• Charlene Shirk
  • Charlene Shirk
  • Charlene Shirk

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The Power of Performance!

I think enough time has past post election that I can finally blog about a topic that had everyone talking and me obsessing!  I am not making any political statement what so ever; I am using this particular political event as purely an observational example!  I am warning you now, if you use this blog to start politicking I will wall paper your Facebook page, Pinterest Board, Instagram or Twitter posts with that useless Facebook warning about not copying or using your content for commercial purposes.  Which seriously had me wondering how many posters thought their content was actually commercial worthy.

Anyway, back to my non-political observation and the topic of this blog, THE POWER OF PERFORMANCE!!

Yes, the world watched during the first presidential debate when Mr. Obama appeared to have a lackluster performance compared to the on-fire Mitt Romney.  The President even took shots at himself of what he called a less than flawless performance.  I watched the debate and followed the reactions on Twitter and Facebook as an American voter, but also as a professional speaker and presenter.   For me it was like the Super Bowl of public speaking and presentation!

What I saw on one side of the stage was very different in presentation than at the other podium.  The delivery was different, the posture and body language was different, the speed of speech was different and even the amount of eye contact was different.  I am not going to make a call on who was better, that was debated pretty much everywhere.  What I want you to think about is why did one style of presentation appear better than the other?  Up until that event, Mr. Romney had been widely criticized for his public speaking shortcomings, while the President had built a reputation as quite the accomplished orator.

The answer: It’s all about your AUDIENCE!!

The number one ingredient for any successful presentation is to know who is sitting in your audience and what they want and or need from your presentation or performance.  If Mr. Obama had been on the stage that night by himself would he have been perceived as being lack luster?  I suspect yes.  By the time the Presidential debates had finally come around, my opinion is that the audience desperately wanted and needed to hear and see the energy and enthusiasm and doggedness as Mitt Romney displayed.   Again, I am not getting into the accuracy of the statements or data that he or Mr. Obama provided during their debate, but rather the delivery and performance.

If your audience needs to see, hear and feel energy, enthusiasm, confidence, humor and maybe even something a little eye popping, then that needs to be what you deliver up there.  Now in the same vein, if your audience wants somber, methodical, serious, contrite, then guess what I am going to suggest, yup, bring that to the game too!

But here is the catch, and why presenting is not as easy as it looks (when done well) is that your audience will always be made up of people who want and need different things!  I have read surveys after events where some attendees thought a speaker was amazing, inspirational, the best they’d ever heard.  Then others described that same speaker as either too over the top or didn’t deliver a message that was relevant to them.  Think about the varied critiques you heard after the debates, some thought Mr. Romney was the clear winner and was right on target, other viewers, especially women thought he came across as rude and pushy.  And while some found Mr. Obama's method focused and strategic, others found it sluggish and uninspired.  Finding the right tone can be a bit maddening.

So here is my humble expert advice (listed in bullets because as you learned from my last blog all good bloggers have lists) to help you win over the audience in your next presentation:

1.  Know your audience; that will never, ever change – meet and mingle with them before your presentation, get a list or ask your contact with the group before hand who is the audience made up of and if they’ve had any recent funny or challenging experiences (i.e. topics to poke fun at and topics to stay the heck away from!).  Getting to know a few people and their names will help you with eye contact and help you feel more at ease.  I have even referenced a person or two during a presentation as an example of a point I am making or thrown out a special thank you to someone I know went above and beyond in the organization or in planning the event.

2.  Bring the Boom!  Bring energy; even if it’s a funeral (seriously) bring enthusiasm for the person, topic, product, or organization you are talking about.  I even have a few go to songs handy in my car to jam to on the way to an event if I need a little pick me up.  But don’t go overboard, a good presentation or performance ebbs and flows with the audience, find a rhythm and if you lose it, figure out a way to get it back. (Sometimes a quick bit of humor or personal anecdote can help.  But stay away from religion, politics, your mother-in-law... you get the point).

3.  Show gratitude, ever wonder why even during a televised debate, candidates thank the moderator, the voters, their families, the guy rolling the teleprompter?  Always appreciate that whatever event you’ve been invited to speak, some committee, event planner, administrative assistant, volunteer group etc. took months to organize and in many cases your audience paid to attend the event.  Thank them most of all!

4. Roll with the punches, adapt to changes, provide the fire cover for anything that doesn’t go as planned.  And do it with a big fat smile.  Mr. Obama said his performance wasn’t up to par because Mr. Romney was not the same candidate that evening that he had been during the campaign.  Okay.  Now what?  Roll with it, respond to it, turn it into something (or someone in his case) that you can work with, joke about and still deliver!!

5. Finally, at the end of the event, even if you are the keynote speaker, you never want your audience to feel like it was all about YOU.  You want them to feel like it was all about THEM!  It’s just human nature, people want to feel special, whether it’s a friend, a colleague, a spouse, a customer or a stranger sitting in the audience they will always walk away happy if they feel fulfilled.  No better way to do that then by making them feel appreciated!

I assure you these tips and tools of the trade I am sharing with you have been hard lessons learned.  They come from the many, many mistakes I have made during my 20 years either up on stage or at the television news set with nothing but a microphone to save or sink me.   Maybe that is why so many people fear public speaking, fear they will say something stupid or embarrass themselves.  Well I’ve done both, (did I mention many, many times) but I promise if you make the effort to learn from every blunder and get better with every opportunity, you and everyone in the room will appreciate the power of a good performance, your good performance!

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