Presentation Mastery

Presentation mastery: Black leather and cleavage

What a lucky break! Tim Sanders and I were, as they say, “sharing the platform”. I kicked off NYMix with the keynote and Tim was the luncheon speaker. “Hello SpeakerSue” he said when he saw me, and he had me!

He looked entirely different than when we last met. His hair was short and corporate, and his suit and tie conservative. When I commented on barely recognizing him, he explained  the new look was strategic. When he and his speaking coach video-ed the audiences at his speeches (something they do often to catch audience reactions – quite clever!), they noticed that men, specifically those over 35, had a hard time settling down for the  presentation. His new look seems to have a calming effect on them because their video shows they now settle in much more quickly. Amazing, yes, I agree, though in some ways we all do this intuitively, right? I don’t wear cleavage bearing black leather tops because not only wouldn’t my audiences settle down; they’d walk out. And they’d be laughing! Paying attention to what helps another person feel comfortable is an easy way to make a good first impression and makes it easier to accept what we’re saying. (See NLP for more advice about this.)

Tim also explained he is working on moving less on the stage. He has learned, he said, that to make a point it’s better to grow bigger (north to south) than to go back and forth (east to west). He demonstrated examples of Martin Luther King, becoming taller when he gave his “I have a Dream” speech and also, examples from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It made sense and I’ve been working on rising up, and becoming larger (in theory, of course) ever since.

But I wonder if it’s possible to be coached too much. I remember the time an “esteemed” colleague told me I’d never make it in this business with my New York accent. So for weeks I tried speaking without the accent. I hated me. Audiences hated me even more.

I remember a famous-in-her-own-mind speaker who did everything dramatically. Overly. She’d point (kind of like a Pointer) perfectly in sync with her words, “the point is”, and pause dramatically (count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) to make her “point”. She’d rave about her speaking coach and how important acting lessons can be to the effectiveness of the presentation. Being dramatic can be memorable, yes, but acting, I think, is just wrong. When everything is so scripted we forget to bring our own selves to the platform, it’s a disservice to all.

I’m hopeful I always remember never to turn into someone who isn’t me.  And that the presentation is about them, for them. As Sanders says, Love is the Killer App. Loving the audience, caring most about them rather than the tehnical perfection of the presentation, may be the best coaching lesson of all. After all, as Johnny Carson said, “Once they love you, you can get away with murder.” Maybe even black leather.

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