Five Tips for Outstanding Presentations – Borrowed from Theater

Dec 22

Written by:
12/22/2016 7:00 AM  RssIcon

It had been a long time since I thought about giving a theatrical performance: the lights, the stage, the audience. But that changed recently when my oldest daughter was bitten by the acting bug. Suddenly, I was tossed back into the world of theater, and now I am looking at it from a new perspective. In preparation for her roles, we work together on diction, facial expressions, and eye contact. In her acting and improv classes, she learns to remain in character, be present in the moment, read the audience, and adapt when something unexpected happens. Such skills are crucial elements in an actor’s toolkit. However, the more I am reintroduced to the best practices of the stage, the more I realize that these are not practices that I’ve left behind, but rather tools that I use on a daily basis to make effective and engaging presentations. And so, without further ado, I offer five useful tips for stellar presentations, borrowed from the theater community.

  1. Focus on your verbal and body languages. Presenting is performing. Whether your presentation is given in person or by webinar, you are “on stage” from the moment you arrive. If your presentation is live (or via webcam), know that your audience is watching your every movement and facial expression. Does your body language convey confidence? Do you make eye contact with your audience? If your presentation is via webinar, pay close attention to your diction and tempo. Your excellent point can be completely missed if it’s not clearly articulated. Prior to any presentation, try running through some vocal warm-ups. A few tongue twisters of differing consonants will give the best results. Start by slowly reciting one at a time, and increase your speed with each recitation. The warm-ups will make a big difference in your voice and your ability to speak clearly and confidently.       

  2. Stay in character. When giving a presentation, you are the authority on your subject. As such, you must remain professional. You can be congenial – even friendly – but the moment you “break character” and allow the conversation to derail, you run the risk of losing your professional credibility.  

  3. Be present in the moment. This is a tough one for busy professionals. With constant digital distractions, back-to-back meetings, and multiple priorities, it’s easy to become sidetracked. Don’t. When you present, focus only on that moment. If your mind is somewhere else, it will become obvious to your audience. The best presentations are given as though they are the only thing that matters. So turn off the phone and nail it!   

  4. Engage your audience. Why is improvisational comedy so entertaining? Because every performance is tailored to its particular audience. The goal of your presentation might not be to entertain, but you do need to adapt to your specific audience. Are people fidgeting or checking email? Read their body language and facial expressions. If they look bored, don’t plow forward through the mud. Instead, re-engage them. Ask if they have questions, or if they would like more depth on a point. Involve them in the discussion.   

  5. Expect the unexpected. Most likely, at some point in the course of giving a presentation, something unexpected will happen. It could be a technology failure, a question to which you don’t know the answer to, the presence (or lack) of a key decision maker, or even some type of emergency situation.  When the unexpected happens, improvise. Attend to the situation, but don’t allow yourself to become rattled. Rather than ruining the presentation, your calm demeanor in the face of the unchartered waters will speak volumes for your professionalism.   

Presenting is an art form. It takes time to learn, and even more time to refine your technique. Remember that your presentation is your performance piece – and your opportunity to shine. As Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Happy presenting!

Heidi Robbe

Director of Client Engagement