Make a Great Presentation

Let Yourself Arrive

After you walk to the podium or step onto the stage to read or give a talk “let yourself arrive,” said Elizabeth Austen, at the performance workshop I attended last Sunday at Jack Straw Productions in Seattle. Don’t rush, especially at the beginning, she said, because “it takes the audience a few moments to tune its ears to your voice.”

Austen is a poet, trained actress, Washington State Poet Laureate, and an inspiring, insightful performance coach. She has a knack for bringing out the best in the poets, memoirists and novelists among us – twelve writers reading in different genres, with different presentation styles, and different needs for each piece of writing. She helped us identify our natural gifts as performers and our challenges with many tips for how to “best serve the work.”

If you live in Seattle and want to see how this year's Jack Straw Writers applied Austen's coaching to our work, please join us on May 2, 9, or 16 at 7 pm at Jack Straw Productions. (I'm reading May 9 and would love to see you there.)

I want to share three more tips with you from Austen’s workshop that may help you when you rehearse for a talk or a reading:

  1. “You are not the work,” she said. The performer you is different than the writer you (or the artist you). The way I think about this is when I’m reading a work or giving a talk, it’s as if I’m playing me in a movie. But it’s not “me.”
  2. You’re performing (or presenting) “in service of the work,” she said. Think about what style will best serve your audience and your work. For example, you may be a shy person but your work may be large and loud. Can you stretch yourself as a performer so you can be as big as your words need you to be?
  3. “Don’t let the word ‘perform’ scare you,” she said. “To perform is to activate, to bring something to life.” That’s all and that’s everything.


To prepare your artist talk: watch other performers

The first step in preparing a kick-ass artist talk is a passive one: watch other performers and make a list of what you like (and even don’t like) about what you see.

Notice how the street performer owns his corner of the sidewalk, notice how Jerry Seinfeld (and other comics) uses his body, attend other artist talks and make notes about you’d like to emulate. Maybe your list will include:

  • Maintained good eye contact
  • Showed captivating images
  • Opened with a funny and relevant story
  • Closed with a bang
  • Knew how to handle a Q&A session
  • Used a live demonstration

Learn more about how you can incorporate your favorite qualities into your next artist talk in this teleseminar.

Notice the presentations all around you

Standing in line at Trader Joe's the other day, I witnessed a young man return a bag of cashews. He did what all good presenters do: he established rapport, he told a relevant, concise story with humor, and then he used the bag as a prop to demonstrate the hole in it. Most of us make presentations every day in informal settings and we do fairly well. Then, for some reason, when we stand in front of an audience or speak at a meeting, we forget our good instincts.

The next time you present in an informal or formal setting, what can you emulate from cashew man? Some ideas:

-Build rapport with your audience before your talk begins. -Open with a concise, relevant, even funny story. -Use a prop or demo - it's guaranteed to be the most memorable moment of your talk. -End with a clear call to action. What do you want your audience to do or remember after they've walked out the door?

Until then, send me a story of a presentation you made or witnessed and how you used these skills. And keep noticing the presentations all around you!