The presentation IS YOU!

Why you don't need Powerpoint - or at least, why you don't need it most of the time

Look, we are naturally blessed with the best presentation tools in the universe - the human face, voice and body. They are just fantastic.

But - the human eye is drawn to light. It's why we look into the fire, sit around the TV, and stare out at the sparkly ocean.

So if I'm using every part of my being, every muscle in my face, body and voice-box to sell you my idea, then the last thing I want is a large glowing rectangle behind my left shoulder.

That area of light will mesmerise you, it will suck out your attention through your eyeballs. Look at the image at the start of this post, who would look at the presenter's face or body language?

This is why you should think very carefully before deciding to use Powerpoint/Keynote or whatever.

(If I use an aid at all, I prefer a flipchart when I present. It is human-sized - I am pretty sure I could beat one in a fight. With preparation it can do almost anything Powerpoint can do, and most importantly it does not glow.)

For bigger spaces, you are going to need a bigger visual aid, I admit. But be very careful. One of the few people who gets this nearly right is Steve Jobs in his famous Apple product presentations. Looking at these from a theatrical point of view you will notice that Steve's huge Keynote screen only dominates when he wants it to dominate.

He uses black backgrounds, so there is almost no light from the screen - but Steve has a 15KW spotlight on him all the time. He wears black - like a Covent Garden mime artist - and his dark clothes emphasise his expressive face and hands. When he has finished showing us something, the screen quietens down to a simple image and we turn our attention back to Steve. And of course his slides are visually simple - often just two or three words which we can read in half a second.

The result? We are looking at Steve, not at the screen, while he is enthusing on his ideas.

The message is simple: always remember the presentation is YOU.

So avoid projected light if you can - or get yourself projected up there.

PS: If you really can't avoid using the Big Screen, then only use it when you absolutely have to, concentrating on bare bones facts (like Steve) and emotive images (like Seth Godin recommends). And as soon as you are done with each slide, TURN IT OFF!

Doors of Perception

Entrances and exits in culinary experiences

If you've seen the Kenneth Branagh film of Henry V, you might remember the young King's first entrance. He enters, clad in a huge cloak and crown, through a pair of high double doors and backed by a blinding corona of white light. It is like the second coming.

When Judi Dench, playing Mistress Golightly, saw the shot, she is supposed to have said "My God, what an entrance. Who do you think you are?" Flustered and probably feeling very young in the presence of a Grande Dame of British theater, Branagh allegedly replied, "Well, it's not called Mistress Golightly the fifth!"

I was reminded of this recently when I was doing a show in the function room of a top class hotel. Of course, most function rooms have a kitchen or service station located just next door. After all, it makes sense to have the culinary resources close by.

Now, the problem here is one of entrances and exits, and especially of lighting. Those top-class function rooms have usually been expensively illuminated with crystal chandeliers, candles and subtle indirect lamps - while the kitchens are lit with bright white striplights.

The result? When the Star Trek kitchen doors open, every eye is drawn to them (we look to the light - a fundamental law of experience design) and we see... Klaus the Underwaiter, backlit in his majesty like Harry V. And behind him? Piles of dirty plates, flustered waiters, buckets of food waste and the sous-chef screaming at the saucier.

In creating atmosphere, nothing is more important than light. And nothing kills atmosphere faster than cold, hard, white light, especially when it draws our attention to the machinery of the show.

Of course, waiters are in a difficult place, as they have to switch constantly between showmanship, and being invisible. Nevertheless, the problem here is, well, glaring.

The first step would be to get rid of that intrusive light, either by installing more doors or baffles (wings, anyone?) or by simply changing the dang lighting strip to something warmer.

The second, more exciting step, would be to use the grand entrance effect, and decide which moments deserve the Henry V treatment. Imagine the lights going up and the whole waiting staff marching in in unison with the magnificent main course under silver covers... You could add (flavourless) smoke and a fanfare if you wanted.

"Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Why, just the best damn supper in town."

Kind words from high places

Well, the blog's only been up for a couple of weeks, but I have received undeservedly generous feedback on my febrile musings.

Bob Jacobson, one of the two sharp experience gurus behind the Total Experience blog over at Corante (top of my link list, by the way), was kind enough to say: "An excellent (re)beginning! Your style is instructive but easy".

And Joe Pine - bestselling co-author of my perennial bedtime reading The Experience Economy - wrote: "Well done! I love your start, with its emphasis on dramatic structure".

Gentlemen, thank you for your time, encouragement and ideas!

Luvvies need love too

or, is the guy in the chicken suit truly happy, deep down inside?

In a private mail exchange recently (yes, it was with someone you have heard of,
but Mick Jagger told me - personally - never to name-drop), we were talking about the authenticity of face to face experiences.

It struck me that a lot of H2H experiences - like the Charmin one in Times Square - rely heavily on what the adult industry calls talent, but which you might call actors, cast members or poverty-stricken students. They are those people, often costumed, with whom the customers react directly, and whose enthusiasm, skill and interpersonal skills can make or break the experience.

Very often, these folks have to act in a scripted way - or at least are given a limited range of interactive options. Your chaps in the Charmin experience (which I like, by the way) are pretty much doomed to spend their workdays saying the same phrases over and over again, and smiling. A lot. Possibly while dressed as a toilet.

Now I too make my living by dropping my pants in amusing ways, and I know how crushingly dull it can be to go through the same routine over and over again. Sure, the audience is different every time, and sure their smiles and laughter can give you an immense
amount of energy, but eventually you just get fed up with the gig. If you are supposed to be happy about things - a common situation in experiential marketing - this is a problem.

"Never mind", I hear you cry, "for you are a gifted, professional thespian who is able to smile through the greatest suffering". A fair point, and here's a fiver, but where does that leave authenticity?

Let's be honest - there are few actors good enough to convincingly fake happiness at a range of two feet for several hours. And even if they are technically brilliant, you are not necessarily going to believe them. When Robert de Niro cries his eyes out on the big screen, his face, voice and tear glands do everything that they would do in a real trauma. But we know it is fake, because it's a movie, stupid! Similarly, when we see folks in comical animal suits smiling at us, we tend to to treat their emotion with scepticism.

So in the interests of authentic experiences, we need to make sure that the talent we use is showing genuine emotions. How can we do that?
  • Give your talent a chance to believe in the product. Truly believe. As I always expound in my presentation training, "if you don't believe what you are saying, shut up about it". The best way to help them love the product? By giving them the knowledge they need, and by bringing them into close contact with people who love it already.
  • Give your talent a chance to show emotion. Think about your costume design, and your staging. Are they going to allow the character the freedom of facial and physical expression that they need? Do you really need that mask? Wouldn't make-up be better? If someone absolutely must be dressed as a carrot, must it be the person with close-up customer contact?
  • Give your talent breaks. This is basic stuff here, but you know already that real breaks make all the difference. As does a decent wage, by the way. But not as much as when you...
  • Give your talent the freedom to shape the experience. Open any airport bookshop volume on motivation, and you will see that the thing which we dig most is the feeling that we are shaping our own actions and being valued for them. So encourage your folks to do it their way, not yours. Yes, they might drift from your CI, but they will glow while they are doing it and people buy from people, remember? So recruit good people, and let them play.
  • Give your talent applause. In a lot of experiences, the status of applause is unclear. If the experience is highly theatrical, applause may be welcome. However, if the experience design is more personal, more intimate, very immersive, continuous, or just plain dark, applause might not seem appropriate. Often, the customers are simply unsure if applause is "allowed". Nonetheless, your talent probably chose this profession - at least partly - for the roar of the crowd. Don't underestimate the importance of that buzz factor in keeping your folks motivated - and authentic.
If the pundits are right, and I think they are, then we are heading for a huge boom in the experience biz. This will mean more and more talent getting better and better at what they do. One day, there will be superstar talent, glitzy awards, and pawprints in the concrete outside the Pine and Gilmore University of Experience Art. And even before then, the best folks will insist on the above.

Keep your talent happy. Your customers will feel it if you don't.