‘Let a little light shine on yourself, then your audience will warm to you and everything you say will come over in a way that is even more convincing’. This is a piece of advice that I often give to those I am coaching in presentation skills, as I urge them to build a few personal details into their material, however serious and corporate their overall theme may be.
The best magicians are well aware of this principle. Dai Vernon (right), the guru of gurus for magicians, used to say: “If they like you as a person, they will like what you do”. In order to like you as a person, however, they need to know something about you. So how can two seemingly disparate themes come together? Among examples from people I have worked with or observed recently are:
- The Finance Director who confessed to an internal audience his alarm at discovering he was known by some as ‘Hatchet Man’. This showed self-awareness and a degree of sensitivity that would make any future tough talking he needed to do that little bit easier to deliver, together with a greater likelihood of effectiveness.
- The Business Coach who revealed he had been a punk rocker, so providing a fantastic opportunity to juxtapose an accompanying image with another showing his subsequent metamorphosis into a Police sergeant. More importantly, it helped to portray a much more well-rounded personality than might be immediately obvious from the rather serious-minded character on stage.
- The Product Innovation Director who confessed that whenever he had a really radical idea he tried it out first on his children. “They”, he declared, “are my own personal focus group”, as he displayed an image of two cute kids photoshopped into a focus group scenario. He made the point very effectively that you need to be brave when innovating and he too found the process nerve-racking. Moreover, everyone was going to remember the message because of a standout, heart-tugging image and the personal nature of the story.
- The CEO of a data storage company whose induction speech to young employees about the great potential for all of them to succeed, whatever their educational background, was underpinned by a short story about how he started his working life as a self-employed scaffolder. This insight into the boss made what could have seemed like ‘mere words’ into something believable and truly aspirational.
One note of warning. Most people need to be a bit brave to put themselves in the spotlight in this way. The last two examples only came about because I encouraged the individuals to make their stories more than just a passing mention. The former-scaffolder CEO initially said simply that he had been self-employed at the beginning of his career, so I pushed him a bit to create a picture in the minds of his audience, never believing he would eventually provide such a striking juxtaposition with his current position. Similarly, the Product Innovation Director only confessed during a coffee break that he brought his kids into the process. So, as I discussed recently (here), it’s back to ‘catching the conversational asides’ if you are going to find the real gems for presentation material. One other note of warning – if you do not feel the need to be a bit brave about introducing personal details, you are probably talking about yourself too much!
So try building in some personal details in this way and, when you get the hang of it, apply the principle to your all-important opening remarks. Another great magician, Wayne Dobson, lectured to us at The Magic Circle, putting great emphasis on what has for many years been his opening trick. He showed us how to do it, but more importantly he showed us why he did it as his opening trick. He said: “I do that at the start because I want the audience to like me. Once I have achieved that, I can do almost anything I want”.