bruce lee 2

“Don’t think. Feel. It is like a finger pointing out to the Moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.” Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was arguably the greatest martial artist in history and I can’t tell you how many times I watched the classic film ‘Enter the Dragon’ when I was a teenager. Watching them often got me into a great deal of trouble as I left the cinema thinking that during the last 2 hours I had somehow metamorphosed into the legend himself.

Much older and wiser I watched it again last night and one of my favourite scenes got me thinking about how we can apply the opening quote to presenting and public speaking.

The scene involved Bruce Lee meeting a young student walking around the temple where he asks the boy to kick him. After a moment of apprehension, the boy kicks him and of course Bruce wasn’t very impressed.

He turned to the student and said, “What was that, an exhibition? You need emotional content.”

I believe that what he was saying to the boy is that there is little, if any value in doing something purely for the sake doing it. The ‘emotional content’ he was referring to was his way of saying that you have to put feeling into your actions if you are to achieve your goal.

That may sound as simple as it does obvious but when it comes to presenting and public speaking how often do you attend forums where it feels to you as though the speaker:

  • Is just ‘going through the motions’
  • Is trying to get through it as quickly as possible
  • Has been ‘told’ to speak

In other words, they could have saved themselves and their audience a great deal of time by sending them an email instead because there was no ‘emotional content’.

Whether it’s a regular monthly review, a project or status update, or a management meeting, a common mistake many professionals make when presenting is to focus on the ‘getting it done’ more than the goal.

In this context, the goal I’m referring to is how you want your audience to feel.

There are plenty of different ‘ways’ of presenting and the internet and book stores are overflowing with processes, systems and methods to help you.

Many of those processes are helpful but they are like fingers pointing to the Moon, if you concentrate on them too much you’ll struggle to achieve your true goal.

Neuroscience has been telling us for some time that most of our decision making isn’t logical, it’s emotional.

You can pile on the data, bulletproof facts and use every ounce of logic and reason you have to support your message but without ‘emotional content’ it’s unlikely that your audience will see things your way.

As Bruce Lee so colourfully reminded us if you focus too much on the ‘finger’ which is just the process of ‘getting it done’ both you and your audience will miss ‘all that heavenly glory’.

The following tips will help you to connect with your audience to feel the way you want them to, although the hardest part is deciding exactly what that is first.

Start with the end in mind

Far too many presenters make the mistake of launching straight into the data at the expense of making their audience feel something at the start; other than ‘oh no, here we go again..’

Be very clear on exactly what the most important thing you have to say is and then say it first and say it with feeling.

  • Find out how they feel about the topic before you present your idea to them.
  • If the business is making a mistake and you know how to fix it, say it.
  • If you need your audience’s help then have the courage to say it.
  • If you can save or make them money, tell them straight away and tell them how much.
  • If there’s a better way tell them what it is.

Then give them the facts.

Do something unexpected

Blank the screen – Research suggests that the human mind is conditioned to wander a great deal of the time which of course isn’t very helpful if you are presenting. It’s in your interests as well as your audiences to do something unexpected every now and then. One of my personal favourites is blanking out the screen by hitting the ‘b’ key on the key board and pausing for a few moments.

After 3 or 4 seconds I will then say ‘ok, let’s leave the slides alone for a moment; I’d really like to know what you think and feel about what I’ve shared so far’.

Let them speak – Sometimes I will ask them to turn to the person sitting next to them and explore together a point I have just made.

Help them to imagine – I’ll often ask them to close their eyes for 30 seconds to imagine something I’ve just said.

Pass it around – I love using props whenever I can. Sometimes when I’m talking about the way I believe our minds work I pass round a rubber model of the brain I have. It’s not often we get to hold a brain in our hands and are asked to think about the way we think.

Print it out – To help our executive team feel the pain some of our customers were feeling, in a presentation to the senior management team I once littered the board room table with a plethora of customer complaints I had printed out.

After just a few minutes reading for themselves how badly we were letting our customers down they were ready to hear what I had to say.

Have a ball – On one occasion when I was presenting to a team of 600 people I was leading, to get them to share my feeling for the depth of a problem we were experiencing and the sense of urgency we needed to fix it I personally handed out 600 stress balls to each of them and then told them why.

The business had developed a crippling ‘yes but’ culture and so each stress ball had the words ‘yes but’ printed on one side with a red cross through it. On the other side of the ball I had printed the words ‘YES AND’ and asked the team to carry their balls around with them at work with the following request:

‘Each time you hear anyone in this business use the words ‘yes but’, regardless of their position I want you to take your ball out of your pocket and throw it at the ‘yes butter’ as hard as you can.

Let it snow – At the start of a very important management meeting where I really needed to get the teams attention I started by playing Christmas songs in the middle of summer. Everyone thought I was crazy, but it certainly got their attention and changed the mood of the meeting before I presented the idea I needed them to focus on.

Challenge them – Another favourite of mine is holding a short pub quiz; without the alcohol of course. I ask my audience to answer three questions I am confident no one will know the answer to giving the person who gets closest to the correct answers a copy of my book, ‘Hamster to Harmony’.

You don’t have to be an author or give them a book of course, it could be anything, chocolates, a bottle of wine or if you are really generous and they work for you how about a day off work?

Every time you are called on to present to any audience you can be certain that regardless of the venue, topic or people in the room you will be competing against a whole host of distractions. They may be under pressure with a deadline or target, stressed from a difficult journey to get there, preoccupied with challenges at home or at work and the last thing they need right now is to sit through ‘another presentation’.

Your job is to craft and deliver a presentation which will ensure they don’t miss all the ‘heavenly glory’ you have to offer.

Take a couple of minutes to watch the brilliant Bruce Lee scene here:

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