Last week I was discussing the need to open your business presentation with the kind of energy you feel when you’re closing a successful presentation – and taking inspiration from the great magician John Archer. It reminded me, however, that there can be conflicting objectives at play as you open.
On one hand, you want to come straight to the point, driven by that sense of energy. One the other hand, you actually need to take your time to get established, allowing your audience to ‘tune in’ to you as they settle and ensuring that you don’t simply blurt your all-important opening words because your heart is pounding away that little bit faster than normal. Above all, you need to take control of the situation and ensure that, for the next few minutes at least, you ‘own the space’.
I usually illustrate this to asking those I am coaching if they have ever been to a dinner with entertainment provided by ‘table-hopping’ magicians. I explain that it’s a tough environment for the magicians – they need to break into the table, interrupt the conversation and struggle with noise, difficult lighting conditions and waiters trying to serve food, never mind potentially tipsy guests. The best performers will do all they can to ‘own the space’; they will clear a small area for themselves, adjust the seating a little and clear away any obstructions or distractions. Only then will they start to perform their magic – when the conditions are right for them to do the best job possible.
Few people get to experience working as both magician and businessman, so I was‘Magic State of Mind’ interviews. Marvin is the man behind the super-successful range of ‘Marvin’s Magic’ tricks that you will find in department stores all over the world. He continues as a performer, however, particularly at the Emirates Stadium where he organises the corporate entertainment for Arsenal FC. Inevitably he gets asked in business meetings to ‘show us a trick’. The way Marvin responds is to say: “Sure, but not near at the corner of your desk; let’s go and sit around the table and I’ll show you something special”.
So – take a moment or two before launching straight into your business presentation. A moment to check that your audience are all settled and that everything you need is in place. And don’t, whatever happens, get caught out by the arrival of the coffee. All too often a trolley arrives just as you are delivering your full-on, scene-setting, engagement-designed opening statement. You cannot hope to compete with the clinkety-clink of cups and saucers and the passing of the sugar bowl. So stop speaking and make a point of pouring the coffee yourself. Far from looking servile it will show that you are in charge and you will re-start when full attention can be assured. You own the space!