In just a few days, an old bearded man wearing red will swoop down from the skies in his sleigh, land on the roof, slip down the chimney and leave Christmas gifts under the tree for my two amazing boys, before drinking a glass of milk and eating a couple of mince pies, and then climbing back up the chimney – without forgetting to take the carrot we’ll have left for his flying reindeer.
Yes, Christmas is upon us, and perhaps we presenters could learn a thing or three from Santa Claus about the art of presenting.
Santa brings gifts
Firstly, Santa comes a very long way to deliver gifts, in return for a bite to eat, a glass of milk and a raw carrot, and more importantly, the smile of a child. As a speaker, you might be paid a little more generously, but whether you are paid thousands or nothing, you should treat a presentation as a gift you are offering to your audience.
Santa only comes because children believe in him and behave well enough to deserve presents. You are only on stage because your audience believes in your ability to change them in a positive way. You are there for them. Your presentation is your gift to them. Treat it as such, from the moment you begin to prepare for it. Their smile, their thanks and the positive change in them will be your greatest reward.
Santa chooses gifts carefully
Every child is different. They wish for different presents. Often they create detailed lists for Santa. My kids were very disappointed last year when Santa got it wrong, and brought Super Mario Galaxy instead of Super Mario Bros. (Imagine the uproar if he’d brought Sonic the Hedgehog instead…)
Likewise, every audience is different, and you need to adapt your talk to your audience’s expectations. Don’t give them something that was on someone else’s wish list. Usually my university talks get very high ratings, but on one occasion this year, the ratings were merely good. Why? On examining their comments, it turned out that the students had been led to expect something completely different to what I’d been asked to talk about, and they were measuring my talk against their (wrong) expectations, even though I’d set out my objectives clearly at the start. So as far as you can control it, work out what your audience is expecting, and then meet or exceed those expectations.
It doesn’t matter how great your talk is: if it’s not the one they have set their heart on, they will be disappointed. Santa (usually) gives kids what’s on their wish list. Do likewise.
Could you imagine meeting Santa in the living room, and finding him scowling or growling? Santa is a happy, jovial chap, or so we imagine, and behind his white beard there is a perpetual smile.
A presenter or entertainer who actually looks like she is happy to be there—because she really is—is well on her way to engaging her audience naturally.
Another key reason for smiling is the power of mirror neurons. What you visibly feel, the audience subconsciously feels too. If you look happy, they will feel happy. And just as Santa wants kids to be happy, you want your audience to enjoy your presentation. After all, if they enjoy it, they will pay more attention, and that means they are more likely to get your message and even do something with it. Making your audience enjoy your talk should always be a major objective. Smile, and you are halfway there.
So there are three things to learn from Santa Claus: treat your presentation as a gift to your audience; tailor that gift to that particular audience; and smile.
With that, let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and inspiring 2012.