My presentation secret

I’d like to let you in on a little secret.

A secret that can hold a key to more confident, joyful presentations and presentation presence. Ready? Here it is:

Keep a secret in your shoe.

A penny, a piece of paper, a picture, anything. You decide.

“Keep a secret in your shoe, smile about what you know that others could never guess, and use it to keep you in contact with the ground. Feel the secret in your shoe, to help you keep in touch with the gift you’re trying to deliver. Perhaps most importantly, use the secret to keep you from taking yourself so seriously.”

This was the advice I received from a dear mentor of mine before a big presentation a few weeks ago.

I wrote, “This will be awesome” on a small scrap of paper and could feel it nestled under my left foot as I facilitated my session.

Keep a secret in your shoe that’s only for you to know about. Shhhhh. Is it working?

One small step for spontaneity…

In a recent podcast interview with my friend Mark Guay, I touched upon the myth that Improvisers are merely “winging it” and perhaps wildly unprepared.

Behind the scenes, we practice (and practice some more) a set of principles that guide us and give us a wonderful structure to navigate the ambiguity we have on stage when we are improvising.

When it comes to presentations and speeches, it is possible to over-prepare and in doing so, squash opportunities for spontaneity or connection with your audience.

If you want to add some spontaneity to your presentations, classes, or public speaking opportunities, completely throwing away a script isn’t necessary either.

Patricia Ryan Madson, Improv Guru and author of Improv Wisdom offers a spectacular tip for morphing scripted notes into an opportunity for more spontaneity:

Her advice? Turn your notes into a series of questions to answer. For example, your notes might look like this: 

1) Why am I here today?

2) What is the learning objective?

3) What am I most excited to share with you?

This small change still gives you the comfort and clarity that comes with a structure to fall back on, while also allowing room for a conversational, breathable, and perhaps more empathetic approach. Try this out and let me know how it goes!

The power of a “Power Pose”

How much space do you take up? No, we’re not talking about oxygen or your belongings. Literally, when you stand or sit, or enter a room, how much space do you take up and how do you convey that to others?

This is one of the tenants of “Status” – a tool Improvisers use to communicate, influence, empathize, and… play. Status is present in our every day lives and asks us to consider how we act, talk, and feel along a continuum of submission to dominance.

We can choose our status. It is ever in flux. Choosing our status can help us gain the confidence to own the stage.

Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School does a wonderful job of teaching us how to play with status, how being more mindful of status and body language helps shift us neurologically to act the way we want to feel.

Want to learn how? 

Or watch her TED talk, here.

A power pose is one way. What else triggers you and helps you act the way you want to feel?

The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making, via HBR

If your New Years resolutions include improving your presentation skills, you’ll want to check out this recent study and article from Harvard Business Review. Has this happened to you…?

“During an interview, your potential new boss asks you to briefly describe your qualifications. At this moment, you have a single objective: be impressive. So you begin to rattle off your list of accomplishments…”

…and before you know it, 5 minutes have gone by. Fear kicks in, the clock is running, and we resort to lists instead of the big picture.

Getting clear, concise and specific in an interview, presentation, or meeting isn’t always easy, especially if we are focusing on the quantity of our material as opposed to the quality.

Naturally, our instincts tell us so because of a phenomenon called “Presenter’s Paradox”… the assumption that more is better.

“More is actually not better, if what you are adding is of lesser quality than the rest of your offerings. Highly favorable or positive things are diminished or diluted in the eye of the beholder when they are presented in the company of only moderately favorable or positive things.”

So if more is not the answer, what do we do? 

  1. Consider choosing a new objective – “be impressive” sounds fine, but we owe it ourselves to really understand and get clear on our objective, and work backwards from there. Improvisers choose every action based on their character’s objective and it does wonders to help them inform the scene and navigate the unknown.
  2. Less lists, more stories – use storytelling to help focus on the big picture. Turn your bullet-point accomplishments into key story points with a beginning, middle and end. Look to the Story Spine for help on this one.
  3. Ask yourself “The 5 Why’s” to help you get clear and specific.
  4. Remember that even though you’re in the hot seat, the interview or presentation isn’t all about you. Follow the improviser guideline of “making your partner look good” by finding opportunities for connection, commonality and interaction.

What matters to you? Seth Godin’s 140-second challenge

What do you care about? You have 140 seconds to share it with a room full of strangers. Ready, go!

Last night in NYC I took part in a noble experiment by marketing and creativity author and guru Seth Godin.

As part of the release effort for his latest book, he let out a rally cry for individuals to get together and share their passion.

The event provided a unique and thrilling opportunity to be vulnerable, courageous, succinct, clear, and focused…in 140 seconds. This may sound difficult to some of us, but we’re each given numerous opportunities throughout the year, week or even day to present what matters to us in a clear and hopefully, authentic way. Why not practice?


I’m curious to know what you would talk about in your 140 seconds?

I challenged myself to improvise much of my talk but here’s what I ended up saying:

My name is Lindsey, and I am an Improviser. Usually when I tell people this, especially if I am outside of New York, I hear one of three reactions:

“Oh, you must be funny, then”, or “Is that like, ‘Whose Line is It Anyway?'”, or “I could never do that”.

Here’s a secret. Everyone is an Improviser. Everyone in this room is an Improviser. No one has a script when they get up in the morning.

But here’s how I really know that everyone in this room tonight is an Improviser. Improvisers are really good at doing these 3 things:

  1. Taking Risks
  2. Embracing Failure
  3. Saying YES to opportunities 

Everyone in this room took a risk to come here tonight. Everyone who got up here and shared their art is embracing failure, and everyone said yes to an opportunity even if they were unsure of what this was. 

5 years ago, almost to this day, I took my first Improv class. Now I work with corporations, teams, and individuals to help them cultivate their inner improviser because I believe that these skills matter. Imagine what the world would look like if everyone learned these skills? Well, I imagine it would be similar to this room here tonight, a room full of people who took risks, embraced failure or re-defined what ‘failure’ meant, and said yes to opportunities. I’m really excited about that world.

My hope for today is that when you leave this room tonight you’ll help someone else unleash and embrace their inner improviser, that you’ll keep taking risks and saying yes to new things, and exercising the muscle that brought you here tonight – then maybe someday we’ll have the courage to throw away the script. 

What’s the drill – August 21: Find the ending

And, in conclusion…

Sometimes as presenters, communicators and improvisers we spend so much time learning how to start our speech, conversation, or scene that we forget to brush up on how to finish them.

Here are some tips, pulled straight from the world of Improvisation and storytelling to help you find the elusive ending.

1. Know your objective – What do you want your speech to accomplish? Build in tie-back to your objective, and once you’ve achieved it, it’s a key sign it’s time to end.

2. What has changed? Kenn Adams’ story spine gives us a wonderful framework to think about communication and storytelling. “And ever since that day…”, what changed, for the character or for the world you described? Help paint the picture with emotional resolution.

3.  Re-incorporation – Reincorporation is comedy gold. To help find your ending, look to the beginning. What can you reincorporate?

4.  Button it up – Improvisers tend to end scenes on the biggest laugh – they like to go out on top. Once their objective has been achieved, and they have been changed, ending on a big laugh (otherwise known as a “button”) is always a good feeling.

5.  Have you solved the problem? If the problem you’ve established has been solved, your work is done. Be careful not to introduce new problems, or re-hash the same one. Simplicity is key.

6.  Did you answer the audiences questions? The audience has a circle of expectations: with the information you’ve given them, they have questions they expect to answered. Once you’ve done that for them, you can expect to have come to the end. 

5 Things Great Presenters Know About People (Video)

Great presenters know how to inform, inspire, and motivate – they know how to reach an audience because they focus on their audience during all steps of the presentation process.

What makes a presentation resonate with you?

Here’s what we know:

  1. Research shows an audience enjoys, learns more and retains more of your presentation when it’s bite-sized. Keep your presentation to 20 minutes or less (TED talks, anyone?!) – or if it’s longer, be sure to change it up every 20 minutes.
  2. Take away the sensory channel  competition – an audience is learning and listening with their eyes and ears. A presentation with text-heavy slides distracts from your talk.  If the audience is reading they aren’t listening. A trick – prepare your presentation first without the help of slides – if you still need visuals, then opt for some power point back up. Slides should complement your talk, not replace it or mimic it.
  3. What you say is only part of your message – we unconsciously make 1 second or less decisions about others. Beware of your body language and tone. Non-verbal communication matters.
  4. You’ve motivated, inspired, and informed your audience to do … what again? Don’t forget a call to action. Get specific about what you want your audience to do next.
  5. Monkey see, monkey do – audiences imitate emotions and feel what you feel – so, lead with passion! Your body language will be a big give-away if you’re not feeling your topic.

For more tips, in fun-to-watch illustrated form, check out this video!

May I have a suggestion for….presentation tips from an Improviser

Practicing how we say one small phrase can do wonders for enhancing presentation skills.

“May I have a suggestion for… ” is something we hear at Improv shows. In fact, it fuels audience participation and reminds us (lest we forget!) that everything is fully Improvised.

Beginning Improvisers practice this opening and many of their learned habits spill over into presentation skills and confidence building. Here are some tips:

1. Ask for what you want

  • May I have a suggestion for a location – is straightforward and clear. Ask for what you want – be specific and commit as much as possible.

2. Pay attention to status 

  • How much space are you taking up when you ask for a suggestion? Are you focusing your energy inward, or outward?
  • Non-verbal communication – engage the audience, smile, make eye contact, use your non-verbal communication to exude confidence and presence even though you may be shaking on the inside.
  • Volume – more important than we remember. The back of the house needs to hear you, so, sing out, Louise!

3. Make your partner look good

  • In this case, your partner may be the audience, and/or your fellow players – you can make them look good by complimenting their suggestions, ideas and when a suggestion doesn’t inspire you, go back to asking for what you want. Of course no one wants to see someone linger for 3 minutes deciding which suggestion to take.
  • There is a delicate art to saying “yes, and” to an idea that you’re not on board with. Don’t let it mess up your mojo.
  • Use what’s in the room – if the only suggestion you receive is one you really want to avoid (i.e something blue) how can you politely accept the offer without sacrificing the quality of the scene and your presentation?