Wednesday, 6 July 2011

What Steve Martin could teach us all about presenting training

Facing large audiences on your own, with no place to hide... trying to get their attention when they were wishing they were somewhere else... wondering if there is an agent in the audience who might be able to get you booked on to the Graham Norton show as the C-list act next to Tom Jones and that guy from Sherlock...

Steve MartinImage via Wikipedia
Steve stretching his act
Ok, so stand up comedy and presenting on training courses do not necessarily share all of the same traits and pitfalls – and, despite your best efforts, it is unlikely you will end up on prime time Friday TV for your groundbreaking application of Kolb’s Learning Theory you did in a seminar last week (though I would love to see you prove me wrong!).

But I was struck when reading Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up about some of the similarities between the two fields, as well as some of the things that we could apply when presenting in front of audiences. So with this in mind here are three quotes from the book that I think are food for thought for any other L and D professionals (I use the term
“professional” loosely in my case):

"Despite a lack of natural ability, I did have the one element necessary to all early creativity: naivete... that fabulous quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do".

I think if we all knew how poorly we were to perform the first time we presented in a new setting, covered a brand new topic or subject we might become paralysed with fear. Rather than let that over take you just accept it as part of the process - you have to start somewhere so why not right here, right now?
If you are going to take on a new skill or approach you will be racked with doubts – ‘Does this make sense? Am I making progress? Will anyone actually care about the end result?’  Embrace the uncertainty as part of the learning process – after taking part in it you will be better informed about what works and what needs tinkering in future instances.

They say the best place to get run over is in the middle of the road, so don't be afraid to get out there to places where your experience makes you naive and make you have to apply what you have been learning. A litmus test of your experiences is no bad thing.  Also bear in mind that if it is the first time no one will have seen it before to draw a comparison and what are the changes of someone going on the same course twice that you will lead on? Even if they do you will be better prepared for when it occurs, so look forward to that returning client not as a critic to fear but a partner in your development process.

"(I) never let them know I was bombing... make the audience believe that I thought I was fantastic, that my confidence could not be shattered"

This, if mishandled, could come off as being really insincere if you go over the top. However, people need to buy in to you and that you are confident in what you are presenting.

At the same time this can reinforce your own confidence – as Prop Joe said in the Wire when asked why he was wearing a suit when coaching the East side during the West-East Basketball game, his reply was “Look the part, be the part” (with a couple expletives thrown in to boot).

In terms of leading courses and presenting in general remember: no one has seen the rehearsal, no one knows about the great one liner you forgot to include - so no need to draw any attention to it.

"In psychoanalysis, you try to retain a discovery; in art, once the thing is made you let it go."

This is not one of Martin’s quotes but came from a conversation in the book with, as you might have already guessed, a pschoanalysist.

I have included it here as I think it is important to remember at some point you need to let yourself go with the flow of critiques and criticism that might come your way. Keep in mind anything that does is a review about one point in time of your skills  - it is not a permanent condition, use it as a means to move forward.

It worked for Steve!
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  1. Public speaking is an immensely important skill that can even prove excruciatingly difficult for some of the world's most well known talking heads. A clear example being one of the richest men on the planet, Warren Buffet, who's own "intense fear" of public speaking at a young age is well documented.

    I think I would take issue with your first point about embracing your own innocence. Though I agree it is crucial that you have to meet your fear head own I would suggest that this can be far better overcome by continually practising giving presentations/talks be it in the bath room or living room to your long suffering husband/wife/cat/dog etc etc... This way familiarizing yourself with the process before the moment of truth... This would then allow you to deliver with supreme confidence that you quite rightly flag up, in the second quote, as being indispensable.

    Practise makes perfect!!!

    Just a thought....

    Thanks for the posts and keep it up!!!

    Nice changes to the site!!

  2. First off thanks for taking the time out to comment, really appreciate it and your feedback on the site (was very worried it looked a little sparse with the changes so much obliged!).

    I have to agree with your point on practising in the comfort of your own home/with a friendly audience. Helps you visualise the presentation actually going well if you have some positive points of reference to draw from.

    I can feel a part two to this post with that revised point included... :)

    Many thanks again,