Presenting…a form of acting?

When I asked my husband (yes I got married – more about this on a different blog post) how he teaches finance and MBA students for three hours, and his preparation consists of about an hour of flicking thorough slides the night before, he said to me ” I just go and start talking.” I asked him this question when I was preparing to deliver a three hour workshop on “Delivering High Impact Presentations” to some of the world’s most creative minds at Ogilvy, Dubai.  The thing is I have done so much public speaking and I love an audience but I’ve never done it for three hours. So when I was rehearsing in front of him, I was stumbling all over my words and getting it terribly wrong. It was so frustrating because I’d spoken in front of 200 people and been on national TV and yet I was struggling to string a simple sentence. I was nervous, more nervous than I have ever been because this was so important to me and I was scared that this audience would see right through me. How do you creative experts how to deliver high impact presentations?

I wanted to know what it was like to work for an agency and Ogilvy gave me that chance. And for my part, they wanted to use my experience to deliver a workshop for the team. I had to get it right.

Here’s what I did. I prepared my slide deck and I wrote out everything I was going to say for each slide, including the stories I needed to share, the exercises and the frameworks that I would teach. I wrote everything I was going to say and then I tried to learn it. This isn’t a trick for everyone but for me, it worked wonders. I did a lot of research on how people became great presenters. I enjoy talking so it came naturally to me but I could’t teach that. So I researched and I found out that most TED talks are memorised following months of rehearsals. The rest was just acting.

Of course, I couldn’t learn three hours worth of script but I did rehearse what I was going to say multiple times. What panicked me was that I would forget what to say and struggle to figure out which order the words went. But that’s when my husband’s advice came in handy. I learnt my script, I acted it out and when I went in on the day, I just talked. It didn’t come out the way I scripted it but it was close and I said what I had to say. I didn’t focus as much on what I was saying but more on how I was saying it and by just talking rather than trying to remember words I was able to deliver something fairly coherent. What made it easier was focusing on my voice and my body language to create impact, knowing when to raise my voice, face my palms upwards, close in on the audience, use the space around me to move so that the audience would follow. They’re small things but enough to think about when you’re on stage. Take away the worry of remembering the words.

55% of presenting is body language, 38% is tonality and 7% is words. Presenting is all about saying the words in a way that creates impact. It’s all an act that you can rehearse. I’m a huge advocate of rehearsing presentations, no matter how wonderful a speaker you are. But focus on the acting and not the words as much. The words will come to you. The audience expects you to be a little vulnerable, it’s normal and you’ll find that they are vouching for you.


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