(Here's the first of a series of posts that looks at the presentation styles of prominent speakers, and offers takeaways to use in your own practice. They're on the long side, so I'll divide them up into shorter installments. Enjoy.)
If you've ever watched Sir Ken Robinson present, you're probably clear on what's important to him. He wants to transform schools from being institutions that produce mediocrity to venues for discovering creativity, inspiration, and learning. For Ken Robinson, shining a light on all children and teachers left behind in our schools is his singular passion.
Though as a speaker, he's not what anyone would call "dynamic" or "high performance". He doesn't whip the audience into a frenzy with power gestures or lead them with hypnotic language. Instead, he moves people with the emotional impact of his stories and his authentic commitment to his subject. So let's take a look at how Sir Ken does what he does, and see what we might learn from the man in the dark suit.
Here are some general categories to parse what I'm seeing:
Text: The presentation uses a series of anecdotes that are direct illustrations of the statistics he presents. The effect for the audience is that they're bring moved from their intellect into their emotions, from the head to the heart and round and round. This purposeful use of stories connects the audience directly to the state of "what is" and helps them envision "what could be." He does this with a minimum of stagecraft, since most of presentations are on a bare stage, with no slides, and are structured like 5-paragraph essays.
Voice & Movement: This is fun. Robinson plants his feet, he makes small hand movements, he squares his shoulders. His body is essentially still while he speaks. But his eyes are alive and express his passion unmistakeably. To my ear, his voice has a Michael Caine-feel (think a flatter performance from Educating Rita), and it plays three notes very close to each other, that are used like this:
Middle Tone: Introduce an idea
Low Tone: Illustrate the idea
High Tone: Lead to the next idea
And he does this, playing his vocal triad over and over, for 20 minutes, just standing in his shoes. He uses a very discreet set of vocal and physical gestures. Clearly, he finds a way to make this work for him because the audience is rapt and hangs on every word.
Style: His use of wit is appropriate to the seriousness of his subject and the expectations of the audience. It also seems to be part of the authentic expression of who he is. Technically, the humor is used as a vehicle to take the audience on a journey to the center of a failed educational system. The road proceeds into the valley of statistics, dips down into an evocative story, and rises slightly with an appropriately witty response, before diving deeper into the next idea. This is a powerful way to keep the audience off-balance and reliant on you, as their trusted guide leading the way to a hopeful resolution.
NEXT UP: ANALYSIS OF PRESENTER MINDSET & TAKEAWAYS YOU CAN USE