Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Like a great jazz performance an effective business presentation needs to be both scripted AND improvisational

There is always a debate when constructing business presentations – to script or not to script?
There are many pros and cons on both sides. With scripting you run the risk of the presenter just reading it out. Even if they memorise the script it is likely to come over as stiff, too pre-prepared and lacking in spontaneity.

Equally, one of the biggest ways in which many people let themselves down is that they don’t really know what they are going to say – they meander and repeat themselves in a way that would be deemed normal for a general conversation but unsuitable for a presentation where people have taken the time and trouble to gather and listen. Furthermore, it will almost certainly lack any real focus or impact, so may be a waste of (everybody’s) time.  

I therefore tend to avoid talk of actual ‘scripting’ – except for the opening and closing, which I stress are the most important parts of any presentation. As you open you need to get straight to your big agenda-setting point while also engaging your audience. As you close you need to send your audience away with a crystal-clear rendition of what you want them to remember and do as a result of your presentation. Your opening and closing therefore need to be both scripted and memorised – so that you are concise, word-perfect and can give full-on eye contact at the most crucial moments. In between you can afford to be a little more relaxed and informal.

Having long applied this principle to my Presentation Skills coaching, I was delighted to find a supportive view in TED Talks, via a contribution from Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness. I quote direct from Head of TED Chris Anderson’s excellent book TED Talks – The official TED Guide to Public Speaking:

Dan Gilbert thinks it’s not either/or. First of all he writes a script for his talks (being careful to use spoken English).  But then, when I deliver them I don’t stick to the script I wrote. So why do I write them? Because writing a story is how you find out where the holes are! A great talk is both scripted AND improvisational. It is precisely like a great jazz performance: First, the opening and closing are always completely scripted; second, the general structure is fully determined before the first horn blows; but third, what makes jazz interesting and captivating is that in the middle there is always some point (or several points) in which the player can go off script and spontaneously create something that captures the mood of that particular audience in that particular room at that particular moment in time. The player can take a few moments to do this, but he must always know when to come home, and he must always know where home is. A totally improvisational talk is like free jazz: an utter abomination almost every time it happens. A totally scripted talk is like a classical music concert: intricate, deep, and flawlessly executed, but often predictable enough to put the audience to sleep because they know from the start that there will be no surprises.

To me, that sums up the scenario perfectly, with key take outs being:

1.    A great talk is both scripted AND improvisational.

2.    The opening and closing are always completely scripted.

3.    He must always know when to come home, and he must always know where home is.

I do, however, love the references to free jazz and classical concerts.

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