Enjoying the Journey

by Peter Watts

There is a parallel between enjoying presenting and enjoying the Holidays.

Every Christmas I have a melt-down. I enter the festive season resolving “This time I will not be a stress-demon by Christmas Eve.” Unfortunately though, year after year, I find a certain amount of difficulty in measuring up to the goal, and I know I’m not alone!

Why is it so many of us go nuclear the night before Christmas, and why is there a parallel to the world of presenting?

There comes a time when we become responsible for delivering The Holidays. Be it Hanukkah, Christmas, or Eid, we wind-up in that festive hot-seat, and if we’ve been fortunate in life, we’ve been set some pretty high benchmarks by parents and grandparents before us.

Now it’s our turn to create those traditions for new generations, and to honor the examples of the generations who have gone before. It’s a lot to live up to. No wonder we get just that tiny bit stressed!

My partner and I had the baton passed to us some eight years ago, and we’ve had some real festive disasters since! There was the year the tree fell-over during the gift-giving, glass baubles exploding in amongst the presents. And then of course the year that the incredibly elaborate French-inspired Christmas-meal arrived to the table not only cold, but congealed.

Oddly though, our guests keep coming back for Christmas Day, and not just for the comedy value. It would seem that despite our worries to the contrary, we’re doing a pretty good job of hosting the Holidays.

Those examples that we fixate on emulating? Those are examples set by parents who had a good forty years of practice before we took over the traditions. Compared to them, we are of the lowliest novice grade, and while it’s great to have high benchmarks to aspire to, we only get there by experience.

Presenting and the Holidays improve with practice. Every time out, we get that little bit better. The secret is to give ourselves permission to enjoy the journey, and that way, those who accompany us, be they family, friends, or audience, get to enjoy it too!

This Christmas, give yourself permission to “be in the moment”. Enjoy all the wonderful kitsch Holiday chaos that swirls around, and above all, enjoy those with whom you share it.

Wishing you Happy Holidays from The Presenters’ Blog

Performing Arts Perform Inspiration

by Peter Watts

It might feel a little early for New Year resolutions, but here’s one I want to suggest right now:

During 2012, go enjoy one live performance arts event every month

This past weekend I attended the annual Hartford Symphony Christmas Pops concert, led for the first year by new conductor, Carolyn Kuan

While a small number of classical Christmas pieces were included, the majority of Kuan’s program choices were non-traditional. Hanukkah rhythms. Tchaikovsky re-arranged as big-band jazz. Choruses in Cantonese. A Rodetzky clapping frenzy personally conducted by the conductor herself. From beginning to end, it was an explosion of the seasonally unexpected. Kuan radically reengineered her audience’s expectations of a Christmas concert.

Shunning the formulaic produces magical results. When we break new ground there is an edge of risk that summons our full spirit to the task, and that spirit manifests as passion.

Don’t play it safe. Play it with passion.

In her book “The Artist’s Way”, Julia Cameron suggests we each have a well of creativity. We dip metaphorical buckets whenever we want to pull up creative ideas and unless we take time to re-fill the well, we will one day dip the bucket only to have it come back up empty.

Cameron therefore recommends a regular treat called an “Artist’s Date” where you replenish that creativity. For presenters there can be no finer Artist’s Date than the performing arts.

Why wait till the New Year to start this particular resolution. December is a time when the arts come gloriously alive. Whether it be a play, a concert,  a night at the ballet, or a choir singing on a street corner, there is inspiration to be found all around us

As presenters we are members of many communities, and one of those is the community of the arts. Let’s make 2012 a year to enjoy our membership.

Further Ideas:
Now that my night at the Symphony has tuned me into the connections between the performing arts and presenting, I’ve noticed that a couple of my blogging friends are also thinking in the same direction:
Laura Camacho shows five ways to bring the joy of art to the art of your work, and Nick Morgan shares the insights that jazz can hold for public speakers.

K.I.S.S.’ing-off complexity

Keeping it short and simple is never stupid

by Peter Watts

This week finds me in Dubai with a balcony view of Burj Khalifa, the 163 storey spike of glass and light that is the world’s tallest building.

We erroneously associate size with status. Whatever you build, I can build bigger. The Burj might be the world’s tallest building today, but cities suffer acute architectural envy and before long it will be overtaken, becoming the world’s second tallest building.

Why do nations keep on building them bigger? Because advances in architecture mean that they can!

As architects enable more floors on towers, so PowerPoint enables more flaws in presentations:

  • The more slides the better
  • The more information the better
  • The more effects the better

We see other presenters doing flashy things and find ourselves tempted. Your colleague presents 15 slides, you present 20. You add audio, they add video. Presentation inflation sets in. The victim is clarity.

This is nothing new. A Roman orator, having tweaked a speech in order to outdo his rival was heard to admire his new prose with the words “Ah, so much the better. I can barely understand it myself!”

Message clarity is lost when it’s blurred by bling.

In Forbes magazine, the venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, describes his five second solution to this problem:

Review your presentation with a colleague. Let each slide stay up for just five seconds. If your reviewer proves unable to grasp your message in that short time, simplify the slides.

Sometimes we accidentally create the Burj Khalifa when more modest structures would prove more elegant.

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