People are often hopelessly unprepared for giving presentations but assuming they have some warning, most will spend some time collecting the data, creating their slides and structuring their material. Few will spend any time ensuring that they are personally prepared to give a clear, assured and polished ‘performance’.
The notion of a presentation as ‘performance’ is worrying to a lot of people. It reinforces the glitzy, showbiz view which many people feel, quite rightly, is at best inappropriate and at worst, downright terrifying. However, we can learn a lot from our performers without turning our presentation into a Disney extravaganza. Because the presenter’s challenge is to create the right balance between STYLE and SUBSTANCE.
We can learn a lot from actors, entertainers and performers. Here are some of the things they routinely do:
Split the brain: concentrate on a variety of skills and activities simultaneously (e.g. Vocal, physical, facial, cerebral)
Cope with nerves: conveying poise and confidence through controlled use of space, body language and mannerisms
Project: communicating with the WHOLE audience, no matter how big the space
Control the atmosphere: CONTRAST! Techniques of delivery, comic timing, volume control
Fake spontaneity: the best performers are those who are so in control that they can reproduce performances night after night whilst appearing to be doing something for the first time
Control the material: structure, pace, shape, peaks, emphasis. Maintaining focus
Control the environment: coping with the unexpected
Communicate with clarity and purpose
It is these that make a live performance so rich and enjoyable. And this is why more and more people are looking to the theatre to inject new vigour into tired presentations.
But there is a note of caution creeping in here. Skills learned from professional performers will help you, but you should not necessarily be trying to make yourself the centre of attention.
What’s more important is that you affirm, confirm and reaffirm the PURPOSE of the presentation, which will nearly always be to communicate some important information to a gathered group of people and to elicit a specific response. If this is the case, you should begin by asking:
“How can I focus the audience’s attention on the CONTENT of my presentation instead of on MYSELF?”
Nerves can serve the function of drawing attention away from the content and firmly onto you. If the audience can sense your discomfort they invariably become uncomfortable with you. The result is that they do not pay attention to what you are saying.
The best presenters, in terms of getting their message across are, contrary to common
Think of charismatic evangelists. They make a huge impact: they whip up hysteria: they take their audiences to places those people may never have been before. BUT the content has taken second place to the EMOTION. The cult of personality has become more important.
Show business, razzamatazz and dynamism often succeed in obscuring the content. It can be liberating to realise that the audience may not have come specifically to see you but to hear what you have to say.