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Chapter 6: Structuring the Stand-up Leadership Presentation


We are a fractious nation, always searching, always dissatisfied, yet always hopeful. We have an infinite capacity to rejuvenate ourselves. . . . We will continue to flourish because our diverse American society has the strength, hardiness, and resilience of the hybrid plant we are.

Colin Powell
Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey, pp. 595-596.

The room is dark save for the light of a small overhead lamp. A figure is intently pecking away at the keyboard, watching the screen fill with words. The figure alternately expresses joy, optimism, indecision, and despair. Dollars to doughnuts this poor soul is writing his presentation. Lord, protect him. He needs help fast.

If you have found yourself in this situation, you are not alone. Every leader who crafts his or her own words, or even polishes them, sweats the details. Sometimes the words come in a torrent. Other times they trickle like raindrops in a mist. Other times, there ain't no drops at all. It's dry, man, dry!

Welcome to the world of making leadership presentations. Putting meat on the bones - that's what content is. And if you follow a simple step-by-step process, you will be able to add more meat faster and better than a turkey farmer can the month before Thanksgiving.

The secret, if there is one, is organization. Organization is fundamental to an effective presentation. The presentation that rambles is the presentation that is forgotten not as soon as it is over, but while it is still going on. And cheer up. You have already surmounted one of the biggest hurdles: You have your message. Now your challenge is to craft the content around it (see Figure 6-1).

Creating the Presentation

Figure 6-1:  Creating the Presentation

Creating the Presentation

Research the Topic

Get your stuff together. There are two ways to research the topic. One way is to gather material on it from print and media sources. These sources can range from newspaper, trade magazine, and periodical articles to corporate reports. Go through these sources to find material that you deem relevant and mark that material with a highlighter.

The Internet can be a big help in this area. You can search periodicals through their actual web sites or in a database. Sources like ProQuest and Lexis/Nexis catalogue millions of articles culled from newspapers, periodicals, and business, trade, and academic journals. In addition, many leading business and news publications provide their articles for a nominal fee. Some publications offer their articles free through their web sites; these include The Atlantic, Fast Company, Forbes, Fortune, and Strategy + Business.

The second way to research the topic is to go talk to someone. Ask your colleagues to provide you with information on the topic. If you are a guest presenter, do not be afraid to contact the host and ask for ideas about what the audience might like to hear. This technique can also be useful if you are making a sales presentation. As the sales expert, you know the material. Your challenge is to adapt it to what the customer wants to know. By doing so, you position your message to land on receptive ears.

Gather Anecdotes

During the research phase, it is important that you keep an open mind. Allow yourself to be receptive to ideas that are tangential, that is, that are not directly related to your topic but serve to add color. Look for stories that can embellish your presentation. To adapt the old Chinese proverb, one good story is worth 10 minutes of presentation.

These anecdotes can come from your own experience or can be gathered from other sources, such as speaker reference guides. Humor can be a good icebreaker, but always, always, always, keep it fresh, alive, and, above all, nonoffensive.

Assemble the Material

Arrange your research materials in a way that makes sense in terms of what you wish to say. You can organize it into subject files or keep everything together. The key is to put everything into an order that makes sense for you.

Outline the Material

Now you can begin to structure the material you have collected. Create an outline that makes sense for you. The important thing to remember is that organization is essential. Just like a paragraph, the outline for a presentation has three essential parts:

This is a formula, but it is one that works every time. The key to the outline process is organization, but the format of the outline is up to you. Some folks like to jot notes on a page and proceed from there. Others, particularly professional writers, like to flesh out a more formal outline. Here's a typical outline format:

The operative point in creating an outline is to keep your ideas in sections. This way you can rearrange the order easily. The formal outline works well here because while it contains detail, the sections of the outline are freestanding and can be moved around easily.

Structure an Argument

A leadership presentation or a well-run coaching session should be grounded in reason and logic. The organization of the facts should support the argument and flow to a logical conclusion. A good presentation will have good claims (results) and effective reasons (facts). Aristotle identified the grouping together of claims and reasons as an enthymeme, or logical proposition.[1]

Enthymemes are not difficult to formulate. British philosopher Stephen Toulmin took Aristotle one step further by adding a third element to claims and reasons, which he called warrants. A warrant is "the connection . . . between your claim and your supporting reasons."[2] Think of the warrant as the product of the claim and the reason.

Warrants are the "general principle that enables you to move from reason to specific claim."[3] They are the syntheses of your arguments, the statements that will enable people to latch onto your leadership ideas.

The leader needs to imbue his or her arguments with a mixture of fact and personality. A dry recitation of arguments will not sway anyone. When the arguments are invested with the leader's character, along with well-turned phrases, analogies, and stories, the presentation will take flight.[4] Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King were masters of the craft of augmenting their arguments with rhetorical flourishes that carried the listener on a kind of symphony of sound and reason.

The Persuasive Message

One of the chief responsibilities of a leader-communicator is to persuade followers to adopt her or his point of view. In fact, Drucker argues that persuasion lies at the core of all communications.[5] Except in times of extreme crisis, such as a battlefield or a pilot taking command during a thunderstorm, where time is of the essence, leaders must do more than say, "Follow me." They need to give reasons why people should follow them. And, during those crisis moments when the leader does not have the luxury of time, he or she must call upon the reservoir of credibility that he or she has established through consistent and repeated leadership messages. Robert Cialdini, a noted authority on the topic of persuasion, lists six key characteristics that persuaders use. Each is rooted in fundamental human behavior.[6]

In and of themselves, these methods of persuasion are amoral; they are characteristics of human behavior. They can be used for good or evil purposes. For example, marketers use these methods singly or in combination to provoke a desired response to a product or service they want us to buy. Someone with an evil intent, such as a Charles Manson or a Saddam Hussein, uses these methods to gain influence over others for some twisted purpose that is rooted in denigration and subjugation. When these methods are used correctly and with the right motives in mind, such as by someone like Mother Teresa who is acting for the good of the organization and the benefit of others, they can be valuable enhancers of the leadership message. The use of one or more of these methods will make for a more compelling, and ultimately more persuasive, leadership message.

A Stake in the Outcome

There is another caveat regarding persuasion: The leader must care about the message and should have a stake in the outcome. The leader must demonstrate that her or his vision or point of view is right for the organization. For example, a leader who insists on transformational change must demonstrate its benefits and be clear in his or her expectations for him- or herself and for the team. We see this when a new coach takes over a team or a new manager is hired to run a department. The fate of the coach or manager is tied to the fate of the team or the department. If the team wins, the coach and the players share in the victories. If the department achieves its objectives, the manager and the employees share in the rewards. In each case, the leader has a vested interest in the performance of the players or employees, and vice versa. The sense of shared destiny adds to the credibility of the message, and ultimately of the leader.

Persuasion gets to the core of leadership. When it is used with discretion and with the right intentions, it can be extremely powerful in accomplishing the leader's goals.

Develop the First Draft

Okay, cue the lights. Spotlight on the writer. Bring up the music. Now comes the hard part: getting it down on paper. If you have followed the guidelines given earlier, your task will be easier. Your challenge is to put thoughts and words to your outline points. As you craft your words, you will have to keep some key points in mind.

When crafting your presentation, you have the option of writing it out word for word or preparing notes from which you will speak. Some people feel that word-for-word scripting enables them to think through precisely what they want to say. This approach is the soundest one, and it allows for the greatest amount of advance creativity. The downside is that it is time-consuming.

Other presenters prefer to work from notes. Not only is creating a presentation using this approach less time-consuming, but the approach also allows the presenter to be more flexible and responsive to audience needs. The presenter who is stuck to a speech may overlook the audience, while the presenter who is standing and delivering from notes can shift gears more readily according to audience needs.

Some speakers script everything in advance, then cull the words to note cards. By doing this, they determine their flow, precision, and word choice in advance, then deliver the presentation in a manner that appears to be spontaneous.

How Long Should It Be?

The subject of length is important. The presenter should ask in advance how long she or he is to present. For a set speech, a rule of thumb is that 15 to 20 minutes is good, but that unless the speaker is really first rate, the audience will go to sleep with anything longer. In contrast, sales or technical presentations may run for an hour or for an afternoon. In this case, the presentation should be more relaxed and informal. The speaker needs to engage the audience by asking questions frequently to ensure that everyone understands the material.

There is no right or wrong way to craft a presentation. What matters is the speaker's commitment to the material and the desired impact upon the audience.

The Leadership Close

Every leadership presentation needs to have a strong conclusion. The presenter has to give the audience both something to remember and something to do. Effective closes have two important elements: a recapitulation of the message and a call to action.

The recapitulation, or summary, is a simple restatement of the key points in the presentation and the leadership message. It is always important to remind the audience of what you have said; in so doing, you reinforce your message and its importance. A call to action is the action step of the presentation. It is asking the audience to do something in return. By asking for something, the leader is demonstrating a need for support as well as a confidence that that support will be received.

It is also appropriate to weave a story into the call to action. Storytelling is an ancient art, and stories are often used to develop an analogy between the present and a recent or past event. All of the world's major religions blend stories with calls to action. Why? Because the story makes the message memorable as well as relevant to the listener. The story itself may be personal - something the leader experienced - or refer to something contemporary or historical. At the conclusion of the story, be certain to include the action step; otherwise the story will lose its impact and the presentation will lack a leadership close. (For more on storytelling, see Chapter 12.]

Revise Your Draft

No one said that this would be fun. Authors have their own adage: "Writing is rewriting."

Once you have crafted the presentation in a format that is comfortable for you, put it aside for a day or so. Then reread it and see how it sounds. Practice reading it out loud. When you do, you will find words and phrases that look good on paper but ring hollow when spoken. Adjust the phrasing. Remember, you are crafting a presentation that will be seen and heard, not read. Sound and images come first.

Review the Drafts with Colleagues

Share what you have crafted, either notes or speech, with your trusted colleagues.

Be prepared. Everyone has an opinion - once the words are on the page. For more than 40 years, the famous theatrical caricaturist Al Hirschfeld drew stylized drawings of leading actors and actresses that accompanied reviews of plays or musicals in the New York Times. In an interview, Hirschfeld said that not once during his lengthy career did an editor ever alter, or even suggest altering, a line. Yet, he said, he regularly witnessed the butchering of copy by everyone in the newsroom. Even the great Winston Churchill was not immune to the markings and slashings of the junior copy boys. So get used to it. People will make comments.[13]

Take all comments into consideration. But incorporate only those that have merit in light of your message, your audience, your intention, and your content. Throw everything else out. If you do not pay close heed to this rule, the finely sculptured horse that you have artfully created will slowly, but unmistakably, "morph" into an ugly, hump-backed camel. Ugh!

A word of caution: Disregard the previous paragraph if it's your boss who is making the suggestions. In that case, argue your point of view, but do not argue it to the point of no return. Unless you are writing the Declaration of Independence or the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, do not jeopardize your promising career. Take what your boss says under advisement and try to find a way to make what he or she is suggesting work.

Planning and Preparing to Deliver the Message

When you are developing the message, keep in mind how you will deliver it and where you will deliver it. The delivery of a formal presentation differs from that of an informal presentation. Location also has an influence on delivery.

How and where you deliver your presentation may depend on your preference, or it may be set by the group to whom you are presenting. Knowing in advance how and where you will present is critical to ensuring that your message is understood and creates the right impetus for action.

Colin Powell - The Centered Vision

In the Washington stature game, few stand taller than Colin Powell. Washington respects power, and Powell has plenty of it. One reason is that his appeal is across party lines; as a black man in the party associated with the wealthy and powerful, Powell has few enemies on the left and even fewer on the right. Senator John McCain refers to Powell as "the most popular person in America."[15]

Powell parlays his power strategically. He is not afraid to speak his mind. As a military man who spent much of his career either as a political aide or as the highest-ranking general, he knows the value of deference, i.e., when to speak and when not to.

Powell's Persuasiveness

As secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, Powell shoulders America's foreign policy in time of war. Early in Bush's tenure, it seemed as though Powell was being shoved aside in favor of old hands like Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and newcomer Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser. September 11 changed that power paradigm; suddenly Powell seemed to be in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. It fell to him to negotiate with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan for the right to use Pakistani air space. Only a statesman of Powell's stature, it seemed, could negotiate with this one-time ally, who was threatened by India on his border and squeezed by Islamic fundamentalists in his own military, and whose government recognized the Taliban government as legitimate. Powell prevailed, no doubt demonstrating the virtues of having the United States as a friend rather than an opponent. According to Richard C. Holbrooke, a U.N. envoy during the Clinton administration, "Powell and Musharraf have developed a relationship soldier to soldier, statesman to statesman, which is really important and has paid off by bringing Pakistan into the alliance against terrorism and preventing conflict with India."[16] Furthermore, Powell earned praise from President Bush: "He single-handedly got Musharraf on board. He was very good about that. He saw the notion of the need to put a coalition together."[17]

Global View

As a soldier and a statesman, Powell strives to take the long view. He understands the ugliness of war, but at the same time he sees the need for taking a stand. Powell also looks at the post-September 11 world as a chance to redefine America's relationship with two former adversaries, arguing that terrorism was a common enemy. "Here was something that had nothing to do with any of the cold war models. . . . And it was something that everybody could join in against."[18] Powell is equally articulate in putting America's post-terror attack role into historical perspective. "Our record and our history is not of going out and looking for conflict, it is not one of undertaking pre-emptive acts for the purpose of seizing … another people's territory, or to impose our will on someone else. Our history and our tradition is always one of defending our interests."[19]

As a result, after much soul-searching, Powell supported the administration's argument on pre-emption in the Iraq war as a means of national self-defense. Powell showed his mettle in pressing America's case before the U.N. in early 2003. All of Powell's skills as a communicator, anchored in his experience as an officer and statesman, came to the fore. Armed with a presentation packed with visual support, Powell was like a prosecutor as he tore apart Iraq's claims that it did not harbor weapons of mass destruction, like a statesman as he rose above the fray to present the international case, and like a soldier as he stated that the United States was ready to fight. For a man once derided by hardliners as the "Administration's dove," it was a presentation that came down forcefully against an outlaw government and on the side of international security. A tough act, but vintage Powell.

Powell's strength radiates from within. He not only speaks in complete sentences but expresses well-founded and well-grounded thoughts. Unlike some speakers, his speaking ability does not come merely from the use of rhetoric or clever language; it comes from deep within him. It is almost as if his words come from his soul. And his articulateness enables him to project the inner strength that emanates from deeply held convictions and his bedrock faith in his own abilities.

His Roots

The son of immigrants from Jamaica, Powell grew up in the Bronx, where he mixed freely with different races. He acknowledges in his autobiography that he was an indifferent student and that it was not until he joined the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) that he gained his focus - and his bearings.[20] He became a commissioned officer in 1958 and served two tours in Vietnam, being wounded twice and earning a Bronze Star. He experienced racism firsthand while serving in posts in the South. "I've been thrown out of places because I was just black enough not to be served. . . . I consider myself an African-American and proud to stand on the shoulders of those who went before me."[21]

Powell understands the symbolism of race in his role as secretary of state: "And it's always a source of inspiration and joy to see [foreign leaders] look at me and through me see my country, and see what promise my country offers to all people who come to these shores looking for a better life."[22]

Maximizing Efficiency

There is an efficiency to Powell's communications that stems from his military background. For example, he has a formula for making decisions; after gathering as much information as possible, much of it by making calls and asking questions himself, he assigns a numeric value to the intelligence he has gathered. Rarely do commanders have the luxury of 100 percent conviction; but when Powell gets to somewhere between P = 40 and P = 70, he applies his gut instinct.[23]

He also has developed what he calls "Powell's Rules for Picking People." Among the characteristics he values are loyalty, integrity, passion, energy, and - perhaps most of all - "the drive to get things done."[24] Those characteristics all apply to Powell himself, especially the ability to make things happen. And that is precisely what he brings to his position as secretary of state.

"Tower of Strength"

When President-elect Bush introduced Powell as his secretary of state, he made reference to another former Army man: "I would say of General Powell what Harry Truman said of General Marshall: ‘He is a tower of strength and common sense.'"[25] Marshall was chief of staff of the army during the Second World War and later served as Truman's secretary of state, where he was the architect of the European Recovery Act (later called the Marshall Plan), which helped rebuild Europe's social and industrial infrastructure. And there is something of Marshall in Powell, apart from their military pedigree. Both generals made the transition to statecraft by understanding both the advantages of power and its limitations.

And it is with regard to its limitations that Powell is sometimes criticized. "Caution is not a vice. I think it's a virtue. I know when to act. And if caution is such a terrible vice, then I'm sure various people I have worked for over the years probably would not have hired me."[26] One subject about which Powell is cautious is the use of troops. When he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he irked the Clinton administration with his sense of hesitancy about committing troops. That reluctance is born of his experience in Vietnam. Like many of his generation who served there, he knows war firsthand and he knows what happens when soldiers are thrown into battle without clearly defined goals.

As a lifelong army man, Powell knows from whence his soldiers come. He speaks of "Kmart parents" - those people of modest means who are the mothers and fathers of men and women in the armed forces. He insists that parents need to know why their sons and daughters are going to war, and that the reasons must be compelling.[27] In contrast to the situation in Vietnam, the goals of Operation Desert Storm were well defined, and the military, led by

Powell and a very capable cadre of senior officers, excelled, expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait swiftly, efficiently, and with a minimum of casualties.

Discipline First

Powell found himself an outsider after President Bush called for a regime change in Iraq through military means because of the suspicion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Powell found himself at odds with Vice President Cheney and to a very large degree with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. Their differences arose from their approach toward Iraq; all parties agreed that Saddam was a tyrant who deserved to be deposed. Powell favored international action leading to his removal, a policy that involved allies as the Gulf War of 1990-1991 had. Cheney was a unilateralist, favoring the United States going it alone. Powell felt that an armed move would be preemptive and would risk disrupting America's fragile alliances in the Middle East, not to mention further upsetting the radical fundamentalist Muslims who dominated public opinion in the streets. As a result, Powell was the odd man out. Condoleezza Rice served as the liaison between him and the president. Nonetheless, Powell's decision to refrain from public comment on Iraq made his opposition to unilateral war obvious. To his credit, Powell worked behind the scenes to get President Bush to bring the Iraqi weapons issue to the United Nations. He was successful, and Bush eventually went to the U.N. and made a stirring address, one that by the way went through more than 20 drafts, the final ones bearing the ideas of Powell himself.[28]

In addition to the disagreement over the Iraq question, Powell has had his share of run-ins with the Bush administration; his decisions have been questioned, and he is not a favorite of the Republican conservatives, a bedrock support group for President Bush. Powell is not bothered: "Fights come and fights go."[29] And he is not above levity in such matters. In a lighthearted exchange with office secretaries over an empty jar of pretzels, Powell said, "Okay, that's enough. I've got to get back to work now - and by the way, I'm not resigning." His staff cracked up.[30]

No to Higher Office

His son, Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, appreciates his father's even-handedness. "[W]hen there was contemplation he'd run for President, the biggest speculation was, As what? I mean, what greater accolade to a soldier than you don't even know his politics."[31]

Powell acknowledged that his wife, Alma, was "unalterably opposed" to his running for the presidency, but he was comfortable with his own decision not to run.[32] Richard Armitage, a political insider and Powell intimate, quotes him as saying, "‘On the mornings when I woke up and thought I'm going to run, I felt terrible, it was a terrible day. On mornings I got up and said, I'm not going to, I had a wonderful day.'" Powell, according to Armitage, believed that those who wanted him to run were looking for a "shortcut" to get "someone on a white horse." To his credit, Powell said, "That's not the way our system works."[33]

At his press conference in November 1995 announcing that he would not be a candidate, Powell summed up his place in history as well as his strong sense of self; he included the remarks in the afterword to his autobiography, My American Journey.

Finally, let me say how honored I am that so many of you thought me worthy of your support. It says more about America than it says about me. In one generation, we have moved from denying a black man service at a lunch counter to elevating one to the highest military office in the nation and to being a serious contender for the presidency. This is a magnificent country, and I am proud to be one of its sons.[34]

[1]Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruskiewicz, Everything's an Argument, pp. 72-73.

[2]Ibid., pp. 84-85.

[3]Ibid., p. 83.

[4]Ibid., pp. 81-96.

[5]Peter Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices , p. 487.

[6]Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice, , pp. 19ff, 55ff, 98ff, 143ff, 178ff, 203ff.

[7]Ibid., p. 20.

[8]Ibid., p. 53.

[9]Ibid., pp. 99-100.

[11]Ibid., pp. 200-201. Cialdini notes that while participants in the Milgram experiment thought that they were administering ever higher electric shocks, in fact they were not. The actor feigned pain in response to the seemingly higher voltages (pp. 180-181).

[12 ]Cialdini, Influence, p. 205.

[13]Interview with Al Hirschfeld, 60 Minutes (date unknown).

[15]Bill Keller, "The World According to Powell," New York Times Magazine, Nov. 25, 2001.

[16]Todd S. Purdum, "Embattled, Scrutinized, Powell Soldiers On," New York Times, July 25, 2002.

[17]Bob Woodward, Bush at War, p. 342. In this same interview, held in August 2002, President Bush gave a "tepid response" about Powell, calling him "a diplomat" - hardly the effusive praise he had given of him 2 years earlier.

[18]James Dao, "Powell Defends a First Strike as Iraq Option," New York Times, Sept. 8, 2002.


[20]Robin Wright, "The Presidential Transition File: For Nominee, Power Lies in Restraint," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 17, 2000.

[21]Todd S. Purdum, "With Candor, Powell Charms Global MTV Audience," New York Times, Feb.15, 2002.

[22]Purdum, "Embattled, Scrutinized."

[23]Colin Powell with Joseph E. Persico, My American Journey , pp. 380-381.

[24]Ibid., p. 343.

[25]Wright, "The Presidential Transition File."

[26]Keller, "The World According to Powell."


[28]Woodward, Bush at War, pp. 321-352 (Powell's internationalism versus Cheney's unilateralism, p. 328). Also, comments made by author Bob Woodward in an interview with Gwen Ifill on NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, Nov. 19, 2002.

[29]Purdum, "Embattled, Scrutinized."


[31]Keller, "The World According to Powell."

[32]Powell with Persico, My American Journey, p. 600.

[33]Keller, "The World According to Powell."

[34]Powell with Persico, My American Journey, p. 602.

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