Before computers. Before television and radio.
Before loudspeakers . . .
Before all of our artificial means of expanding the reach of our unaided voices, there was the public speaker.
From the time of Corax in the 5th century B.C., public speaking soon developed into what was considered close to an art form. Some did consider it art.
Public speaking – or the “presentation” – was the province of four groups of people: Preachers, Politicians, Lawyers, and Actors. The first to save your soul, the second to take your money, the third to save your life, the fourth to transport you to another time and place, if only for a short spell.
Other professions utilized the proven communication skills of presenting – carnival barker, vaudevillian, traveling snake oil salesmen.
These were not the earliest examples of America’s business presenters, but they surely were the last generation before modernity began to leech the vitality from public speaking. To suck the life from “presenting.”
Skills of the Masters
The skills necessary to these four professions were developed over centuries. The ancient Greeks knew well the power of oratory and argument, the persuasive powers of words. Socrates, one of the great orators of the 5th Century B.C. , was tried and sentenced to death for the power of his oratory, coupled with his unpopular ideas.
In our modern 21st century smugness, we likely think that long-dead practitioners of public speaking and of quaint “elocution” have nothing to teach us. We have adopted a wealth of technological firepower that purports to improve, embellish, amplify, exalt our presentation message. Yet the result has been something quite different.
Instead of sharpening our communication skills, multimedia packages have served to supplant them, providing barriers between speaker and audience. Each new advancement in technology creates another layer of insulation.
Today’s presenters have grasped feverishly at the notion that PowerPoint is the presentation. The idea is that PowerPoint has removed responsibility from you to be knowledgeable, interesting, concise, and clear. The focus has shifted from the speaker to limp fireworks, and this has led to such a decline to the point where in extreme cases the attitude of the presenter is: “The presentation is up there on the slides . . . let’s all read them together.”
In many cases, this is exactly what happens. The presenter pivots, shows us his back, and edges away from the stage to become a quasi-member of the audience.
PowerPoint and props are just tools. That’s all. You should be able to present without them. When you can, finally, present without them, you can then use them to maximum advantage to amplify the superior communication skills you’ve developed.
In fact, many college students do present without PowerPoint every day outside of the university. Some of them give fabulous presentations. Most give adequate presentations. They deliver these presentations in the context of one of the most ubiquitous part-time jobs college students perform – waiter or waitress.
On the Job Presentation Training – and Increased Income
For a waiter, every customer is an audience, every welcoming a show. The smartest students recognize this as the opportunity to sharpen presentation skills useful in multiple venues, to differentiate and hone a personal persona, and to earn substantially more tips at the end of each presentation.
Most students in my classes do not recognize the fabulous opportunity they have as a waiter or waitress – they view it simply as a job, performed to a minimum standard. Without even realizing it, they compete with a low-cost strategy rather than a differentiation strategy, and their tips show it.
Instead of offering premium service and an experience that no other waiter or waitress offers, they give the standard functional service like everyone else.
As a waiter, ask yourself: “What special thing can I offer that my customers might be willing to pay more for?”
Your answer is obvious . . . you can offer a special and enjoyable experience for your customers. In fact, you can make each visit to your restaurant memorable for your customers by delivering a show that sets you apart from others, that puts you in-demand.
I do not mean putting on a juggling act, or becoming a comedian, or intruding on your guests’ evening. I do mean taking your job seriously, learning your temporary profession’s rules, crafting a presentation of your material that resonates with confidence, authenticity and sincerity, and then displaying enthusiasm for your material and an earnestness to communicate it in words and actions designed to make your audience feel comfortable and . . . heroic.
The Hero Had Better be in Your Audience
Yes, heroic. Every presentation – every story – has a hero and that hero is your audience. Evoke a sense of heroism in your customer, and you will win every time.
I have just described a quite specific workplace scenario where effective presenting can have an immediate reward. Every element necessary to successful presenting is present in a wait-staff restaurant situation. The reverse is likewise true.
The principles and techniques of delivering a powerful presentation in a restaurant and in a boardroom are not just similar – they are identical. The venue is different, the audience is different, the relationships of those in the room might be different. But the principles are the same.
So, back to the early practitioners of oratory and public speaking. Here is the paradox: a fabulous treasure can be had for anyone with the motivation to pluck these barely concealed gems from the ground, to sift the sediment of computerized gunk to find the gold . . . but few bend to pick them up.
Adopt the habits of the masters. Acquire the mannerisms and the power and versatility of the maestros who strode the stages, who argued in courtrooms, who declaimed in congress, and who bellowed from pulpits.
They and their secrets offer us the key to delivering especially powerful presentations.
For more on powerful presentations, have a look at The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.