This provides a sense of closure and completion for the audience.
Presentation Bookends, the How
Start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative. This is your “grabber.”
It can’t be a gimmick, or the audience will feel cheated.
Your grabber must startle and delight your audience. An interesting fact, a controversial statement.
A powerful phrase.
You then follow with your situation statement, which flows naturally from your grabber.
Your clear situation statement of only one or two sentences tells the audience exactly what they will hear.
Start to finish.
One of the best grabbers/situation statements I’ve ever heard was this pithy formulation:
“There’s a deal on the table. Don’t take it. Here’s why.”
That grabber is direct and is almost enough for a situation statement as well. It pulses with power. If you’re the one associated with the “deal on the table,” how could you not want to hear what comes next?
In fact, it encompasses the entire presentation in three especially powerful sentences.
That’s your first bookend.
Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.
Because of the Rule of Three that I have spoken of in this space so many times. We seem to be hard-wired to receive information most efficiently in threes.
Whether it’s a slogan or a fairy tale, when information is grouped in threes, we respond well to it and we remember it better.
The Latin phrase for it is “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect).
Yes, apply the Rule of Three . . . and apply it ruthlessly.
Here I offer controversial advice, and not every presentation guru will agree with it. But it forms the basis for an especially powerful presentation.
With it, you never go wrong.
Think about that for a second. How many things in life can you say that about? You never go wrong.
What is this Rule of Three?
For a moment, let’s consider this “Rule of Three.” This is always a successful method in structuring the staging portion of your presentation.
This means that you select the three main points from your material. Then you structure your show around them.
It’s that simple.
And it’s powerful.
Think about this for a moment.
There is something magical about the number three.
We tend to grasp information most easily in threes.
Consider these examples:
Stop, look and listen – A well–known public safety announcement
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears” – William Shakespeare
Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar
“Blood, sweat and tears” – Winston Churchill
“Faith, Hope and Charity” – The Bible
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – the Declaration of Independence
“The good, the bad and the ugly” – Clint Eastwood Western
“Duty – Honor – Country. Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, and what you will be” – Gen. Douglas MacArthur
The Rule of Three in presentations is a standard structural model advocated by many presentation coaches. And with good reason.
It’s a powerful framework, incredibly sturdy. Think of it as a reliable vessel into which to pour your superb beverage.
With the rule of three, you can – literally – never err with regard to your presentation structure.
Here’s an Example . . .
Offer substantiation for your thesis and ultimate recommendation in three main points.
Strip down all of your convoluted arguments, all of your evidence.
Restrict all of your keen analysis to the three major points that you believe make your case.
In the Toughbolt Corporation example above, note that in our thesis statement and ultimate recommendation, we mentioned three positive reasons for our chosen course of action:
“ . . . this presentation demonstrates that this course of action is fiscally sound, the best use of scarce resources among the alternatives, and a basis for rapid growth.”
These three factors serve as your basic Rule of Three structure for the middle of your presentation.
Most efficient use of resources over other expansion alternatives
Financial Analysis of the projected acquisition
Projected returns and growth rate
Does this mean that other information is not important?
Of course not.
It means that you have selected the most important points that make your case and that you want to rivet in the minds of the audience. The Rule of Three in presentations means that you select the major facts not to be “comprehensive” in your presentation, but to be persuasive in your presentation.
With respect to subsidiary points that appear in your written analysis, you have the opportunity to address those issues in a question and answer session to follow your show.
Do you ever cobble together a half-dozen makeshift slides cut-and-pasted from a written report, larded with bullet points, and then rely on some sort of last-minute presentation magic to save your butt?
Wishful thinking that maybe PowerPoint pyrotechnics can save the day?
Perhaps the bravado of phony self-confidence to get you through a painful experience?
Guilty as charged?
Most of us are guilty at some point.
And the results can be heinous.
Software “Magic” Cannot Save You
The results are slides that confuse the audience rather than reinforce your major points delivered in awful, mind-numbing presentations.
“Making bad slides is easy, and it will negatively impact your career. Invest in your slides, but invest in your own visual skills as well. The alternative is to inadvertently commit career suicide.”
Absent specific instruction, you might believe that it’s acceptable to simply cut and paste graphics from a written report directly onto a slide.
And . . . why not?
Who says this is a bad idea?
After all, the professor wants to see certain material on the screen, doesn’t he?
Well, I’m giving it to him. ’nuff said.
This is awful for the reason that the slide presentation sometimes doubles for a written document. This is an incredibly stupid mistake, and with it you forfeit personal competitive advantage to your more careful peers.
One . . . or the Other
Your PowerPoint can serve admirably one or the other purpose . . . but not both.
The presentation – or show – is an entirely different form of communication than the written document that is meant to be reviewed later.
Never let one serve in place of the other.
Prepare two separate documents if necessary. One is your detailed written document, and the other to serve as the basis for your show.
When you commit the error of letting a written document serve as your public presentation, here’s what usually happens: You project a parade of abominably cluttered slides onto the screen while you talk about them. Usually prefacing what you say with the words “As you can see . . . .” [this is called As You Can See Syndrome, or AYCSS]
The results are quite often poor, if not downright ugly and embarassing for all concerned.
It’s a roadmap to disaster.
But the insidious part is that no one tells you the results are disastrous.
And they do not tell you what makes your creation an abomination.
So let’s discuss the types of issues you face in assembling your show, so that you can craft an especially powerful presentation.
No Magic in Your Slide Deck
Start by recognizing that no slide show can substitute for a lack of ideas, a lack of preparation, and lack of a story to tell.
Nifty slides cannot save you.
There is no PowerPoint magic.
PowerPoint cannot rescue you with its colors, sound, and animation.
This is akin to Hollywood filmmakers who spend millions of dollars on dazzling special effects and neglect the story. They bomb miserably.
On the other hand, Hollywood can caft a winning film with a superb story and drama, but with minimal special effects.
For example, see the classic Henry Fonda film 12 Angry Men.
You cannot craft a winning film with no story.
Or a bad story populated with people you don’t care about.
Forget the notion that slides are somehow the backbone of your show. They have no special properties. They can merely enhance your show . . . and they can most assuredly help destroy it.
“Slides are not a magic pill; they won’t organize a disorganized presentation; they won’t give a point to a presentation that doesn’t really have one; and they never make a convincing presentation on their own.”
So is there a reasonably easy way to get around this busy-slide pathology?
Of course, and this leads us to one solution to the problem of overburdened slides.
Remember three words when you prepare your slides, and you can eliminate 90 percent of your PowerPoint pathologies.
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 do not talk about.
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.
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.
When you orient, eliminate, and emphasize, you polish your meaning to a high sheen. This puts you on your way to an especially powerful presentation that gives you Personal Competitive Advantage.
You dump distractors that leech the strength and from your presentation.
Consequently, by substraction you infuse your presentation with power. You provide your own presentation magic that arises from your skill as an especially powerful presenter.
What if you already feel reasonably confident, competent, and thoroughly satisfied with your presenting skills?
I congratulate you and at the same time encourage you. I encourage you to continue improving.
Discover a technique used by a popular speaker. Adopt a new stance you saw in a TED talk. Practice that incredible gesture your friend uses when he’s excited.
In short, recognize that presenting is a skill that can always be refined, always be improved.
Perhaps you’ll find a secret or two right here.
Don’t hate presentations!
I believe, and you may agree, that business school students need credible, brief, and direct resources on presenting – solid information and best practices, not vague generic “presentation principles” and certainly not “communication theory.”
In short, you want to know what works and why.
You want to know right from wrong, good from bad.
You want to know what is just opinion and what, if anything, is carved in stone.
You’ll find answers here to the most basic questions.
What is this beast – the business presentation?
How do I stand? Where do I stand?
What do I say? How do I say it?
How do I reduce 20 pages of analysis into a four-minute spiel that makes sense and that “gets it all in?”
How should we assemble a group presentation? How do we orchestrate it?
How do I pass the baton?
Where do I begin, and how?
How do I end my talk?
What should I do with my hands?
How do I conquer nervousness once and for all?
How can I tell “what the professor wants?”
How do I translate complicated material, such as a spreadsheet, to a PowerPoint slide so that it communicates instead of bores?
Centuries of Especially Powerful Presenting
Business School Presenting answers every one of these questions and many more that you haven’t even thought of yet. You may not like the answers.
You may disagree with the answers.
Let a thousand presentation flowers bloom across the land. Listen, consider, pick and choose your pleasure. Or not.
But you should know that I offer here the distillation of 2,500 years of public speaking and presentation secrets, developed by masters of oratory and public speaking and refined in the forge of experience.
Folks who certainly did not hate presentations . . .
Cicero, Quintilian, Demosthenes, John Adams, Patrick Henry, Daniel Webster, Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama – all find their places in the pantheon of the most powerful presenters of all time.
They all have drawn upon the eternal verities of presenting.
In turn, they have each contributed their own techniques to the body of wisdom. You find those verities here.
On the other side of things, let me hear your own presentation stories from your campus that illustrate challenges particular to your school and academic concentration.
The various subdisciplines in business – finance, marketing, accounting, human resources, and such like – have their special needs. And they are all tractable to the fundamental and advanced techniques of powerful presenting.