At Video on the Net in San Jose this past March, I was standing beside Brian Conley, the man behind the popular internet TV show, Alive in Baghdad. Brian’s a slender man, with glasses, and comes off as quiet until you know him. Just before going onstage, he turns to me and says, “Do you think they’ll get mad at me if I kick over the podium?”
Presenting can be scary to many people, and for others, it comes quiet naturally, but even the best presenters have to break free from their “tried and true” methods and shake up their audience. You know who understands this very well? You know who can change up their act and get people moving? Rockstars!
Disclosure: I wrote about this way back in February 2006, too. Guess it’s on my mind again.
Make First Contact With Emotions
When you go to a concert, bands are pushing your emotion button even before they get onstage. When the auditorium goes dark, your heart races a little. When the lights start flashing and the curtain raises, you feel your adrenalin start to flow. All this before the first note of the first song.
In the amazing-yet-simple book, MADE TO STICK, the Heath brothers remind us that pretty much any topic can be discussed from the angle of how it impacts humans. Reach for that. Look for the best way to connect what you’re discussing with the humans in the audience. And use a HUMAN perspective, no matter the topic. Humans are at the root of most things you’re going to present about. Right?
When a band’s been around a while, they get the benefit of playing audience favorites and still having enough material to stretch their show. What makes playing the favorites so great? People CONNECT to them.
In your presentation, talk from the perspective of what your audience wants to hear most. Lead with the good stuff. Give them something juicy to think about, and then build on it. Only in fiction (novels, plays, movies) is keeping someone in the dark desirable. In presentations, people need to feel “in” and they want you to let them in right up front.
Kick Over the Podium
Watch any live concert performance and you know when the audience goes CRAZY. It’s when the band moves out into the audience in any manner that breaks the “fourth wall” between band and crowd. When the singer or a guitarist hurls themselves into the fray to connect physically with their audience, it always pays off in even stronger attention. (I was once at a New Year’s gig where The Mighty Mighty Bosstones invited the entire audience up on stage with them. Hazard? Yes. Memorable? YES!)
Unless it’s ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, get out from behind the podium. Move. If it’s a big venue and you need a mic, ask about wireless way ahead of time. Most professional events will have them. They may not WANT to rig for that, but hey. It’s your presentation. If that’s the hardest challenge you’ll put them through, they’ll be lucky. And once you’re out from behind that podium, what should you do? Make eye contact. Pretend everyone in the audience helped with your presentation, and talk conversationally with them about the points you’re making.
Wave Those Lighters
Rock concerts are fraught with audience participation. The best of them make the people in the crowd feel like part of the band. The worst make you flip the band the bird. “I can’t hear you” is not audience participation.
Getting your audience to react and act is more than “show of hands” tricks. There are all kinds of ways. A fun one I’ve seen and like emulating is when a presenter prints out nice high-color versions of their slides (should you choose to use them) with numbers on the back (1, 2, 3). Then, when you’re ready for the next slide, get the audience to hold them up and present them. Ask questions that aren’t just hand-waving questions. (Be wary of presentation-hijackers, but otherwise, this makes for good theater).
There are dozens more ways to hack this. Just think it through. How can people interact with your presentation? Do you have data? Is there a physical representation of the data that would look striking in the audience?
Go Home Singing
After every good rock concert, if you’re like me, you sing badly mangled versions of what you just heard onstage while driving home. Rockstars want that desperately. They want to be in your head after you’ve left them. They want you to carry the experience off to others so they grow their fan base.
Do the same with your presentation. Give people something to remember. Give them a striking visual, an interesting turn of phrase, an emotionally-charged moment that hooks together the entire presentation. The best presentations are the ones people talk about days after the fact. Is that YOUR presentation? Do you give them something to sing?
You’re the Rockstar
I know you. Some of you sell out arenas with your presentations (even if only in your heads). You’ve got better ideas than mine. Why not share them? Fill this comment section with YOUR tips on being a rockstar presenter. Tell me I’m full of crap. Give me an anecdote from the best performance…er, presentation you ever gave, attended, or heard about from someone after the fact. It’s how we grow.