Last weekend I went to see A Little Night Music on Broadway with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury. It was an absolutely stunning production and the two headline stars (as well as everybody else) were superb.
I watched the production from two perspectives: a regular theatre-goer, immersed in the story and music and a presentation trainer, observing the actors' techniques.
I have written before (see links below) about the many lessons a business presenter can learn from a stage actor -- techniques like blocking, care of voice, how to evoke emotions, rigorous rehearsal and the value of a story line. A Little Night Music offered some additional lessons we can apply on the business stage.
These actors have been presenting this 3 hour show nine times a week since mid-December, 2009. By my calculations, that is roughly 180 performances. Even if you allow for some understudy fill-ins, that's still a lot of shows. Yet the cast was as fresh and energetic and engaging last weekend as if it were the first performance. Can you imagine delivering the exact same business presentation the exact same way 100+ times?
How we show up as business presenters has a great impact on the audience's experience. If we appear bored or uninspired by our topic or if we deliver our material robotically, how can we expect the audience to become (or stay) interested? Try these ideas to help you focus on how you show up:
- audio record your rehearsals so you can assess if your voice sounds upbeat and positive
- practice sufficiently so that you know your material well, allowing you, during the presentation, to focus on your tone of voice and eye contact
- create an intention before each presentation that you will deliver maximum value to your audience
- ask for feedback from a trusted colleague or professional coach so you can incorporate any suggestions into future presentations
PACING AND PAUSING
Actors rehearse their lines over and over to get the rhythm and pacing perfect. In the above video, at about 4:25, Zeta-Jones delivers the line, "There could be one tiny [pause] snag." This pause allows her to build anticipation in the audience while making the line much funnier than if she had delivered it straight through. Deliberate pacing can elicit a specific response, emphasize particular information, build anticipation and change a mood.
You can achieve these same outcomes in business presentations. Pauses help an audience process what you've said and get ready to hear something new. Rather than delivering your entire presentation in the same tone and at the same speed, try these tips:
- "chunk" your sentences into phrases which makes it easier to pause between thoughts
- determine where you want to emphasize various points and build in pauses just before you deliver the point
- annotate your notes to remind yourself where you want to pause
- audio record yourself rehearsing your presentation so you can accurately assess where and how effectively you're pausing
While we can't all have the thrill of being on a Broadway stage, we can all embrace some of the same techniques used by actors to improve our business presentations and our audience's experience.
Previous Posts in the Series