PHOTO: Mark Morris Dance Group/Amber Darragh

PHOTO: Mark Morris Dance Group/Amber Darragh

I recently heard New York choreographer Mark Morris being interviewed on the radio.

He talked about making a dance performance fresh and exciting – however much it’s been rehearsed and performed.

What he said is particularly relevant to presenters who present the same information over and over again.

In my work running presentation skills courses, I’m often presenting the same material. But you don’t have to be a professional presenter  or trainer to be in the position of repeating material in your presentations:

  • Maybe you have a segment that is common to all your presentations eg: the bit where you talk about what your organisation does, or the basic features of your product.
  • If you’re launching a new service or product you may need to repeat the presentation many times.
PHOTO: Mark Morris Dance Group/Stephanie Berger

PHOTO: Mark Morris Dance Group/Stephanie Berger

My aim when I’m presenting familiar material is to make it look and feel to the audience as if I’m doing it  especially, uniquely for them.

So what are the tips from dance choreographer, Mark Morris, that can help you do this:

Make it challenging

If a dance is too easy, he makes it more challenging. If the dancers can do it in their sleep, there’s no excitement in it. The hint of struggle in the dancers’ performance gives them an edge.

How can you add challenge to your presentation:

  1. Whatever level of notes you’re using now – reduce down
  2. Add a new example, anecdote or statistic
  3. Take one segment of your presentation and challenge yourself to make it the best it can be
  4. Introduce your slides rather than letting them cue you
  5. Add remarks which relate directly to people in your audience
  6. Ask a trusted colleague or coach to give you feedback.

I’m always getting feedback and fine-tuning. I’m lucky that normally I’m presenting with Tony as my co-presenter, and despite having run courses for years together, we still debrief and give each other feedback. And then I make changes – I improve my slides, and add new stories which help make the point.

We also make each presentation personal to the people in front of us. We know a little about them from the pre-course questionnaire they complete. We know what concerns them about presenting and what types of presentations they do. So we can comment on how a particular concept might apply to the their situation.

Lisa Braithwaite of blog SpeakSchmeak says:

Even if I’ve been doing the same presentation for a long time, I never become complacent – I’m always fully present for each audience and constantly work to improve.

So don’t be a sleep-walker presenter.  Add challenge to your presentation to give you that edge.

Listen to your audience

Mark Morris never rehearses his dance company with recorded music – he uses a live pianist. The pianist adds unpredictability – the pianist might make a little mistake, or speed up or slow down in an unexpected way. Those slight variations keep the dancers intently listening to the music – rather than taking it for granted.

As presenters we always have a live pianist – the audience. Listen to your audience the way the dancers listen to a pianist. It’s possible that in the past you’ve just seen the audience as an amorphous blob. You haven’t had a clue what’s going on for your audience – only what’s going on for you. So what does listening “look” like? Look for these things:

  • What expressions do people have on their faces?
  • How do they show that they understand what you’re saying?
  • What do they look like when they’re confused?
  • What other things are they doing?

Each presentation you give, even if you’ve given it many times before, is your opportunity to forge a connection with the people in front of you. Make them feel like you’re doing it just for them.

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