Piero Vitelli is a freelance presenter, trainer, facilitator, coach and consultant with over twenty years’ experience. Since 1995 he has provided unique and memorable solutions to development needs in the personal, interpersonal and team settings through innovative and interactive lectures, workshops, training courses and experiences. Find out more at www.island41.com.
If a presentation is a merely a mechanism to pass information from speaker to listener, it must be one of the most expensive, inefficient and unreliable ways of doing so as the above equation for its cost illustrates.
A is the number of people in the audience, L is the length of time the presentation takes, V is the cost of the venue and E is any equipment needed. P is the amount of work it takes to prepare the presentation in the first place and W refers to the work that the entire audience aren’t doing while they listen to it.
If we accept this equation, a presentation has to be so much more than a transfer mechanism to justify such a cost; it has to be outstanding and too few are.
A Rock and a Hard Place
Standing up and speaking is something we all find normal when done with family or friends, at home or in a social setting. When done from a podium in front of an audience of tens, hundreds or even thousands, it feels completely different, yet the physical mechanics and intellectual thought processes required are just the same.
As presenters, we are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the unavoidable truth that an audience requires us to match, if not exceed, their expectations. The hard place is Abraham Maslow’s assertion that our safety is more important than any sense of achievement. It can often feel like a vice-like grip, and to not just survive, but thrive in it is to dance in the line of fire.
A presentation must first be created and then rehearsed before it can be delivered, and quite often people avoid or omit the rehearsal stage preferring to rewrite and edit their presentation right up until the last minute.
For this reason most finished presentations are in fact first or second readings, which look, feel and are quite different to a polished performance. In this respect, presenting and playing golf are exactly alike; the amateur practices until they get it right, and the professional practices until they cannot get it wrong.
Effective presenters don’t merely speak; they engage
To present is to stand in front of people and speak. By definition it is an unnatural place to be, it feels awkward and lends credibility to this quote by George Jessel; “The human brain starts working from the moment you are born and never stops working until you stand up and speak in public.”
The easiest and most natural way to resolve this dilemma is to remember to do something, and the key to discovering what to do is to remember that what you do and how you do it are not the same. Good nurses don’t simply nurse; they care, support and reassure. Great golfers don’t just hit a ball; they align their body and swing with the intended direction, ensure the ball impacts the ‘sweet spot’ of the club face and drive the club with precision and consistency.
Effective presenters don’t merely speak; they engage, they inspire and they persuade. In all these three examples, the technical skills are so practiced, refined and honed as to be automatic, leaving the conscious mind as free as possible to react fully to all the vagaries of the present moment like a blood clot, sudden crosswind or interruption.
“To engage and hold an audience is also a physical activity…”
Presenting is not just an intellectual pursuit. To engage and hold an audience is also a physical activity and the purpose is to invite them on an emotional journey towards your objective. Not for nothing do politicians speak of winning hearts and minds, and all three must be present and congruent to deliver a great performance.
Because the external architecture of presenting so closely resembles the activity of one person talking to another, it is hard to articulate the merits of one presentation over another, and this leaves the critical appraisal of what makes a poor performance almost purely subjective. This is so because all the essential ingredients of an outstanding presentation such as authenticity, passion, relationship and purpose are far easier to judge by their absence rather than their presence.
In conclusion, I would suggest that two undeniable truths of presenting are that it is a choice and a commitment rather than a skill, and like every great golfer, you won’t become a champion unless you practise.