Performers not Professors

The Magic of Doug Henning

When I was a kid my family would regularly vacation in Las Vegas. From the time I was four or five, we were sitting in the old MGM watching shows (this was back when a small bribe would get you a better seat).

Donny and Marie, Sha Na Na, Tom Jones, Stevie Wonder – I saw them all, live in Vegas. But the performer I remember the most (likely because I went on stage as a child volunteer) was Doug Henning.

The Power of Props

You may only know of David Copperfield when it comes to famous magicians, but before Copperfield, there was Henning. Henning was an incredible performer and I'm not just saying that because I was a kid mesmerized by his magic (Ok, maybe a bit).

Every person that gets on stage in Las Vegas understands three things about their work.

  1. They are there to entertain.
  2. Their presentation is a performance.
  3. The effective use of props can make/break their performance.

If you don't believe me that a great prop can make for a fun presentation, check out Henning in this video.

Props, Presentations & Peformances

I'm telling you all about props, presentations and performances because I find that a lot of people think of their presentations as educational lectures.

Here's why I think that:

  1. They stand behind a podium.
  2. Their slides are filled with text (tons of it).
  3. Their purpose is to educate, rather than entertain.

But what if we were to think of our presentations like the performers in Vegas? What if we were to think about our presentations with the goal of entertaining people – to the point that they remember what we had to say (even just two hours later)?

Performers not Professors

I think sometimes we look down on those performers and think more of those who educate. Professors are more valued than Performers.

But let me ask you a question: can you recall a single lecture from when you listened to a professor years ago?

Let me ask you another: can you recall a concert or performance you went to years ago?

If our goal is that we want the information we share to stick, then we can't just hope we share enough facts to wow people. We need to engage them – and that requires us to think more like performers and less like professors.

Presentation Slides as Props

It also should change how we design slides – using them as a prop, not as notes for review later. If you want you audience to review information later, create a handout, or talk notes.

But we should design our slides to engage (emotionally) our audiences. To focus their attentions. To channel their emotions. And to ignite their imagination.

That's what Henning did the night I went on stage and held the five rings for him. I was blown away by all he was doing.

Here's the thing – I never went back to look at the rings. I'm some 30 years older than I was back then, and I can still remember them, and that night.

We're asking too much of our slides

If our presentations were more memorable, maybe we wouldn't ask our slides to do more than they need to. But that would mean we'd have to prep like performers, not professors.

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