Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Confederacy of Presentation Tips

Okay, so I'm watching the talking heads this morning, getting an early start with ESPN's Sports Reporters. For some reason, sports analysts have more exaggerated mannerisms than their 'Hard News' cousins around the dial - it's like they're playing charades with us and they all picked 'someone in the throws of an epileptic seizure' as their subject. I guess they're trying to infuse their analysis with the action of the games and athletes they're covering.

Newsies get their mojo going with arm and hand gymnastics as well, though usually a slower, quieter form (think 'doing the 70s Jackson 5 Robot dance' while sitting behind a desk). Unless they are op-ed commentators, and then it's ants-in-the-pants-on-crank time to beat the Sportos at their own 'game'.

I occasionally do presentations at work and the topic is rarely as innately interesting as the wildcat offense or a health care town hall meeting gone awry. (Quick: whatta call an Eagle's Wild Cat? A Dog Killer. Ba dump.)

To add to my deficit, the audience is usually not there of their own accord and I don't generally enjoy it, probably because I'm not very good. So I'm working from a fairly deep hole and need all the help I can get. Then I think to myself, 'what do I do with my hands?' That's why I try and pick up pointers from 'the pros'. I'm not a hand model, after all - not even master of my own domain usually.

There are the obvious no-nos: fingers up the nose or in the ears, jack-off gestures or really any lingering around down in the general crotch area, flipping off the audience, scratching your ass. I get those. Hands in the pockets or straight down at the side unmoving are less egregious but still frowned upon.

What then?

I'm left with the sort of preacher moves - giving the crowd Pope-style blessings as I stalk the stage, punctuated with a double karate chop or hourglass outline (ya know, the hands go head to toe around an imaginary but shapely figure). Finger pointing and air juggling are soon to follow. I get through it but it doesn't feel right ...

... so I end up watching the various round tables and speeches and debates and talk shows just to get some pointers, the dos and definitely don'ts.

Ahh, but they're all crap on some level.

The only ones looking natural are cooking show hosts. Because they have something legitimate to do with their hands.

Maybe next time I have to present something, I'll bring along a cutting board, some spices, meat, and veggies and a knife. 'Today we're going to learn about best practices in exception handling while we whip up a fantastic little dish I like to call Potpourri. Bam!"

Probably not practical.

Maybe I should just take my cue from a literary hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, late of New Orleans. Now, Ignatius is not a professional speaker, nor is he even in the communications industry, per se.

But he has presence. And style. And command.

Whether leading the worker's rebellion at Levy Pants, hawking hot dogs as a pirate themed street vendor, making beautiful music on his medieval lute or releasing pressure on his valve into Big Chief Writing Tablets, he never waivers in his world view and that radiates out into his 'audiences'.

Our introduction to Ignatius perhaps puts it best:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.

Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black mustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress ...

Ignatius himself was dressed comfortably and sensibly. The hunting cap prevented head colds. The voluminous tweet trousers were durable and permitted unusually free locomotion ...

The outfit was acceptable by any theological and geometrical standards, however abstruse, and suggested a rich inner life.

Enough said.

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