Getting your act together

Jan 21 2010 by Janet Howd Print This Article

Presenters are often advised to "act" their presentations. But the characters an actor plays vanish as soon as the curtain falls. Presenters, on the other hand, have to perform in their own skin, wear their own costume, write their own script, use their own accents to deliver their own lines and - once the presentation is over Ė hold their own while being questioned. That's a tough call.

That's a lot of things to have to do on your own but, unfortunately, in a world where to deliver a presentation is often the only way to get a contract, clinch a deal, gain a research grant or capture VC finance, if you don't get those things right, it'll be curtains for you!

Actors have the further luxury of not having to make themselves conversant with the culture their audiences come from in order for a performance to succeed, whereas presenters who do not fit each script and its style of delivery to each audience's needs are doomed to failure before they begin.

Language appropriate to first year students does not go down well when it's directed at fully fledged academics. Doctors and lawyers may both work to ease client pain but they utilise different skills and terminology to do so and must be addressed accordingly.

Similarly, sales and marketing people in an organisation may be conversant with the technical language appropriate to the R&D team, but employees in other departments may have little or no technical awareness and so must be given the same information in a form that will make sense to them.

The fact of the matter is that to be successful, presenters must be prepared to become extra-ordinary versions of themselves.

They must couch the same material in many different forms. They must become more upright, vivacious and commanding figures when delivering it. Their voices must become more resonant and engaging, their accents less dense. Their breath intake must be more expansive while its expiry must be more controlled. Their ideas must be so well formulated and drilled into their minds that nothing will throw them off course when presenting their material.

To this end - again unlike actors - presenters invariably have to do their own get-ins and get-outs and take on the added burden of stage managing their own shows.

Well in advance of a performance date, the wisest will obtain details of the width, length, height and name or number of the room they are going to be performing in. They will have found out whether it has fixed seating or moveable tables and chairs. They will know what floor its on and its proximity to lifts, stairs and washrooms.

The most canny will arrive at a venue at least two hours early carrying their own prop-bag containing lap top and or memory stick, plus file cards with key points of the presentation WRIT LARGE on them just in case computer connections fail.

Card reveals less evidence of shaking hands than does paper and when looped together with cord so that it's impossible for them to get shuffled out of sequence while in transit or fall to the floor during the presentation itself - they become the ultimate prompt.

Emptying out the remaining contents of the prop bag should reveal spare plug-sockets, adapters, cables, viable pens for flip charts and whiteboards; chalk for the blackboards that still lurk in many an institution and damp cloths to remove signs of work left up on boards of any colour by previous presenters.

All the while the kit is being unpacked, wise presenters will be voicing bits of their talk to get the feel of the acoustic properties of the space and the volume required to fill it: consciously reminding themselves that when a lot of bodies come into a space they absorb resonance so that the pitch and volume levels that seem OK now will have to be varied accordingly.

Where an amplification system is going to be used they pay particular attention to where wires run noting those attached to lapel-mikes especially as these can often turn into trip wire and produce an unwanted laugh!

If possible they will walk around the space ascertaining sound levels while someone else speaks into a fixed mike and observe the mike's position relative to the speaker's mouth so they can copy that ratio when they deliver their message

That done, they will find the whereabouts of light switches, window catches, blind mechanisms, plug points, overhead projectors and screens and ensure compatibility of connections. Laser pointers will be flicked on to make sure they work; flip charts checked to ensure they have enough clean sheets and are placed in the best sight line for all attendees.

Even though furniture is already in a pre-arranged set up, wise presenters may decide to shift tables and chairs into a lay-out that feels more suitable to them now they are in situ.

Time spent attending to these mundane, self regulatory elements of performance will pay off handsomely in terms of the comfort and confidence experienced by any one undertaking the act of presentation.

But when preparation has really been sufficient, a presenter becomes aware during performance that the skin they are in has transformed into an actor's costume and that the extra-ordinary person they were aiming to become has emerged triumphant!

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.