We have all seen professional actors pitching products on late-night infomercials. Their presentations are well rehearsed and polished. Yet, they are also clearly "fake." Even though the actor/presenter may have followed "all the rules" about presenting, you can feel something missing. A professional presenter can try to look sincere and look excited about their topic, but you can't fool people (at least not most people), if it's "just an act," people will know. Genuine interest and true passion for your topic has to come from your gut, from your heart and soul. Maybe A-list actors like Al Pacino can pull it off, but most of us can't. We can't fake passion.
You can't fake it
The best presenters I have ever seen were not trained actors or professional presenters (though they may indeed present a lot). The best presentations I have seen were from everyday business people, designers, or researchers who (1) had a clear interest in their topic and about sharing it with the audience, (2) had their material down clearly and accurately in their minds and in their visuals, and (3) they displayed a clear passion for the material and made warm connections with their audience, connections that were undoubtedly sincere.
It's not about being perfect
I don't recall ever seeing a great presentation that was absolutely perfect (from the point of view of a communications coach, for example). The data and the visuals (if any) need to be perfectly accurate, but it is not possible for the "live performance" to be perfect. In fact, you show me a perfect live sales pitch, for example, and I'll show you a fake TV infomercial.
All of this is just a long way of me saying what a *%$#@&! blast we had at the Earth Wind & Fire concert last night in Osaka. Our seats were great: first row of the center balcony. This allowed the perfect vantage point to observe one of the most passionate performers (without a mic) I have ever seen. You probably have never heard of him: His name is Verdine White, the bassist for EWF and original member of the group (his older brother Maurice is the founder of the group). Verdine is an incredible musician with more funk and soul in his little finger than I have in my entire body. He is absolutely crucial to the EWF sound. But what Verdine taught me last night is how unbelievably Powerful a sincere display of genuine passion can be. Verdine just does not play bass, he communicates and connects with his "ax" as if it were an extension of himself. Verdine never stops bouncing, running, and seemingly flying across the stage all the while displaying one of the brightest, most infectious smiles you will ever see on a stage. Oh, and by the way, he'll turn 55 this summer. What energy!
Above: Verdine White with EWF at the Yahoo! Year End Party '05 (man, I should have worked for Yahoo!). Photo by "maidelba."
That's the way of the world
I had a feeling the EWF concert would prove inspiring. The personal qualities which Verdine's performance had, which even our presentations must have, are these: (1) Energy. (2) Passion. (3) Sincerity. (4) Smile. And (5) get out there front and center (naked) and connect.
Now an R&B/Soul musical performance is different from a business presentation, of course. But in a very real sense, they are both about (sincere) performance. It's not just my opinion, Dale Carnegie says essentially the same thing in the book, How to Develop Self-Confidence & Influence People by Public Speaking. Here are a few related bits from Mr. Carnegie's book:
"Put your heart and soul into your talking. Real emotional sincerity will help more than all the rules [in the world]."
Carnegie stresses the importance of exuding energy in your talk. About energy he says:
"It is magnetic. People cluster around an energetic speaker like geese around of field of autumn wheat."
Carnegie goes on to talk about the importance of a sincere smile and displaying an interest in your audience."Like begets like," he says. "If we are interested in our audience...our audience will be interested in us."
These words apply to the art of presentation, both business presentations and musical ones. Specific implementations depend simply on the context and the audience. EWF and Verdine White reminded me that Talent + Passion is a powerfully creative formula.
Finally, this from Maurice White (from the inside jacket of the latest EWF CD, Illumination). Maurice did not travel to Japan with the group this time, but he is the heart and soul of the band and co-executive producer of the album:
"The path of illumination is achieved by living day to day. Take responsibility for every moment and thus we reach illumination."
"Searching for the light"
(Ok, tomorrow I really will post the follow up on Steve Jobs' keynote....)