Think free or die

by Peter Watts

Because presenting is inventing, constantly check yourself for dogma.

Dogma sets up unchallengeable absolutes, and has a simple purpose: to castrate.

By castrating the ability to question, it shuts down the chance to innovate. Public speaking without innovation becomes mere preaching by rote, the same cold meat served day after day until the intellectual hunger of the speaker becomes numb.

The people of the state of New Hampshire live by the state motto “Live free or die”. To be effective as presenters we guard and nurture that same freedom.

In her book “How to live a life of Montaigne“, Sarah Bakewell describes how the French philosopher lived by a simple credo:

“All I know is that I know nothing, and I’m not even sure about that.”

It is hard to be a know-it-all when your world view is “I know nothing”, and nothing captures the love of an audience quite like humility. Freshness and humility. What a killer combination on stage.

Genuinely free thinkers are few and far between, and that makes them memorable.

We walk amongst those thinkers whenever we cut free from the dogmas and orthodoxies that seek to hold us down.

Santorum out. But can Romney learn to like himself?

by Peter Watts

The personal characteristics that enable others to believe in us the most, are often the ones coached out of us as being most likely to frighten the horses.

The Republican nomination process for the candidate to face President Obama this November, has demonstrated this supremely.

Candidate Rick Santorum spoke from the tightly constructed belief system of a 17th century religious fundamentalist. He knew what he stood for, and had that stand consistent. He knew his social views made him unacceptable, yet he trumpeted them through all pronouncements. The interesting result was that while we might have abhored his policies, we couldn’t help but believe the man. When Santorum spoke, we believed him. When his opponent, Mitt Romney speaks, we don’t.

Romney appears insincere. His character appears disparate and dislocated. We are shown the urban sprawl, while denied even a glimpse of the central city. What is so awful that Mitt Romney hides it from view?

The problem is that Romney has been told his wealth does not play well with the electorate. He’s been told the same thing about his Mormonism. The result is a candidate hobbled by the two defining characteristics that should be surging a Republican candidate to victory; red-blooded business success and missionary-grade religious ardour.

Romney struggles to portray himself as something he’s not, or to put it more precisely, he struggles not to portray himself as what he truly is.

We should have been hearing about Mitt-the-Merciless. Instead we get Mitt the Etch-A-Sketch; one quick shake and the policies dissolve.

While Romney flustered, Santorum flew. Santorum flew despite the fact that he knew he would never become the nominee, but still consistently put his own true self out onto the stage. Result: respect.

Mitt Romney came into the campaign as Republican heir apparent. He came into the campaign as the candidate the White House feared. And yet, while he will indeed leave the campaign as nominee, he will also leave it weakened by evasiveness and flip-flopping.

Mitt Romney is no longer a candidate the White House fears.

To speak in public with passion and integrity, your own personality attributes must lock together into a convincing narrative. Try to run away from your own true self and you’ll find your audience can run even faster! This was the strength behind Rick Santorum, and the weakness behind Mitt Romney.

Problematically for Romney, it is also the strength behind Barack Obama.

Steeplechase presenting? Try trick-jumps

by Peter Watts

Easter Sunday at our local church started with a 7:00 a.m. service; the first of five Easter services for the Reverend Louise; three in the morning, and two in the afternoon.

For a busy Vicar, Easter Sunday must feel like a steeplechase. One service falls directly after another, and each congregation, whether the first or the last, regards it as a special time they have cleared in their day just to come and hear the Vicar’s message.

As presenters, our world is sometimes the same. It might be the third, fourth, fifth,tenth or twentieth time we have delivered our presentation, but for the audience, it is always the first.

To join with that audience, we must approach with the same freshness, the same beginners mind as the people in front of us. By approaching something with a beginners mind, we keep it alive.

Try adding new twists to your content. Maybe a new perspective, a new anecdote, or a slightly different sequence of topics. Perhaps take advantage of your comfort level with the topic to take a little risk, and experiment with a new technique you have’t tried before. If we continually ski the same old slope to the point where we individually recognise each and every pine tree along the way, it leads to boredom with the message and neglect of our audience.

By slipping in the occasional trick-jump, we keep things fresh.

Chicken soup for the Presenters’ soul (without harming chicken)

by Peter Watts

There is a New York Times article that will inspire you.

It’s short. It’s morning-air crisp, and in one brief column will transport you to a place you can scratch.

It’s a place full of chickens. And the daily life of chickens. And I never before appreciated quite how much inspiration your average chicken has to offer to a presenter.

Chickens, it would seem, appreciate more than any other creature, how even the most raked-over ground can offer surprises to those who come to it with fresh eyes and persistence.

There is always something new to be found, and we feed ourselves and our audiences by being constantly alive to the possibility of the angle undiscovered.

Here’s the article. Go on, be a chicken…… I dare you!

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