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The Difference between a Good Presenter and a Poor One
Take two Democrats of the same generation with similar political views and similar character issues. One becomes the first man in his party to win reelection in fifty years -- despite a sex scandal that later leads to his impeachment trial. The other, after two terms in Congress, can't get elected dogcatcher. Whatever you think of the politics of Bill Clinton and Gary Condit, most people would agree that both behaved inappropriately during crucial moments in their professional lives. Yet Clinton, despite years of jokes and innuendo, managed to walk the fine line between political success and historical infamy (at least while he was in office). By contrast, in the course of one short year, Condit transformed himself before the entire world from a respected congressman to a walking synonym for "unredeemable cad." As is the case for us all, their presentations made a big difference.
Earlier, Clinton's defeat of President George H. W. Bush may have been mostly about "the economy, stupid," but it also seemed obvious to me at the time that Bush did not present himself or his ideas in a completely effective manner. Remember the "town hall" debate of that campaign? Clinton was completely engaged with his audience, hanging on every word, while Bush kept checking his watch -- as if he had an appointment that was more important than getting reelected president. Here's a hint that you don't need to read a whole book to learn: If you blatantly peek at your watch during your own presentation, you may have instantly jeopardized any rapport you already established with your audience. History shows that Clinton "won" that debate -- and that single sub-par performance on Bush's part might well have sealed his own one-term fate.
Clinton might have been more of a natural with people, but you can't tell me that a man who was as capable as Bush was in other respects had to look at his watch or do the many other things he did to alienate his audience. Despite Bush's excellent qualifications for reelection, if you review that tape you'll see a man who often speaks at his audience, not to them; who looks uncomfortable in their presence; who rarely involves his audience by redirecting attention to them and taking it off himself; who is not "up" for the moment; and who makes very few adjustments to his approach in order to retain his audience's focus. Somebody failed to sharpen this candidate's presentation skills.
As president, Ronald Reagan became known as the "Great Communicator." He earned this reputation by being the first president in modern times to stay relentlessly "on message" whenever he spoke, in public or in private. You may or may not have agreed with his political views (or, for that matter, with those of Clinton or Bush), but unlike our experience with most other politicians, we always knew where Reagan stood.
Bill Clinton was something different altogether. To the great frustration of his opponents, Clinton proved to be an excellent presenter, even if at times he quite intentionally was not very communicative. How can that be? Because communication and presentation may frequently overlap, but they are not necessarily the same thing. For the purpose of my work and this book, I define presentation as the act of working to change the content of another person's mind at a particular time and place. Note that I said "to change the content of another person's mind," not "to change another person's mind." The latter has the connotation of getting a person or persons to alter their opinion. But a presentation might do the opposite. It might reinforce someone's opinion. Or it might have nothing to do with your audience's beliefs and simply impart information. Or it might spur your audience to take action. In any case, if successfully executed, presentations fulfill desired outcomes in the presenter's audience -- by enhancing a skill, changing or reinforcing an attitude, or imparting information.
The upshot of all this is that, on some level, any time we have contact with another individual -- on the phone, in person, via e-mail or voice mail, etc. -- we are making a presentation, whether we like it or not. And Bill Clinton, for all his flaws, liked the presentation process and so became very good at it. George H. W. Bush, for all his strengths, clearly didn't enjoy making presentations. And here's the most important point to keep in mind: because Bush managed for so many years to succeed in life without achieving Presentation Mastery, he never felt compelled to build those skills. So when the necessity arose for him to step it up a notch, he had neither the time nor the inclination to do so. And the result for him was a less than satisfactory conclusion to his long political career.
Most of us are more like George H. W. Bush than we are like Bill Clinton. We were probably not born with natural charisma or the gift of gab. The very ubiquity of our presentation opportunities often makes us unaware that they exist as opportunities at all. They're just a part of our day that we don't think about, like walking or talking. Our walking has always gotten us to where we want to go, so why bother to work on improving it? We have areas of mastery in our lives -- perhaps the kinds of things we've learned in graduate school or in business training -- but when it comes to interpersonal skills we just presume that mere competence is enough. In a very real sense, then, the great opportunities we have to improve our lives through Presentation Mastery continually pass us by.
A lot of the people I know who are Master Presenters have achieved that status either by chance or because at some point they were forced to do so. In many cases they were corporate executives who learned -- before it was too late -- that their lack of presentation skills was holding them back. So they went for training or coaching. In some instances, as with many of my coauthor Kim's clients, they were requested to refine their presentation skills by a superior or a business partner who needed them to meet an important challenge. But the best story of this kind that I ever heard is about a man who had to learn how to present, literally in order to survive. His name is Bill Porter.
Presentation Is an Art
On a recent plane trip I sat next to a man who happened to be a professional chef. When we exchanged pleasantries and he learned how I make my living, he became excited to remark that a big part of what he does also involves presentation. From the compilation of colors and shapes on a diner's plate to the dress of the staff to the lighting and decoration, he noted, the quality of any restaurant patron's experience depends greatly on how well the chef has mastered the art of presentation. My plane companion had become so conversant in the art of restaurant presentation that he told me he could predict half of an unknown restaurant's menu simply by looking at the presentation of their parking lot and front entrance.
Art requires both skill and creativity. For the chef, creativity without skill might result in something beautiful to look at but not very appealing to eat. Skill without creativity could result in a well-executed dish that didn't make for a very interesting dining experience. But when he was able to elevate his vocation to an art, it meant that the chef's skill and creativity had joined forces. Beautiful things resulted.
Like the chef, a man named Bill Porter came to understand early on that the presentations in his life would require equal parts inspiration, skill, and hard work. And -- guess what? -- beautiful things resulted.
When he was still an infant in the early 1930s, Bill Porter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Though he later proved to be a man of normal intelligence, the doctor predicted that he would be mentally retarded and urged Bill's mother to have him institutionalized. In a pattern that would be repeated over many decades by Bill's parents and then by Bill himself, they ignored the doctor's advice and refused to accept defeat.
As related in the book Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter (written by his longtime friend and employee, Shelly Brady), Porter would go on to graduate from the Grout School for Handicapped Children in Portland, Oregon. More important, he then graduated from the mainstream Lincoln High School, an extremely unusual accomplishment for a physically challenged person of that era. But none of that could change the fact that Porter struggled with a very real and visible disability. At a particularly poignant stage in his life, Porter began looking for a career with the help of a counselor. This effort resulted in little more than a series of humiliations. A job as a pharmacy store clerk lasted less than a day because Porter's trembling hands would not allow him to stock the shelves neatly. A job as a Goodwill Industries cashier lasted three days because Porter's palsied fingers kept hitting the wrong keys. His physical limitations also brought a job at the Salvation Army docks to a prompt end. And his slurred speech soon lost him his job answering phones at the Veterans Rehabilitation Center. After five months of this kind of thing the counselor told Porter that the state considered him unemployable. He suggested that Porter stay home and collect disability payments.
Another person in Porter's position may have taken this advice to heart, but Porter knew deep down inside that he could be a productive member of society -- even if he couldn't tie his own shoes without difficulty or button his own shirt cuffs. A few years before, Porter had had some success as a door-to-door salesman for United Cerebral Palsy. He quit that job when he realized he couldn't make a living at it, though. The products were too limited and Porter got the impression that repeat customers were buying as much out of charity as for any other reason. He then tried to freelance for a while, purchasing gift items from a catalog and reselling them door-to-door for a marked-up price. In order to do that, Porter realized he had to create a unique presentation that would compensate for his communication disability. So he meticulously built his own catalog by cutting and pasting, then typing descriptions himself. As Shelly Brady notes: "He wanted to make sure that if verbal communication broke down between himself and his clients due to his speech impediment, the illustrated catalog would do the explaining for him." In other words, Porter -- like any good presenter -- had put a great deal of stock in preparation. Although that preparation paid off in a degree of success, Porter had begun looking for steadier work with a big employer when he met the string of failures mentioned above. When he realized that his physical limitations were too much to overcome in the field of manual labor, he again set his sights on becoming a salesman.
Having exhausted his patience with state counselors, Porter began combing the want ads himself. Naturally, this met with more rejection. Most times he didn't even get past the initial phone call. Then, one day, Porter landed an interview with a company called Watkins Products. "I know I can do this job," Porter confidently told the interviewer. "I've been successfully selling for the past ten years. It's in my blood. My father is a successful salesman. It almost doesn't matter what product I sell, customers enjoy buying from me."
I've never met Bill Porter. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him to deliver this speech at the end of a year of rejection and frustration and while trying to do the things that a non-handicapped person might take for granted: sitting still and upright, allowing his muscles to relax, and forming the words with his lips and tongue. All of these things require incredible amounts of effort for a person with cerebral palsy. Yet in this short speech Porter employed several techniques that are the hallmark of the Master Presenter, which we'll explore in later chapters. He put himself in a positive psychological state by opening with a statement that projected self-confidence: "I know I can do this job." Then he lent authority to that assertion by offering bona fides that the interviewer had to respect: "I've been successfully selling for the past ten years. It's in my blood. My father is a successful salesman." Finally, he used a technique called Future Pacing, essentially leading his audience to a picture of the outcome Porter intended to generate: "It almost doesn't matter what product I sell, customers enjoy buying from me."
Don't forget, we're talking about an event that happened in 1961, decades before disability laws, when tolerance for people who were "different" ebbed very low. Porter got his break, but prejudice being what it is, the sales manager assigned Porter to the worst, most hopeless territory in Portland, where people lived in dire poverty and the houses were falling down. And the poor man was working on commission! But more important to Bill Porter, he had himself a job. He packed his briefcase full of color brochures, hit the street at 9 a.m., and hasn't looked back since. Porter didn't sell a single item his first day on the job. But he took time to learn all he could about the Watkins product line and understood human nature enough to use Watkins's money-back guarantee as a major selling point. Eventually, he went on to become one of the top salesmen in the history of Watkins Products, and their top salesman ever in the Northwest. None of his colleagues, so far as I know, had to struggle with Porter's physical challenges. On the other hand, I'll bet that none of them made presentations as masterfully, either.
A Master Presenter
Bill Porter was an only child. When it became clear that, in the natural order of things, his father and mother would predecease him -- and that he was not capable of performing work that required manual dexterity -- he realized that becoming a Master Presenter was the only chance he had to live a dignified and independent life. What makes me so sure that Porter is a Master Presenter? I'll answer with another question. Tell me, what choice did a man in his position have? Bill Porter never went to college, so he couldn't become a professional. He might, I suppose, have become an office clerk of some kind. But having chosen to be a salesman, how could he possibly succeed if he allowed his presentation ability to cruise along at an average level? People with disabilities usually have to compensate somehow. Like the blind person who listens more attentively, Porter compensated for his weaknesses by building other strengths.
Amazingly, in order to succeed Bill Porter had to overcome one of the most powerful principles that help people connect with one another. As you'll learn in the next chapter, people overwhelmingly like folks who are like themselves and tend to distrust those who are different. Porter -- who walks hunched over, has limited use of his hands, and slurs his words -- was like very few people upon whose doors he knocked. To achieve success as a commissioned door-to-door salesman in this position required both monumental effort and complete mastery of presentation techniques.
This assertion is confirmed by some of the other elements of Porter's story. I believe it was the business consultant Tom Peters who once said of customer service, "You can pretend to care, but you can't pretend to be there." Shelly Brady tells the story of sitting outside in the sun with Porter at a resort in Palm Springs. They had just given a motivational talk and Brady was feeling relaxed when Porter began fretting about the customer messages that would be piling up on his answering machine. Brady tried to reassure him that his customers, who "are loyal to you," would await his return. "Exactly," Porter said. "Loyal to me, not an answering machine." Porter knows that making presentations is the heart of his business, and presentations by definition require some kind of one-to-one contact. (As we'll see later in the book, this is even true when you're presenting to a whole roomful of individuals.)
Another thing Porter knows is that appearances are a major factor behind one's success in life. He pays careful attention to grooming habits and the way he dresses. Since he can't easily perform some of these important tasks, he has gone out of his way to befriend the employees of a nearby hotel, who help him polish up by tying his shoes for him and buttoning his cuffs. Interestingly, Brady observes that the hotel's manager and lobby staff "had a good rapport with Bill, too. They all felt they were essentially in the same line of work -- pleasing their customers. Bill came to know them all personally; he learned about their birthdays, college applications, marriages, and children." As Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." In the course of his work, Brady reports, Porter has committed to memory the habits and personal preferences of more than 500 customers.
A further point of significance is that Porter never uses his master presentation skills as a means of manipulation. He never misleads his customers about his products and he even fastidiously corrects accounting errors down to the penny. Though it is clear that some of his customers have purchased from him more out of respect than necessity, he is never anything other than 100 percent honest and genuine. Is he persistent? You bet. And he understand that people have different preferred ways of communicating and being communicated to. As Brady writes, "I learned from Bill Porter that when someone says 'no' they are simply asking you to modify your proposal or change your delivery." Porter has always understood this principle and been willing to adjust his presentation, and he always approaches his audience with positive energy. Brady notes that she heard from some customers who told her that they "had placed orders with Bill on the spur of the moment because they liked his enthusiasm and upbeat attitude, but they later realized that they didn't need them. They just didn't know how to say 'no' to Bill."
In the afterword to Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter, the Master Presenter himself modestly offers this presentation advice:
Think about each person you meet each day of your life and what effect you might have upon them, for good or ill. It isn't always the big decisions that make a difference in our lives; more often it's the little ones. The extra smile or wave; calling a friend who is ill; going out of your way to help someone whether they ask or not. Each of you has the same opportunity to inspire others as I do, simply by living your life as best you can. People tell me that I have touched thousands of lives, but what I think is that hundreds and thousands of people have helped me. Thank you, each of you, and every time you ask yourself if you can make a difference, remember this answer: You bet you can.
Since Porter's story aired on ABC's 20/20 on Christmas Eve 1995 and was later dramatized in an HBO movie starring William H. Macy, there is no doubt that his perseverance and positive thinking have had an impact on many people. It's important that we all appreciate, however, that Porter's success as an independent individual who overcame hardship relies on more than his persistence and positive attitude. It also depends greatly on the skills he learned and honed. Among these was his ability to become a Master Presenter. As one of his many fans wrote: "I once read that the quality of one's life is not measured by the things one acquires, but by the lives one touches." To touch lives in this sense means not simply to bump into people, but to get through to them.
Remember this: Every time you touch a life you are making a presentation. Read on and become prepared. Don't get caught looking at your watch!
Your Life Is a Series of Presentations
You know all those twelve-step programs that will cure you of your substance abuse or emotional addictions? First, they always tell you, you have to recognize that you have a problem. This book isn't like that. For one thing, there are only eight steps, and the eight steps aren't actually steps at all, which means you don't need to work through all of them to begin improving, and you don't have to do them in order, either. But most important to understand is that the first step is not to acknowledge that you have a problem, because you don't have a problem -- you have an opportunity. So...
First admit that you have an opportunity.
We, the authors of this book, are equal opportunity explorers. The opportunity we've discovered comes along at least once a day. More frequently, it arises a hundred times a day, even if you're not a door-to-door salesman like Bill Porter. It wears many hats and uses many guises. It drops into your home and visits where you work, where you shop, and where you play. Like any true opportunity, this one is only of value if you seize it. It is the opportunity to make an impression on someone -- and to do so in a way that might just slightly improve your life, as well. And if you seize every opportunity, it can improve your life much more than slightly. It can improve it exponentially.
Imagine yourself as a typical American woman of normal intelligence and average appearance. You went to college and used to punch the clock in an office, but now you're working part-time in order to spend more quality hours with your one and a half children. Yes, No. 2 is due in four months! Since your husband is a freelancer, you took a job for twenty hours a week as a barista at Starbucks. Even though you're overqualified, you need the health insurance, and how many part-time jobs does anyone know of with these kinds of perks?...pardon the pun. Besides, you love the coffee and it's the one stimulant you're allowed a little of in your present condition.
The alarm clock rings at 4:30 A.M. Ugh! You've got the opening shift. Your husband, Hal, gives you the hairy eyeball. You can scowl back, but where would that get you? Your first presentation is a smile, a warm hand on Hal's shoulder, and a silently mouthed, "I'm sorry." Hal went to bed at midnight, so it's a near miracle that your initial presentation of the morning elicits a smile in return. On such exchanges are great marriages built.
After slathering toothpaste on your brush, you lift your eyes to the mirror and see a groggy-eyed, puffy-faced woman with a head that has witnessed a sustained visit from the Hair Fairy. You could allow this to depress you, but you're four months from giving birth and you know nature will have her way with your body no matter what you think. You decide to laugh it off by brushing your teeth in a silly way, as you did when you were a kid. You know this act will literally change your physiology, which will impact your mood in a positive way. You make yourself laugh as you watch this crazy, wild-haired woman mugging for the mirror, and just like that your second presentation of the day ends in a great success. Two for two and it's not even sunrise!
After showering you choose black slacks and a tan turtleneck that you know will suggest competence and professionalism when half-covered by the green apron of the barista. You shout a good-bye to your husband, who is now in the shower. Just as you grab your bag to go, however, the phone rings. It's your sister in New York, the one who is in the throes of a divorce. As usual, she is ranting about the latest stunt her soon-to-be ex has pulled. You glance at your watch -- it's okay to look at your watch when it's impossible for your audience to see you doing so. You don't have time for this, but you love your sister and feel her pain. Fortunately, you know your audience. In a sense, you have been preparing for this presentation all your life (in fact, you've been making this presentation all your life). You let your sister know that you really, really, really, really, really care, but you have to go or you'll lose your job and Hal will be delivering your baby instead of the doctor -- and no one even wants to try to picture that one. The first part sounds completely sincere, because it is. The second part makes your sister snicker, and the conversation ends with her just a little happier on the other end of the line. Mission accomplished.
When you turn to head for the garage, however, you are brought up short by a little person at the kitchen door. Your five-year-old son, Zach, heard the phone ring and is now up an hour early, rubbing his eyes and looking a tad forlorn. He starts to whine and cry, begging Mommy not to leave, and your options are these...You could start to cry, too, allowing his sadness to rule your mood. You could just turn and walk out the door, knowing his father will look after him. You could yell. You could even give him a spanking. None of these would be an effective presentation -- not if your goal is to get to work on time and leave behind a happy child. So you kneel down on the floor and take his little hands in yours, as you've done very many times before for comfort, a memory you hope to evoke in him now. You look into his eyes, which are already beginning to brighten. "You know, Zach, that Mommy sometimes has to go to work early," you say. "That's what I do so we can pay for all the fun times we have together, like going to the mall this afternoon and riding on the merry-go-round." "The merry-go-round? This afternoon? Yeah!" Despite the words, he's still pouting a little, but you can tell he'll soon be over it. Having carried your son to a better future with this presentation, you go forth to conquer your world.
In reality, you're a little nervous this morning, because you plan to ask the manager for a promotion from barista to assistant manager. You feel that you've performed well for the company over the past year, and while your background and experience probably would qualify you to manage a store yourself, you want to keep it part-time and you don't want to move to another location. In short, you're not a threat to this manager, only an asset. But she can be a little gruff and you really want this next big presentation to go well, because you could use the raise. You envision where this presentation will take place. Having a firm picture of it in your mind will remove some uncertainty and increase your confidence. Rather than do it in the confines of the manager's cramped office, you plan to try to sit down by the fireplace with a latte. The manager, you know, will have a mocha grande created by your own hand; she loves the way you make the mochas. Then you'll spring a little surprise on her, after which you'll ask for the promotion.
But first things first. You stride confidently into the store as you always do, greeting your colleagues by name -- the easiest two-second presentation ever invented, since people love to hear their own names. Then you're on to the dramatic presentation that is the barista's role: the clip, twist, hiss, pour. You look every customer in the eye and smile. Clip, twist, hiss, pour. You comment on the weather or compliment them on their tie or hat when you can. Clip, twist, hiss, pour. When you know a customer's name, you use it. When you are in command of other facts about them, you hold a brief conversation about their interests. Clip, twist, hiss, pour. There's a reason the manager gets more compliments about you than about any other employee, even more than for some baristas who have worked here for years. You know that life is a series of presentations, and you are up for the challenge.
When the morning rush ends and the store quiets down you clean your station and then spend a few minutes handing out coupons for an upcoming special offer. Before you know it, your shift is over. The manager is leaning against the counter, looking a little burnt out. You offer to fire up that mocha for her just as the table by the fireplace springs free. Clip, twist, hiss, pour. Already the manager, watching over your shoulder and taking in the aroma, has begun to relax. You maneuver over to the table in a way that positions her back near the warmth of the fireplace, just as you had planned. You give her the surprise: a paperback novel you bought that you know she'll love. It is received well -- perhaps the best eight bucks you've spent in a long while. As she rests one hand on the book and sips, you make your pitch for the promotion. She takes it pretty well, but wonders what's going to happen when you have the baby. Well, you explain, that's exactly why you want the promotion. Not only do you deserve it, but it will enable you to pay for the additional child care. The manager seems to like what she hears and says she'll think about it. That's fine. You knew this presentation would be an ongoing process.
You stop at the cleaners on the way home and ask to speak with the owner, who is a nice but unambitious man. You have a problem in the form of an upcoming wedding. You had two formal maternity gowns, but this man's business ruined one. You need to make sure that the one you're bringing in now can not only be ready for the party but treated with extra TLC. You don't want to have to buy any more maternity clothes, if you can help it. Rather than berate the owner for the ruined gown, you focus on the present, telling him that he's often done terrific work, that you really need his help, and that you're counting on him. Though you do mention the ruined dress in your presentation, you don't dwell on it. You're here to inspire, not to criticize. The owner picks up the cues. He is apologetic and promises to do right by you this time.
At home you sink into a comfortable desk chair and pop off four or five e-mails to friends and former business associates. You're just touching base, for the most part, but you're careful to make sure that you strike the appropriate tone with each recipient, because you realize that e-mails, too, are a form of presentation. Then you get to thinking about your sister. You'd like to make sure your mother isn't being too hard on her during the divorce. You'd rather not call just now, but an e-mail to your mother won't cut it either. So you decide to write a letter by hand, your mother being an old-fashioned lady.
A look at the clock and you see that it's time to go out and meet Zach's bus. It soon pulls up and the door swings open, followed by Zach bounding down the steps. In a brief conversation you thank the bus driver in advance for dropping Zach off at his friend's house tomorrow. You remember that the driver loves dogs and owns a boxer, so you ask after it and relate his answer to your own dog. Then a warm wave good-bye, and he's off again.
At the mall, you are waiting in line with Zach at the merry-go-round when you both spot his soccer coach. You've been preparing for this impromptu opportunity for a while, because Zach believes he isn't getting enough playing time and Hal, who can be a little hot-headed, just can't bring himself to raise the issue with the coach in a calm way. You start by mentioning that you've attended every game this season, establishing some authority, but quickly follow that with the observation that the coach has a difficult job and seems to be doing well with the kids. Then you tell him how much Zach loves soccer and, lowering your voice, note that he's been working really hard at it and hopes you'll soon give him a little more time on the field. The coach manages to take all this without seeming to receive it as criticism. As he departs, you're hopeful that your point got across to him.
Back home, Zach is off watching post-dinner TV when you decide to broach a sensitive subject with Hal. You've been thinking for a long time that the three of you should go on a short vacation before the baby comes. But you know this means having to plan last minute, which always makes Hal a little nervous. Rather than bring it up as an abstraction, you did the research and got the brochure on a great resort in Mexico that's having an early spring special. While Hal lingers over his favorite dessert -- Mississippi mud pie -- you slide the brochure across the table. When his eyebrows lift, you remind him how tough the first six months will be with a new baby and recall the romantic time you both had in that part of the world before Zach was born. You paint a word picture of the two of you spread out on the sand while Zach spends time in the excellent day camp the resort is said to have. "How much?" Hal wonders, and you have the answer on the tip of your tongue. It's cheap and you've already saved for it. The man is sold -- just pick a date. He finishes his mud pie with a big grin on his face.
Now the homeowner's association beckons. There's an issue of allowed paint colors, about which the association has historically been very strict. You'd like to add one itsy bitsy color to the palette, just for a little variety. Prior to the association meeting, you took the liberty of mailing a paint chip to each of the board members and some other opinion leaders, along with a stunning picture of a house in Colonial Williamsburg painted in that exact color. It's conservative and classy. After the mailing, you polled a few members of your audience by phone to see how they would react to the suggestion, so you've got a pretty good handle on the potential responses your proposal might receive in the actual meeting. Finally, you invited along the board chairman from a pricier neighborhood association down the road to report on the experience they had when they took up a similar proposal. By the time you're actually asked to speak, it's almost as if this presentation makes itself. The new color choice passes with a vote of acclamation.
At home at last for good, you snuggle on the couch with Hal, who put Zach to sleep before you returned. Darn it! You missed an opportunity to read a story to the boy. Hal tells you that he did and Zach went to bed imagining he was a pilot, soaring over the clouds. Hal, you figure, must have made a pretty good presentation himself....
How many presentations did you spot in this fictional woman's day? I counted -- well, a lot! Now take a look at your average day at work, at home, or around the neighborhood. Look for three types of presentations, the three I's.
The first type of presentation aims to Influence or persuade, bringing an audience around to one's point of view. George W. Bush's 2002 speech before the United Nations about Iraq falls into this category. So does convincing your family to wake up early on Saturday morning and go on a hike or getting your spouse to agree that it's time for new furniture. Our barista had several opportunities to persuade people during her day, asking for a promotion and trying to convince her husband to take a vacation, to name just two.
The second type of presentation is intended to Inspire. Many of Martin Luther King's speeches come easily to mind when we recall inspirational presentations. In your own life, you might think of what you would say in a eulogy at the funeral of a good friend. But I also think of the efforts of Bernie Marcus, cofounder of The Home Depot. His presentations were so inspirational that they often moved employees to tears. Now, getting people to cry for freedom is a great accomplishment -- but making them cry over hardware? That's got to bring presentation skills to a whole different order of magnitude!
But sometimes inspiration can be less grand. One might say that our barista had the opportunity to inspire her cleaner to get her dress done right this time. Rather than yelling, she took a more positive tack. Making people feel good about themselves is almost always a better motivator than fear.
The third type of presentation seeks to Inform. If that sounds dry, it can be. But consider the difference between your best college classes and your worst. The lecturer who presents well can get you to retain far more than the professor who drones on interminably.
Of course, many presentations combine two or all of these elements. When the barista presented to her homeowner's association, for instance, she wanted to change the minds of the board in order to allow another paint color. In order to do so, however, she employed techniques that both informed (by introducing a neighboring board member who could report on his experience) and inspired (by showing them the picture of Colonial Williamsburg).
Some opportunities to present are scheduled or planned, such as the barista's approaches to her husband about the vacation and to her boss about the promotion. In many cases, however, our presentations are impromptu. Depending upon what you do for a living and your hobbies, you can go weeks without having to make a planned presentation, but impromptu presentations arise on a daily basis, forcing us to think on our feet. Such was the case with the barista's presentation to the soccer coach.
Paradoxically, the key to a successful impromptu presentation is to be prepared long before the occasion arises. First, of course, we must recognize the kinds of presentation opportunities that will come up throughout our day. Then, we must build an arsenal upon which we can draw on the spur of the moment. Sometimes people almost subconsciously rehearse stressful scenarios, planning what they might say. Have you ever talked yourself out of a parking ticket? If so, there's a good chance that you had rehearsed this scenario to yourself many times before facing the actual situation. So your impromptu presentation had a degree of planning behind it.
Now that you've had time to count, how many presentations do you suppose you make in a day? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? And how many are you truly prepared for, viewing them not just as chores or meaningless moments but as opportunities to advance your life's agenda? All the above types of presentations, taken collectively, create the basis by which people form impressions of us. And impressions do matter! At the heart of this book lies the premise that we have more control over the impressions people form of us than we often realize. Too often we go through life like the blindfolded child swinging at a piñata. Just because we make contact and some candy falls out now and then doesn't mean we're really giving it our best whack. So let's resolve to take the blindfolds off, to make what we sometimes succeed at unconsciously into a conscious act.
The next two chapters reveal some of the hidden elements of presentations and how we influence people. Once we've brought these principles to light, we will be in a better position to create practices that will help us become successful presenters every day of our lives.
Copyright © 2004 by Tony Jeary High Performance Resources, LLC.
Live and Learn...and Share It All
Sometimes, in rare quiet moments, I sit around and wonder about the presentations that have shaped our world: King Solomon delivering his
verdict in the most famous custody dispute in human history, Jesus testifying before Pontius Pilate, Henry V urging on his troops at Agincourt, the future Elizabeth I begging Queen Mary to spare her life in the aftermath of a Protestant plot, Thomas Jefferson exhorting his patriotic brethren to fight for their freedom, John F. Kennedy inspiring a generation to reach the moon, and Martin Luther King, Jr., motivating a million people on the Mall in Washington to fulfill his dreams of equality. Often these presentations have pertained to matters of life and death for masses of people. In some cases they have even decided the fate of the presenters themselves.
I sincerely hope you never have to make a presentation with your life
hanging in the balance.More likely you think of your presentations as less threatening moments in the work week when you have to get up in front of a group. (If the audience is big enough, you may be so nervous that you want to die, but that's another matter.) Maybe you have to pitch a product to your sales reps or, if you are a rep yourself, to a roomful of customers. Perhaps you're an executive or manager who has to present the company direction to a set of employees or a chief executive who has to make quarterly presentations to her board of directors. If you're reading this you probably have some kind of preconceived notion about what it means to make a presentation. It's a formal occasion in a conference room, lots of chairs, a few sleepy colleagues, or maybe even a sea of faces staring up at you. White boards. Overhead projectors. PowerPoint slides. Coffee and danishes on the side table. A printed agenda. Right?
Well, yes, sort of. Frequently, presentations do contain those things.
And, in similar fashion, frequently a movie contains music. But does the
absence of music mean that it's not a movie? No, of course not. So the
absence of an overhead projector doesn't mean it's not a presentation.
Making presentations isn't about the props. It's about the context. I have learned this over the years, and I think most people know it in their hearts, even if they don't spend a lot of time thinking about what exactly constitutes a presentation.
In the most literal sense, I make presentations for a living. I speak
before groups of people, sometimes thousands at a time, almost every
day.And I get paid to do this, so you might think of me as a professional presenter. But what if I told you that those presentations are only a fraction of the number of presentations I deliver in a day? In fact, when I talk to large groups on my subject of expertise, I often begin by asking the audience how many presentations they make in a twenty-four-hour period. Usually these men and women are from the ranks of management, so their first thought is of the laser pointers and the other toys, of the sales calls and the pitches to colleagues. One or two a day might be their initial answer. But then, with a little prompting, a thought begins to dawn on them. What exactly is a presentation, anyway? Is a presentation defined by the size of the group and the coldness of the room, or is it defined by what you are trying to accomplish at that moment?
As the light of recognition begins to shine in the eyes of my audience,
they reevaluate their initial answer. Maybe every time they formally communicate to a superior or customer, that's a presentation -- meaning they make presentations dozens of times a day. Maybe every time they need to win a colleague over to their point of view over the phone or by e-mail is a presentation -- meaning they make presentations scores of times a day. Maybe every time they attempt to convince anybody, anywhere, of anything -- in business, at home, on the phone, in person, one-on-one, or in groups -- that's a presentation. In which case, they might actually make hundreds of presentations a day!
Your life is full of opportunities. And these opportunities are a reflection of the choices you make daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly. I'd even say your life consists of the choices you make every minute. Do I get up when the alarm clock rings or do I stay in bed late this morning? Do I go for the bacon and eggs or do I eat the bran cereal? Do I kiss my child before I put him on the bus or do I scowl at him because I haven't had my coffee yet? For that matter, do I allow my mood at this very moment to be dictated by the presence or absence of a cup of java?
Your success in life depends upon how you approach the millions of opportunities before you. The person who sleeps late every morning, for example, might be well rested, but she surely isn't going to be the early bird catching the worm. For the purposes of this discussion, though, I'm not concerned with whether sleeping late is a good choice. I'm more interested in one particular type of frequent opportunity: your chance to make an impression upon people who will affect the course of your life. What I spend my time teaching smart people just like you is that they don't even realize the opportunities they miss every day by not stopping to think about their presentation strategy. And this is a significant loss to all aspects of their well-being, from their monetary success to their personal happiness.
Unless you're a hermit living on a mountaintop, your life largely consists of your interactions with the people around you. In the office, unless you're everyone's boss, you can't choose all your colleagues (in fact, it's more likely you haven't chosen any of them).You can't usually pick your superiors. And rarely can you choose your customers.Yet all these people hold tremendous sway over your daily progress through the workday and, as important, the ultimate success of your career. So you might not have chosen to work with them, but -- consciously or not -- you would like to have a degree of power over how much you can sway them.
In our personal lives, we often have more influence over those people
with whom we surround ourselves, but even then we cannot assume complete control of their moods or thoughts. If a person in the family unit does not wish to cooperate in the family's daily activities, that's going to affect all their happiness. If the members of a family cannot convince one another to behave in compatible ways, then they're all going to be miserable.
Think about some of the opportunities you have every day to win people over to the thoughts and actions that will help you improve your own life.Your son doesn't want to put his clothes on for school, and if he persists much longer you'll be late for work. You've got too much to
accomplish at the office, so you desperately need to convince your boss
to allow you to hire an assistant. At lunchtime you want to talk a clerk
into letting you return a brand-new VCR to the store, even though you
lost the receipt. On the way, you're pulled over by a police officer for failing to make a full stop before turning right on red, and you'd really like to be sent on your way without a ticket.
Imagine how much your time on earth would improve if you could prevail at most of these crucial moments. Not a single one of them may change the entire course of your life, but winning that other person over to your point of view with regularity almost certainly will help take you where you want to go. The way in which we present our thoughts and ideas to people -- from our colleagues at work to our spouse and even the person waiting on us at the grocery store -- could have a profound effect on the shape of our own lives. So one sure way to accomplish the things we want to accomplish is to improve our success rate in these kinds of circumstances. If we can do that, then we can advance the quality of our existence. Because, as I like to say, life is a series of presentations. Mastery of the art of making presentations takes us closer to the outcomes we desire. It also provides a powerful confidence boost that will guarantee you more success in all aspects of your life.
Never thought of it that way? Take heart. It's not your fault!
Contact with Impact
Whenever I have the opportunity, I ask educators in the Dallas area,
where I live, what kind of instruction they offer their students in the art of presenting. I've asked this of university professors, and I've asked it of high school principals.As parents, we all want our children to have confidence in their abilities and possess high self-esteem, so I asked the head of my two girls' elementary school this question as well. The best answer he could think of was speech class, which is for children with pronunciation issues!
Of course a kid with a speech impediment should get special attention,
but what about helping the rest of us be all that we can be? The fact is that our formal education systems usually lack any instruction in the
more practical skills of life. But I'm not talking about reinstituting
defunct home economics classes. Rather, I am confronted every single
day with intelligent, well-educated, and often exceptional people -- my
clients or people who work for them -- who have never been offered one
iota of information about what should be the fourth pillar after reading, writing, and arithmetic. I call it presentation skills, but we might as easily call it people skills. As my friend and colleague Jim Rohn -- a motivational speaker, author, and business philosopher -- has said: "It's not the matter you cover so much as it is the manner in which you cover it."
In the course of my life, I've had the privilege of getting to know many
interesting folks, not a few of them people of great accomplishment. I've met and trained famous entrepreneurs and politicians and the executives, presidents, and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Some of these people had enough God-given talent to sell sand to a desert nomad. Most of them -- however they came to it -- had the ability to connect well with the people around them and frequently to win colleagues and customers over to their point of view. But the interesting thing is that these men and women weren't necessarily all that much better at this than their closest rivals. In most cases, in fact, they were just marginally better than their colleagues at some of the skills that define great communicators. Did that small difference really matter? You bet it did.
In this book you'll learn about what my organization calls the Presentation Impact Curve, which suggests that incremental improvements in presentation skills will pay disproportionate dividends with regard to your influence upon others. By being just a little bit better than their peers, the successful individuals I know achieved enormous results. And if I had to write a profile of each of those people who were successful, I could probably explain to you exactly how their presentations differ from those made by millions of equally smart and well-intentioned workers who never could seem to achieve their own highest ambitions.
In corporate America, awareness of the value of presentation skills to
business success is just breaking the surface. In the not-too-distant past, most of my clients were the top executives at major companies -- people who often had to speak to large groups of employees and shareholders, or those who often found themselves in front of the media. Or they were teams of sales professionals trying to get an edge with their customers. Today, by contrast, my clients increasingly appreciate the importance of presentation skills at every level of their organization. Wal-Mart, for example, has 98,000 managers apart from the top executives in the home office. If those managers can't motivate or communicate well to their teams, the efficiency and responsiveness of the entire organization -- 1.4 million employees -- suffers.
As more and more top executives come to recognize the crucial role
of efficient personal communication throughout their companies, I
believe they will begin to institutionalize the ongoing learning and refinement of the important skills we'll talk about in this book. The greatest manager of his generation, Jack Welch of General Electric, used to say he considered himself a teacher -- a job that is largely about presentation, when you consider it. In similar fashion, Steve Jobs of Apple computers and Bill Gates of Microsoft may be old rivals, but they have many traits in common. Both men, I believe, are at the leading edge of a movement toward increasing involvement by chief executives in the presentation skills that they hope will permeate their corporations. Jobs and Gates have changed their official titles in the past couple of years. If they keep to the paths they've chosen, I believe they may soon come to refer to themselves as the chief presentation officer (CPO) of their respective companies. Acknowledgment of the importance of the CPO role may represent the next phase of the so-called Learning Organization.
But no individuals should wait for their bosses, seeking a corporate
edge, to give them an advantage in their own day-to-day lives. The historical references that I opened with are just a few among thousands of stories I might find where great presentation skills have already made the difference between success and also-ran status. Where did Elizabeth I and Henry V and JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., acquire their presentation abilities? Some of the greatest leaders in history certainly may have possessed extraordinary talents, but I strongly believe that delivering good presentations requires more skill than talent. What makes me so sure? I now earn my living making presentations, yet I was once just about the worst presenter you could ever want to hear!
Bounce When You Hit Bottom
If you have attended one of my seminars for corporate executives, you
might find my background a little surprising. The people I've helped
often have advanced degrees and work at the top echelons of American
business. They've attended the best colleges and training courses and benefited from the advice of the greatest consultants in the world, and now they run things at such companies as Ford,Wal-Mart, and New York Life. As for me, I've read and studied thousands of works. The foundations of my program rest firmly on a core of book knowledge, as well as life experience. My story, I think, is relevant to the enterprise at hand.
About forty years ago, I was born into a middle-class family in Oklahoma
City.We lived in a nondescript house not unlike millions of modest
houses you find in the hardworking neighborhoods of any American
town. My father's father was a small-time entrepreneur with his own
candy route.My mother's father, Cliff Smalley, started his own car detailing business in 1943 (a bad hand kept him out of World War II), and my father later went to work for him. Including my younger brother, Randy, we were a happy family. I went to public school until the fifth grade, then to nondenominational Christian schools, then to a Catholic high school. I learned to make God the priority in my life, and that is still true today.
But what distinguished me, I guess, was having two grandparents and
parents who lived by their entrepreneurial instincts.All I knew my whole
life was to be an entrepreneur, to serve people, and, ultimately, to be
blessed to earn a whole lot of money. My family never quite achieved the
last part. But the family business, the Auto Beauty Shop, did perform well enough to keep us all very well fed. Dealers would send us cars to be spotlessly cleaned, and my father, my grandfather, and even my grandmother would work right alongside a group of hardworking men and
women six days a week, doing the same car-cleaning chores as their
employees without regard to economic status or race, at a time when
people had strong feelings about both.
After watching this activity while growing up, all I ever wanted to do
was work. I started mowing yards when I was ten or twelve, and pretty
soon I was holding down three jobs. At one job, I was making $20 per
hour when kids my age were normally making $2 doing other things. I
worked for Target stores, assembling bicycles at night for $5 per bike. They'd lock me in the store a couple of nights a week and I'd just crank
those things out, putting together four bikes an hour and sleeping little. I also worked as a photographer for an insurance company, taking pictures of houses to document them for coverage. And, of course, I helped out at the Auto Beauty Shop. Somehow I made it to school regularly, but my main focus was raking in the bucks -- and finding ways to spend them. By the time I was sixteen I owned a '66 Mustang, a '48 Chevy pickup, and a '77 Monte Carlo.
In 1979, before I even graduated from high school, my grandfather
agreed to sell me the 49% of his business that he had not already sold to my father. I had my grub stake, and I was going to work like a dog to
make it pay off. I woke up before dawn every morning to go pick up the
expensive cars from the dealers. Before sunup, I would be driving brandnew Ferraris down deserted streets, minimizing the chance of any mishaps. Then I would work alongside my employees, just as my father and
grandparents had, and I'd return the cars the next morning.
I got to know the dealers really well, and one day the manager of the
Cadillac dealership, a fellow named Keith Wadley, called me aside. "Son,
you're working too hard with your hands," he told me. "You're too smart
for that. You need to be using your mind, not your hands."
That simple observation hit me like a strike of lightning from heaven. My dad had been a server. All his life, he had served people with his
hands. I was going to do it differently. I would serve people with my
mind. So I worked just as hard as ever cleaning cars and managing the
Auto Beauty Shop, but I soon began making time for investing in and
building businesses, too. In all honesty, I was manic about it. Within three years I owned a residential leasing company, a building company, a grocery store, two lakes for potential development, an office building, and small parts of two banks. At the peak of my fortune in the mid-1980s I had two homes, a chauffeur, six cars, and many of the other possessions of a wealthy man. But in 1986, oil suddenly dropped from $40 to $10 per barrel and Congress changed the laws of depreciation to make real estate speculation far less attractive. My highly leveraged empire collapsed like a cornstalk after a hard frost.
Within a year I was destitute. I had gone from having several million
dollars to a negative $500,000 net worth in a matter of months. The foreclosures and lawsuits were coming so fast and furious that I had to marry my wife with a sort of reverse prenuptial agreement -- one that would protect her against my creditors.At the worst point I lay in bed for three days, contemplating suicide. Those days were so painful that I never revisit the details, even now. I didn't know what to do, but I had to move on. My wife, Tammy, and I packed up our one remaining car and headed for Dallas to try and start a new life. I thought about taking a spin past the now-shuttered Auto Beauty Shop, but the idea was too discouraging. I just hit the gas pedal and resolved not to look back.
Pretty soon I had scraped up a few bucks to start another business. I
was mowing lawns for the first time as an adult, working alongside a small crew that I had assembled. But this time they weren't lawns in my own modest childhood neighborhood -- they were the lawns of rich people. I figured that maybe I could meet someone in these upscale areas who
might help me find a new opportunity and again steer my business life in
the direction of success. Day after day I went home to the bathroom of
our tiny apartment and washed the grime off my calloused hands with
the words of Keith Wadley echoing through my head: "You need to be
using your mind, not your hands.
"But how? I had so few dollars left to employ -- all I had were those two hands and what I retained between my ears. I thought there must be a way to leverage what I knew, both my good and my bad experiences.
While I worked I wondered how many of the people in all those great
houses had made it big by doing the same. And whenever I saw a client,
I'd tell him or her the story of how a multimillionaire from Oklahoma
City came to be mowing lawns in the suburbs of Dallas.
Then, one day, sure enough, I went to pick up the monthly check at a
client's house. I had become casually friendly with this fellow over the
months, and I had told him my story, as I had done to a hundred others.
This time, he invited me in for a cup of coffee, we chatted for a few minutes, and he gave me a tip that would change my life. He said that -- never mind my spectacular flameout -- my experience at having achieved quick success could make me a hot commodity on the rapidly growing seminar circuit. He invited me to attend a seminar on computers with him, which shortly led to an introduction to the event's promoter.
I had a lot of respect for the seminar world. I had rounded out my
hard-knocks education with dozens of visits to seminars, the best of
which I found far more efficient communicators of information than an ordinary classroom education. After hearing my story, the promoter,
whose name was Gary Cochran, told me I had far more life-experience
than most of the seminar speakers he had represented. He agreed to give
me a shot, and before I knew it he had scheduled me in dozens of cities.
Now, you have to know a little bit about the seminar business to
appreciate the impending disaster. In those days, no one paid admission
for seminars. Everyone involved made their living off the sales of books
and other paraphernalia in the back of the room. Gary would spend
thousands of dollars getting people to attend. It was the speaker's job to inspire them to buy stuff. If the audience didn't visit the table at the back of the room, then nobody involved in producing the seminar would eat.
I wish I remembered my first presentation like it was yesterday. But
the reality is that I've blocked most of it out -- it has receded into the fog of humiliation. I'm not even sure of the exact topic: something along the lines of how to achieve one's financial goals. What I do recall is how confident I felt before the event. Unlike so much of the seminar talent in those days, I knew I was the real thing -- or had been. I wouldn't be speaking theoretically about how to grow wealthy; I had done it on a grander scale than many people ever dared dream of. (Even the bad luck that followed would have lessons people could take away.) I had invested dozens of hours in slick overhead transparencies that would drive home the points of my presentation. I had bought a brand-new suit and tie on my wife's credit card. My shoes were polished and I was ready to rock and roll.
The promoter had efficiently booked me into a dozen cities, and the
first gig was an appearance in the ballroom of some mid-level hotel in
downtown Seattle. I strutted into the cavernous room with my notes and
slides tucked under my arm in a manila folder. Looking up for the first
time, I suddenly discovered that Gary had done his job too well. There
must have been close to a thousand people in the room. To me, it felt like a million. I haltingly introduced myself and, throwing the first slide up, began to speak. I had spent ten years building an empire, only to go broke, I explained in all sincerity. Now, as I urged them to do, I had decided not to build a business but to build myself. This was not hocuspocus, I thought. I could really bring value to the people in this audience. But if so, why were they tittering in the background? I looked out at them in desperation. To my nerve-blinded eyes they were a monolith, an expanse of incommunicative faces. Somehow, as I droned on, I began to discern that a few hands had gone up, as if trying to throw me a lifeline. They didn't wish to be called upon, though; they were pointing at the screen behind me. I had placed my transparency on the projector upside down!
I'd like to say that that was the low point of my new career as a presenter, but such a statement wouldn't even come close to being accurate. In fact, that moment wasn't even the low point of that day! I continued to fumble along, adrift at the head of the room, completely detached from my audience and, through my awkwardness and ineptitude, putting the lie to my very real life-experiences and the lessons they ought to have taught. But what else could I do? I was passively carried along by the inertia of the moment, which had taken me away from any tangible connection to my audience or the material I was presenting. People weren't just laughing at my slides anymore; they were doing something much worse. They were laughing at me -- and they were beginning to walk out of the ballroom.
rThat two-hour train wreck of a seminar was the first of many presentations I made that year that ended in utter failure and humiliation. I don't think I sold a single book or tape in Seattle. And if Gary earned back his expenses on me that first year it had to be a miracle. But, though I was humbled, I also remained determined. I wasn't going to mow lawns for the rest of my life and I had to find a way to pay for that new suit! I trudged through forty cities that year, and after each appearance Gary and I went back to the hotel room to do the postmortem. I also began studying everything I could get my hands on that might improve my presentation skills. I read hundreds of books about public speaking and related topics, watched scores of videos, and attended dozens of seminars to observe and quantify how the masters made excellent presentations. And eventually I began to improve. Then I built upon that improvement. Today, with all due modesty, I am one of the most accomplished presentation coaches in the country. But that result didn't drop from outer space. It came from study and plain old hard work.
The Foundations of Great Presentations
There will always be a little bit of art behind regular presentation success, and we can't control the amount of talent God gives us. But I firmly believe that being a successful presenter involves more craft than talent. In my studies I have identified skills and techniques that run like indelible themes through the lives of successful presenters. No one comes into the world with skills and techniques. They have to be taught and they can usually be learned by anyone with the will to learn them.
I know that it's true, because I learned them myself. In addition, my
coauthor Kim Dower, who makes her living as a media coach, has taught
similar skills to hundreds of high achievers. Her clients are often experts in their field, but they need help in front of a camera or an audience. Often after only a few days or even hours, they leave her office with their pitches much more polished than when they entered it.
Kim and I met at the American Bookseller's Convention in Los Angeles
a few years ago. Her company, Perfect Pitch Productions, was conducting
a raffle that offered a free coaching session, and she ended up pulling my card out of the fish bowl. As we got to talking, we realized that we shared many views on the value of presentations, especially an understanding that Presentation Mastery is perhaps the least commonly known factor in people's professional and personal success.
One day, Kim and I were talking about all the ways presentation
excellence can improve a person's day-to-day life and the fact that all
people are continually presenting to one another throughout the day. We
compared stories that we've heard from our individual clients about how
the techniques that we teach them for specific presentations have also
helped them in their personal lives. We were amazed to find that, although Kim and I work with very different types of clients, the overwhelming similarity is that everything they learn from us rolls over into other aspects of their lives and makes them feel more confident in everything they do. Then Kim looked at me and said, "The truth is, Tony, life is a series of presentations." When she said that I knew I had to solicit her help in writing my first big book. And we soon set out down that long and arduous road.
After a while, Joel E. Fishman was introduced to us by our agent. Joel
is not only a writer and former editor, he is also a retail business owner. He found our proposed title, Life Is a Series of Presentations, to be one of the most intuitive ideas he'd heard in a long career in the book business.
So our writing team consists of a lifelong entrepreneur and presentation
expert, a media trainer, and a business owner and writer. Collectively
we have a great deal of life-experience and the expert knowledge needed
to help you benefit most from this book. Each in our own way, we all live by the author Harvey McKay's brilliantly simple advice: "Do what you love, love what you do, and deliver more than you promise."
You don't have to read a thousand books or watch nearly as many
videos to learn to be a great presenter. I have read them all and I have
studied the techniques that universally distinguish good presenters from
bad. I have been honing the presenter's craft for more than fifteen
years -- not only my own approach to presenting, but the skills of many
thousands of others whom I've trained and coached. These people knew that having sharper presentation skills would enhance their credibility
and respect, which would get more audience buy-in for the points they
needed to get across. Few of these people intended to earn a living by
making presentations per se. All who applied my practices, however,
have improved their outcomes, learning to be more comfortable, confi-
dent, and effective when the occasion arises to make a presentation. And, as I mentioned earlier, these opportunities arise many times each and every day.
Throughout this book, I use the word "audience" a great deal. You
may be in the habit of thinking of an audience as a large group of people attending a formal presentation or performance. In common usage, you would be right, but one of our main points is to help you understand that when anyone tries to inspire, inform, or influence anyone else, that's a presentation. This means that an audience may be as small as one person. So when I use the word audience throughout this book, it may refer to a group of any size or it may refer to a single individual.
I strongly believe that anyone who seeks success in life's endeavors --
at work or in other contexts -- will benefit tremendously from the Eight
Essential Practices of Successful Presenters that you'll find here. If you end up agreeing, I urge you to pass this book along to your friends, so they can benefit too. And if you work for or own any kind of collaborative enterprise -- large or small -- I encourage you to expose your associates to this book, as well. I know it will make your company function better, because I have seen this with my own eyes in countless situations. It's not overstating the case to assert that Presentation Mastery is the single biggest key to professional success and personal power, and this is true no matter your background or education level.
Life Is a Series of Presentations is the culmination of the past decade
and a half of my work studying and helping others put into practice
the techniques for making great presentations.With the help of my coauthors, I will teach you that, while the differences between a good and bad presentation may seem intangible, many differences can in fact be quantified. For example, all people -- whether presenting to a conference or to their spouse -- must approach their task in a state of preparedness, must make others want to listen to them, and must then be responsive to their audience. These goals sound so simple. Why don't more folks achieve them? Well, it turns out that most people don't know the Eight Essential Practices of Successful Presenters that you'll learn in the second half of the book. To understand why these practices will be effective, however, you need to appreciate the three core concepts that I'll introduce in the first section: the psychology of persuasion and influence; the principles of Neurolinguistic Programming, which enables people to practice what is called Sensory Acuity; and the organizational foundation that helps you define what I call your Presentation Universe. While some of this terminology may sound complicated, these theories can be summarized relatively simply:
- Psychology of Persuasion and Influence: You will have greater influence over people if you understand the prejudices that are hard-wired into all human beings. Once you do, you can easily establish yourself as an authority in their minds, which means you will begin with their full attention.
- Neurolinguistic Programming and Sensory Acuity: The vast majority of us have five senses, but we need to learn to use them consciously so as to "read" our audience and make adjustments on the fly. It's all about gaining attention for retention. That is, they won't recall what we said if we can't get them to stay focused throughout the presentation.
- The Presentation Universe: I have learned over the years that most people give amazingly little attention to the role presentations play in their daily lives. Once they begin to think about it, however, they come to appreciate how many opportunities they're missing. By defining all the presentation opportunities in your world -- your Presentation Universe -- you begin to set a strategy for how you will conquer the challenges ahead. Then you will have a basis with which to evaluate the way you approach each of your presentations. Before you go into a meeting or discussion -- at work or in more casual settings -- do you ever ask yourself exactly why you are saying what you are about to say? No? Don't feel bad; remarkably few people do. But if you don't know exactly what the purpose of your message is, then how can you expect your audience to pick up that message fully and clearly? We function in a three-dimensional world, yet most presenters pursue their task in a manner that burdens them with tunnel vision. In order to take our presentation skills to the next level, we need to learn to think of our presentation as a multidimensional exercise. That's why I created a trademarked 3-D Outline, which you will learn about in Chapter 6. In more than ten years of training hundreds of thousands of people, the 3-D Outline has received more positive response in evaluations than any other single concept that I regularly discuss. Understanding and employing this process alone will improve any presenter's success rate exponentially. Combined with the personal perspective of a defined Presentation Universe, it gives unique insights into how to achieve your presentation goals.
Despite the value of the above theories, you need not fully grasp them
in order to build your presentation skills. Each of the Eight Essentials in the second part of the book contains practical instruction on how to polish one's craft, regardless of whether the theories are of interest to you intellectually. And you can begin employing these steps in any order you choose. Taken together, however, the Eight Essential Practices of Successful Presenters will dramatically improve your ability to effectively communicate your ideas to individuals or to groups of any size in both your business and personal lives.
I have taught these practices to professionals and homemakers, to older folks and kids. My daughters have used them and have had a happier time selling their fund-raising candy than any other children I know. My minister has been using them while he builds the fastest growing congregation in the Dallas metroplex. And, of course, I use them every day, not just when I conduct seminars or training sessions, but when I need to upgrade a hotel room or get a good seat at a restaurant.
To one degree or another, in fact, I have tested the Eight Essentials you'll soon learn about before literally tens of thousands of people. I use them in my own presentations to such an extent that they have all
become second nature. Of course, I have also taught them to chief executive officers, salesmen, and mid-level executives. My niece even used some of them to get elected student council president! I know they work.
Maybe the lives of these people don't depend on presentation skills.
But their livelihoods and personal happiness very well may. And yours,
too. Because, as I hope you've begun to appreciate, life really is a series of presentations. The better your presentations are, the better your life will be.
Copyright © 2004 by Tony Jeary High Performance Resources, LLC.