by Mark G. Auerbach
Whether it’s an elevator speech, a state-of-the-business recap to colleagues, or a sales presentation, people who come from the performing arts seem to have better skills than their non-performing counterparts when it comes to making presentations. Maybe it’s the techniques they learn in rehearsal and performance that put them front and center. Maybe it’s the on-going audition process that they go through to find the next role. Maybe, it’s their ability to script, breathe, move, present, and pace their act that wins applause.
Before I got into public relations, I worked in musical theatre. Once I made the connection that every presentation is a performance, I was able to make my presentations better by using the techniques I’d learned and crafted to better my performance. I transitioned from performer to publicist at the Yale School of Drama. A professor of arts administration, John Hightower, taught us that presentation is performance. “Wrap your facts and figures into a story. People listen to a story when it’s well told,” he would say.
Creating a good script
Your script is a story that contains the “who, what, when, where, and why.”
Script your story with a beginning, middle, and end. Capture your audience’s attention at the get-go. Structure your content so they pay attention throughout. End the presentation with something that your audience can walk away with.
Lisa Bianconi is the Grammy Award-nominated music director of the Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster, VT. Her young musicians (grades 1-8) have performed around New England, at the Eastern States Exposition, in “A Cape Breton Christmas” with Natalie MacMster, and as finalists on the WGBY Public Television series “Together in Song.” Bianconi believes that rehearsal and performance give her student musicians self-confidence. She, as Maestra of each performance, has to set the example of cool and confident.
”Everyone needs to come away from your presentation with something that can be remembered” says Bianconi. “It can be a humorous story, an interesting fact, or an outstanding performance. Your audience needs to be able to relate to you and your content.”
Script your story so that only one person can deliver it well–you.
Write your presentation for the ear. People won’t read your script, although you may provide notes, tables, and charts for them to review either before or after your presentation. Tape your presentation and listen to it. You’ll get an idea of how it sounds.
Jerry Bryant uses his singing and acting skills in his day job as a sales trainer and presenter for a national healthcare company. After work, he’s active in local theatre productions, and performs at music festivals. ”I am always impressed by the use of silence,” he says. “Instead of filling every second of time with sound, memorable speakers pause and are silent occasionally – to emphasize a point, to make a transition, to catch their breath. And, amazingly, instead of the audience perceiving that they’ve missed a beat, they see someone who is in control and putting “white space” into the presentation.”
Script your story so it’s easy to perform. Pace yourself. Give yourself space to breathe. Write copy that you can pronounce. Give your script anecdotal moments…quotes from others. If you’re using PowerPoint, let the tool supplement your content with cool and colorful graphics and photos. Don’t read your PowerPoint post word for word.
If you must use a podium on a stage, don’t stand behind it like a statue. Move around. (ask for a portable microphone). Make eye contact with everyone at the presentation. In a theatre setting, the folks in the balcony get as much eye contact as those sitting front row center. In a meeting room, walk around. It keeps people on their toes.
Rehearse! You can never be too prepared. Listen to your voice modulation. Don’t sound monotone, unless you’re trying to put people to sleep. Breathe. If you race your speech or get breathless, you’ll find yourself in trouble.
Dress the part. You want to look good as you present, so choose an outfit that makes you look professional and is appropriate for your field. If you’ve got long hair, make sure it’s not falling in your face. If you’ll be in the spotlight, make-up that accentuates your face is appropriate. And, think about your shoes. If you’re climbing stairs to a podium or down from the stage to the audience, stiletto heels can be hazardous.
Joe Smith, the Los Angeles-based actor, writer, and voice-over talent, grew up in live theatre. His parents, Marc and Susan Smith, were founders of Worcester Foothills Theatre, where Joe got his start, before moving to other regional theatres around New England. He’s the founder and writer of Irrational Public Radio, the public radio parody.
Smith says, “If the content is there, but the style is lacking, it’s distracting…but at least there’s ideas to mine. If the style is there, but I sense lack of cohesive content, it just smells like BS and I won’t buy it. Take your time, engage the audience. If you’re at ease, I will be. If you’re not, I won’t be.”
Coming up in Act II, a primer on how to avoid stage fright.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.