What Has Happened to Spontaneity?

I had mixed emotions while watching Tiger Woods’ mea culpa moment two weeks ago. Same with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. And a recent presentation that a client gave. All of these events shared a common thread.

Several dozen politicians could have learned from Tiger on how to issue a public apology, and the Canada’s Olympic Committee crafted a breathtaking show. So did my client.

This is unfair to the Olympics, it’s only sin being the timing of all of this. The carefully-crafted performance came around the same time as so many others that I either watched or was in the room for. It got me thinking…

Does everything have to be staged these days?
What would happen if public figures went without a script?

The Woods spectacle was so tightly controlled, the Golf Writers Association of America chose to boycott the event. If they couldn’t ask questions, they argued, it was not a true news event and not worthy of their participation.

And then there’s my client. So focused was he on the performance aspect of his presentation, he had it timed to the second, and one of his slides had 13 builds on it. The slide was scheduled to be displayed for roughly 20 seconds. And it was just a quarterly update to a management team!

I don’t get it. Have we forgotten how to engage an audience without a stage director? Have we lost sight of why people attend a presentation? Do we think that audience members walk into a room just dying to see our slides?

Perhaps Carmen Taran said it best at last year’s PowerPoint Live (now the [intlink id=”415″ type=”page”]Presentation Summit[/intlink]), when she spoke of the importance of, to use her words, “presenting naked.” This speaks to the value of being genuine and having no barriers between presenter and audience. While I acknowledge the value of theater (and again, the Olympic festivities were phenomenal), I wouldn’t want to see the message lost in the medium, and all too often, my clients are ready to do just that.

We need less staging and more speaking. Less theater, more engagement.

5 thoughts on “What Has Happened to Spontaneity?”

  1. Bob Sommerville

    I was having a similar conversation just recently regarding kids shows at schools, particularly at Christmas and othe major dates. I enjoyed going to my kid’s school concerts and seeing them act out in costumes made of old cardboard, green garbage bags etc – and straining to hear quiet little voices (and later the ear-busting breaking of adolescent boys’ voices).

    In recent years school concerts have been taken over by stage managers (disguised as Kylie-Lee’s Mum) PA systems and sound boards occupying the 3rd row middle seats. The VIPS sit at the front in seats while us hard-of-hearing, short-sighted folk sit in the back. No one has been able to explain how we are better off for it.

  2. I agree that too much is staged. As a Cub Scout leader, it seems that more and more people can’t go more than 30 minutes without being entertained in some way. I explain over and over that we are not entertained every moment of the day. Sometimes we are “bored.”

    As for Cub Scouts, when we camp absolutely no texting, surfing the web, computers, Game Boys, etc. It is one of our last vestibules of peace where we get engaged with each other versus a computer screen spouting a staged program. I love to hear the kids put on a skit or song with only about 15 minutes practice, including making it up! I love seeing THEM – THEIR ingenuity, creativity, and innocence – not someone else’s idea of a performance.

  3. I personally like presentations that the person has to stop to take a few seconds after going to the next slide to remember what it is about. I was recently at a presentation at a college where the person was just using the slides as a way to engage the audience in a conversation about what we wanted to know. I say that is how all presentations should be done, not scripted down to the letter.

    Peace.

  4. The trend to overproduction spans multiple industries. There’s a natural trend to “outdo” what has come before. “Different” equates to “better” in many people’s minds. We have two generations raised on television that will not leave a camera on any subject for more than four seconds. Country Music died as a result Nashville being invaded by New York businessmen intent on profits, not music. The list could go on and on.

    I appreciate Rick’s quiet insistence that people should concentrate on a clear message, apart from any production value contained in an overhead slide show. Those who do will stand out in today’s near-mindless society.

    I joined Toastmasters nearly 20 years ago, then did not return for fifteen. Nearly all the club presentations I’m seeing now are accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation. This is counter-intuitive, if learning to speak is the true goal of TM membership.

    Glad to see you shifted focus from PowerPoint to Presentations, Rick! The two are not synonymous.

  5. Excellent points – Thanks!

    However, those ‘extemporaneous remarks’ sometimes have to be rehearsed and rehearsed.

    It takes face time in front of an audience and lots of it before being able to be ‘spontaneous’ at the lectern.

    The great orator Sir Winston Churchill regularly practice his ‘impromptu remarks’!

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