This is a conversation between Peter Coughter and Mitch Joel for the Six Pixels of Separation Podcast. Coughter is the author of The Art of the Pitch, a professor at the VCU Brandcenter, and an advertising consultant. Check out an excerpt below, and listen to the full talk here.
Nervous and Scared
Yesterday morning, I was in my car and I was listening to a sports talk show. And we can learn things from all kinds of different places by the way.
I was listening to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees, who is arguably the greatest relief pitcher of all time. And this is a guy who comes in when the game is in the balance, usually trying to protect a very slim lead and there’s usually people on base. There’s a difficult hitter at-bat. And it’s his job to retire the side and preserve the win for his team amidst the greatest form of pressure you can find in that business of baseball.
He’s done it more times, more successfully, than anybody else. The fellow interviewing him, asked if he was nervous. And this guy has been doing this for a long time.
And he said of course I’m nervous. When I come in from the bullpen and the walk in - I’m really, really nervous. And he’s done this several thousand times.
I think it’s the same thing with presenting. I think you should be nervous. In fact, Mr. Rivera says that. He said if I wasn’t nervous walking into the mound, I’d be upset with myself. I need to be nervous then. But once the game starts, once they put the ball in my hand, I’m not nervous at all anymore - to be nervous then would be a disaster.
I think there is a lot of parallels in that. It’s certainly the way I try to approach it. It’s natural to be nervous. The best presenters I know are nervous. But once they get going - it goes away.
The chemical changes that take place in the body when we’re really excited or when we’re really scared are exactly the same. They’re identical. So let’s choose to go with the excitement side.
How not to present
This whole idea of what people think a presentation is (with big quotes around it) - is completely screwed up now. People lay the foundation of their own failure. Because they follow these conventions.
Stop talking about this thing as if it was a presentation. Just don’t think about it that way anymore. Just don’t do that.
Don’t say “and now Peter will talk about …” - no, don’t do that. Peter just starts talking.
If you’re seeing a movie or a play, the guy doesn’t say and now he exits stage left.
I love when people say, “and this slide you can see and a couple slides later from now.” Shut up with that. Stop it.
The other one is a ridiculously awful to read slide comes up - and they say, “I know this is an eye chart and I know you can’t see this, but”. Then why did you put it on the screen, you idiot.
It’s the eye witness news collection of presenting. And the audience thinks what a bunch of bozos.
How to get the Audience to like you
People seem to think if we tell the audience everything we know about a particular subject, the audience will like us. And they’ll think we’re smart. And neither of which is true.
If we actually give the hour and half presentation in a half hour, and give a hour of their lives back to them - then they will like us.
That’s how we learn. There is book that’s been for hundreds of years. It’s called the Bible. And all it is - stories.
There is no bullet points in there. It’s just stories. There’s not a whole lot of facts. And that book is more successful than any book that has ever been written. It’s what people turn to when they need inspiration.
We have to tell stories. It’s a series of hopefully personal, germane stories that add up to one big narrative arc. That’s tied together by the through line.
And when you do that, it’s magical. It’s just magical.
What it takes is sitting down and thinking about one’s own life. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve been sitting down with the team and ask what about you - and they’ll say yeah I did something that is absolutely specific to what we’re talking about in the presentation. This is what they weren’t going to include because it wasn’t germane. When in reality it’s the only thing I really want them to talk about.
Forget all that other bullshit. Tell them your story.
Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by being so smart that we’re dumb. It annoys me all the time. Business jargon.
There is so much crap. The next person that says to me - “and now I’m going to take a deep dive.” I know I said I wouldn’t drop an f-bomb, but fuck you with your deep dive. Stop it. Get out of here with that crap.
Make it human. And simple. That doesn’t mean dumb. It means simple.