“I know you are only speaking for a few minutes each, but actually you will be under pressure to ‘perform’ for the full 40 minutes that you remain on stage.”
So went my briefing to a team of business presenters I was helping to prepare for a recent conference. What you need to remember, I explained, is that the audience will be looking, if not actually focusing, in your direction throughout the session. What typically happens is that you are all revved up for your own section, but will probably sigh with relief and relax a bit once it is complete. You have already heard what your colleagues are now presenting in numerous rehearsals, so your mind starts to wander. You may start examining your fingernails, spot something peculiar about the light fittings, or even let out a little yawn.
This is bad news for your team and especially the person currently presenting – because you are sending out signals of boredom to the audience. If you are not showing proper interest why should they?
What you need to do therefore is to remain fully alert – ‘on parade’, if you like – for every moment that you are in the audience’s view. Specifically, you need to be supportive of your colleagues, actively listening to what they say, complete with smiles and nods in appropriate places as if you are hearing it for the first time. As well as being supportive this will create a sense of ‘energy’, that will be sadly lacking if each person is simply waiting for their turn to speak.
Success in presenting as a team is dependent on a number of other factors such as choreography – getting the team on stage in the right order and at the right pace – and furniture! What you need to avoid is low-standing squidgy sofas that appear to suck people into a slump position. Look at the sofas on breakfast TV shows – they may look comfortable, but in reality they are quite hard and upright. Stools are usually the best option – they keep everyone almost vertical and are quick and easy to get out of.
One other tip was highlighted by my recent coaching session – the need to be seen to actively watch any video material you use. One of the speakers introduced his video clip with a certain amount of gusto and then appeared to take no further interest in it. “You must watch – and be seen to be watching – your video,” I said. “I was,” he replied, “I looked at the monitor in front of the stage.” I explained that I knew that but few, if any, of the audience would appreciate the fact. He needed to actively turn towards the screen at the moment that he wanted attention focused there and keep his gaze firmly fixed in that direction for the duration of the video.
Magicians, of course, know all about using their gaze to direct attention where they want it, but it was the main point here of being ‘on show’ that the great Ali Bongo used to drum into us for events at The Magic Circle: You must remain fully ‘in character’, he said, whenever members of the audience see you - or might see you.