I was attending a music industry lunch recently and found myself surrounded by famous, if ageing, faces from the 60s and 70s. As the time to sit down approached the host asked me: “Where’s Noddy?” I pointed him out and the next thing I knew was that we were being called to order by none other than the great Slade singer Noddy Holder. Why strain your own vocal cords when you have the loudest voice in pop music at your disposal?
It reminded me of the opportunities that can arise for adding impact to your presentation by exploiting your own assets, the occasion itself and even the venue. Equally, there can be situations in which you would fall down by failing to embrace what is going on around you. If a key news event has occurred that day, the journey to the venue had been particularly difficult or something extraordinary had happened with the weather, you really need to make some mention of it, even if only to get a burning topic out of the way. This creates empathy with your audience because you are acknowledging a shared experience.
What I am talking about with Noddy Holder-type situations is seizing bigger opportunities. Among the examples – both seized and missed – that I have seen in my Presentation Skills training sessions are:
- “Our company was founded in 1834 by …..”, before rapidly moving on to more mundane information. “Hang on a minute” I said, “most companies would kill for a heritage like that – dwell on it for a moment. And that founder must be a pretty special guy; I want to see a picture of him and I want an insight into how he created what became such a big and long-lasting company.” You probably don’t want to dwell too much on ancient history, but neither do you want to deprive your audience once their appetite has been whetted. The best solution here would probably be to conclude on a topical note that rings true with the founder’s principles.
- An induction presentation that launched almost directly into form filling and systems operations. As it happened, I had worked in the location before and been taken onto the roof terrace for coffee. While we admired the magnificent view, I was told stories of direct links with Winston Churchill and wartime London. In this induction presentation I was soon befuddled by all the systems talk, so I recommended that it should start with a tour of the building, brought to life further with a bit of history. That would make newcomers much more eager to sit down and do some serious learning.
- Members of one of the PR companies I trained were tasked with presenting magic tricks as a way of sharpening their business presentations. Looking for a way to reveal a prediction in an original and impossible manner, one delegate had spotted that the venue owned a dog. She quietly arranged for the dog to appear - on cue and with the prediction attached to its collar - and received a standing ovation.
- Finally, I was in at a bank in Canary Wharf. The place was rather anonymous, so with small talk material rather thin on the ground I complimented them on the design and taste of their biscuits. They replied that they had their own in-house baker before moving straight on to talk about business matters. When I followed up with a training plan I also sent them one of the ‘doggy bag’ boxes used by my wife’s hotels. I suggested that if any future visitors expressed interest in the biscuits as I had, they should present them with some to take home. What’s more, there were various options for doing this in personalised, impromptu and surprise ways. The recipients would then remember the bank’s people, talk about them and maybe even do some business with them.
So the opportunities available to you may seem trivial. They may have become ‘invisible’ to you through over-familiarity. But it will all be new and potentially interesting to your audience. So be sure to make the most of your assets, the surroundings and anything that simply falls into your lap!