Perfect Your Presentation Style


With only 9 seconds to capture an audience’s attention, making a good first impression is everything. According to Mark Harris, formerly of IBM, “The impression you make colors everything else” – the decision you are asking a person to make or action you are asking them to take. That impression translates to your company and a consumer’s decision to purchase, donate, participate, etc. in your business model. Watch and listen as Mark Harris explains the key elements to a good presentation – from an impactful opening to balancing PowerPoint prep and rehearsal presentation.

INTRODUCTION: All right, we are now going back from employee engagement to shifting to the question of how we show up. So we talked this morning about our guest speaker that we have here, Mark Harris. Mark is such an incredible, I think, hero in IBM as an advisor to Gerstner to Sam Palmisano to Jenny to many other people.

And I’m thrilled that he took time to come and spend time with the team today. And I understand it’s been going well. So we’re going to see the fruit of that coaching here. And Mark, let me invite you up to the stage to give a few remarks first.

MARK HARRIS: That’s great. Thanks, Jen.


So a quick point– it occurred to me that I’m not an IBMer anymore, but I’m going to say we a lot because I haven’t been gone that long, some of my favorite IBMers are actually in this room right here. So in the next 10 or 15 minutes, I hope to say something that you will be able to use for the rest of your life. OK, so now that I have set the bar impossibly high for the next 10 or 15 minutes, let me ask you a question. How long do you think the average audience takes before they decide there’s something in this presentation for me? I’m tuning in, or I’m tuning out.

Two seconds.

60 seconds.

Two seconds, 60. There is some science behind this. I didn’t conduct the research– nine seconds, nine seconds.

Now, look, I don’t know if it’s four seconds or nine or 39. Let’s agree it happens fast. There’s a quick decision being made, which is why I tried to say something somewhat provocative when I stepped up here, which is “the rest of my life.” What the heck is that? What could that possibly be?

But the intent was capturing your attention and create a moment of engagement where you’re thinking about what I’m saying. So if that got us off on the right footing, it worked. If it didn’t it didn’t work, but I tried anyway.

And you get the intent. Immediate, immediate value to the audience. Immediate attempt at engagement with your audience.

OK, so now that you’re all waiting on the lifetime guaranteed useful piece of information, let’s talk about what happens in situations like this– live communication person to person communication. OK, and it’s like this. In these situations, you are the game. You are the game. The person on the stage is the show.

This is the success factor. It’s human. Our content matters. We are a company of experts. We never show up empty-handed.

We come with valuable content. But in situations like this, the evaluation that’s happening in the room is shifting from straight up content to the carrier to the person. So you become the message. You become the success factor.

So if you believe that, that’s going to begin to influence a lot of things that we do together as carriers of the brand. Preparation is going to be the biggie, and I’ll kind of come back and touch on that. If you are the show, let me give an example of how that might look, and you hear this a lot in sales or bid proposal situations.

And the thing you’ll hear people say is, if they buy you, they buy IBM. I don’t think it’s exactly like that. I think it’s like this– if they buy you, they’ll try to buy IBM. They’ll keep an open mind.

Here’s what I definitely believe. If they don’t buy you, they don’t buy IBM. If they don’t think you’re credible, if they don’t think you’re trustworthy, if you’re not likable, they’re not going to keep an open mind about IBM.

So how are we going to lift our game? How do we show up and deliver with that kind of confidence and credibility that allows an audience to buy into what we’re saying, have trust in our message? And then trust has to come before belief, and belief has to come before an action or a decision on our behalf. So how are we going to lift our game? How are we going to do this well?

There are probably about 1,000 things that we could talk about. Jen allocated me three– time for three. So let’s pick three. And these are kind of high impact.

First, preparation– we say think, prepare, rehearse. We say it all the time. In my experience, these are the three most widely ignored words in the IBM vocabulary.

We think, and we prepare. I’m not sure we always prepare correctly. We do not rehearse.

By the way, I’m not passing judgment on anything that has happened in this room over the last day and a half. I haven’t been here. I’m reflecting on my experiences over 35 years.

We’re not great at rehearsal. We’re not great at it. And let me give you another example. Instead of rehearsal, instead of that kind of preparation, which we don’t value that much, what do we value?

We value perfect documents. We worship at the altar of PowerPoint or the perfect script or the perfect press release or talking points or white paper or something. And once we’ve got it kind of packaged and designed, and it’s perfect, we think we’re done– job finished. I got it.

And when is it done? It’s done one minute before it’s due. This sounds familiar? OK, so if 100% of the time has gone into perfecting the document, how much time has gone into delivery and the performance of all that wonderful content? None or very little.

This is a problem for us. This is not core to what we do and how we show up. We have to get serious about that.

So the time we spend on the– I’m not saying don’t perfect the PowerPoint– do. But at some point, we’ve got to say, recognize, believe. That ain’t the show. You’re the show.

The PowerPoint supports you, not the other way around. So that’s one. Second, first words, last words. We open, and we close with extreme attention and impact and importance– nine seconds, nine seconds. Let’s just stipulate that that’s actually factually demonstrated truth.

There is a very brief window when you’re going to get a hold of your audience, or they are going to like the blinds are going down. So we open with the impact.

But how often do you hear somebody come out on the stage and do something like this delighted to be here today. I thank you for your time, appreciate the invitation. I’ve given a lot of thought to what I would talk about today. And it’s my hope that this dialogue might open up new avenues of collaboration with you and the rest of our partner.

Oh my god is there a message here or anywhere? Is there anything in this for me? We’re too polite sometimes. I tuned out on myself just then. Well, what you think your audience is doing?

So we got to open with impact. And I mean, let’s just be intentional about how we do these things. We open with impact. We close with impact. We don’t just summarize.

We don’t just kind of wind down to a pleasant conclusion. We climax. We end with importance and something memorable, and that is extreme care at either end.

A lot of people will say– and then we could– how you partition a speech and lead an audience through, but they still like a lot of speeches are like a beginning, an end, and a muddle. Not a middle– a continuous stream of incomprehensible I don’t know where we are. So those poor souls that have signed up for my breakout session later may get a little talk about the muddle and how we get around that. So high impact opening, high impact closing– it will make a big difference.

And third– I am reluctantly going to do this. But the third thing has three things in it. So I’ll go through them quickly. Third is ground rules or just rules for basic positioning– basic positioning of our content, and it’s like this.

First matters to the audienc and I’m going to say very little about this. Sometimes the audience is everything– right down to the level of an individual. Sometimes the audience not so much.

We’re talking to a camera. We’re talking to a live stream. The audience not that important. But we don’t discount the audience. We don’t pander to the audience but matters to the audience.

That’s one. Two hasn’t been said before. How much of what we’re going to spend our audience’s time on is public domain. You can get it from the FT. You can get it reading Time Magazine.

If it is, you have to think about how much time you’re going to spend on it because, by definition, it’s not distinct to IBM. And my favorite example of this is back when big data was becoming the next big thing. Every IBM presentation started with the requisite five minutes on the explosion of data and stacks of paper generated that stretch to the moon and back and exabytes and zettabytes and stuff that only IBM Research really ever understood. We got it. We got it. There’s a lot of data.

What are we going to do about it? That can be distinctly IBM. Anybody can talk about how much data there is in the world, but we just spent a lot of time on it. Think about it. Think about it. Be judicious about that.

Third thing– OK, so matters hasn’t been said before. Most important– cannot be said by others. They got to come to you to get this. They can only get this from IBM.

And when they get it, it matters. They value it. And that is freakin’ hard. I mean, that is hard.

When you think about it, a lot of the world is the mirror image. What Accenture can do, we can do. What we can do, they can do. It’s very, very hard to find that small margin and fill it with something that is distinct to IBM. But when you’ve got it, now you’re on to something.

Now you have separated yourself in whatever the conversation is. So those things– how we prepare, open and close, basic positioning. And if that becomes your practice, if that becomes your code– that’s the code you live by– then you’re going to differentiate not only IBM and our brand. You’re going to differentiate yourself as a carrier of the brand and a spokesperson and a representative of IBM, So last thing– think of this.

Every audience will remember some of what you say, not all, not most, maybe not anything. They are definitely going to form an impression every time of the person on the stage– the man or the woman from IBM. And that impression colors everything else about the choice you’re asking them to make, the support you’re asking for, the decision you’re asking for.

So if we approach it like that, we are going to change the way we prepare, and we’re going to shift our thinking from the adoration of PowerPoints to getting ourselves ready to be great every time we step out there. And if that is your code, it will serve you well for the rest of your life. Thank you.


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