Presentation Skills 201: A book review by Bob Morris

Presentation Skills 201Presentation Skills 201: How to Take It to the Next Level as a Confident, Engaging Presenter
William R. Steele
Erie Publishing (2016)

How you present yourself when interacting with others will probably determine what they think of you, for better or worse

Years ago, Maya Angelou observed, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I was again reminded of that wisdom as I began to read the Second Edition of Bill Steele’s book. From the Preface: “I need to stress that this book is NOT a step-by-step guide to creating and delivering presentations. I titled it Presentation Skills 201 because it assumes you know the fundamentals and you’re now looking for ways to enhance your skills. This book is a collection of the ways I would recommend you strongly consider.”

Keep in mind that the term “presentation” refers to a variety of situations that range from a confidential discussion with one’s supervisor about compensation, a promotion, and/or career opportunities to a public presentation to an audience off several thousand people at a conference. Whatever the given subject or agenda may be, whatever the nature and extent of the given circumstances may be, Steele correctly stresses the importance of the same fundamentals. They comprise a seven-stage process and Steel devotes a separate chapter to each.

1. PLANNING: Benjamin Franklin insisted, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Abraham Lincoln once said if he has six hours to chop down a tree, he would use four of those hours sharpening the axe. Plan what you will do and how you will do it…and be prepared to make adjustments and modifications.

2. PREPARATION: Sun Tzu asserts in Art of War that every battle is won or lost before it is fought. Planning and Preparation are inseparable and interdependent. Michael Porter suggests that the essence of formulating a strategy is deciding what NOT to do. Similarly, as Steele makes crystal clear, it is imperative to plan and prepare a presentation that omits whatever is non-essential. “Brainstorm first, then organize,” “Don’t Prepare More Than Enough,” and “Answer the ’So What?’” are spot on.

3. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Anders Ericsson coined the term “deliberate practice” which practice that is sharply focused, rigorously disciplined, and preferably under expert supervision. Rehearse until you reach a point at which you seem so natural that no one would ever guess that you rehearsed so thoroughly and so frequently. Like Sabatini’s Scaramouche, seem effortless.

4. WORK WITH A TEAM: This is especially important if help is needed with research, fact checking, and use of multi-media equipment and resources. Discuss the details and issues of the given situation only with those who will offer candid as well as informed opinions. Steele and I agree with Ken Blanchard: “Feedback is the breakfast food of champions.” Just be certain that those from whom you request know what they are talking about and will pull no punches.

5. DIMENSIONS OF DELIVERY: There is much to be said for looking and sounding “like a winner.” It is also true that even if you insert a large cow pie in a blue Tiffany box and tie a yellow ribbon around it, it’s still a cow pie. Keep in mind that about 70% of your impact during a face-to-face interaction will be determined by body language and tone of voice. Oscar Wilde advised, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Quite true but I presume to add, be your BEST self.

6. PLATFORM: Re-read my comments for #5. In Chapter 6, Steele provides some of his most helpful advice. (So does Maya Angelou.) “Sound like you care” and you better care or the audience will see through artificial passion. Don’t overcook the “meal.” Let the content seem as natural as the presentation of it. Above all, relax. These moments are what you so carefully prepared for them. Appreciate them and your audience will, also.

7. LANGUAGE USE: Probably because of the rapid emergence of the social media, people have been marinated in clichés and, in fact, the term “cliché” has itself become one. Steele fully realizes and understands this, of course. There challenge is to speak with afresh voice, using language that helps to tell a story (i.e. background, given situation, people, acquisitions and/or problems, developments, and resolution). Again, Steele’s advice is solid (e.g. “retire” your favorite words and phrases, eliminate unnecessary qualifiers, avoid or translate jargon) and my only suggestion re language use is to check out the “USAGE” section in Stanford K. Pritchard’s The Elements of Style: Updated and Annotated for Present-Day Use, 2nd Edition (2012). I also highly recommend an earlier edition, The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition (1999), co-authored by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White with the Introduction provided by Roger Angell (White’s stepson and himself a great writer).

Bill Steele thoroughly explains how to complete each of these stages. He adds a Q&A section in Chapter 8 and then “Challenging Audiences” and “Virtual Presentations” in the next two chapters. I agree with him that almost anyone can — over time — become an exceptional presenter. As indicated earlier, I think the material in this book has a rather broad range of applications, from a private conversation involving two people to a formal presentation so several thousand.

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