Category Archives: Audience

The Especially Powerful Presentation – Malcolm X

especially powerful
An Especially Powerful Presenter

Malcolm X was a great presenter, and he would sting his audiences with a superb and especially powerful technique – powerful grabber lines.

Like snapping a towel to skin, you want to sting your audience in a good way.

Malcolm X could snap his audience to attention.  He compelled his listeners to sit up straight, to focus on his message.

You can do this several ways, too.

It’s up to you what method you choose, but it should fit your audience and your presentation.

One effective method is the use of a “grabber” line.  This is a surprising and unconventional sentence or an unusual fact that immediately alerts the audience that its about to hear something special.

Not just another canned talk.

One of the finest public speakers – or presenters – of modern times was the late Malcolm X.

Yes, Malcolm X was a great presenter, and his speeches are textbook examples of how to grab an audience, mesmerize it throughout his presentation, and then mobilize it with an especially powerful presentation call to action.

The Effects of Rhetoric

Whether you agree or disagree with him is irrelevant to the point that he was a captivating communicator.  He drew from a deep well of powerful presentation techniques.

Malcolm’s speeches are just that – speeches – and they are written for the ear and not the eye.  As such, they are best read aloud so as to absorb the measured beats.  To feel the repetition of key phrases.

And to learn the effects of certain rhetorical flourishes.

And when you read sentence after sentence, you sense the power and the deep moral outrage coming through, sometimes explicit but most often through a steady recapitulation of ideas using different phrases but repeating key words.

Malcolm X was a great presenter

You gain a sense of the gathering storm.

You almost hear rolling thunder in the distance.

Today, I mine his speeches for their cadences, their imagery, their use of allegory, anaphora, and turns of phrase.

With respect to grabbing an audience’s attention, too many presentations and speeches begin with routine thank-yous and ingratiation of the audience.

Bad presentations launch with a peppering of routine phrases.  The speaker grips the podium and a squinting at notes or jerky backward glances at an unreadable projection screen.

Remember that a speech is tremendously different from a written document.

Pauses and repetition, tone and inflection are essential with the spoken word.

Especially Powerful Technique

Let’s look at the beginning of a typical Malcolm X speech and see how he grabs his audience.  Read it with his spoken delivery in mind.

This speech – Message to the Grass Roots – was delivered in Detroit on November 10, 1963.  Irrespective of the time and place and circumstance, which of course leavens our approach, note that Malcolm begins his talk by immediately establishing intimacy with the audience.

We want to have just an off-the-cuff chat between you and me . . . us.  We want to talk right down to earth in a language that everybody here can easily understand.

We all agree tonight, all of the speakers have agreed, that America has a very serious problem.  Not only does America have a very serious problem, but our people have a very serious problem.

In the space of four sentences, Malcolm has drawn in his listeners.  He has laid out a situation statement that, at that moment, captivated his audience.

He established a mood of confidentiality and rapport, and then makes a bold statement:

America has a very serious problem . . . We have a very serious problem.

Who wouldn’t want to hear what comes next?

Great Presenter with Power and Depth

Notice that he did not engage in throat-clearing and chit-chat.

No “Thank you Mr. Chairman” . . . no “So good to see so many committed activists tonight and familiar faces in the crowd.”  Notice also the use of repetition of key phrases: “Very serious problem.”

Straight to the point, and a bold point it is.  See what comes next . . .

America’s problem is us.  We’re her problem.  The only reason she has a problem is she doesn’t want us here.  And every time you look at yourself, be you black, brown, red or yellow, a so-called Negro, you represent a person who poses such a serious problem for America because you’re not wanted.  Once you fact this as a fact, then you can start plotting a course that will make you appear intelligent, instead of unintelligent.

Has Malcolm studied his audience?  Is he reaching out with a message that is directly relevant to his listeners?

Most of all, has he grabbed your attention?

He surely has.

Malcolm was expert at executing Presentation Snap, grabbing his listeners in a way that zeroed in on them . . . on their needs, concerns, desires, hopes . . . framing the issue in colorful language, and creating listener expectations that he will offer bold and radical solutions to real problems.

For now, focus on the grabber to seize the attention of your audience.

Mull this excellent example from Malcolm’s talk.  Ask yourself how he contrived it . . . and how it works.

In subsequent posts, we look at more examples from Malcolm X as he moves through delivery of his presentation and builds to his call for action at the end.

For more on how you can use Malcolm X’s techniques to develop especially powerful business presentations, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.  Utilize the techniques therein to build steadily your personal competitive advantage.

Business Presentation Audience?

Your Presentation Audience deserves your best
Especially Powerful Response to Your Presentation Can be Yours!

Do you face a listless, distracted business presentation audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?

Texting?

Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

Your Presentation Audience Needs You to Be . . .

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes me on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Here, I identify a remedy for you – how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.

Here is what you need to be for your audience.

It isn’t your listeners’ fault if you’re monotonous, unprepared, listless, nervous, or dull.  It’s your job to entertain and energize your audience with your own enthusiasm.

Giving a business presentation is much more than just showing up in front of your long-suffering presentation audience and delivering a stilted talk.  Much more.

Respect your audience and work hard to dazzle your listeners.  They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

In addition to giving you solid counsel on your audience, I also suggest how you can energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

It’s not easy, but you can do it with several techniques developed over centuries of public speaking practice.  And in the process, you can acquire personal competitive advantage.

Please overlook my bad hair day in this video as you take in this powerful advice on How to Engage With Your Presentation Audience for an especially powerful presentation.

Have a look here . . .

Do You Ever Wing It?

Especially Powerful Presentations
No chance to fly at all if you “wing it.”

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them . . . and this means never, ever wing it.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Never wing it.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

And never wing it.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Sometimes we elect to go in unprepared, trusting in a cavalier attitude to carry us through . . . winging it in insulting fashion.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

The Curse of Hubris

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.

Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.  Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.

Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

Personal Competitive Advantage
Is this how to give an especially powerful presentation?

They don’t prepare.

They offer standard tropes.

They rattle off cliches.

They pull out shopworn blandishments . . .

. . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says, whatever it was, becomes gospel.  However he said it becomes accepted practice, no matter how awful.

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.

The lack of preparation by any speaker conveys a kind of contempt for the audience and the time of people gathered to listen.

I Read my Own Press Clipping Now

For instance, I recall an occasion of a successful young entrepreneur who spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea.

He related how he pitched that idea to venture capitalists.

His idea was tremendously successful and, as I gather, he sold it for millions of dollars.

Now, he stood in front of our students dressed in “cool slob.”  He wore a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

especially powerful speech
You sometimes hear the Styrofoam Speech . . . the mark of someone “winging it.”

He might as well have delivered a “Styrofoam speech.”

He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  He had elected to “wing it.”

His sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Make really good slides.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he offered a great idea sharply defined, practiced many times, and presented knowledgeably by a well-dressed team that won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by to wing it.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.

And there is much to be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Do you Wing It?

In business school, you will espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.

It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness when you wing it.

You offer contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude that carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

And this kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”  It is obvious to everyone watching that you elected to wing it.

Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your time?  You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You will gain personal competitive advantage.

But you never will if you “wing it.”

Mind-Blasting to Hook your Audience

Hook your Audience!
Hook your audience with an especially powerful grabber

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook your audience for your business presentation.

And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.

In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.  You must get them über-focused on you and your message.

So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?

Think of your message or your story as your explosive device.  To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.

This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.

This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.

Something special.

With this provocative line, you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next.  The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.

“Thank you, thank you very much . . .”

But they must step off with you from the beginning.

You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.  You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:

“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction.  Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be hear tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children.  And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”

Hook your audience
You won’t hook your audience with cliches and bad jokes

That sort of thing.

Ugh.

Folks in your audience are already checking their email.  In fact, they’re no longer your audience.

And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.

Why do people talk this way?  Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.

You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.

You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.

You come to believe that a listless audience is natural.

Not at all!

So How to Hook Your Audience?

The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting.

You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention.

You must say something provocative, but relevant.  You must grab your listeners and keep them.  Hook them.  You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.

Something like this:

“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot.  And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling.  The letters were etched in granite and they became visible one by one.  My breath caught when I read the inscription–”

Or this . . .

“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”

Or this . . .

“I was stupid, yes stupid.  I was young and impetuous.  And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did.  I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”

Or this . . .

“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”

Hook Your Audience!
Mind-Blast to Hook your Audience

Or this . . .

“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . .    I thought that she must be a special woman.  And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”

You get the idea.

Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you.  Your listeners want to hear what comes next.

Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey.  If you engage in theatrics for their own sake – just to hook your audience to no good end – you earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.

So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.  And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.

For more on mind-blasting for especially powerful presentations, see the Complete Guide to Business School Presentations.

“I never get an interesting topic”

Interesting topic?
“I never get an interesting topic”

“I never get an interesting topic.”

Perhaps you’ve said that?

I’ve certainly heard it.

In fact, I hear this lament more often than I would prefer.  It embodies much of what is wrong with individual and group presentations.

There is no such thing as an inherently uninteresting topic.   Nor is there an inherently interesting topic.

Interest is something that you generate, combining your unique gifts and training to create something special that appeals to the audience.  Whether your audience is the CEO, a potential client, the Rotary Club, or your fellow students.

That’s your job.  In fact, that’s what you’ll be paid to do upon graduation.

Interesting Topic?  That’s Your Job

Cases are not assigned to you in B-School to interest you.  No one cares if they interest you.

That’s not the point.

Whether you find your topic personally interesting or not is irrelevant.  It’s your duty to craft a talk that interests the audience, perhaps even captivates the audience.

Persuades the audience.

And gives to you an especially powerful https://www.ihatepresentations.com/crafting-your-personal-competitive-advantage/.

We all would love to be spoon-fed “interesting topics,” wouldn’t we?  But what’s an “interesting” business presentation topic?

I’ve found the following to be true:

The students who complain about never getting an interesting topic actually do get assigned those topics – topics that are rich with potential and ripe for exploitation.  Some folks don’t recognize them as “interesting” because their store of information and context either is absent or is untapped.

So they invariably butcher a potentially interesting topic and miss every cue and opportunity to craft a great presentation.

It’s time to recognize that you simply want an interesting topic for yourself . . . not so you can do a bang-up job for the audience.

The Nail – A Powerful Presentation Topic

business presentation interesting topic
You make the business presentation topic about nails interesting . . . it’s your responsibility, in fact

The upshot is that if you don’t take presenting seriously, then you won’t do anything different for an “interesting” business presentation topic than you would for a “boring” topic.

The creative challenge is greater, in fact, for presenting on the topic of tenpenny nails than it is for, say, the Apple iPhone.  The initial perception might be that the iPhone is more inherently “interesting.”

It’s hip.  And familiar.

Students gravitate to the topic like bees to flowers.

But give me a student who gladly takes a business case that involves tenpenny nails and who weaves a compelling, imaginative, and professional presentation, and I’ll show you a future business star.

The best students recognize the drama and conflict and possibilities in every case.  They craft an interesting presentation regardless of the topic.

How do you generate interest?  How do you mine a case for what is dramatic, different, uplifting, unusual?  Public speaking master James Winans provides several suggestions from almost 100 years ago:

[I]nterest is, generally speaking, strongest in old things in new settings, looked at from new angles, given new forms and developed with new facts and ideas, with new light on familiar characters, new explanations of familiar phenomena, or new applications of old truths.

It actually requires thought and a broadening of context.

It requires the extension of horizon, and the expansion of the personal frame of reference.

In short, the learning of new stuff, which is always more difficult than relying upon what we already know – the tried and the true and the comfortable.

The Beast:  The Interesting Topic

And as an aside, what would you do with the topic of tenpenny nails if you were assigned the task of demonstrating to the general public, say, their value to the building industry?

Are these the three-inch nails that take their name from the original price-per-100?  I always thought so.

But an alternative explanation says the name has nothing to do with price.

Instead, it has to do with . . . .  Well, when you deliver a presentation on nails, you’ll find the answer.   The name, by the way, dates from the 15th Century, the same century as the invention of the Gutenberg printing method.

Now that’s a “killer app” with staying power.

Sound like an interesting topic?

For more ways to develop your acumen with regard to your business presentation topic, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Bookend your Business Presentation Structure

Presentation Structure
Bookending is a Powerful Presentation Structure Technique

Bookend your presentation structure to give the audience a satisfying experience.

You can bookend your segment of a group presentation, too.

“Bookend?”

What’s this bookending and why is it so important to audience response?

Bookending brings your audience full circle, in a sense.  You first hook your audience with an intense introduction, and at then at the conclusion of your presentation, you recapitulate.

This provides a sense of closure and completion for the audience.

Presentation Structure Begins with This

The First Bookend.

This means to start your presentation with an anecdote, cue, or visual image that hooks your listeners into the narrative.  This is your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

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.

Presentation StructureAnd then you 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 are about to 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.

The Middle of Your Presentation Structure

Then you offer your major points of your presentation, usually three major points.

Why three?

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.

Duty.  Honor.  Country.

I came.  I saw.  I conquered.

“Stop.  Look.  Listen.”

“The Three Little Pigs.”

“Goldilocks and the Nine Bears.”

See how the last sentence jars?  Try to craft your presentation to constitute three parts.  For instance:  Product Concept, Marketing Plan, Financial Analysis.  Something like that.

This three-part presentation structure can serve you well as a framework for most any presentation.

As you wind to a conclusion, you then construct your second and final bookend.

Recapitulation of your Presentation Structure

You say these words:  “In conclusion, we can see that—”  Then . . .

Repeat your original situation statement.  Hearken back to the original introductory anecdote, cue, or visual image that launched your presentation.

Finally, say:  “We believe that our presentation substantiates this.”

You come full-circle, so to speak, and the audience gains a sense of completeness.  This recapitulation of your theme knits together your segment into a whole.  Your audience appreciates the closure.

Rather than a linear march, where nothing said in your presentation seems to relate to anything that came before, you offer a satisfying circularity.  You bring your audience home.

You bring you audience back to the familiar starting point, and this drives home the major point of your talk in two especially powerful ways:  1) the outright repetition of your theme, cementing it in the minds of your listeners, and 2) the story convention of providing a satisfying ending, tying up loose ends, and giving psychological closure.

It’s an elegant technique that can pay big dividends in terms of audience response.

Try it.

For more especially powerful presentation structure tips like this, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting, your essential companion throughout B-School.

Don’t Be a Business Presentation Snipper!

Presentation snippers

I often hear business presentation sentence snippers.

Snippers have a verbal tic – they snip the ends of sentences during a business presentation.

You’ve probably heard these presentation snippers, too – they pinch the ends of sentences.

This is an unfortunate verbal tic.  Tics can drag us down.

And it’s the elimination of these verbal tics that separate great speakers from good speakers.

Don’t Be a Snipper!

If you are looking for tangible evidence of individual tics and habits that bring speakers down to the level of, well . . . to the level of sounding amateurish, this is one of those clear cases.

The phenomenon that I speak of is the staccato voicing of the last word of a sentence.

Sometimes the voice drops, just like that of a child reading sentences from a story book.  Each sentence is a great accomplishment, and the child celebrates by dropping the voice and snipping the last word.

As if each sentence is a story in itself.

Snip your sentences?For whatever reason, many folks who speak from a script or who read aloud become snippers.  They cut the last word of a sentence short.  As if in a race to get to the next sentence.

As if each sentence stands alone, unconnected to the sentences to follow.

One good source of bad speaking technique is to listen to commercials that feature “everyday people” giving testimonials.

Folks become snippers when they read from a script or speak memorized passages.

Tune in to this.

Make it a habit to listen closely to speakers you admire, but also the speakers who, for whatever reason, you do not like.  Ask yourself why you like one speaker and not another.

Why all the Snipping?

Why do people snip their sentences?  I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s an unconscious desire to voice the period at the end of a sentence?

Perhaps it’s to get a quicker breath to start the next sentence, so that there is a little silence as possible between sentences?

You can acquire an additional patina of professionalism by simply not doing this.  Refuse to snip.  Refuse to be a snipper.

Give full voice to every word in your sentence.  Especially the last one.  Don’t draw it out unnaturally, but certainly don’t snip it off.

Regardless, I believe that it’s incredibly important to the speaker who wishes to become a great presenter to be aware of the pathology.

But you may not agree.

This may seem unimportant to you.  Do you scoff at this?  Are you a snipper and believe that it’s something too small, too unimportant to consider?  Are you unaware whether you do this or not, and do not care one way or the other?

If so, then you handicap yourself with a bad habit whose cumulative effect over the course of any single presentation yields an impression on the audience.  That this is an amateur speaker.

If so, then continue down that path.  Good luck and Godspeed!

But your audience will be the ultimate arbiter, and it will judge you.

As with so many of the tics and habits and quirks of bad public speaking, the audience may not recognize them individually.  But they know that they’re in the presence of the mundane and of the average.

If you wish to improve your business presenting in ways great and small . . .   If you want to correct repetitive tics that drag you down, like barnacles slowing a ship, then listen to yourself.

And correct the problem.

For more on identifying and correcting bad habits, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Audience Engagement – Don’t Just Talk at Folks

How to engage your audience

Do you face a listless, distracted audience?

Are your “listeners” checking iPhones every few seconds?

Texting?

Chatting in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks while you deliver your presentation?  Some call this the MEGO syndrome . . . Mine Eyes Glaze Over.

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

How to Engage Your Audience in Your Presentation

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley (me) on how to engage your audience.  An audience that may seem disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Here, I identify a remedy for you – the secrets of how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.  How to engage your audience for power and impact.

Here also are several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

The bar is so low with regard to business presentations that just making a few corrections of the sort discussed here can elevate your delivery tremendously.

Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books.  You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com

CKC also offers great short courses at no charge.  This includes my favorite on business presentations, this one.

There is, of course, much more to delivering a powerful presentation.  Conscientious presenters attend to all seven dimensions of the presentation – voice, expression, gesture, appearance, stance, passion, and movement.

Great speakers also leaven their presentations with poignant stories.  Great speakers connect emotionally with their audience.

For more on especially powerful presentations and how to engage your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Know your Audience . . . for an Especially Powerful Presentation

Know Your Audience is still good advice
Know what it means to really Know Your Audience

“Know your audience” is an hoary folk-wisdom kind of phrase that we’ve all heard and said at some point.

But what does it mean?

It’s almost like an incantation, similar to that trusty chestnut make eye contact!

So what’s this mysterious . . . know your audience?

Many of us in the presentation enterprise define it to our taste to mean what we want it to mean.

And that’s where we go wrong.

Hector that Audience! Show ’em Who’s Boss!

“But the audience should want to learn this.”

Invariably I hear this lament, or something akin to it.  A plaintive whine, really.

“The audience shouldn’t care how I dress/sound/gesture/move/squint/laugh inappropriately/show bad slides.  The audience should adapt to my style . . . which, frankly, is just fine.

“The audience ought to appreciate a gender-enlightened method of speaking!”

I have actually heard this.

Elaborate explanations follow as to why the audience should do this or be that, or simply doesn’t appreciate what the speaker has to offer in the way it’s offered.  Self-righteous and even haughty explanations follow.

And of course, all of this springs from premises as rotten as a plank in a 19th century waterfront pier.

The Audience Marketplace Judges You

The marketplace is a wondrous place with much power seething below the surface.

It gives feedback with ruthless honesty.

It doesn’t give a damn what anyone learned in a philosophy course as a grad student.  It thumbs its nose at the idealism of what “ought” to be.

If you have a product that nobody’s buying, no amount of hectoring will change that.

Knowing that marketplace means know your audience.

And know your audience means inspiring your listeners, not hectoring them.  It means giving them a chance to be a hero.  Every audience wants and needs that, and it’s your job to give it to them.

Not to lecture them on their sins and on your supposed superiority.

They don’t want to hear from Indiana Jones.  They want to be Indiana Jones.

Many sources are ensconced on the web that address the issue of know your audience . . . in different ways and to different purposes.  Here’s one for engineers, for example.  Here’s another for marketers.  And here is yet another for general communication purposes.

A Powerful Example of Know Your Audience

One of the greatest public speaking instructional films available is A Time to Kill, based on the novel by John Grisham.  The film is filled with presentation examples and powerful scenes that illustrate great presentation techniques.

“Know your audience” is exemplified in a powerful scene toward the end of the film, the night before the closing arguments are to be made in a murder trial.  The defendant, Samuel L. Jackson, urges his lawyer Matthew McConaghey, to get inside the heads of the jurors.

Jackson reveals to McConaughey the key to the case – emotional involvement of the jury, and this means know your audience.

Here is the powerful Jackson monologue, urging McConaughey to know your audience when the stakes are life itself:

America is a wall and you are on the other side.  How’s a black man ever going to get a fair trial with the enemy on the bench and in the jury box?  My life in white hands?  You Jake, that’s how.

You are my secret weapon because you are one of the bad guys, you don’t mean to be but you are – it’s how you was raised.  Nigger, Negro, black, African-American, no matter how you see me, you see me different, you see me like that jury sees me, you are them.

Now throw out your points of law Jake.  If you was on that jury, what would it take to convince you to set me free?  That’s how you save my ass.  That’s how you save us both.

View the entire film for a powerful lesson in speaking and in knowing your audience.  The trailer appears here . . .

 

For more insight on how to analyze and to know your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Respect Your Audience for Presentation Power

Respect your audience and your earn their respect
Respect your audience and you earn their respect

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them – respect your audience.

Speak to your listeners in their language and to their needs.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

“Respect Your Audience” Seems Easy

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms.

We say what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear.  We speak in language that gives us comfort.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why folks have gathered to hear the message.  Often, a business presenter may offer an off-the-shelf message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.  She ignores the precept respect your audience.

The Curse of Hubris

Paradoxically, this occurs often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.  Infused with the power and sometime hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

But it doesn’t.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.  They rattle off cliches.  They pull out blandishments.  And they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

But the presentation emperor has no clothes.  He does not follow the precept of respect your audience.

Contempt?  Close to It

What we actually witness from presenters of this type is a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.  The lack of preparation by speakers disregards the audience.  It shows contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.  His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.

Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup.  He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.

What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

You Call That Good Advice?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is.  What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.  Did this fellow follow the respect your audience mantra?  I think not.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.

It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.  And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.  Speak to your listeners as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

We gain by following the respect your audience mantra.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

For more on how to respect your audience, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Especially Powerful Presentation Openings

The Presentation Opening
The Presentation Opening sets the tone for your Business Presentation

Of course you know how to begin a business presentation with a powerful presentation opening.

The Presentation Opening is surely easy.

Right?

But do you really know how to launch a powerful presentation?

Consider for a moment . . .

Don’t Tiptoe

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation opening, as do so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge sideways into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing.

Do you back into it?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?

Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices.

A Bad Presentation Opening

I viewed a practice presentation that purported to analyze a Walmart case.  The lead presenter was Janie.  She began speaking, and she related facts about the history of the company and its accomplishments over the past 40 years.

She spoke in monotone.  She flashed a timeline on the screen.

Little pictures and graphics highlighted her points.

I wondered at what all of this might mean.

I waited for a linking thread.

Craft a superb presentation opening
Grab Your Audience with The Presentation Opening

I waited for her main point.  As the four-minute mark approached, my brow furrowed.  The linking thread had not come.

The linking thread would never come . . . it dawned on me that she had no point.  At the end of her segment, I asked a gentle question.

“Janie, what was that beginning all about?  How did your segment relate to Wal-Mart’s strategic challenges in the case at hand?”

“Those were just random facts,” she said.

“Random facts?”

“Yes!” she said brightly.

And she was quite ingenuous about it.

The Wrong Presentation Opening

She was reciting “random facts,” and she thought that it was acceptable to begin a business case presentation this way.  I do not say this to disparage her.

Not at all.

In fact, she later became one of my most coachable students, improving her presentation skills tremendously.

She has since progressed to graduate school.  And now she delivers powerful presentation openings.

But what could convince a student that an assembly of “random facts” is acceptable at the beginning of a presentation?  Is it the notion that anything you say for a presentation opening is okay?

Let’s go over the beginning, shall we?

Together, let’s craft a template beginning that you can always use, no matter what your show is about.  When you become comfortable with it, you can then modify it to suit the occasion.

You begin with your presentation opening.  Here, you present the Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience are there.  What do you tell them?

The audience has gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution.  Or to hear of success and how it will continue.  Or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.

Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk.  Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clutter your presentation opening with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?  Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign. Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  Again, thank you for your attention and time.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

Craft a powerful presentation opening for energy
Especially Powerful hooks and grabbers for your presentation opening

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2013 and increase our market share by another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next four quarters to result in a much stronger and competitive market position 12  months from now.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.

No metaphorical throat-clearing.

No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.  Just an especially powerful and direct statement of the reason you are there.

Put the Pow in Power!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“Even as we sit here today, changes in the business environment attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.

“We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and what our marketing team will do about it to retain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.

The very reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.  We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.  And we must front-load our intro to include our recommendation.

That is why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To provide your recommendations.

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

For more on crafting an especially powerful presentation opening, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

 

Gangnam Style Presentation

Gangnam style Presentation Can elevate your own show
Gangnam Style Presentation is extreme, but instructive

Here’s a presenter who carefully follows the Three Ps of business presenting and quite obviously succeeds at his performance in a Gangnam Style Presentation.

The Three Ps, of course, are:  Principles . . . Preparation . . . and Practice.

The presenter calls himself Psy.

In this Gangnam Style presentation, Psy engages the Seven Secrets of presenting – the principles of Voice, Expression, Gesture, Appearance, Stance, Passion, and Movement – for a stunning performance.  Note that the acronym formed by those seven words is appropriate to this particular presentation:

VEGAS PM.

Applying the Three Ps

Moreover, while Psy exhibits incredible professional presence, he doesn’t rely solely on his charisma to carry his presentation.  He and his support team prepared meticulously for this performance, and they’ve obviously practiced much.

The presenter engages his audience, gives them exactly what they expected to receive, and encourages audience participation.

He exhibits tremendous focus on his main point, repeating his main point several times so that it isn’t lost – otherwise known as his song’s chorus – and he uses the same repeated choral movement to emphasize visually his song’s chorus.

View this Gangnam Style Presentation with these precepts in mind.

 

The comparison to superb business presenting is by no means a reach.

When you present, you give your audience a show.  Accordingly, you should prepare your show according to principles almost identical to those used by any stage performer.

You might not expect the kind of crazed enjoyment of your business presentation exhibited by the audience in the video (and I congratulate you if you achieve it).  But you can apply the precepts of presenting to meet your audience expectations, engage your listeners, and drive home your main point with repetition and focus.

Deliver a Gangnam Style Presentation

You can thoroughly prepare and practice your presentation, just as any worthy stage performer does.  Respect for your audience and your message demands no less than that you employ the Three Ps of business presenting.

Do this consistently, and you increase your personal competitive advantage tremendously as someone known for capable and competent business presenting.

For more on Gangnam Style business presenting, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Focus on Your Audience

Focus on your audience as a source of personal competitive advantage

Too often, we can find ourselves rambling or roaming in a presentation, and this usually means we’ve strayed from the hoary principle of focus on your audience.

We haven’t established a tightly focused subject, and we’ve not linking it to a tightly focused conception of your audience.

Without tight focus on your subject, you cannot help the audience to visualize your topic or its main points with concrete details.  Without details in your message, you eventually lose the attention of the audience.

So how do you include meaningful details in your presentation, the right details?

The Devil’s in the Details

By reversing the process and visualizing the audience in detail.

This is akin to the branding process in the marketing world.  Your brand must stand for something in the customer’s mind.  And, conversely, you must be able to visualize the customer in your own mind.

If you can’t visualize the kind of person who desperately wants to hear your message, then you haven’t focused your talk enough.

Go back and retool your message – sharpen and hone it.

Think of the various consumers of products and services such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Whole Foods Market, Mercedes Benz, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  Can you actually visualize the customers for these products, picture them in your mind in great detail?

Likewise, can you clearly visualize the consumers for Greenpeace, the National Rifle Association, a Classic 70s Rock radio station?

Sure you can – you immediately imagine the archetype of the customer base for each of these.

Focus on Your Audience

Now, in the same way, can you visualize the consumers of Chevrolet?  Tide?  Folgers?  United Way?  The American Red Cross?

Of course you can’t, because these brands have lost focus.  The message is too broad.

The lesson here is to focus your message on a tightly circumscribed audience type.

Who is in your audience, and what do they want from you?

Prepare your talk with your audience at the forefront.  Visualize a specific person in your audience, and write to that person.  Make that person the hero.

Talk directly to that person.

The upshot is a tightly focused message with key details that interest an audience that you have correctly analyzed and visualized.  You speak directly to audience needs in a way that they clearly understand and that motivates them.

Craft your message in this way, and you’ll be on-target every time.

Find more secrets of especially powerful presenting in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Powerful Presentation Words: “This means that . . .”

Powerful Presentation Words can transform your show

“This means that . . .”

These three powerful presentation words hold incredible promise and potential for your business presentation.

And yet they go missing more often than not.

These three powerful presentation words can transform the most mundane laundry-list presentation into a clear and compelling tale.

The Most Obvious Thing . . .

One of the biggest problems I see with student business presentations is the hesitancy to offer analysis and conclusions.  Instead, I see slide after slide of uninterpreted information.

Numbers.

Pie-charts.

Facts.

Lots of reading from the slide by the slide-reader-in-chief.

Raw data or seemingly random information is offered up just as it was found in the various consulted sources.

This may be because young presenters receive little instruction on how to synthesize information in a presentation segment into a cogent expression of “Why this is important.”

As a result, these presentations present the illusion of importance and gravitas.  They look like business presentations.  They sound like business presentations.

But something’s missing.

The audience is left with a puzzle.Powerful Presentation Words are like magic

The audience is left to figure it out for themselves.

The audience is left to figure out what it all means.  Left to interpret the data, to judge the facts.

In other words, the presentation is subject to as many interpretations as there are audience members.

Does this sound like a formula for a persuasive and powerful presentation that issues a firm call-to-action?

Of course not.  This is a failed presentation.

You know it, and it seems obvious.  But still, I see it more often than not.

If you find yourself in this fix, delivering ambiguous shows that draw no conclusions, you can remedy this with three little powerful presentation words at the end of each segment of your presentation.

“This means that . . .”

How Powerful Presentation Words Work

At the end of your explication of data or information, you say something like this:

“This means that, for our company, the indicators displayed here suggest a more aggressive marketing plan than what we’re doing now.”

Or this:

“These figures indicate that more vigilance is needed in the area of credit risk.  For our department, this means that we must hire an additional risk analyst to accommodate our heightened exposure.”

See what this does?

You hand the audience the conclusion and recommendation that you believe is warranted.  You don’t assume that the audience will get it.  You don’t leave it to your listeners to put the puzzle together.

That’s what you are paid to do in your presentation.

You are tasked with fulfilling the promise and potential of your presentation.  Don’t shrink from this task.

Instead . . . relish it.

Try it.

If you do, this means that you will invest your presentation with power, clarity, and direction.

For more powerful presentation words, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Presentation Appearance can Make you . . . or Break You

Presentation Appearance
Presentation Appearance Matters

What message does your presentation appearance transmit to people?

Oftentimes, we don’t consider that our physical appearance transmits messages to those around us . . .  Most certainly, the presentation appearance of a speaker before an audience conveys non-verbal signals.

This happens whether you are conscious of it or not.

Your presentation appearance sends a message to your audience, and you cannot decide not to send a message to your audience.

You cannot tell an audience to disregard the message your appearance transmits.  And you can’t dictate to an audience the message it receives.

Are you the “Ageless Rebel” Battling the “Man”?

What’s you message?  That you don’t care?

That you’re confident?

That you’re attentive to detail?

That you care about your dignity, your physique?

Is your appearance one big flip-off to the world because you fancy yourself an ageless rebel, shaking your fist at the “man” and refusing to “conform” to the “rules?”  If so, then you pay a dear price for so meager a prize.

That price comes in the form of losing competitive advantage to your peers, who may want to spend their personal capital for more luxurious rewards.

Many young speakers seem unaware of the messages that their appearance conveys.  Or worse, they attempt to rationalize the message, arguing instead what they believe that the audience “ought” to pay attention to and what it “ought” to ignore.

Presentation Appearance as Your Destiny

You simply cannot dress for lazy comfort and nonchalance and expect to send a message that conveys seriousness, competence, and confidence.  That conveys a powerful professional presence.

This is the lesson that so many fail to grasp, even on into the middle management years.

“I’m a rebel and exude confidence and independence!” you think, as you suit up in the current campus fashion fad.  The message received is likely much different:  “You’re a slob with no sense of proportion or clue how to dress, and I’ll never hire you.”

The best public speakers understand the power of appearance and mesh their dress with their message.

Take President Barack Obama, for example.  He is a superb dresser, as are all presidents.  On occasion, you will see the President speaking in open collared shirt, his sleeves rolled up in “let’s get the job done” fashion.

And that’s usually the message he’s trying to convey in such dress: “Let’s get the job done . . . Let’s work together.”

Politics, Schmolitics . . .  He’s a Sharp Dresser

You will never see President Obama address the nation from the Oval Office on a matter of gravity with his jacket off and his sleeves rolled-up.  Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, was also a sharp dresser. 

The lesson here is that your dress ought to reinforce your message, not offer conflicting signals.

Here are some basic suggestions for ensuring a minimum pleasing appearance . . .

For more on an especially powerful presentation appearance, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presentations

Bad PowerPoint means an awful Business Presentation

AYCS Syndrome + Bad PowerPoint
Bad PowerPoint is a Debilitating Presentation Pathology

It starts innocently enough . . .

You click the remote and a new slide appears.  You cast a wistful look back at the screen.

You pause.

And then you reach for the easy phrase.

That’s when AYCS Syndrome strikes even the best of us, cutting us down in our presentation prime.

AYCS Syndrome + Bad PowerPoint

“As you can see.”

The phrase “As you can see” is so pervasive, so endemic to the modern business presentation that there must be a school somewhere that trains people to utter this reflexive phrase-hiccup.

Is there an AYCSS Academy?  It would seem so.

The bain of AYCSS is that it is usually accompanied by a vague gesture at a screen upon which is displayed some of the most unreadable nonsense constructed for a slide – usually a financial spreadsheet or array of baffling numbers.  Probably cut-and-pasted from a written report and not adjusted at all for visual presentation.

And the audience most assuredly cannot see. In fact, there might be a law of inverse proportion that governs this syndrome – the less the audience can actually “see,” the more often the audience is told that it can see.

And that’s why we reach for the phrase.

Because we can’t “see,” either.

We look back at an abstruse PowerPoint slide and realize that it 1) makes no sense, 2) never will make any sense, 3) is so complicated that we should have used four slides to make the point or should have deleted it, and 4) has no chance of contributing at all to our show.  At that point, AYCS Syndrome attacks.

Numb and Dumb Your Audience with AYCSS

Finance students seem particularly enamored of AYCSS.

In fact, some rogue finance professors doubtless inculcate this in students.

Financial analysis of the firm is essential, of course.  There are only few occasions when financial data do not make their way into a presentation.  Financial data are where you discover the firm’s profitability, stability, health, and potential.

Bad PowerPoint is a business presentation pathology
Bad Powerpoint Can Sabotage Your Presentation

But the results of your financial analysis invariably constitute the ugliest section of a presentation.Something about a spreadsheet mesmerizes students and faculty alike.  A spreadsheet splayed across the screen gives the impression of heft and gravitas.  It seems important, substantial.

Everyone nods.

Too often, you display an Excel spreadsheet on the screen that is unedited from your written report.  You cut-and-paste it into your presentation. You splash the spreadsheet onto the screen, then talk from that spreadsheet without orienting your audience to the slide.

This is the incredibly awful technique displayed by finance students, in particular, that is accompanied by the dreaded words:  “As you can see.”

Satanic Spreadsheets

You, the presenter, stare back at the screen, at the phalanx of numbers.

Perhaps you grip the podium with one hand and you airily wave your other hand at the screen with the words . . . “As you can see—”

And then you call out what seem to be random numbers.  Random?  Yes, to your audience, the numbers seem random because you have not oriented the audience to your material.

You have not provided the context needed for understanding.  No one knows what you’re talking about.  Your classmates watch with glazed eyes.  Perhaps one or two people nod.

Your professor sits sphinx-like.

And no one has a clue.  You get through it, finally, and you’re relieved.  And you hope that you were vague enough that no one can even think about asking a question.

AYCS Syndrome is the tacit agreement between audience and presenter that neither of us really knows or cares what’s on the slide.  And we promise each other that there won’t be any further investigation into whatever this abominable slide holds.

It can’t be good.  Not for the audience, not for anyone.

All of this sounds heinous, I know.  And probably too familiar for comfort.  But you can beat AYCCS with a few simple techniques that we’ll be discussing in days to come.

The Remedy for Bad PowerPoint can be found in The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.

Engaging Your Audience . . . Video Classic!

Engage Your Audience . . . Give your listeners what they want

Do you face a listless, distracted audience?

Do your “listeners” check iPhones every few seconds?   Text?   Chat openly in side conversations?

Do they sit with glazed, far-away looks?

The problem is probably you.

No way are you delivering on what should be a passionate, especially powerful presentation.

How DO you Engage Your Audience?

In this video interview with Concentrated Knowledge Corporation’s Executive Insights Program, Andrew Clancy quizzes Dr. Stanley K. Ridgley on how to connect with an audience that seems disconnected and disinterested in what you have to say in your business presentation.

Dr. Ridgley identifies a remedy for you, how to hook and reel-in an errant audience.

He also offers several tips on how to energize your presentation by discarding one of the most common speaking crutches and by moving into the Command Position.

Follow this advice to develop an especially powerful presentation.

Concentrated Knowledge Corporation produces Executive Summaries of many of the world’s great business books.  You can review CKC’s site at www.summary.com

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

Wing it? . . . a CLASSIC Don’t

Professional Presence means passion
Wing it if you will . . . but expect a disastrous presentation

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have.

Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox.

We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game.  We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort.

Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

It’s Your Fault, not Theirs

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message.  Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.

Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees.

Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting.

They don’t prepare.  They offer standard tropes.  They rattle off cliches, and they pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing.

What he says and the way he says it, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

The Curse of Hubris and Contempt

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt.  Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often.  The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a disdain for the audience and contempt for the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists.

His idea was tremendously successful and, as I understood him, he sold it for millions.

Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup.  He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.  What was his sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

Business Presentation
Slob Cool . . . another sure path to presentation failure

“Make really good slides.”

Say what?

That was it.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is.  What does it truly mean?  You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit.  Likely as not, he developed a great idea, defined it sharply, and practiced many times.   It was presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs, and this is what won the day.

And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned.  Much can be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation.

Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Winging It

In business school, you sometimes espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness.  It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance.  Or real nonchalance.  It’s a form of defensiveness.  This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day.

No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment.  Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

This kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.” It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.” Why would you waste our time this way?  Why would you waste your own? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart.  Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You never will if you “wing it.”

For more keen direction that may just save your next business presentation from disaster, consult The Complete Guide to Business Presenting.

Put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations

Especially Powerful Business Presentations mean personal competitive advantage
Powerful Business Presentation Skills Yield Personal Competitive Advantage

You can front-load your introduction and put the Pow! into Powerful Business Presentations to  seize your audience from the first second of your show.

Or you can tiptoe into your business presentation so no one notices you.

Which would you choose?

You’d choose the introduction with Pow, of course!

But many people don’t.

Many folks in business school, in fact, simply don’t launch powerful business presentations for one excellent reason.

The Reason Why Many Business Presentations Sputter

Many folks don’t know how to begin a presentation.

Do you?

What?

“Of course I know how to begin a presentation.  What kind of fool does this guy think I am?”

But do you?  Really?

Does your intro have Pow?  Consider for a moment . . .

Do you begin confidently and strongly?  Or do you tiptoe into your presentation, like so many people in school and in the corporate world?

Do you sidle into it?  Do you edge into your show with lots of metaphorical throat-clearing?  Do you back into it?

Powerful Business Presentation
Do you poke your head out instead of delivering a powerful business presentation?

Do you actually start strong with a story, but let the story spiral out of control until it overshadows your main points?  Is your story even relevant?  Do your tone and body language and halting manner shout “apology” to the audience?

Do you shift and dance?

Are you like a turtle poking his head out of his shell, eyeing the audience, ready to dart back to safety if you catch even a single frown?  Do you crouch behind the podium like a soldier in his bunker?  Do you drone through the presentation, your voice monotone, your eyes glazed, fingers crossed, actually hoping that no one notices you?

One major problem with all of this is that you exhibit horrendous body language that destroys your credibility.

Set the Stage with Your Situation Statement

You begin with your grabber . . . then follow immediately with your Situation Statement.

The Situation Statement tells your audience what they will hear.  It’s the reason you and your audience are there.

What will you tell them?  The audience is gathered to hear about a problem and its proposed solution . . . or to hear of success and how it will continue . . . or to hear of failure and how it will be overcome . . . or to hear of a proposed change in strategic direction.

Don’t assume that everyone knows why you are here.  Don’t assume that they know the topic of your talk.  Ensure that they know with a powerful Situation Statement.

A powerful situation statement centers the audience – Pow!  It focuses everyone on the topic.

Don’t meander into your show with chummy talk, thanking the board for the “opportunity,” thanking the conference staff, thanking the bartender for generous pours.

 powerful business presentations
Personal Competitive Advantage through Powerful Business Presentations

Don’t tip-toe into it.  Don’t be vague.  Don’t clear your throat with endless apologetics or thank yous.

What do I mean by this?

You Need Pow!

Let’s say your topic is the ToughBolt Corporation’s new marketing campaign.  Do not start this way:

“Good morning, how is everyone doing?  Good.  Good!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’d like to thank our great board of directors for the opportunity.  I’m Dana Smith and this is my team, Bill, Joe, Mary, and Sophia.  Today, we’re planning on giving you a marketing presentation on ToughBolt Corporation’s situation.  We’re hoping that—”

No . . . no . . . and no.

Direct and to-the-point is best. Pow!

Try starting this way:

“Today we present ToughBolt’s new marketing campaign — a campaign to regain the 6 percent market share lost in 2011 and increase our market share.  By another 10 percent.  A campaign to lead us into the next year to result in a much stronger and competitive market position.”

You see?  This is not the best intro, but it’s solid.  No “random facts.”  No wasted words.  No metaphorical throat-clearing.

No backing into the presentation, and no tiptoeing.

You have set the stage for a powerful business presentation.

Put the Pow into Your Powerful Business Presentation!

Now, let’s add some Pow to it.  A more colorful and arresting introductory Situation Statement might be:

“As we sit here today — right now —  changes in our industry attack our firm’s competitive position three ways.  How we respond to these challenges now will determine Toughbolt’s future for good or ill . . . for survival . . . or collapse.  Our recommended response?  Aggressive growth.  We now present the source of those challenges, how they threaten us, and our marketing team’s  solution to regain Toughbolt’s position in the industry and to continue robust growth in market share and profitability.”

Remember in any story, there must be change.  The reason we give a case presentation is that something has changed in the company’s fortunes.

We must explain this change.  We must craft a response to this change.

And we must front-load our introduction with Pow! to include our recommendation.

That’s why you have assembled your team.  To explain the threat or the opportunity.  To provide your analysis.  To recommend action!

Remember, put Pow into your beginning.  Leverage the opportunity when the audience is at its most alert and attentive.  Right at the start.

Craft a Situation Statement that grabs them and doesn’t let go.

For more on putting the Pow! into powerful business presentations, have a look here.

How to Start Your Presentation

Powerful presentations require powerful openings -- a grabber, or a hook
Blast into the mind . . . start your presentation with a hook or grabber, a lead sentence that seizes your audience’s attention.

Some experts estimate that you have an initial 15 seconds – maybe 20 – to hook and hold your audience as you start your presentation.

And with a kaleidoscope of modern-day distractions, you face an uphill battle.  In that short window of less than a minute, while they’re sizing you up, you must blast into their minds.

Get them über-focused on you and your message.

So how do you go about hooking and reeling in your audience in those first crucial seconds?

Start your Presentation with Explosives

Think of your message or your story as your explosive device.  To set it off properly, so it doesn’t fizzle, you need a detonator.

This is your “lead” or your “grabber.”

Your “hook.”

This is your detonator for blasting into the mind.

This is a provocative line that communicates to your listeners that they are about to hear something uncommon.  Something special.

Start your presentation with this provocative line, and you create a desire in your audience to hear what comes next.  The next sentence . . . and the next . . . until you are deep into your presentation and your audience is with you stride-for-stride.

But they must step off with you from the beginning.  You get them to step off with you by blasting into the mind.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you very much . . .”

You don’t blast into the mind with a stock opening like this:

“Thank you very much, Bill, for that kind and generous introduction.  Friends, guests, associates, colleagues, it’s a real pleasure to be here tonight with so many folks committed to our cause, and I’d like to say a special hello to a group of people who came down from Peoria to visit with us here this evening, folks who are dedicated to making our world a better place, a more sustainable world that we bequeath to our children and our children’s children.  And also a shout-out to the men and women in the trenches, without whose assistance . . .”

That sort of thing.

Folks in your audience are already checking their email.  In fact, they’re no longer your audience.  And you’ve heard this kind of snoozer before, far too many times.

Why do people talk this way?  Because it’s what they’ve heard most of their business lives.  You hear it, you consider it, you shrug, and you think that this must be the way it’s done.

You come to believe that dull, monotone, stock-phrased platitudes comprise the secret formula for giving a keynote address, an after-dinner speech, or a short presentation.

You believe that a listless audience is natural.

Not at all!  The key is to do a bit of mind-blasting as you start your presentation!

Mind-Blasting

You must blast into their minds to crack that hard shell of inattention.  You must say something provocative, but relevant.  You must grab your listeners and keep them.  You must arrest their attention long enough to make it yours.

Something like this:

“The gravestone was right where the old cobbler said it would be . . . at the back of the overgrown vacant lot.  And when I knelt down to brush away the moss and dirt, I could see my hand trembling.  The letters etched in granite became visible one by one.  My breath caught when I read the inscription–”

Or this . . .

“There were six of them, my back was against the hard brick wall, and let me tell you . . . I learned a hard lesson–”

Start your Presentation
The opening of your business presentation should be explosive . . . metaphorically speaking, of course

Or this . . .

“I was stupid, yes stupid.  I was young and impetuous.  And that’s the only excuse I have for what I did.  I will be ashamed of it for the rest of my life–”

Or this . . .

“At the time, it seemed like a good idea . . . but then we heard the ominous sound of a grinding engine, the trash compactor starting up–”

Or this . . .

“She moved through the crowd like shimmering eel cuts the water . . .    I thought that she must be a special woman.  And then I knew she was when she peeled off her leather jacket . . . and, well–”

You get the idea.  Each of these mind-blasters rivets audience attention on you.  Your listeners want to hear what comes next.  Of course, your mind-blaster must be relevant to your talk and the message you plan to convey.  If you engage in theatrics for their own sake, you’ll earn the enmity of your audience, which is far worse than inattention.

So craft an initial mind-blaster to lead your audience from sentence to sentence, eager to hear your next one.

And you will have succeeded in hooking and holding your listeners in spite of themselves.

For more on how to start your presentation, consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.