Express Yourself . . . the Right Way

Express yourself for personal competitive advantage

You communicate far more with your face than you probably realize, so be aware that how you express yourself can enhance or degrade your business presentation.

Your facial expressions can reinforce your message, confuse your audience, or detract from your message.

Yes, there is something called bad expression, and at its worst, it can generate hostility in your audience.

Look no further than the accompanying photo to absorb the lesson of how our expressions can enhance our presentation . . . or cripple it.

Express Yourself with Brio

A thorough knowledge of how our expressions can lift our talk or derail it is essential to becoming a powerful business communicator.

The problem of bad expression has plagued speakers for centuries.  Some of our earliest writers on oratory lamented the poor expressive skills of the folks who take to the stage to speak.

Quintilian was a great Roman teacher of oratory in his time, and he’s influenced many generations of public speakers since the recovery of his classic manuscripts in the 15th Century.

Perhaps you’ve not heard of Quintilian?  It’s time you did.

Expression in Presentation for 1,900 Years

Quintilian published his monumental Institutes of Oratory at the end of the 1st Century AD, and it continues as a powerfully influential treatise on presentations today.  It’s rich with insight and practical instruction.  Take this passage on expression:

[The teacher] will have to take care that the face of his pupil, while speaking, look straight forward; that his lips be not distorted; that no opening of the mouth in moderately distend his jaws.  That his face be not turned up, or his eyes cast down too much, or his head inclined to either side.  The face offends in various waysl.  I have seen many speakers, whose eyebrows were raised at every effort of the voice.  Those of others I have seen contracted.  Those of some even disagreeing, as they turned up one towards the top of the head, while with the other the eye itself was almost concealed.  To all these matters, as we shall hereafter show, a vast deal of importance is to be attached.  For nothing can please which is unbecoming.

Express Yourself in Presentation

Would that our modern instructors of presentations would take a moment to share even the most modest of insights offered by great orators such as Quintilian.

He remains relevant and incisive after 1,900 years on the need for coordinated and thoughtful expression, and a great many other timeless techniques.

That’s staying power.  And a heckuva personal brand.

And as he notes with respect to expression, nothing can please which is unbecoming.  Your facial expression should reflect your spirit.  It should reveal your heart and your soul, and if it does, you’ll avoid appearing “unbecoming.”

Your face should transmit sincerity and earnestness consonant with your words.  So I urge you in your presentations to express yourself in ways “becoming” . . . smile often . . . frown sparingly . . . stare never . . . question occasionally . . . and show sincerity throughout.

To continue exploring how to express yourself in ways that enhance your personal brand and personal competitive advantage, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Business Lessons from the Great Battles

Business Lessons from the Great BattlesIt’s always exciting to reprise a successful lecture, and Friday in Philadelphia I did just that with a six-hour seminar for business executives on Business Lessons from the Great Battles of History.

Three months in the crafting, the Great Battles seminar had its germination in the suggestion by one of my colleagues.

He had engaged me to deliver my earlier lecture series on Competitive Intelligence, which used historical military examples and multimedia, and thought that a full-blown seminar focused on the nexus between business strategy and military strategy might be well-received.

It was received well.  It called for an encore

What follows is the gist of this powerful offering . . .

War, Conflict . . . and Business Lessons

In business, we have adopted the language of war and of conflict.

We talk of market penetration . . .  we counterattack a competitor . . . we out-flank our opponents.

We get ambushed in office meetings . . . we form alliances and we battle against alliances . . . we conduct “hasty retreats” when facing a superior foe . . . we “make peace” with our enemies.

And we craft our strategy for our next campaign.

Perhaps it’s only natural that we Business Lessons from the Civil Warshould speak this way.  Ours is a world of conflict and cooperation.

And sometimes the cooperation seems only a prelude to conflict.

But rather than simply adopt the machismo of war-words, we can go beyond the surface similarities.

We can study and learn something about planning and executing business strategy from the actual techniques of martial combat.  Here, we look at some of the tactical techniques utilized by the military and codified in military manuals worldwide.

Some of techniques of maneuver and attack are familiar to most people.  Others, not so well-known.

The best strategic maneuver, of course, is one that Sun Tzu recommended more than 2,000 years ago.  Sun Tzu urged us to consider techniques that would yield bloodless victories.

He said:  “To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Most of us are not blessed with the kind of acumen or situation that affords us the luxury to win without battle.  And so we must make do with techniques that can yield victory, if applied judiciously and the proper place and time.

Business Lessons:  Circumspection a Must

But we must be circumspect and shrewd.

We must observe certain principles, and the hallmark of a sound principle is its successful application, across time, to situations in which the terms and technology may change, but the principle still holds.

Principles serve as a north star to guide us, to keep us going in the right direction.

In conflict situations, The Principles of War offer us guiding ideas for executing any straBritish Business Lessons from their Stupendous Loss?tegy against a determined opponent – Objective, Offensive, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Mass, Security, Surprise, and Simplicity.

The point is to think strategically . . . to exert a measure of control over a chaotic world, a sometimes hostile world.

All smart and successful organizations make use of war principles but call them something else.  We call them efficiency tools and such like.

But let’s call them what they are.

Let’s do call them “Principles of Competition” . . . because they can be utilized by anyone involved in any conflict, great or small . . . they can be used at the organizational level . . . and they can be used at the personal level.

Many countries and many theorists have devised principles of war over the centuries.  This noble and venerable lineage stretches back to the time of Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Vegetius, Machiavelli, Clausewitz, Jomini, Foch, and many other notables.  But regardless of the time and place and personality, the principles have always retained a sameness . . .

Principles may change at the periphery, but they maintain a steadfast core character.

Business Lessons:  Principles of Competition

For this seminar on Business Lessons, we appropriate for ourselves a set of Principles of War distilled by British Colonel John Frederick Charles Fuller during World War One and into the mid-1920s and adopted almost immediately in a slightly differKursk offers a Business Lesson against the Frontal Attackent form, by the United States military.

These are principles that had been handed down less formally for centuries.

The lessons learned on the battlefield can help us in the boardroom and they can help us compete effectively against a determined and equally capable competitor.

Here, we examine business lessons from the great battles of history – General Pagondas at Delium in 424 BC, Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC, Lee at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg in 1863.  We look to Zulu Chief Cetshwayo at Isandlwana in 1879, Hitler’s Blitzkrieg of France in 1940, the Battle of Kursk in 1943, Israel’s Raid on Entebbe in 1976, and the First Gulf War, among others.

Was Friday’s seminar delivered with elan and panache?  With brio?

Was it an especially powerful presentation?

One hopes, and we’ll see.

The jury is still out on this one and we await the verdict.

For more in-depth discussion of Business Lessons from the military realm, consult Strategic Thinking Skills.  For more on delivering business lessons in the most powerful way, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

What We Don’t Know about Business Presentations

“What we don't know”

In 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was widely ridiculed for his “what we do not know” convolution that tended to confound his critics.

But when analyzed, his succinct turn of phrase showed that his critics had much to learn.

Just as we have much to learn about business presentations.

What We Don’t Know . . .

Rumsfeld said this:

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

Without going too deeply into the philosophy behind it all, let’s simply note that this construction dates back to Confucius . . . and perhaps earlier.

Broken down, it can be stated this way:

There are things we know.

There are things we do not know.

There are things we know we do not know.

There are things we do not know we do not know.

Much insight is bound up in this matrushka doll of logic.

In fact, lurking within this formula is a key to our business success, to our differentiation, to our personal brand.  Understanding what we don’t know.

Rumsfeld’s trope is simply a call for humility and recognition that false certitude can be far more harmful than healthy skepticism.  No, we don’t know at all.

In fact, there may be a great deal of what we know that isn’t so.

Take, for example, the following two experiences of people who have a fundamental misunderstanding of their own abilities.

“These Pictures Just Didn’t Come Out”

Photography – good photography – is a skill.  The framing and composition of superb photographs is not “natural” or intuitive.

And yet, the vast majority of us believe that we can take spectacular photos.  A professional photographer who worked for me years ago was tickled by a co-worker who believed he was an excellent photographer, even as evidence to the contrary was abundant.

She told how he repeatedly engaged in a fantasy.

His latest batch of photos of a reception would come in, and his coworkers would gather ’round him.  He would thumb through the photos one at a time, and he would cast many of them aside peevishly.

“These pictures just didn’t come out,” he’d say with a shake of the head.  “They just didn’t come out,” and he would invariably imply that some mechanical malfunction had ruined his photos.

What we don't know can make us look dumb
This picture just didn’t “come out.”

Or hazy weather.

Or bad karma.

Anything but his own lack of skill.

Through it all was his inability to actually see and understand that the “picture did not come out” because of the most obvious reason in the world:

He did not know how to take photographs.

In fact, he was terrible.

But he claimed that out-of-focus, poorly framed, underexposed, overexposed photos were the result of some external problem, not his own lack of skill.  This type of hubris borne of blissful ignorance has its counterpart in the innocence of children.

Who’s the teacher?  That depends on your perspective . . .

A tennis instructor friend of mine tells the story of working with a six-year-old child.

You have to admire the chutzpuh of children, who, in their innocence, are unaware of the larger world and oftentimes unaware of their role as students in this world, subject to the instruction of teachers.

Upon starting the first tennis lesson, the child quietly watched the tennis pro demonstrate the basic forehand.  Then, the child boasted to her: “This is how I hit the ball.”

And the youngster proceeded to demonstrate the proper technique to the tennis instructor, as if the two of them were accomplished tennis pros simply sharing pointers with each other.

The child was blissfully ignorant of the depth and breadth of the game of tennis.  So the child speaks with a confidence and easiness that betrays that ignorance.

Honest ignorance in this case.

And what a wonderful confidence it is, the confidence of a child.  A superb tennis instructor works with this raw confidence and molds into it an actual expertise and respect for the game without destroying it.

When you hear people dismiss public speaking as “easy” or a “cinch” or something that they’ll “wing” in their next class, remember the phrases . . .

“These pictures just didn’t come out.”

This is the way I hit the ball.”

Many folks are simply ignorant of the depth and breadth of the public speaking domain.

So they wax eloquently and ignorantly about it, believing it to be something that it is not. Easier than it is.

Especially Powerful Presenting – What we don’t know

Powerful presenting is actually the judicious application of high-order skills of gesture, voice, movement, style, focus, elocution, and even intuition.  This concept is alien to the “Easy Presenting” group.

Moreover, the very nature of these skills is foreign to them.

The skill set of the advanced and effective presenter is much akin to that of the actor, and these skills would seem irrelevant to someone with only a superficial understanding of the art of presenting.

After all, business is serious, right?  Wheareas mere “acting” is . . . well, frivolous.

Acting is talent-based, right, with no role for learned techniques?  Hardly.  Acting coach Anita Jesse zeroes-in on the basic skills necessary to powerful acting, and they are as easily applied to the art of powerful presenting:

Almost any proficient actor will tell you that expertise [in acting] depends upon a short list of basic skills. Those building blocks are concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation.

Concentration, imagination, access to emotions, listening, observation, and relaxation. These are the qualities necessary to an actor’s powerful performances, and these are likewise qualities essential to the power presenter.

They are elements of Personal Presence, and they are essential to the delivery of an especially powerful presentation.

For more on learning what we don’t know we do not know about especially powerful presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Uncomfortable Business Presentations: “I just don’t feel comfortable”

Uncomfortable Business Presentations are the normI often see posts on LinkedIn from people who perpetuate the “comfort” myth, who advocate personal comfort as the boundary line between who we are and who we hope to be in the realm of what we might call uncomfortable business presentations.

“I just don’t feel comfortable doing that” vies for one of the poorest excuses I hear for refusing to become a great presenter.

Sure, make me a great presenter . . . just don’t make me change what I’m doing now, because I might feel “uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable Business Presentations”

When did our “comfort” become the yardstick by which we measure presentation greatness?  You think that you can become a great business presenter without changing behavior?

Odd as that sounds, many people believe it.  Because they think the essence of great presenting exists somewhere outside themselves – in a software package or in some secret that’s been kept from them.

Just the other day, I saw someone post presentation “advice” in a major forum, urging would-be speakers to stick close to the podium if they “felt uncomfortable” moving more than a few steps away from it while speaking.

Uncomfortable Business Presentations your big problem?Say what?

What awful advice.  Heinous.

If you’re a person who buys into the “comfort myth,” then stay away from me and don’t even talk to me about wanting to improve your business presenting skill.

If your presentations suck, if you’re stiff, and your voice grates, and you hide behind the podium, and you can’t look at people, and you get tongue-tied, and you slouch and dance, and you’ve made your presentations this way as long as you can remember . . . I guarantee that you’ll feel “uncomfortable” doing anything else.

So, if “comfort” is your goal, just keep on keepin’ on.  It’s one of the easiest “accomplishments” you’ll achieve in your life.

Comfortably Bad Habits

If your degree of “comfort” determines what you do in life, then resign yourself to mediocrity right now, this second.

“I just don’t feel comfortable mingling with people.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable training for a marathon.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable playing a difficult piece of music.”

“I just don’t feel comfortable practicing new presentation techniques.”

If that’s your attitude and your excuse, then prepare yourself to stay exactly where you are in life as you avoid uncomfortable business presentations.  Settle in and get “comfortable,” because that’s where you’ll be 20 years from now.

Again, if your presentations suck now, if you’re stiff, and your voice grates, and you hide behind the podium, and you can’t look at people, and you get tongue-tied, and you slouch and dance . . . you’ll still be doing it 20 years from now, assuming that anyone in his or her right mind let’s you get up in front of an audience when the stakes truly count.

If you grow “comfortable” in your bad habits, they’re still bad habits.  And you will break them only by adopting new habits . . . that discomfit you initially.  They feel “uncomfortable” until they become “comfortable” for you.

So, if you want to remain right where you are, stagnant, never improving, I urge you to just stay “comfortable.”

Your more ambitious competition in the workforce will thank you.

For trenchant advice on how to deliver uncomfortable business presentations that can take you to your presentation greatness, consult the Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.