Are good presenters like entertainers?
February 17, 2005
"I think a presenter is [like a] so-called 'entertainer' somehow because a presenter has to talk well, make the audience interested in the presentation, and entertain them." This was the comment from Shunya, a Japanese student new to giving presentations with PowerPoint, regarding my post on bullets. In Japan, people are accustom to the "dull" presentation of information in academia and business. So it is not surprising to see a Japanese student refer to an engaging, graphical presentation as coming from an "entertainer." This raises a question: Are the best presenters in a sense, "entertainers"? We have to be careful with this term "entertainer" since it has many associations that serious business people will want to avoid. "Entertainment," for example, has synonyms which include terms such as distraction, diversion, leisure activity, etc., not what we usually think of in terms of business presentations. But "entertaining" is synonymous with many very appropriate terms such as absorbing, affecting, compelling, delightful, diverting, engaging, engrossing, exciting, fascinating, inspiring, interesting, lively, moving, poignant, priceless, provocative, stimulating, and so on. We should be so lucky as to have an audience describe our presentations with one or more of these adjectives.
So, do good presenters have to be entertainers? No, hardly ever, unless your explicit goal is to entertain only. Do good presenters have to be entertaining? Yes, I think virtually all solid presentations will be entertaining if targeted to the right audience. You say there are just some data sets that can not be interesting (or exciting, provocative, etc.)? Then, as the saying goes, you have the wrong data (or the wrong audience). The point of a live presentation is to make some sort of a connection beyond just the content of your words (numbers, data, facts, instructions, whatever). Otherwise, what is the point of getting people together? If there is absolutely no reason to make a connection with the audience beyond the mere words of your presentation, then save people the time and just send them an email or a PDF of your data or argument. Good presenters know that the content (data, evidence, logic) is a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for a truly world class presentation job.