Professional Presentation: The Man Behind The Curtain

Posted by Bridget Beirne
September 25, 2013

A professional presentation is not just about your visuals. It's about YOU.

Remember that part towards the end of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her friends go trembling back to the huge, scary-head-vision-thing that they think is the Wizard to tell him that they'd defeated the Wicked Witch? Remember all of the lights and smoke and noise that accompanied the Wizard's appearance? Remember what Toto found when he pulled aside that random curtain at the side of the room?



"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"

The REAL Wizard, huddled and hiding in a corner, running what appears to be the world's most complicated demo with perhaps the creepiest visual assistant of all time, is revealed to be a man, and not a vaguely-green floating head at all. "I'm a very good man!", he insists. "Just a very bad wizard."

Of course, we come to learn that the Man Behind the Curtain is even MORE impressive thanProfessional presentation the illusion he created to hide behind. In fact, he's able to solve the problems that all of the magic in Oz couldn't fix. His genius, personality, and abilities are truly exposed when he steps out from behind the bells and whistles. He is more than his PowerPoint.

See what we did there?

The men and women behind the curtain will always be more interesting, compelling and knowledgeable than the visual assistants they work with. After all, without the person behind them, all of those wonderful, well-crafted visuals would just be random images strung together. Now, don't get us wrong- your PowerPoint, flip charts, etc etc are VERY important- but they are there only to support your message, content, and performance. So many times we choose to hide behind them- effectively telling our audience to "pay no attention" to us, and cheating them out of the human connection that gives meaning to our message. But WE are the main event. 

There have been a number of theatrical productions that have gone down in history for being stripped down, simple, and revelatory, not the least of which is Richard Burton's Hamlet. Burton's 1964 performance as the melancholy Dane, directed with clarity and simplicity by John Gielgud, lays bare and raw and honest one of the most important literary works of all time. Beyond the stunning performances, part of what continues to capture the imagination is that this Hamlet is free of flounces and ruffles, imposing sets, or visual pyrotechnics. The technical elements- set, lights, costumes- all come together to SUPPORT Shakespeare's content. There is nothing keeping us from the text. We're right in the middle of it.



"To be or not to be..."


Think about your relationship with your visuals. Are you a wizard in hiding? OR are you out there making an impact like Burton? Here are a few quick questions you can ask yourself to discover the nature your relationship:


1. Do you rely on slide after slide after slide to tell your story?


2. Do you immediately start creating your slide deck- long before you've developed and laid the ground work for your content?


3. Do you talk to your slides? Do you turn your back on your audience and read what's up on the screen?


4. Are you deathly afraid of blacking out your screen at any given point, which will return the attention and focus of the audience to YOU?


5. When running a demo, do you stay firmly planted behind the table for the entire session?


6. Do you write EVERY SINGLE WORD of your presentation on a slide? 


7. Do your bullets have bullets? (Yikes!)


8. Is the idea of making a joke or telling a story frightening to you? (Humor and personal stories are revelatory. Revelatory can be scary!)


9. Are you dazzled by the seven-slide, image driven, simply-visually-supported presentation, but believe you can never go there yourself?


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