Thursday, December 13, 2012

Acting your presentation, happily!

I am far from being a presentation expert, given that my current job is not allowing me to practice it as often as I'd like to but I do think that communicating, presenting and engaging an audience, are some of the most essential skills. And although there are trainings and tips I do believe you're either born to be an actor or not. You either love the stage, the lights, the conversation or not. I know it's hard to be a writer, a scenarist and an actor but personally I think that is pure #HAPPYMAKING!

So while I was at a workshop recently and I was playing a 2mins video to my audience, I couldn't stop thinking about what to do: observe their reactions, watch it like I was one of them, sit, stand, smile, approve or have some water as I may not have time later :) It felt like I was in a play and I realized that no matter how informal a presentation is, internal external, on a topic we get to discuss all the time, with people we know or meet for the first time, presenting is kind of like acting. Fruthermore once you see good and bad example you're 100% sure that there must be some rehearsal behind your own "acting" event also.

Acting classes have been on my wishlist of hobbies for a very long time, still have not happened, but from all the reading I have done on it, and watched and observed, let me quickly share what I think it applies to presenting.

  • Assuming you don't have to present in the next hours, your presentation's rehearsal should have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Know your slides- before you begin rehearsing read the text, know the order of the slides. For acting they say you need to read the script a minimum of 6 times, max 12, I guess that should stimulate your mind enough. Reading gives you the chance to learn the storyline, memorize it, start asking yourself about how the information will change people's lives once they leave the room. Reading out LOUD, can help you even more, as you don't want to wake up in front of your audience and use words you can't properly pronounce.
  • What is your role? It is a key question if for example you just want to add value to an idea, enable, get people to act or plan to start a revolution :) Figure out your role from the beginning.
  • Understand your character at the moment of the presentation- if it's you, or if you're playing  an advocate for animals' rights, or a worried colleague. As all humans (and especially women :) HA) we all have tens of thoughts going through our mind each moment. Think at some of the thoughts you may have when presenting, it will help you not be taken by surprised: for example- Why are they still using their laptops? Wish the 2 in the back would keep quiet! How to lower the light? Hope I won't fall. What if the presenter's battery dies, what will I do?, Will the lunch arrive in time?  I only had a banana for breakfast. Must remember to txt my husband and ask him to pay the rent...
  • What are the other actors doing and saying that affects and changes your work? The audience is more and more turning into actors by raising questions or you may have people co-presenting with you, in both cases you need to pay attention to what they are doing and how they can affect your performance. For example if you saw that look on your mum’s face while you said you're not coming home for Christmas, it would change the dry way you are delivering the news to something more empathetic. Prepare yourself for whatever your audience may bring. And if you're co-presenting make sure you rehearse together and are on the same page.
  • Set the other actors up. You may have co-presenters and you need not to only know WHAT they will present but also what they will ANSWER if asked. There is nothing more confussing for an audience than presenters not being on the same page and contradicting each other all the time. You're not there to PRACTICE, but to perform, so do all the clarification before your show. Also a proper introduction, transitions, raising up the ball for your co-presenter are very important.
  • Just like in acting, a full dress rehearsal offers valuable insights. The room, the IT equipment, speakers, mic,  video projector etc can be your friends or your enemies. Don't ever think that the message is what matters and that a great speaker can do great anywhere, anyhow, do you really want to rely on that?  
  • A key concept is FOCUS, an all-important theatrical concept. Your audience isn’t going to be EVER equally interested in everything you do. And forget it, you can't keep them focussed for 30 minutes of one hour. To make a dramatic comparison, you need to figure it out where they need to cry, shout or laugh. You may have one moment for each. What will you use it for? And you create  that focus not with the “where” or "when". You create it with the “how.” It can be a very emotional or personal story you share, a joke, a mind-blowing finding or a witty comparison.
  • Rehearsing can have drawbacks and you don't want to waste all chances of being spontaneous. Acting masters say keep a SECRET and only expose it when you go on stage. I should be something small like asking something surprising, challenging your co-presenter or audience (avoid to bring them in an uncomfortable zone), change something from your initial plan. Small new things should also calm you down.
  • The costume gives an actor CHARACTER. You may opt for jeans or a suit, pick what would make your character more credible. And I am not saying comfortable here, but credible! However if you can't wear high heels you may want to forget about them as you may end up thinking about your feet hurting for like 80% of the time. I would also suggest to try your outfit on some days before- avoid materials that make sweat super visible, check if your pants still fit or if your blouse isn't too short so that when you raise your hand you end up with a naked belly :) 
  • Stay aware. Listen, think, allow people to speak but stay aware. Minimize the risks of misunderstanding because you were not focussing, or that you have forgot what was next because you realized your watch stopped.
  • The set is a great teacher. When you're done remain in the room and soak in the energy. Think about what worked well, what sucked, what could be done differently, collect these ideas while all fresh in your mind.
  • Take time before presentations. You should not rush in the next and next and next presentation. Give yourself some days/weeks to think about what you'd like to change and work on that change. Part of being a good actor means your work never stops :)
See you at the Oscars, my friends :)

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