London 2012. Olympic Opening Ceremony. 7 points for presenters


by Peter Watts

What a show! London 2012 delivered the opening of the 30th Olympic Games, and with it’s magnificent Opening Ceremony, also demonstrated seven olympic sized ideas for building presentations:

1. Appeal to history

At the heart of history, lies the art of telling a story. As soon as you go historical, you go narrative, and you do it in a way that naturally structures into a beginning, a middle, and an end.

  • Here’s where you’ve come from
  • Here’s where you are
  • Here’s where you’re going (with our help ofcourse!)

2. Put your strongest assets front and rear

Hit the audience hardest with your hottest assets. Take a look at last night; Paul McCartney, David Beckham, Rowan Atkinson, and James Bond parachuting in with the Queen (was it just me or did her Majesty look a tiny bit unamused at being flung in effigy out of a helicopter?).

Put heavy hitters first and last to create a powerful opening and a memorable conclusion.

Anything likely to puzzle, put it in the middle. (Mary Poppins v. Lord Voldemort. Really?)

3. Beware the moaning Minnie

Or in this case, it was a moaning Mitt during the #RomneyShambles! Whenever you attempt something new, grand, or adventurous, there will always be at least one whinging voice off-stage warning about what went wrong when they tried to do the same thing years ago.

Whenever you hear Moaning Mitt, do as David Cameron and Boris Johnson did; give them a slap, and ignore them.

4. And by the way, comparisons don’t count

How will the London Olympics compare to Beijing in 2008, or to Sydney in 2000?

Who cares!

Never worry about how you will appear when compared to someone else. They will have had their strengths, you will have your strengths. They are going to be different.

Comparisons are bogus. Never let them worry you.

5. Keep the visuals iconic

Good visuals carry instant meaning. If they need to be explained, they failed.

I was watching the show sitting in a restaurant in Connecticut, where the inevitable ceiling mounted TV peered down at us from behind the bar. The sound was off yet whenever someone glanced upwards to see what was happening, they could understand the visual narratives instantly.

In fact, the only bit that did have them scratching their heads was Mary Poppins v. Voldemort, but as we’ve already said; that was in the middle!

6. Sometimes be ironic

Throughout the pageantry, I did detect the slightest undercurrent of an ironic British raspberry being blown at the fat-cats and sponsors. The people celebrated throughout the pageantry weren’t the well heeled sponsors limo-whisked down express traffic lanes to private entrances and VIP seating.

The people celebrated were villagers, workers, and protestors. There was almost a tone of Occupy Wall Street, with the 99% represented by tableaux. Even socialized medicine was celebrated in a paean to the National Health Service. It was all beautifully below the radar; just a little bit tongue in cheek and leading directly to point number seven:

7. Know who hands out the medals

Who is going to judge you afterwards and hand out the medals? In the case of the Brits, is it the IOC or the sponsors? No it most certainly isn’t. It’s the viewing audience, and in particular for the UK government, it’s all those people who have paid for the event out of their tax money and get to vote again in two years time (or maybe even sooner!)

That’s why the opening appeared to some commentators to be “quirky and odd”. Brits ARE quirky and odd. If you’re trying to appeal to quirky and odd British voters then quirky and odd wins hands down.

Who else might the host country be looking to for a gold? How about the world’s tourists. Quirky and odd, tea and the Queen, are the comfortingly cozy metaphors that sell-out Japanese package-tours to the British Isles.

Quirky and odd demonstrated superb understanding of the UK’s true target market, and of who will be handing out the real prizes later.

A pageant, with a point, that persuaded the audience to stay tuned, and that will deliver long-term advantages.

What more could you want in a successful presentation, or Olympic Ceremony!

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