Ballroom dancing is taking the nation by storm, but can mastering the Paso Doble help you master the Presentation?

Watching Strictly Come Dancing over the weekend (or Dancing with the Stars as it’s known in the US), it struck me just how many of the principles of ballroom dancing can be applied to presentations (bear with me here). Now, I’m not suggesting you break into a Quickstep whilst reporting financial results or wow new prospects with an Argentine Tango, but instead, you take heed of how dancers (and rookie celebrities) are able to present themselves effectively, keep the audience entertained and make an impact in just 2 and a half minutes.

Substance as well as style

The first thing that I think is immediately obvious is that it’s not all about style; the dancers that do well have plenty of content, plenty of substance. Although the way you present yourself and the finishing touches to your performance are important, they should be the icing on the cake. Without interesting and varied dance content, the judges certainly aren’t impressed.

When you’re creating a presentation, too many people spend too long worrying about their performance – how they will look and how they will come across. The truth is that no matter how much you refine your performance, without decent slide content, it will be a waste of time. Instead, focus your efforts on crafting a persuasive story, and creating compelling slides to explain it to your audience. Once – and only once – you have that in place, should you work on your style of delivery.

Play to your audience

The crop of celebrities on Strictly are always a mixed bunch. Some have a natural sense of rhythm, balance and poise and can quickly get to grips with the different dance styles. These are the ones who are popular with dancing fans – the audience who tunes in every week because they enjoy the spectacle. The professional partners of the stronger dancers know they can handle tough, intricate choreography and design their routines to show off their strengths to the audience.

On the other end of the scale are the Hairy Bikers and former Politicians of this world. This year Dave Myers has shown that you don’t need to be the best dancer to be popular on the show – getting through week after week, without ever really getting the hang of the whole dancing thing. His choreographer knows that the audience who tune in to see him want to be entertained – and she obligingly delivers.

A presentation needs to be founded on the same principles – you need to play to your audience. It’s no use delivering 30 incredible slides on what your solution does if the people in front of you know this already. Similarly, you can’t miss out the slides you don’t like if they’re important to the people you’re speaking to. Ask yourself: Who are these people? What have they come to see? And what do I need to convince them of?

Think of the entirety

Strictly works so well because of the way the show is packaged. People tune in for the dancing, but it’s the music, the costumes, the emotions that keep the audience figures up. Fans can see behind-the-scenes during the week, and can join in the discussion online. A strictly dance-off without any of the accompanying glitz would be a bit of a disappointment – and fundamentally would fail to deliver the polished, professional experience that fans expect.

A standalone presentation just won’t cut it. To present your material slide by slide, finish and leave would be a missed opportunity that would fall short of your audience’s expectations. Instead, think about your presentation as one element of a wider experience – as one cog in a well-oiled machine.

Before you present, perhaps send out tasters – an email or link to an online video, to give your audience an introduction to what they are going to see. During the session, allow for questions, comments and interactions – allow them to become involved. Once you’ve finished, think about an effective handout you can leave them with – a summary of the information and key benefits that reuses some of the key graphics from your slides (here’s a helpful how-to). Also, think about follow-up – whether you are going to send out a video summary of the slides, or a feedback form, a quotation or an invitation. Aim to leave your prospects with a strong message, one that is delivered through multiple channels, that is comprehensive and consistent.

Practice, practice, practice

A tried and tested formula this one – but no less true of presenting as it is of dancing. When a celebrity has been injured or busy with work commitments and hasn’t been able to put in the time in the training room, it shows. With rehearsal comes familiarity, which in turn allows for refinement. Dancers never perform to the best of their ability if they’re trying to remember the steps.

If you don’t know your material well, and haven’t rehearsed the clicks in your slides, you limit your ability to present it really well. With familiarity comes the ability to ad lib and to personalise or contextualise your content for the audience in front of you. This is where you can really take your presentation to the next level, and enable your content to feel fresh and engaging for the audience.

Just keep going

Mistakes happen, and on Strictly – with 9 million people watching – there’s not much room to hide. Steps are missed, people fall over, drop props, lose hair extensions, get tangled in fringing – in short, everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. The only course of action in these circumstances is to not let it faze you and carry on regardless. As the music continues, what else is there to do but (to coin the catchphrase) ‘Keep dancing’? Oftentimes, it is not until we hear the eagle-eyed judges’ comments that the viewing public even notice that something went wrong.

Luckily, you won’t have 9 million people watching your presentation, so keep that in mind if you feel yourself losing perspective. Things will inevitably go wrong – they always do (read about this story from BrightCarbon’s own Joby Blume). However, it’s not the mistake but the way you recover that counts. If you lose your place on a slide, click forward until you feel more familiar, then pick up your narrative from there. If technology fails you, work with what you have, and instead discuss the four or five key benefits of your solution – leave the detail for a follow-up. If you need thinking time, invite questions or ask questions of your audience. Answer, then try to talk back into the flow of your narration. Don’t let a mistake trip you up.

There’s a lot that presenters can take from shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing with the Stars. The professionalism on show has been entertaining audiences for years, and with a few minor tweaks, can be applied to many a pitch and presentation. So while I can’t recommend donning fake tan and turning up for your next sales pitch head-to-toe in sequins, it might do you some good to be thinking of the ballroom when you next step into the boardroom.

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Written by

Kieran Chadha

Principal consultant

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