I was fortunate to see Jerry Seinfeld live on stage during his Australian tour. He gave a 90 minute stand-up comedy set that we can all learn from. I’m not talking about learning how to tell a joke, rather, how to give an effective and memorable presentation.
LESSON 1 – Going Analogue
Seinfeld had no supporting peripherals on stage. It was just him, a microphone and a glass of water. Behind him was a simple black curtain. No blinding video screens with irrelevant graphics, no distracting staging decorations and no magical light shows. He communicated to his audience with good old fashioned analogue technology – his voice, his words and his body language. The audience understood every single point made and responded at all the right moments.
When giving a presentation, don’t rely on external supports to get your message across. PowerPoint, videos, charts, whiteboard scribbles and other such tools are merely distracting your audience from you. If you know your subject matter well then demonstrate it by ‘going analogue’. Your boardroom audience will find it a refreshing change. When all eyes are on you, so too are their ears.
LESSON 2 – Plan The Journey
Seinfeld had a clear structure when telling a story. As much as you may think he diverts from the core of the tale being told, he actually has every step mapped out. Starting with a short introduction, Seinfeld sets up the premise and places the audience in the environment they need to be to understand the landscape he’s about to journey through. He then clearly demonstrates the problem as he sees it, with examples and anecdotes that support his claims. Finally he delivers the punchline that has his audience in unanimous agreement and ready to hear more. I could visibly see people nodding to each other and saying how they could relate to what was said.
When giving a presentation it is essential to have a solid structure that has a clear start, middle and end. There should be no doubt from your audience as to what your message is about, what you are recommending/selling/proposing/advocating. Know your time limit, know your audience and control the flow of information to allow people time to process and absorb the important points. Knowing when to pause for ‘think time’ is as effective as a comedian pausing for laughter. Lack of structure will cause confusion and result in your audience losing interest and lead to a reduction in their comprehension.
LESSON 3 – Stroke the Ego
From time to time, Seinfeld made local references to Australia and Melbourne, referring to AFL, the city, our drivers and our animals. We all know he does the same thing at every venue around the world. Why? Because he knows that we love hearing others talk about us. And when they sound like they’ve taken the time to understand us, we are more likely to feel positive towards them.
Whether you are presenting to a familiar group of people or pitching to new clients, find ways to show you understand them. Has anything happened in the news that relates to their business? Has there been any organisational news they’ve just announced that you can praise them for? Did they appoint a new partner/director/manager? Whatever it is, show them that you know a bit about them, demonstrate you’ve taken time to learn something current and topical related to them. Praise your audience and they’ll always respond positively. We all have an ego.
LESSON 4 – Leave Them Wanting More
It is often said in showbiz to ‘leave them wanting more’. After 90 minutes of storytelling through jokes, Jerry ended the show with a huge laugh, thanked his audience for coming, gave a bow and walked off stage. There wasn’t a person in the arena who would not have stayed for another hour had Jerry returned for another routine.
Build your presentation so that your purpose, aims and goals are clearly identified and explained. Your conclusion should not be ambiguous and your call to action (if you require one) needs to be clear. Your audience will know what your stance is, what you want and what is expected of them. If you leave your audience with a sense of clarity and understanding it will almost guarantee you will want them hearing more from you.
Watching Seinfeld in full flight is a masterclass lesson in ‘How to Give a Perfect Presentation’. Next time you watch a great comedian, spend some of your time between the laughs observing what they actually do. You will be surprised at what you can learn from these professional performers. Even though they may act like clowns on stage, they take their comedy very seriously.
Oh, if there is one final point to make, it is this – don’t tell jokes during your presentation if you are not good at it. It is one thing to watch Seinfeld, it is another thing to try and be Seinfeld!
(c) 2017 Ayal Tusia