What I Learned About Unpresenting from Heather Gold
I first met Heather Gold when she did stand up comedy at the first Blogher conference in 2005. In addition to comedy, Heather is a keynote speaker and teaches her unique style of interactive performance in “unpresenting” workshops.
I do a lot of presenting and am spending to much time writing bullet points, creating slides, and practicing what I’m going to say. I think that this puts a stop to creating conversation in the room. I wanted to learn some conversational mechanics — so I could stop talking at people and begin talking with them.
I took one of her workshops recently. We had a small group and each of us had to speak in front of the group while Heather coached us. It was incredibly helpful to have another pair of eyes point out ways how you could improve to encourage more interaction.
Here’s what I learned:
- Emotions Are More Important Than Facts: To prompt conversation, you need to make an emotional connection. Happy, sad, angry, etc can help open the conversation. Maybe its an opening story that sets this emotional tone.
- Feel the Room, Be in the Moment: Do not focus on what you want to tell people, read people’s body language, make eye contact, and most importantly connect to them.
- Know Yourself: You need to cultivate as much self-awareness as possible. When you open up the room for conversation, the unexpected might happen. Understand that if you’re uncomfortable, the rest of the room might not be – so sit and stay with it. Also, self-recognition gets the most laughs.
- The Only Thing That Matters Is That You Care: The most important thing is that you care about your topic and that you have some passion for it. If you’re bored with what you’re saying, the audience will be too.
- Use Call and Response with Humor: As Heather pointed out, as a stand up comic, she can tell how people are connecting – they laugh or they don’t. One thing I learned is that if you get a laugh, say it again in another way.
- Vary Your Style: If your natural style is high energy, then don’t stay at the level the whole time you present. Change volume, tone, speed, and color.
- The Pregnant Pause: Don’t always fill the space with talk – a pause, silence can create an opening for conversation.
- When the Group is Quiet: If the group is not responding for whatever reason, don’t tell them they’re being too quiet. That only encourages them to be more quiet.
- Eye Scanning: You may engage one-on-one with someone in front of everyone in the group, but let your eyes scan the room for other people who might want to join in. The sides of the circle or room are where there might be energy. Giving the gift of your attention to the audience, makes it more interactive.
- Translation Techniques: If you use any jargon, be sure to pause and ask “Does everyone know what that is?” Try to establish relevancy in the room.
- Traffic Cop and Threading: Keep the conversation going by summarizing points and threading through out. Sometimes if someone takes the conversation to a place where you don’t want to go, you can use the “talk over” technique. Some people may think it is rude, but helps you keep on track.
- Acknowledge People: When you are threading conversations and someone shares something amazing – acknowledge it. Also, an opportunity for threading. Make them feel you heard them. It’s like when a child comes to you and says, “I hurt my finger.” You might ah …
- Don’t Walk Out on Applause: If you get applause, wait until it is finished before the leaving the stage.