I see many, many parallels between musicians and presenters. Both groups are faced with the challenges of building connection with large groups, of creating interaction, of sharing messages, of standing apart from their competition and creating their own unique identity. Both are in the spotlight and build and create energy from the crowd, and both can be very uncomfortable if the crowd isn’t on their side. So, as I try to sharpen my presentation skills I look to live music performances for inspiration and ideas. A few months back I wrote Rock and Roll Presentation Skills after attending a live show. Today I want to learn from two specific video clips that really resonate for me as a presenter.
The first is from AC/DC playing on a British music show in about 1977. This is before they were global stars and they are on a musical variety show so it’s unlikely that more than a few in the audience had heard of them or were excited to see them play. This is very clear in the expressions of the crowd. Some look horrified, some bored, some confused, and only a few look interested, let alone enthused.
So, it’s a semi-interested crowd at best. You’ve got a sound (message) that won’t connect or resonate with many in the audience. In fact, you’ve got a sound (message) that’s different than everything else that’s popular at the time. You have a small time slot and then you’re done. What do you do?
The “safe” way would be to play it safe, tone down the sound (message), do a song that most would be familiar with, and try not to turn anyone off. OR… you can turn the amps up to 11 and play like you’re trying to blow the roof off of the place. Unapologetic full force rock and roll. Do the unexpected. Send the strong message that this is who you are, take it or leave it. Don’t let the crowd bring you down, just play bigger than ever and leave everything on the stage. Don’t even acknowledge the doubters and haters, just build love with those who are interested. This has been Seth Godin’s message for years – ignore the masses, build your tribe.
The second video is Arch Enemy playing at the Download Festival a few years back. A warning: they are not for everyone. The vocalist has a style practically all her own and is one of the very few women to bring that sound. And, no apologies, she doesn’t care if you don’t like it. The band has a style full of paradox that brings out the haters, even among those who like heavy metal, but they aren’t trying to please everyone. Again, this is playing to the tribe, not to the masses. But what really stands out for me as a presenter is her stage presence. Turn the sound off and watch her body language. Her presence is huge and she owns the stage like few others. Yet, she also clearly has a connection with the audience which is tens of thousands of people strong. That is a deep certainty about who she is and what she’s doing. There is no hesitation, no “I hope you like me”, just full ownership of the message and performance.
(Second warning: there is one brief bit of swearing at the end, but if you make it that far, I doubt it’s an issue for you.)
What’s my lesson as a presenter? Learn from the best but be myself. Play to my strengths. Trying to please everyone is counterproductive and actually pleases no one. Bring myself 100% and don’t hold back – never finish a presentation thinking I could have done more. No matter the size or interest of the audience, present like it’s the most important presentation of my career. Push myself and the presentation to 11. Preparation matters. It’s impossible to give my full self without knowing the presentation at the sub-conscious level because thinking about it builds barriers between me and the audience. Oh, and go where the moment takes you.
What have I missed? What other lessons are there for us presenters?