Every presentation – every story – has this framework.
Let me rephrase.
Your presentation ought to have this framework, or you’re already in deep trouble.
You should build a business presentation, whether individual or group, according to this 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 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.
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.
A Sturdy Business Presentation Structure
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 in the initial stages.
You may find that as you progress in your group discussions, you want to build a business presentation 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 your bookends are about.
Build a business presentation within this structure and you’re on your way to a winning presentation.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the zombies of bad presentation advice never die.
We can’t eradicate bad presentation advice completely, because these zombies are impervious to every remedy known to 21st century civilization.
When Armageddon finally comes, cockroaches and bad advice zombies will be the only survivors.
But let’s give it a shot anyway.
Bad Presentation Advice
The process of becoming a great presenter is not so much prompting students to do something the right way. It’s getting you – yes, you – to stop doing things the wrong way.
And this is much tougher than you might expect, given that 1) people generally dislike the idea of change, and 2) I have discovered that most folks tend to think that the presentation is something that exists outside of themselves . . . in a PowerPoint software package, or in notecards, or in a book.
The notion that the presenter actually has to change is not welcome news.
Accordingly, I instruct students to stop what they’re doing now as a result of bad habits and bad advice. Just stop.
And I do not entertain or engage in lengthy discussions of various opinions of what constitutes good presenting or how people want leeway granted for their own tics or habits. All it takes is one film session to disabuse people of the notion that a bad habit is somehow acceptable.
Once they stop engaging in bad habits and misconceptions about presenting, they become de facto reasonably competent presenters.
Just stop the bad habits, and what remains can be downright decent.
But Bad Presentation Habits Die Hard
Bad habits can be perpetuated by exuberantly following bad advice.
The problem is recognizing what constitutes bad advice. This isn’t easy, because much bad advice paradoxically masquerades as good advice, and lots of these bad advice zombies stalk the land.
Here are some of the most common examples of awful, vague, or incomplete presentation advice you invariably hear during your business school career from the most well-meaning of folks.
ZOMBIE #1 “Don’t Put your hand in your pocket . . . it looks ‘unprofessional.’”
This is absurd and carries the stink of oral tradition about it. From presidents to preachers, the hand in the pocket – if done properly – conveys assurance and confidence.
For many speakers, it also removes one hand from the equation as an unnecessary distractor. Put that left hand in the pocket and you keep it out of trouble.
No more strange finger-play.
No more tugging at your fingers. No more twisting and handwringing. It leaves your right hand free to gesture, and those gestures themselves appear more decisive.
ZOMBIE #2 “Make eye contact.”
This advice is insidious in that it actually carries a large kernel of truth. It sounds reasonable. But it doesn’t tell you how to do it.
And, yes, there is such a thing as bad eye contact.
Too long, and you come across as creepy. Too short, and you come across as untrustworthy.
Make eye contact with people in your audience long enough to ascertain eye color, then move on.
ZOMBIE #3 “Move around when you talk”
This gem was given to me by a student, passed on from one of his other professors. This advice suggests that you wander aimlessly about the stage in hopes that it will improve your presentation in some unspecified way. Or it might mean to roll your shoulders as you step side-to-side.
It actually can mean most anything, and as such, it is terrible advice.
In this case the bad advice is worse than no advice at all. See my previous posts on movement for ideas on how to incorporate movement into your talk . . . and how to incorporate pauses for effect.
ZOMBIE #4 “Just the facts.”
Really? Which facts are those?
What does it mean, “Just the facts?”
Folks believe that this phrase makes them appear no-nonsense and hard-core. But a more pompous and simultaneously meaningless phrase has yet to be devised.
Again, it means nothing and is arrogance masquerading as directness.
“Facts” must be selected in some way, and context must be provided to give them meaning. “Facts” must be analyzed to produce alternatives and to render a conclusion. This is a euphemism for “I don’t like what you’re saying . . . tell me what I want to hear.”
ZOMBIE #5 “The numbers tell the story.”
This is a favorite of finance folks, who seem to believe that the ironclad rules of presentations do not apply to them.
“We’re special,” finance majors like to say. “We don’t deal with all of that soft storytelling; we deal in hard numbers.”
There is so much wrong with this, it is difficult to locate a reasonable starting-point.
Not only do numbers, alone, tell no story at all . . . if the numbers were conceivably capable of telling a story, it would be a woefully incomplete story, providing a distorted picture of reality.
Numbers provide just one piece of the analytical puzzle, important to be sure, but not sufficient by themselves.
Moreover, the business presenter who elects to serve the god of numbers sacrifices the power and persuasiveness that go with a host of other presenting techniques. Underlying this myth is the notion that you “can’t argue with numbers.”
You certainly can argue with numbers, and you can bring in a host of analysis that changes completely what those numbers actually mean.
ZOMBIE #6“You have too many slides.”
How do you know I have “too many” slides?
Say what? You counted them?
I assure you that you don’t know. You can conclude nothing about my presentation by looking only at the number of slides in it.
You will hear this chestnut from folks who believe that the length of a presentation dictates the number of slides you use.
Absurd on its face, people who use this believe that every slide will be shown a fixed amount of time.
They likely do some sort of calculation in their heads, dividing the time available by the number of slides to yield a number they believe indicates there are “too many” slides.
This is because they usually deal with folks unschooled in Business School Presentations methods.
If you follow the presentation principles laid down here in Business School Presentations, you will learn the glorious method of crafting frugal slides that pulse with power, surge with energy . . . slides that people remember, because they are smartly crafted and snap crisply, and they carry your audience along for an exciting and joyous ride.
And no one can tell anything about this by the number of slides in your presentation.
Bad Advice Zombies – these are just some that will come after you.
It’s probably not a good idea to argue with folks who give this sort of advice. What’s the use? Just ignore it and replace it in your own work with enduring and especially powerful presenting principles.
You can’t eliminate the zombies, but you can outrun them and outfox them.
And continue your upward trajectory toward becoming a superior business presenter.
If you don’t enjoy what you do every day, you’re doing the wrong thing . . . and if you don’t have public speaking passion, you probably ought to reconsider.
You’re in the wrong line of work.
Likewise, if you can’t get excited about your presentation topic, showing public speaking passion, it’s likely that you shouldn’t be presenting at all.
Remember, there’s no such thing as an inherently “interesting topic.”
As an especially powerful business presenter, it’s your job to invest your topic with a distinctiveness and verve that captures your audience.
You Provide the Public Speaking Passion
Interest is something that you do. You invest your presentation, regardless of the topic, with power, zest, verve, bravura, and excitement.
One powerful technique at your disposal is “passion.”
This means to embrace your topic. Regardless of whether you personally believe it to be interesting. Your task is to take a topic – any topic – and turn it into a masterpiece of public speaking passion.
Whether your subject is floor polish, chocolate milk, or bed linen, you create a presentation that holds your audience rapt.
You seize your audience by the metaphorical lapels, and you don’t let go.
Because Presenting Isn’t Easy
Which is why business presenting is not the cakewalk that many people try to portray it.
Passion is your solution. Public Speaking Passion is a powerful tool to create masterful presentations that sway your audience. To make your listeners feel.
To compel your listeners to act.
Passion and enthusiasm, energy and brio can overcome so much that is otherwise wrong with today’s business presenting. In fact, there is so little of this done today, that demonstrating presentation passion can become an important component of your personal brand and the source of personal competitive advantage.
Words to help you deliver a magic presentation that rivets the audience’s attention and guides them along a path that you’ve chosen.
Magic presentation words that bring your audience to a conclusion that your listeners, themselves, believe they arrived at on their own.
In fact, I know a series of magic spells to use during business presentations, spells that can get you out of trouble, spells to dazzle the audience and lead them where you want to go.
But you won’t believe it’s magic.
Disbelief in Magic Presentation Words
You see, we may not know what magic is, but we do think we know what magic is not . . . and it’s surely not the seemingly mundane advice given in a blogpost about business presenting.
The trouble with offering folks a formula to help them deliver a magic presentation is that they don’t recognize that the magic isn’t for them.
Not at all.
The magic is for the audience and the effect it has on the audience. And the effects are mostly subtle.
So, when I reveal the magic words, the subtle and especial incantations that move the audience en masse, it’s invariably the case that the people who hear them are not happy.
They feel cheated somehow.
They just know that whatever else these words are, they surely are not “magic.”
And they ignore the power of magic that they could acquire in their presentations, the subtle and powerful effects achieved by words so unobtrusive that the audience doesn’t even consciously register them when they’re spoken. The audience simply reacts in ways you want it to.
Here’s an example.
At times, even the finest presenters get themselves in trouble toward the end of a presentation. Having these magic words near to hand can salvage a speech that is careening off-course. A speech flirting with disaster.
Your Magic Presentation Words
When your talk is winding down and you feel yourself suddenly spent . . .
When you begin to spiral out of control and cannot remember your train of thought . . .
When your pulse quickens and your mind goes blank . . .
Grasp for two words.
Your Magic Words.
“In conclusion . . .”
That’s it. Just two words.
Conclude with Pith and Power
These two words have rescued thousands of presenters before you, and they’ll rescue you as well.
These two words work a magic on your psyche that is almost inexplicable to what a logical, reasonable person would believe. As soon as you speak them, the path to the end of your talk becomes clear.
And your audience responds with keen attention, summoned to a state of alertness by this simple yet powerful formulation.
Speak them, and suddenly you know what to say and do. And your audience is with you in spirit.
Here is what you do. Confidently add another phrase to your magic words, this way . . .
“In conclusion, we can see that . . .”
“In conclusion, our recommendation makes sense for reasons just given . . .”
“In conclusion, this means that . . .”
See how it works?
You see how incredibly easy it is to get out of the sticky wicket of a talk spiraling down out of control?
“In conclusion” leads you out of the wilderness and back onto your prepared path. It leads you to restate your thesis in concise manner and then . . .
Yes, you can stop uptalk for presentation credibility . . . but given the prevalence of this ugly vocal habit, it’s apparently not easy to give up.
Foregoing other bad habits might be easier . . .
Stop chewing tobacco.
Stop Thursday and Friday Happy Hour. Give up refined sugar and white bread. Go organic. Become vegan.
All well and good, but none of those things will help your presentation credibility. Few behavior changes can do you as much good as stopping Uptalk.
The Uptalk Pathology
Uptalk is the maddening rise of inflection at the end of declarative sentences. The inflection transforms simple statements into an endless stream of questioning uncertainty.
As if the speaker is contantly asking for validation.
Looking for others to nod in agreement.
Yes, maddening . . . and it infests everyone exposed to this voice with doubt, unease, and irritation.
It screams amateur when used in formal presentations, a time when we most want and need to be taken seriously.
Uptalk cries out: “I don’t know what I’m talking about here. I just memorized a series of sentences and I’m spitting them out now in this stupid presentation. I’m not invested in this exercise at all.”
Uptalk radiates weakness and uncertainty and doubt.
Uptalk conveys the mood of unfinished business, as if something more is yet to come. A steady drumbeat of questioning non-questions.
You create a tense atmosphere with Uptalking 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.
Uptalk = “I’m unsure.”
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.
In United States popular culture, listen for uptalk in any popular youth-oriented television show.
Reality television females, as a breed, seem unable to express themselves in any other way. Their lives appear as one big query.
But you can fix this.
In fact, you can gain an especially powerful competitive advantage simply by eliminating this pathology. If you speak with straightforward declarative sentences, with confidence and conviction, your personal presence gains power, and this power increases the more it is contrasted with the hosts of questioning babblers around you who seem unsure of anything.
For many young speakers, Uptalk is the only roadblock standing between them and a major step up in presentation power.
So Stop Uptalk!
And recognizing that you have this awful habit is halfway to correcting it.