The Presentation Equation

The text for this article is taken from my forthcoming book ‘Dancing in the Line of Fire‘ which, when published, will accompany my presentation skills training courses; ‘Potential Energy‘ and ‘Kinetic Energy‘.

Human beings are extraordinarily resourceful and capable of immense feats of intellectual, physical and emotional resilience. However something seems to change when we step into a space where the measure of our success is somehow ambiguous. Our attention shifts, we no longer seem able deploy our strengths quite so effectively and our sense of control falters.

Nowhere is this more evident than when presenting, which I define as an act of public speaking during which one person shares facts and opinions directly with two or more others. This makes it a performance and therefore one of the more uncomfortable forms of communication we can use. No wonder many of us approach it with trepidation; not for nothing do many grooms, best men and fathers of brides agonise over their speeches and dread their moment in the spotlight. Daunting as it is, let’s not forget that in this instance they are almost certain to enjoy a supportive audience.

The same cannot be said of a team leader of five, a manager of thirty, a CEO leading an organisation of thousands or a salesperson closing a deal with a client, and so any discomfort that exists will almost certainly be greater. The actor and entertainer George Jessel is reported to have said “The human brain starts working from the moment you are born and never stops working until you stand up to speak in public.” An eloquent quote, it sums up the experience many of us have had when standing alone before an audience, as we are exposed to two very real fears; humiliation and rejection. This prompts the bewildering array of physiological and mental symptoms that can sometimes overpower a presenter before, during and immediately after giving a presentation.

To protect ourselves from this, our natural response is one of fight, flight or freeze. However, these are of little use when presenting, let’s say, next year’s targets to highly incentivised salespeople, because they have given up their valuable time today to be told by us how much more they will need to earn tomorrow. Never does time become money more than when we believe someone is wasting ours, and so it’s small wonder that most audiences demand that we present well. Hell hath no fury like an audience bored.

It should be easy to walk away from such a poisoned chalice, and it is, but the ability to present effectively is highly prized. Demand for it is on the increase in the workplace, evidence of it often being cited as a reason for one candidate being preferred over another in the recruitment process. One easy way to gain a competitive advantage is to become better at it. Much better at it.

If you search for ‘Presentation Skills’ online, you will discover an eye-watering number of pages from websites that describe in great detail precisely what makes a good presentation. Each is a good source of information, and the fact that most corroborate each other should give us confidence that what they say is true. However, what most fail to address is the ‘how’. It’s all very well saying a presenter should ‘be engaging’, but How do you engage an audience? How do you make sure that your body is relaxed? How do you speak in such a way as to convey interest or importance?

Potential Energy, which I discuss and demonstrate in the short video below, has been designed and refined over many years to address just that; how.

In just under three hours for an audience of any size, or as a two-day intensive workshop for a maximum of eight participants, the course charts a course through the landscape of presentations using exercise, story, metaphor, reflection, theory, practise and play.

Given that no audience ever sat down hoping to see a mediocre performance and no presenter ever woke up energised by the prospect of delivering one, it is worth considering why these hopes and prospects are almost invariably realised. I believe it is because presenters are caught between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the unavoidable truth that an audience requires us to at least match if not exceed their expectations, and the hard place is Abraham Maslow’s assertion that our need for personal safety must be satisfied before we can concentrate on realising our potential. It can often feel like a vice-like grip, and to not just survive, but thrive in it is to Dance in the Line of Fire.

Potential Energy will not teach you what to do with your hands, where to stand or how to ‘fake it until you make it’. Instead, it will give you a framework of ideas and exercises that if personalised, developed and applied with rigour, can help transform your ability to present. The course aims to prove not just that your resources lie immediately beneath the fear of the unknown and the risk of what often feels like certain ridicule, but that connecting to them in that moment equips you to deliver an outstanding presentation.