle and pop spring from the specifics of your message and from your keen, talented, and well-practiced delivery.

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

Presentation Structure Tested in the Fire

Beginning-middle-end is the most reliable and proven form, tested in the fires of history and victorious against all comers.  I suggest you use it to build your presentation structure in the initial stages.

You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to alter the structure to better suit your material.  Please do so.

But do so with careful thought and good reason.  And always with the audience in mind and the task of communicating your main points concisely, cogently . . . and with über focus.

One way to think of your part of the presentation is material sandwiched between two bookends.  You should Bookend your show.  This means to make your major point at the beginning and then to repeat that major point at the end.  Hence, the term “Bookends.”  And in-between, you explain what the book is about.

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

For a more elaborate explanation on how presentation structure can enhance the power of your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.