by Darren LaCroix, CSP
Do you look for presentation tips everywhere you can? There are lessons all around you if you look. With my passion for teaching presentation skills, sometimes it is hard to turn that part of my brain off.
My friend’s stepdaughter was performing in a grade school play, Annie, Jr. I went to support her. Watching the kids get ready for their performance took me back to my school days. For many of them, it was probably their first time on stage in front of a real audience. It was very cute.
At one point during the musical, a young boy playing a stray dog came out on stage. He was wearing a brown costume and big floppy, brown ears connected to a headband, leaving his real hair at the top of his head exposed. He was very cute, and you could tell he loved being there. He did not say much, but he beamed from ear to ear.
To me, the magic moment came when Annie walked over to him and petted him on the head. It was so cute that the audience erupted in laughter. For a split second, you could see Annie smile wide when she got the laugh. Her awareness and instinct must have kicked in, so she reached out and petted him again. She got another laugh from the audience. They loved it. I could tell that Annie and her faithful sidekick loved it too. They were getting genuine laughter from their audience.
“There is nothing like the feeling of making an audience laugh.”
What is the lesson? If you can be present and be connected with the audience, they will tell you what works. When it works, you can sometimes duplicate it. You have to be present enough, however, to notice it. Do you take note of what they react to? Audience reactions and non-reactions can tell you volumes about your presentation and delivery.
Are you really aware of your connection, or are you more caught up with what you are going to say next? One secret that I learned from experience is to record your presentations. If you truly want to master a story or part of your presentation, going back and listening to your recordings will help you uncover some gold. Some of the best writing happens in the moment when you are on stage and connected to the audience. Oftentimes when you have a great performance and are deeply connected, like Annie was, you can duplicate what worked. It is much easier to study after the fact. Sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking we will remember. Studying your own presentations and the audience’s reaction to it can be your best teacher.
I’d be willing to bet that there had never been a laugh in rehearsal when Annie petted the boy in the dog costume, so there was no reason to pet him again. It was cool to see that the young girl playing Annie had the presence to milk it and get a second laugh from the audience.
Sometimes I will get an unexpected laugh, and I’ll milk it to see if I can get another one using only facial expressions. It can be fun. This opportunity usually happens when I’m deeply connected to my audience.
Will you milk it when you get a great reaction from an audience? Each audience is different. Every connection will be different. Have fun with the connection once you achieve it. Annie and her little dog did; how about you?
Darren LaCroix, CSP
World Champion of Public Speaking