secrets of public speaking from street performers, Kurt Vonnegut and Alexander Bard

Do you remember yourself being bored at your desk at school listening to the monotonous voice of the professor? Can you think of standing in front of the audience and realizing no one is actually listening to what you are saying? Ah, and do you recall once you were talking to a friends but you can`t remember anything from the conversation? If you faced any of these situations, there are 2 options: 1. You are a bad listener 2. Someone was a bad presenter.

To catch attention of the audience is a skill, to maintain this attention … well, it is also a skill. Hundreds of seminars nowadays tell us about the ABC of presentations promising success. As technology evolves we feel more prone to master Prezi or incorporate and other visual gimmicks. However, do not get upset if you are not so advanced in creating visual aids – you can still create a powerful presentation and keep your audience involved using your own voice, language and gestures.

I have always liked presentations – preparing fancy slides with just one picture and 3 to 10 words on them, inserting videos, throwing some jokes, greeting the audience, asking them questions. I feel empowered by my own presentation as I see faces in the crowd who are actually listening to what I am saying. But talking about presentation I shouldn`t bound to the academic presentations and business pitches only, rather to day-to-day situations.


Have you ever wondered why some street performers gather bigger crowds than the others? Partly it depends on the tricks they do, their charm, costumes, type of music they choose. But more importantly – they engage the audience. They talk to the crowd, interact with it. In Covent Garden in London you can often see street artists doing various tricks for money. One of them caught my attention. The lady that was juggling hanging upside down from a ladder. She involved three people holding the ladder in the performance and was constantly throwing them some jokes. She was engaging people in the front row, making comments about people who were filming it. Not all the performers do that, but those who do make you stand and watch, they make you feel that you are part of the performance and you remember those people. Do same thing when you do you presentation, when you merely tell a story – ask people some questions, make jokes, make them feel part of the conversation rather than a silent recipient of information.


Have you noticed how most of presentations follow a similar plot? They start with  brief introduction of a topic, the presenter tell something exciting about the topic to engage you. BAM! He spots a problem about the topic and highlights it. He then tries to solve it step by step. The up and down of storyline between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events is what Kurt Vonnegut (a German writer, author of the famous Slaughter House Five) uses in his books and calls the ‘shapes of stories’. We all know about the power of ‘happy ending’ but do we use it as often as we could? It works for books, movies, theatre plays, songs, video commercials, why would it not work for presentations? I try to create stories following the Vonnegut plot because it actually works and the resolution of the problem (the happy ending) is always perceived with joy by the audience.


The more complicated you try to make your conversation, the more difficult it is usually to listen to it for a long time and to understand. To talk about complex concepts in a simple language is a skill that we must develop. Many remember the groundbreaking pop music band from the 90`s – The Army of Lovers. I have recently discovered that Alexander Bard gives lectures merging philosophy, business and technology issues. If you watch one his videos on YouTube (he even gave a TEDx talk) you will notice that you can understand and reflect on what he says, although you do not have any background in, say, philosophy or technology. Also he sometimes uses a white board to draw simple schemes or just write down something he wants to put an emphasis on. That is a great tip that works  for all: when I work in groups and we have to break down a complex problem I always drag in a board and draw mind maps to make my thoughts really clear.

Dear reader, I would love you to share in the comments your own public speaking tips that you find valuable J

P.S. I have recently red an exciting book about the art of public speaking based on the worldwide collection of TED and TEDx talks. ‘Talk Like TED’ by Carmine Gallo is a great read for those who are not confident in their presenting skills and even for those who do it really well. The book shares personal stories of the speakers and analyses thoroughly the TED talk to outline the secrets of success of TED speakers.



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