Saturday, November 21, 2009

Stage Craft, Not Witchcraft (Although There's Always Magic)

Paula Vogel, my wonderful PhD advisor, used to say that empathy is a chemical reaction.

There's a kind of magic that arises between and among people when they're in the same room that just doesn't happen any other way. Sure, empathy is possible long distance, but it's just not the same.

Long distance, empathy requires some internal work, pulling out what we have already learned in person, even if we're not aware of it.

Empathy is also easily disrupted -- for example, if microphones are involved. The sound of a real voice to another person makes engagement less than immediate. Those few seconds of adjustment can mean the difference between engaging listeners immediately and losing them to passive hearing.

Talking to Dean Meyers last night via skype, we got on the subject of presentations and what people seem to do too often to turn off their listeners when it would be so easy to turn them on.

Dean works with visuals -- and he uses the word "stage craft". It's perfect. Once you are aware of your audience and that any presentation is theatre, you can begin making conscious decisions about what works and what doesn't.

In your presentation, you might want some disruption (in theatre, perhaps a la Brecht). However, if you are aware of stage craft, both the disruption and the manner of disruption are careful choices. Understand that what that an intention does not necessarily achieve the effect you want. Intention is only the beginning.

Once stage craft becomes a priority, it's easier to have the desired impact. If you know you need visuals and it's not your specialty, you'll go out and find someone who can do them right (rather than just doing it yourself because -- well -- you need slides).

Although the basis of presenting, content is the smallest piece of a pitch because its impact depends on the visual, emotional, and physical contexts in which (or with which) it is delivered.

The combination of the right elements produces a kind of magic you can't quite explain. And it's the feeling, not the specifics of the content, that people will remember.

Your listeners can always go back and review content. But the feeling of being present during a great talk can't be revived except in memory. Moreover, it's often exactly that talk's emotional impact that makes your listeners want to learn more.

So you'd better be careful about planning that (special) effect.

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