The Visual Art of Presenting
By Kim McWatt
I recently had the pleasure of being the photographer of record for a Middle Eastern Belly Dance recital which took place in my home town. A lovely and talented group of ladies (some of whom I used to dance with) performed before a group of their friends and family. The choreography was excellent, the costumes and colors visually engaging, the music fantastic. Overall, a wonderful evening for everyone in attendance, and executed without a hitch.
Looking through the camera lens, instead of being a dancer or a spectator in the audience, gave me the opportunity to really capture the essence of what presentation skills coaches impart to their clients. How you present yourself to the audience makes all the difference in the world.
From experience, I know all about the tension, stress, excitement and exhilaration of performing before a live audience. No different from presenting before a group at work – people often get butterflies in the pit of their stomach before having to present. It’s only natural.
The most important skill is to know your content. At the recital, the skill of the choreographer was clear in the beautiful movements elegantly timed with the music. However, wonderful choreography falls flat if it is not ingrained into the dancer’s mind. The outward appearance becomes one of uncertainty not confidence. The camera didn’t lie – I could see the looks of concentration and concern etched across many faces, thinking so hard about that next step they forgot everything else.
For any presentation, knowing one’s content inside and out, backwards and forwards is critical. This is the only way to deliver content with confidence. Practice really does make perfect. Only then can a presenter relax and deliver without looking like a deer caught in the headlights or a dancer looking like they’re worried about falling flat on their face.
Second, establish rapport. While not everyone can relate to Middle Eastern music or feel comfortable watching their grandmother on stage in a belly dance bedlah and skirt, the skilled dancer can remove those feelings instantly by drawing the viewer into their world. Too often the camera caught the dancers looking above the audience, never truly touching them. Or they looked down, almost inwardly, not really seeing the dancers around them, or anything else for that matter. Even if on a stage removed from the audience, rapport is established by making eye contact, using gestures like clapping which get people involved…and loving every minute of it.
Within a formal presentation environment, establish rapport by talking directly to people – make it a conversation with each person in the audience – rather than staring at a blank spot on the wall. Relate to the audience, draw them in with a story, talk at their level, never patronize. Making the effort to relate to your audience, and they will relate to you.
Third, smile. Smiling gives the impression of confidence, friendliness, and openness. But it should be genuine – a fake smile, practiced and frozen can be spotted a mile away, and isn’t particularly appealing in the photos either. Dancers who smiled and exhibited genuine warmth elicited the most audience response. Even more so, based on the mood of the music, dancers who matched their expression to the music made for a truly engaging and wonderful experience for the audience.
In any presentation situation, people who smile, appropriately, command the most attention, respect, and credibility. When smiling, the tone, cadence, and posture of the speaker seem more engaging and confident. People are more apt to listen to someone who is smiling than frowning.
Finally – relax and have fun. The best dancers, and the ones who were a delight to photograph, were the ones who looked like they were having a great time. They portrayed confidence and credibility – even if a novice dancer. They made mistakes, but no one in the audience knew because they continued with their dance as if nothing happened. Others who seemed frustrated or nervous showed it in their faces and posture, which was extremely clear in the photos.
If at the end of a presentation the audience walks away remembering your key points, and the fun they had learning about them, the session was a success. Even if mistakes are throughout. Even if some content is missed because of nerves. Enjoy the opportunity to impart information to a group who clearly thinks you are the expert – otherwise they wouldn’t attend your presentation. Don’t worry about the missteps – move on and focus on the key points you want to make. No one will know the difference, and it gives you the chance to follow-up and network later.
It does take time to master these presentation skills (just as it does to master one’s choreography), but ultimately, whether in dance or in a work setting, the result is audience engagement. And an engaged audience, is a happy audience.