10 Steps From Presentation to Performance
Or What Fred Astaire, Ronald Regan and a Kid Playing the Piano Know . . . And You Don’t.


John W. Berglowe

More at UnscientificCommunicology.blogspot.com
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Can You Deliver a Performance?
Maybe . . .
A bad presentation is a crisis of communication. A good presentation is effective if your audience stays awake. But a performance – a performance can educate, communicate, entertain and get you noticed. As presenters we fall into bad habits because we produce what Guy Kawasaki calls “new sameness.” We see how others deliver, how they use the same tools available to us and then we do the same thing they did, and often just as poorly. We can do better, we simply have to be willing to be different. And that’s harder than it sounds. Public speaking is difficult enough without the inherent risk in being daring. It takes confidence to transition from presenter to performer. It takes a certain level of commitment and bravery, and many are unwilling to do it. The following pages offer some of what you’ve heard before – watch your point size, don’t abuse PowerPoint, etc. But there is more. You’ll find tips on vocal modulation used by stage actors worldwide. We’ll discuss the “Power Triangle” and how effective performers, like former actor turned President Ronald Regan, use it well. There are tips about what to do with your hands, and how Fred Astaire recognized the importance of these oft overlooked communication tools. We’ll go beyond the presentation and talk about the erosion of the average adult attention span, and how to structure your performance to work with it (and perhaps more often, around it). In short, I’m going to give you tools you can use to stop with the boring presentations and start to execute singular performances which will differentiate you from the masses and more effectively deliver your message… But only If you have the guts to try.

1. PowerPoint Isn’t a Prop
It’s a Crutch – We Have Confused The Medium For The Message
You can, but don’t
PowerPoint offers the user a diverse array of tools and resources which empower said user to completely ruin any chance of delivering their message effectively. We so often find ourselves doing something simply because the tool says we can, that we forget to ask if we should. Fancy backgrounds only an art major could love and print flying into and out of the screen may have impressed audiences in the early 90’s, but I assure you, your audience has seen it all before. So, keep it simple – monochromatic slides never killed anyone, and no audience has ever been wowed by the creativity of their speaker as demonstrated by their selection of master slide. Of even less value than long-winded bullets are the always popular emphasized bullets which guarantee the audience pays close attention to points generally of no interest to anyone other than the presenter. Do us all a favor – remember the rules of 3 and 7. Three bullets to a slide and no more than seven words to a bullet. Keep things simple and concise – and in the name of all that’s holy, keep the emphasis in your voice and off your slides.

Some fear guns
I fear bullets. PowerPoint sadly prevents us from making terrible mistakes, and thus users can place an infinite number of bullets on a single slide. And if the user isn’t creating their own mini-library of congress they might choose to write 30 word bullet points designed to assure any viewer the presenter has done nothing to prepare.

Clip art = bad
Enough said.

2. Structure
Build A Performance With The Audience In Mind
First seven minutes
Our attention spans are shrinking. TV gave way to YouTube and YouTube gave way to Twitter. Now we can’t handle more than 125 characters at a time, or sit still for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. The result? The average American adult attention span is less than 7 minutes. After that point your audience loses focus. However, our attention spans are less like a dropping straight off a cliff and more like a reverse bell curve – with the audience’s greatest focus at the beginning and the end of the performance. Compensate for this with the “3T’s”. appropriate expectation for the audience. In theater a narrator or other character often “sets the scene” by telling the audience what is going on. You’re doing something similar here. After you tell them what you’re going to tell them, you can “Tell them in more detail.” That is, you deliver your performance employing all the tools contained in this e-book so that you maximize the success of your delivery.

Last T and last 7 minutes
As the performance approaches its climax, a funny thing happens. The audience begins to focus again. This gives you a chance to hit them with your main themes one more time. Use the last 7 minutes to “Tell the audience what your performance was about.” Use the same language you used in the first seven minutes, because repetition supports remembering. So . . . Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them in more detail. Then, tell them what you told them. This “3T” structure works with our natural pattern of focus and provides the best opportunity to deliver your message.

First two “T’s”
Because you only have 100% of your audience’s attention for the first seven minutes it is important you structure your performance accordingly. In that seven minutes, you must deliver the key points of your entire presentation. We call this, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them.” When you do this it assures the main points are delivered effectively, right up front, and sets an

2-A. More Structure
Three Simple Facts About Handouts
1. The book is different from the movie
Many presenters provide a copy of their slides as a handout. This has become the norm for reasons which often defy comprehension. The audience already got that information from your performance, if you’re going to provide handouts use them as an opportunity to tell the audience something new. Provide additional details, another case study, other examples. For audience members who insist on having a copy of the slides, offer to email it to them.

2. If you give them handouts, they will read them
You have a choice. Give the audience a bunch of paper for them to read while you’re speaking, or hold off on distribution until you’re done speaking so the audience listens to you. No presenter in the history of Earth has distributed handouts at the beginning of their performance and kept their audience enthralled.

3. If it doesn’t add value – don’t do it
Think about it. Why are you sharing this handout? Because it adds value to your performance? Because it provides additional information the audience will find valuable? Or, are you providing a handout just because everyone else does? If the handout doesn’t truly add value, save trees – don’t use it.

3. Rehearsal is Required
Learn The Script – Prepare, Practice, Then Perform
The number one reason presenters overload their slides with bad bullets is they haven’t prepared enough. They aren’t comfortable with their content, so they hope to cheat by “glancing” at their slides. No presenter has ever just “glanced” at their slides. At that first glance I will all but guarantee you start reading from them full-time, directing your attention away from your audience and towards the screen – at that moment, the jig is up. Your audience will immediately embrace this manifestation of your unpreparedness and begin reading your slides instead of listening to you. You’ve just lost their attention, and any chance to deliver your message. rehearse enough they run the risk of performing badly, but if they practice too much they may sound like a robot reciting the script. Both are legitimate concerns.

. . . But perfect practice makes . . .
So, how much do you have to practice? You practice until you know you’re ready, understanding that quantity of practice is less important than quality of practice. When you rehearse – you must rehearse everything. Your vocal pitch, your movement around the stage, where your hands are and how you use your props. Exactly what will you be doing or saying when you reach the graph on slide four? In Macbeth the king doesn’t arrive downstage left, waving a sword with his right hand in Act 3 by accident. Your every movement or vocal modulation shouldn’t be accidental either. If you practice perfectly – if you rehearse consistently – you won’t need to cheat by looking at your slides, and you’ll certainly appear more polished and more prepared. It truly may be the first time you have ever delivered this material – but it never has to look like it.

Practice makes . . .
This is why you need to rehearse. You must take time to work out the bugs, get comfortable with your content, know what’s coming next in the presentation. Performer’s rehearse again and again to assure the performance goes well – why does your presentation deserve less? I am often asked, “How much rehearsal is enough?” Some novice performers are afraid if they don’t

4. Set Design
You’re The Stage Manager, Take Charge
Many times a performer simply must work with what they are given. This section is about the other times. Mostly. This section is about you capitalizing on the opportunity to decide: podium or no podium, where should the props go and how should the lighting be set? This section is about you controlling your destiny, it is about you as stage manager. the lights should be on (except for the few by the screen) and the podium should be discarded as firewood. There should be enough space for you to move within the “Power Triangle” (details on following pages) without walking on your audience. Props should be easily accessible. Other than that – the room should be set up however you want it to be. So move the plants, reposition the flip-chart and close the blinds if you like. The theater is yours. Arrive early and take the time to get comfortable in the room. Rehearse – who cares if the catering staff thinks you’re crazy, pacing and talking to yourself – they’re not the ones about to speak in front of 350 strangers. Imagine people in their seats and walk through the performance. Adjust to the environment as necessary – because you have practiced so perfectly, and are so comfortable with your performance, these last-minute nominal changes are easily made.

Don’t be Afraid
If things go badly you are the only one who will look like a jerk – so don’t be afraid to take control. In an ideal world the AC should be cold,

However . . .
In any case where you aren’t able to make things right, you must get right with the way things are.

5. Blocking and Stage Presence
Where You Are Says A Lot
Power Triangle
Blocking is where actors stand when delivering their lines. Below is the “Power Triangle”, and it represents Basic Blocking 101. The narrow portion at the stage edge (2) is where you stand when you want to “connect” with your audience. This is where you go to make your point, this Presume the big solid is where you go to tell line is the edge of the a little secret, to stage and the little share something just solid line is the edge between you and the of your screen. audience. When you stand back In stage plays actors near the screen (1) will move to the front you are in shadow. of the stage to deliver This gives emphasis an internal to the visuals and monologue, insights alerts the audience for the audience to as to where their enjoy, but not for attention should be. the other characters to hear. This location denotes intimacy. The “neutral” location – designated here by the fitting “N” – is where you deliver the bulk of your performance. This space provides room for movement without crossing the audience’s line of sight, or walking so far from the visuals you divide the audience’s attention (provided you stay within the dotted lines). In this location you are well lit, visible and in a visually commanding position with no obstructions between you and your audience. It is, for all intents and purposes, “center stage.” To see a great example of the Triangle at work, watch a presidential address by Ronald Reagan. As a stage actor and movie star Reagan understood the power of the Triangle, and in spite of his TV audience only being able to see his head, he used it well. When he talks numbers, he leans back, for most of the speech he sits up straight and when wants to connect he leans forward and cocks his head. Every time.



6. The Performer’s Voice
Did You See “Ferris Bueller”?
Ben Stein is cool
Ben Stein played the now infamous role of economics teacher in the neo-classic film Ferris Bueller. Best remembered for his monotone attendance-taking and introduction of voodoo economics to millions of middle-American moviegoers, Stein has also hosted a game show, made other movies and is a regular socio-political commentator on TV. Ben Stein is also a Yale grad and was a speechwriter for two presidents. Who knew? All told he is a man with sufficient savvy and experience to know that a lack of vocal modulation can put an audience right to sleep. As his comedic characters often do. You’ll find great examples illustrating the benefit of combining appropriate vocal modulation with proper stage position every Sunday morning. Just watch any mega-church preacher deliver a sermon. There is a reason why their audiences fill football stadiums.

Vocal modulation means changing the pitch, tenor and pace of your voice in order to emphasize (or deemphasize) what you’re saying. It is the bold, the underline and the italics for your voice. It is also your best weapon against sleepy audiences. Speak fast, speak slow, be quiet, then yell! Force your audience to come along for the ride, make them listen.

By combining stage position and vocal pitch you will be able to drive home key elements of your performance with greater strength, and create a more lasting impression than any over-emphasized PowerPoint bullet ever could. First watch Mel Gibson in Hamlet – then watch your weird drunk uncle do his robot impression. Now choose who you want to be.

7. The Performer’s Hands
Fred Astaire Knew . . . You Really Do Talk With Your Hands
A Dancer’s Hands
When Fred Astaire was a young dancer he was invited to do a screen test for a major Hollywood studio. He returned several days later to view the film they shot and upon seeing it swore he would never perform in public again. Why? Because of his “gross deformity.” That being the “unnatural” length of his fingers. Luckily cooler heads prevailed and Fred went on to have a very successful career. However, if you ever watch Fred Astaire in a movie you will often notice his fingers are curled in, he is wearing gloves or his hands are hidden in his pockets (don’t do that). Our hands are powerful communication tools. In fact one of the first things babies learn to do is wave “bye-bye”, but do so by opening and closing their hands with their palms facing in – after all, that is what they see when you wave at them. When presenters “talk with their hands” they often use their hands to represent something – or more accurately, a lot of somethings. This can confuse the audience. If you’re offering a comparison and your left hand represents an apple, and your right hand represents an orange, and your next sentence is going to compare a Mack truck to a peanut butter sandwich – take a minute to clarify the visual. Drop your arms to your sides and pause for just a moment to “wipe the slate clean”, then launch into your next example with “clean hands.” You don’t want the audience wondering what the apple truck and peanut butter orange have to do with each other.

Hands matter
They are the only prop you will never leave in the car. Keep them out of your pockets (again, in this case - don’t be Fred Astaire) and leave your change, wallet, keys, Swiss Army knife or anything else you might play with offstage.

8. Breaking the Fourth Wall
Interacting With The Audience
They’re watching
A performer is said to “break the fourth wall” when they drop out of character or speak directly to the audience, as if the audience was part of the performance. The phrase comes from the idea that a stage set actually has four walls, one of which is clear – allowing the audience to look in on the characters who are otherwise oblivious to the fact they are being observed. In movies or television shows an actor may look right into the camera and make a comment to the crowd (Ferris did this a lot).

Thus the “fourth wall” is “broken.” You break the fourth wall when you interact with your audience – taking questions, or better yet, asking some. This interaction is common, and routinely manifests the following errors.

up already so I may present an answer which demonstrates my brilliance to all.” Don’t do that. Instead just maintain eye contact with the person asking the question, nod your head, but otherwise remain non-verbal. The impression is the same, sans the rudeness.

What, Not Do
When you ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” you provide your audience with a Yes or No scenario. However, when you ask, “What questions do you have for me?” it forces them to ponder for a moment, “I don’t know, what questions do I have for you?” Phrase your own question properly and you will get more and better questions from your audience, thus demonstrating your audience's interest and involvement. If an audience has no questions about your material, how do you know they were even listening?

Too Much Yup
A member of the audience asks a question and the whole time the you’re mumbling, “Mmm-hmm. Yup. Yup.” While intended to indicate active listening, this mumbling actually says, “I’m so smart I already know what you’re going to ask, so wrap it

Repeat. Repeat
Before you answer always repeat the question. This confirms you understood what is being asked and assures all heard the question – your answer without the context of a question is likely meaningless to your audience.

9. Verbal Pauses
What A 6-Year-Old Piano Player Knows

What mistakes?
When preparing for their first piano recital the instructor told all the kids, “If you miss a note, miss a measure or miss a section – it doesn’t matter, just keep playing!” Your audience doesn’t know what you wanted to say on slide seven, they know what you told them. So don’t stop, keep going – they don’t know you left something out unless you tell them you did. And if you, the well rehearsed performer, forgot a detail – how important can it really be? So often presenters double back and

apologize, “Oh yeah! I forgot – I also wanted to mention (insert mundane detail that no one else cares about here).” Don’t do that. If you forget a note, keep playing.

Not impressive. And guess what? It’s not impressive when you do it either. It’s called a verbal pause and it’s unnecessary. If you need a moment, if you lose your train of thought, just pause. Take a moment for yourself. Your audience is going to notice a moment of silence less than they’ll notice an army of “and ums.” Replace verbal pauses with nonverbal pauses. You’ll sound more professional and no one will notice something was amiss.

And Um . . .
Imagine – you’re at Lincoln Center in New York, watching a worldrenowned stage actor perform the lead role in Hamlet. Here comes the pivotal moment – the soliloquy you’ve been waiting for! “To be or ummmm . . .to ah, not be. That is the, umm question. So . . uhhh, what’s next?”

10. Most Important
The Thing Every Performer Knows

They say people go to auto races because they want to see a wreck – that’s not why they come to performances. No audience wants to be bored, no audience wants to judge you and no audience is there to see you fail. Know what all great performers know. Keep this critical knowledge in the back of your mind always. It will empower you to do things differently, it will enable you to take risks.

Know . . . the audience WANTS you to succeed.

So, Can You Deliver a Performance Now?
Definitely . . .
Once again, a bad presentation is a crisis of communication. A good presentation is effective if your audience stays awake. But a performance – a performance can educate, communicate, entertain and get you noticed. As performers we know we are the star of the show, and our message is most important. PowerPoint is a tool we use, and not an impressive one at that. As performers we know to structure our performances so our key points are delivered when the audience is most focused. As performers we know to practice our performance and control our environment to assure success. As performers we know how we say it, and where we say it, is as important as what we say. Blocking and vocal modulation are powerful tools. As performers we know to use our hands well, because these two props can say a lot. As performers we know breaking the fourth wall is a great way to keep the audience’s attention, but we have to do it right. As performers we know verbal pauses are distracting, while non-verbal pauses enhance the performance. As performers we know our audience is on our side. We know we have skills to educate, inform and entertain. We have the confidence necessary to be different and stand out from the masses of lackluster presentations which have sadly become standard.

As performers we know we have what it takes to do better, and we will.

Who is this guy?
Meet John W. Berglowe – The Author

He is an award winning public speaker who has entertained and educated audiences large and small. Over a diverse ten-plus year career he has worked with public agencies, global corporations and run his own companies (which was really, really hard). Along the way John has empowered other communicators and converted many “presenters” into “performers” – ultimately to the benefit of thousands of audience members worldwide. “Effective communication is a science and an art worth our time to study and perfect. It is a skill set we can develop and make stronger.”

Visit John at

to learn more!