Years ago, my uncle told me a joke. It was about a guy’s first day in prison. All through the day, he heard inmates yelling out numbers followed by gales of laughter. This greatly confused him and he asked his cellmate what was going on. His celly told him that most of the prisoners had been there so long and told the same jokes, they just numbered them from one to a hundred for brevity. So when someone wanted to tell a joke, they just yelled out that number. His cell mate told him to try it. So the guy yells out “forty-nine.” Nothing. “Sixty-eight.” Nothing. Now he is confused and bewildered and yells “thirty-three.” Still…nothing.
His cell mate says, “let’s face it, you just don’t know how to tell a joke.”
Giving an effective, memorable and enjoyable presentation, be it business or otherwise, is similar to doing stand-up or telling a joke. Even singing a song. It’s about rhythm, pacing and connection. I’ve seen the same material used on different occasions with wildly differing results. Sometimes it has to do with the energy in the room or your comfort and belief in the message. I know “bombing” from personal experience. It can be bewildering but instructive.
My sense of humor has always been a blessing and a curse. It’s kept me from getting beat up as a kid and been used to bludgeon me at performance reviews years later. “Well, Bob, we’re just kind of concerned that you might not be taking the job seriously enough.” I thought I was all done after a particular business skit almost brought the house down and me with it.
After that, every word I spoke, people listened and very often, repeated. People were craning their necks at times to catch my random, disruptive, irreverent comments at meetings. Much to the chagrin of upper management. The point is: the more unpredictable, interesting and humorous you are, the more attention you are likely to receive. I never cared what they said about me as long as they spelled my name right. Shameless!
Ever sit in an audience of thousands and watch that speck on the stage move you emotionally, spiritually, make you laugh, cry, empower you, keep your attention and keep you focused? As you sit spellbound in the palm of their hand?
It’s magic, isn’t it? It’s what we, as business leaders, should be striving for. Otherwise, we end up as the only barrier to the bathroom or the coffee machine. Attention is currency. Don’t spend it foolishly.
A presentation of any kind should be an experience to the recipient. A sharing of common humanity. That’s why comedy works. You connect. You’re laughing at the sudden revelation of your own quirks and habits. It’s truth, humility and connection. Some comedians will go to any lengths to get your attention and end up looking dumb and vulgar. Others respect your intelligence and make the connection on a higher level.
Silence. Having been a musician and stand-up most of my pre-business life, understanding the power of silence is the most valuable part of any performance. It’s what you leave out, not what you put in, that makes something special.
Imagine a song, a poem, or a great speech without that space of silence that allows you to appreciate the words or notes you’ve just heard. Silence is extremely powerful when used as part of the rhythm of your performance.
You become the conductor of your audience. They understand at once, your power, confidence and human connection.You are providing the experience.
Overcoming the impulse to keep gabbing nervously and not taking stock of your audience, leaves you in a room by yourself with that self conscious spotlight blinding you to the experience you should be sharing, not trying to survive.
If you are called on to give a presentation and have some reservations, watch comedians, motivational speakers, even preachers and watch how they take command of that stage. They own it. They prowl from end to end, engaging and challenging and sharing. They leave nothing to chance. To survive, they need to pull them in.
If you have the desire to achieve success, reach and move large groups and influence you need that center stage real estate. No getting around it.