Photo credit: AndiH

Live performances are magic. We pay to see our favorite bands performing even though we can listen to the songs anytime for free. We travel long distances to hear a famous speaker live, even though we can watch their speech online at home. We pay more for a Broadway show than to see a film.

Live is Magic.

Presentations are Live. So why aren’t they always magic? That’s because there are three types of live. And only one of them is Magic. Which do your presentations fit into?

1. Pseudo-Live

This type of presentation is “technically” live but everything else about the presentation is dead. You can kill your presentation by reading from a script – whether it be on paper, in your head, or in abbreviated format on your slides.

Some presenters and speakers think that too much rehearsal produces a dead presentation. Seth Godin said in a post entitled Rehearsing is for Cowards:

I’m talking about the repetition of doing it before you do it, again and again. Just drilling it in so you can regurgitate later. Better, I think, as they say, “…let’s do it live.”

But that’s the wrong kind of rehearsal. There’s a better way to rehearse (yes, I talk about it below) that ensures you deliver value and come across as “live”.

2. Winging it Live

Under the misguided impression that rehearsal will make them stale, some presenters believe that they’re at their best when they’re winging it. Most of these people are wrong. Winging it generally comes across to the audience as disorganized rambling chaos. I say “most people” and “generally” because occasional flashes of brilliance can come from this type of presentation.

Chris Brogan is an experienced speaker, who’s unusually honest about his performance.  He experimented with “winging it”:

I’ve worked strictly in the moment, like an improv actor or an artist or a cook. I take all the raw pieces of my conversations and work them into pieces of information on the fly and in real time. I enjoy it. My audience doesn’t seem to like it as much. They come away appreciative of my passion but no more ready to take action.

Here’s his comment on another presentation he gave:

On the day of the event, I felt like I killed it. Like the entire audience was eating out of my hands. Watching it now, I see that I rambled too much, that my narrative kept falling under the weight of all my asides, that people in that audience didn’t get their $129 worth out of me.

Sometimes you may come across an experienced speaker who appears to be winging it and produces a brilliant result. Before you assume that winging it is a winning strategy realise that they may have given a similar speech hundreds of times before.

3. Magic Live

This is the type of Live to strive for. It feels like the performers or speaker are creating something new and special for their audience. It’s not because they haven’t rehearsed. Cirque de Soleil shows are masterful performances which are choreographed and rehearsed down to the last detail and performed by talented people. Yet despite all the rehearsal, Cirque de Soleil shows have us on the edge of our seats.

How can you combine the usefulness of rehearsal with the magic of Live to be a compelling speaker.

1. Rehearse the right way

About 10 years ago, when my partner Tony and I were just starting our presentation training business we were having a chat with an experienced professional speaker. He said to us:

Every time you give your speech, give it a different way

Similarly, when you rehearse say it differently every time. You’re sharing ideas, not sentences. Even if you’ve crafted a fantastic line, let go of the need to use it. If it comes out that way, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, it’s not a big deal. The effort of trying to get it exactly right will kill your presentation.

As Michael Caine said:

Rehearsal is the work, performance is the relaxation.

2. Make your heart beat faster

Many people spout about being authentic, being real. I agree, but it’s not a very useful instruction.

Years ago, I used to take part in a gathering called Heart Politics. Part of the gathering was a Talking Circle. This was a place that people shared their experiences.  The Talking Circle was for deep, meaningful sharing, not for trite stories, showing off or telling jokes. There was no predetermined order of speakers. You got up when you were ready. You were ready when your heart started beating faster.  That kind of sharing is riveting.

Say something that makes your heart beat faster. It could be sharing a personal experience, it might be being bold in the statement of your opinions. You’ll be compelling.

3. Create something

Watching an artist create a piece of art is captivating. You can plug into that.

Create something for the audience

The flipchart is a magic tool for creation. Use a flipchart or other live drawing tool to create images in front of your audience instead of prepared PowerPoint slides and feel the energy lift in the room.

Create something with the audience

Co-create your presentation with your audience by asking for their input and wisdom. Audience participation is an art – check out this post on audience participation for tips on how to make it work

4. Do something that might fail

The possibility that something may go wrong is fascinating to an audience.

On our presentation courses, we carry out one-on-one coaching in front of the audience. We’re working on the edge. Our aim is to stretch the coachee just the right amount to unleash their brilliance , but there’s always the possibility of failure. That keeps the observers riveted.

Use the Magic of Live and you’ll be a compelling speaker.

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