rock and roll presentation skills

A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without mentally taking note of what they are doing well and what I could do to improve my own skills.20130205_234003

The other night I saw a concert with two local opening bands and a European headlining act on a world tour. A middle of the week show, in club with maybe 100 people, this was clearly not going to make the band rich – it was likely more of a chance to make some gas money to get to the weekend at a much bigger venue.

The local bands were good. For local bands. But there was a big contrast between the presentation skills of those who had day jobs and were musicians on the side and those who were full-time musicians. Lots to learn for anyone who gets up in front of others:

1. Engage the crowd. Connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible. The headlining singer continually referred to the crowd as “friends”, pointed out people in the audience, brought signs people were holding up onto the stage to show them off, gave the audience a choice of what song they’d play next, repeatedly told the crowd how crazy/enthusiastic/loud they were being, and thanked the audience for coming out on a weeknight. Sound obvious? The local bands did none of this. What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all?

2. Recognize ALL presentations matter. Whether in a stadium or a small bar, all shows matter. The headlining band had played 200 shows around the world in the past 10 months – that’s a show two nights out of every three. Yet, they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. They played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. The local bands showed up and played as though it were just another show. Compared to the headliners, they were restrained, half-hearted, and holding back. As a presenter and facilitator it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ll just wing it, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a little presentation.

3. Make it about the audience, not the presenter. The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, that you could download them on iTunes, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and really focused on the band. Everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them. It would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and complain, gripe, and moan about the small venue, small crowd, lack of attention they get, etc. This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. Our words reveal our focus – is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? As a presenter I have the choice to punish the few that are fully engaged OR be thankful and build their commitment even further – guess which one leads to success and which one leads to rapid obscurity.

4. Keep it simple. Interestingly, both local bands had bass players with five or six string instruments, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining bass player used a traditional four string bass with a pick and often played just one note repeatedly or used comparatively simple bass lines. As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it feels unprofessional when you’re a novice. What amateur presenters miss is that simple often requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

5. Have fun. It’s easy to get jaded and burnt out and feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve. It’s hard to show up, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Presenting is the greatest job in the world IF you enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, it’s a private hell. 200+ shows into the current tour and the headliners were smiling, playing, and connecting like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the stereo between the bands.

A nice reminder I need to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

What thinks you?

Guest Post: Corsets come off in Downton Abbey. Time they come off for us as well

A special event today – my first guest blogger! Today’s post is from Peter Watts and it originally appeared on The Presenters’ BlogPeter is also a fan of Downton Abbey and his post coincides nicely with the one I did a little while ago on leadership lessons from Downton Abbey. Enjoy!


Poor Lord Grantham. He has no idea what’s coming. Corsets are about to start coming off all over the place.

World War 1 has changed the Downton landscape of Season Three socially, morally, and economically. Old certainties no longer count. When individuals both upstairs and downstairs within the Abbey try to use those old certainties to exert control over others, the consequences are seldom what they intend.

As presenters we too live in a changed world; one changed by mobile technology.

When audiences can simply film or photo their way through a presentation, it is no longer realistic to pull up an intellectual drawbridge and attempt to hide behind a © copyright symbol. While we may have been born into a world of Intellectual Property fiefdom, the walls that held that fiefdom together crumble a little more each time somebody lifts a smartphone.

Of course one way to handle this might be to ban the use of mobile phones within the audience. If you have ever tried this then you will already know how unsuccessful the approach is.

The corset of “please turn off your mobile phones” no longer works. It’s time for collaboration, not corsets.

When we ring-fence our IP it is because scarcity mentality tells us that if we release this precious idea, we’ll never get another one. Better to lock it away.

Abundance mentality however would tell us that where that idea came from, there are plenty more waiting to be born. Your idea might trigger thoughts in somebody else, and yet another person’s ideas might trigger thoughts in you.

This only happens though, if we let go of © for corset and for copyright, and instead embrace © for collaboration.

Will Lord Grantham learn his lesson by the end of Season Three, because even the Dowager is loosening up her laces.


nerves of steel or just nervous?

I recently did a post on public speaking called the one skill to develop. Yesterday I was asked, “How do you not get nervous when doing a presentation?” It’s a great question that got me to thinking and I realized the answer is not what one might expect. I don’t have any tips to not be nervous because, for me, it’s all part of the process. The trick is living with it and using it to your advantage:

Nervous is normal: you are going to get nervous when doing a presentation. This is the big one. Everyone gets nervous and excited when doing something significant. Trying to not be nervous is only going to draw your attention to how nervous you are and make you even more nervous. It’s like trying to fall asleep by thinking about how much you need to fall asleep. Accept your feelings as normal and go do a great job.

Never compare yourself to how you think others are.The problem is, we look at people who are good at speaking and presenting and think that not being nervous is the way we should be. But we don’t see the practice, and fretting, and worrying. We don’t know that they felt like they were going to puke adrenalin right up until they started. We didn’t see them all jittery. We don’t even know what nervous looks like for them.

There is a very fine line between nervous and excited. Very fine. For me, the physiological response is the same – shaking hands, butterflys in the stomach, my attention span shortens, sometimes I start to sweat. I suspect that we often confuse being excited for being nervous.

Nervous does not equal failure. You’re nervous – so what? Don’t judge your presentation on how you felt. Judge it on the end results and the impact that it had on the audience.

Use your nerves to your advantage. I get nervous/excited when I’m looking forward to something, when I want to do a really good job, when there’s some consequence. There’s a ton of energy coursing through your body. Channel it and use it to put life and passion into your presentation.

Look forward to your nervousness. We’re all different. I used to race motorcycles and bicycles and developed a habit that’s served me well when speaking. No matter how nervous I was before a race, sitting on the starting line always created intense calm, focus, and confidence for me. All the internal chatter gets quiet and my whole being was laserbeamed on the first corner. I find speaking is the same for me. No matter how nervous/excited I am, experience has taught me that once I get started it all comes together. I look forward to those first moments when I stop being scattered and my brain quiets down and I get focused. Over the years, I’ve simply trained myself to look forward to those opening moments.

Experience helps. No lie. The more you do anything, the less awkward you’ll feel. You’ll never get better if you stay on the sidelines kicking yourself for getting nervous. Get out and do it.

Have fun. In a weird way, the audience will reflect your state of mind. If you relax and have fun, they will too.


Anyone else have some favorite tips to help deal with nervousness when giving presentations?