Article from Thinking Aloud ()
March 18, 2005
All the World's a Stage: The Presenter as Actor
by Abbe Buck

Giving a presentation is very much like acting: you are alone on a stage, you are there to convince people to believe you and your message, and you better know your lines! Communication in daily life parallels stories on stage or screen because it involves a speaker and an audience. A good presentation, like a good movie, relies on clear, powerful, and effective communication.

Acting involves the following ingredients which I list here selectively:

1. A strong clear voice and good clear speech
2. Semantics
3. The ability to work off the other person
4. Willpower and bravery in order to reach the audience
5. Common sense

Earlier this year, I watched a PBS moderator interviewing well known CEOs. Imagine my surprise when a CEO opened his mouth and out came a high pitched voice that didn't fit my image of the head of a large corporation. Obviously, he was already at the top and he was otherwise very well spoken and didn't need voice lessons for success. My point is that presenters, like actors, should know what they sound like and have themselves filmed, analyzed, directed, and led in any way they can to sound and look good. There are also many voice coaches who specialize on helping people change their voice pitch.

Semantics is important because speaking effectively happens when you pick dynamic, active, physical words to make your point. You may be big or small in stature. You may be fifty-six or twenty-three years old. You may be a man or a woman. No matter. It is the physical words that will make your statements be understood and believable. Clear language equals clear thoughts.

In the case of the presenter, the other person you need to work off is the audience. Haven't you ever been to a presentation and thought, "What planet is this guy on, how can he speak to us this way, does he think we're really that stupid?" Even if you reference your PowerPoint slides and are holding a laser pointer, you have to be aware of your audience. Are people shifting frequently during your speech, do they exchange glances after many of your points, are they laughing at the right places? I remember giving a talk not too long ago and apparently my choice of stories didn't go over well with that particular audience. At that time, I hadn't pre-planned to have alternative anecdotes, so I hurried through the talk and vowed to be better prepared the next time and to know my audience better. However, I did listen to the audience and was able to cut off the potentially offensive stories. I could have fallen flat on my face instead of just sounding bad (a small consolation).

To get up and talk in front of groups, big and small, takes a good amount of will power and lots of bravery; which leads to my last point.

To put on a good presentation, you have to have common sense. Some of my clients don't realize and often don't believe that excellent presenters, those people who casually get up and blow people away by their dynamic productions, have in fact spent hours preparing and practicing their performances, frequently helped by trainers from a team such as ours. Common sense tells us that almost no one can spend just an hour or two writing and practicing the delivery of a presentation and sound great. As actors do, presenters must take the time to hone their set of skills to put on a good show and, if you feel that you need to be prodded and prepared to look good, call upon us to work alongside you.

Abbe Buck is Principal Consultant of HighViz Consulting Group, a boutique marketing and public relations firm she founded in 1999, which started by specializing in promoting and developing potential opportunities for small, disadvantaged and minority businesses, with a special focus on Native American entities and associations. She can be reached via e-mail at highvizpr@highviz.net.  


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