One for all, and all for one


by Peter Watts

“If you’ll excuse me, I think my bottom’s going to explode!”

It was our final university exam and the imminent paper was the big one! Fail this, and four years of study would end with a fail grade. As the curtained-off examination hall was opened to receive us, the friend standing to my side verbalised one of the classic fight or flight responses that manifest at moments of stress; a resounding need for the bathroom.

I’ve shared this story to illustrate the symptoms of presentation stress with audiences across the world. It receives a laugh and instant recognition. At some stage or other in our lives as presenters, we have all felt that same reaction.

This week I had the privilege of being able to share my tale with a group who not only had stood in that exact same examination entrance hall, but who had also witnessed those exact same curtains swishing back, and who also all knew where those exact same bathrooms were!

My audience were alumni of my old university, Oxford Brookes. The shared reference points we held as a group made the experience of presenting into a very great pleasure. Here was a group of people who with whom I felt an immediate sense of identity, and who I hope were able to feel that same sense of identity with me.

Negotiators term this feeling as “Common Ground” and list it’s identification as essential to successful negotiation between parties. The same is true for successful presentations.

Part of the task of the presenter is to be at one with the audience. Audiences are tribal; they coalesce around common factors such as purpose, heritage, or values. The presenter therefore helps themselves if they establish common ground with those factors.

When planning your next presentation, consider ways in which you have common ground with your audience and plan how you can communicate that within your presentation.

Shared reference points break down the barrier between speaker and listeners to create the subtle intimacy that can make presenting a joy.

Thank you Ceri and Victoria and everyone who came to the Oxford Brookes Alumni event for making it such a great evening.

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