On the eve of a keynote program, a pedagogical conundrum challenges the Stress Doc to envision and construct a matrix related to the fundamentals of energetic and engaging public speaking. The resultant visual-conceptual model attempts to illuminate a paradoxical approach to four essential principles and four stimulating methods of powerful presentation.
The Four "P" Principles of Powerful Presentation:
A Paradoxical Model
Anticipatory anxiety was building in preparation for a luncheon keynote on "Dynamic and Engaging Presentations." I could no longer block out a sense of dissatisfaction with using my "Four Faces of Anger" model to illustrate the value of a visual matrix as a teaching tool. While the "Four Faces" has been very effective for anger workshops (firstname.lastname@example.org for the 2x2 matrix and article), this speaking program deserved its own potent graphic. My concern was not trivial. An "elegantly simple" visual model helps audience members better envision, differentiate and get their minds around a key learning concept. And the psychological concepts that I like to play with tend to be abstract or multi-faceted and are often hard to pin down.
Out of this gnawing discontent a possible pass in the impasse struggled to consciousness. Contemplating the basic dynamics of my substance and style as a speaker, two contrasting psychological and communicational processes emerged:
(a) thinking and feeling
(b) being serious and humorous.
(I knew my muddled Myers-Briggs Type Indicator score would be useful one day.)
As a presenter, I like to express and integrate these seemingly oppositional qualities. Or I may fairly rapidly ebb and flow between the ends of these spectrums. As a high energy, if not somewhat hypomanic speaker, I’m definitely a couple of standard deviations from the average. I definitely like keeping audiences on the edge of their seats…wondering what comes next. (Okay, speaking of polarities, deviations and rapid cycling, maybe this attraction to opposites and paradox is influenced by some of my own mostly moderate bipolar tendencies.)
Anyway, a couple of 3am mental eruptions and subsequent positioning and repositioning of terms finally yields the following visual-conceptual paradigm based on The Four "P" Principles of Powerful Presentation. And the model takes a paradoxical perspective, that is, the application and the integration of the aforementioned oppositional processes.
Here are the two basic dimension of the model: "Mode" and "Motivational Method." Let me operationalize these categories:
Mode reflects the psychological and/or information processing set of the speaker
(1) Cognitive – thinking or analytic mode
(2) Affective – feeling or emotional mode
B. Motivational Method
Let me draw on Webster’s 3rd International Dictionary to define or explain this and other model terminology:
Motivational refers to stimulating the emotion, desire or appetite operating on the will of a person and moving him or her to act. (Sometimes special devices or subconscious forces influence a person’s awareness, aspirations and action plans.)
Method is the more specific technique or approach for realizing the broad motivational expressions and effects (the soon to be illustrated Four "P"s) featured in this "on becoming a powerful presenter" model.
The two motivational states are:
(1) Gravitas – a capacity for conveying a sense of seriousness, importance, depth and heartfelt, if not soulful, meaning
(2) Comedia – a capacity for dealing with the light or amusing or with the serious and profound in a light, familiar or satirical manner
Structure of the Model
With dimensions and explications in place, here is the skeletal structure of this paradoxical model:
Now let’s capture categorically the interaction of "Mode" and "Motivational Method," that is, provide labels for the "Four ‘P’ Principles" and their respective operational "Methods."
Box 1. Cognitive – Gravitas
(a) Principal = Purposeful
(b) Approach = Understanding
Box 2. Cognitive – Comedia
(a) Principal = Provocative
(b) Approach = Wit
Box 3. Affective – Gravitas
(a) Principal = Passionate
(b) Approach = Spirit
Box 4. Affective – Comedia
(a) Principal = Playful
(b) Approach = Humor
Structure and Content of the Model
And here is the 2x2 matrix in its visual and conceptual glory:
The Four "P" Principles of Powerful Presentation:
A Paradoxical Model
Four "P" Principals and Methods of Powerful Presentation
The paired words inside the boxes are familiar, yet some of their meanings or associations may prove "out of the box" – surprising and, hopefully, enlightening. Grappling with and gleaning the conceptual and applied essence of these terms will surely expand your potency and your possibilities as a presenter.
Box 1. Cognitive – Gravitas
(a) Purposeful. A powerful speaker achieves purpose for himself and for his audience by establishing educational, emotional and entertainment "outlines," "objectives" and "outcomes." Of course, some presenters are compelled to share their life changing vision, a vision or mission statement that, alas, may be more like a sense of purpose on steroids. (Remember, there’s a fine line between vision and hallucination.)
In addition, the savviest speakers create a learning and sharing structure and process that evolves through time and experience. In fact, if responsive to audience feedback, a dynamic presenter’s instructional and interactional plan may be significantly modified, sometimes even in the middle of a program. Intention and flexibility (may I coin the oxymoron-like "flexible intentionality?") are requisites of a purposeful and powerful mind set and design-delivery state.
(b) Understanding. According to Webster’s, "understanding" is the comprehensive process and achievement of perceiving and conceiving, that is, the power of comprehending, analyzing, distinguishing and judging. A presenter conveys understanding when he or she goes beyond delivering data or facts. Information now yields ideas that "make experience intelligible." And often the speaker’s personal experience is the richest source for such intimate understanding.
A speaker also helps the participant appreciate the value of bridging theory and practice and he provides the tools for such bridge-building. In similar fashion, the presenter shows how individual experience or a seemingly unrelated event (the part) relates to concepts, categories and systems (the whole). This newfound breadth and depth enhances a person’s capacity for discrimination, for drawing logical inferences and/or analogical comparisons, and for exploring innovative applications.
Hopefully, this Powerful Presentation Model reflects and begins to transfer such concept-application and parts-whole "understanding."
Box 2. Cognitive – Comedia
(a) Provocative. What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you read the word "provocative?" Is it someone who is sensually enticing or, perhaps, someone who is intentionally irritating? Reasonable responses, but let’s look at the half full side of this semantic equation. Did you know that "provocative" is derived from the French word provocare – "to call forth"? Certainly a powerful presenter wants to stimulate desired thoughts, motives and actions. He or she wants to "arouse curiosity or anticipation" or to generate "discussion or controversy" amongst the audience members. The provocative presenter challenges people to expand their perceptions, to make surprising connections, to "think outside the box" and to "move beyond one’s comfort zone." Which brings us to a vital and provocative technique and talent.
(b) Wit. Let me reassure you it’s not necessary to be an Oscar Wilde-like wit or wordsmith evoking gales of laughter from an audience. Wit relates more to seeing and creating cognitive possibilities and conceptual pairings. More specifically, wit is "the quick apprehension and apt expression of the connection of analogous properties seemingly unlike." Wit relates unexpected ideas or integrates the seemingly contradictory. A common example of wit is the label "passive aggressive." While a paradoxical notion, most of us are all too familiar with such vexing creatures. Or consider the comparative punch line from one of my "Shrink Raps" ™ (a contradictory witticism in its own right):
Linking the messy insides of a car and a pocketbook is a witty comparison. As Mark Twain, the esteemed man of letters, ingeniously observed:
Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation.
Of course, a sharp wit can appear intellectually cold and may be perceived as arrogant or painfully cutting. So the challenge will be to temper just enough that edge; to dip into the "half full" dimensions of "provocative."
Box 3. Affective – Gravitas
(a) Passionate. Passion! What does it evoke? Intensity, heat, steaminess…the "s"-word: sex? We in Washington, DC know the "s"-word for passion…It is "senator." (Or it was until Bill Clinton ruined my joke.) Actually, if you have a good dictionary the "s"-word for "passion" is neither sex nor senator, it’s "suffering," as in the Passion Play. This relates to the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, to the sufferings of a martyr. (Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman!)
So what’s the connection between "suffering," "passion" and being a powerful presenter? For me it’s fundamental (but beware a passion that has any motivational speaker or leader becoming a self-righteous, "I know the one truth" fundamentalist). As a speaker I must acknowledge, if not savor, my pitfalls and pain; I must speak from the heart not just the head. Also, while honoring and acknowledging humility, I must overcome self-consciousness. A self-effacing ego should not hinder sharing some hard-earned wisdom gleaned from life’s arduous yet adventurous journey.
All this is fuel for my energy output – heat and fire. Yet, ultimately, my frights, flaws and fantasies can be converted into lightness and illumination…and to affirmation. Audiences respect and often see as courageous a speaker who can get real. And perhaps most important there is also self-acceptance. As the psychiatrist Ernst Kris noted: What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at. And as the Stress Doc inverted: What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master! Talk about aphorisms for accepting imperfection, overcoming performance anxiety and becoming a passionate speaker.
So harness and share your spirit and passion and embark on a journey of self-definition along the lifelong, unpredictable yet richly rewarding path of presentational mastery. My unconventional, process as much as goal-oriented mantra: I don’t know where I’m going…I just think I know how to get there!
(b) Spirit. The word "spirit" is truly multi-faceted. For the entrepreneur it conveys a sense of "enterprise" – initiative, aggressiveness, drive and adventurousness – or of "pluck" – nettle, backbone, grit, toughness and gameness (Roget’s International Thesaurus). Certainly all are desirable qualities for powerful presentation. However, I want to explore this protean term with greater semantic, if not spiritual, depth and breadth.
Actually, my exploration will make a homonym-like shift from breadth to "breath." You see, the first definition of "spirit" is "the breath of life: the animating or vital principle giving life to physical organisms." And the word "animating" is also revelatory. Its derivation, "anima," is the expression of an individual’s true inner self reflecting archetypal (that is universal and collective unconscious) ideals of cross cultural conduct in contrast to one’s more surface persona.
And if we delve deeper, into the realm of the supernatural, even here we find semantic support in the guise of a captivating ethereal source. Now "spirit" represents that "other worldly" being held to enter into and possess a person (and I’ll add a group). And surely, a dynamic speaker wants to get under the skin, and inside the individual and collective audience mind; he or she wants to capture their hearts and minds if not "kill" them. (The latter expression, of course, is associated with stand-up comedians.)
Until researching terms for this article, I had overlooked the intimate connection between "spirit" and "inspiration": The inspire in inspiration literally means to breathe life into. Clearly, a dynamic speaker wants to infuse and touch, to awaken and enliven, to transport and to help self-actualize the spirit of the other. When communicating spirit to spirit some might claim we are connecting to "the vital principle in man and woman coming as a gift from God" (once again an "other worldly" transcendent source). According to Webster’s, we are engaging "the inward personality structure, (the) dynamic drive and creative response" of the individual to the demands encountered on the pathway of becoming.
So sing out from the stage. Let inspired expression be the medium for releasing your passion and for helping others realize their fervent and fertile desires. Be the food for thought and the fuel for the heart, while nurturing and energizing those spirits within and without.
Box 4. Affective – Comedia
(a) Playful. I never realized how many common expressions begin with or involve the word "play." Nor could I imagine how the variety of expressions with their different connotations speaks to the skills and strategies of the versatile presenter. Consider these examples: "play upon" (words or another’s emotions), "play a role" or "role-play," "play it by ear" (by truly listening to one’s audience, for example), "play the fool" and "play a trick on." (Based on my experience, being "mischievous" or a tad "devilish" – two of Roget’s synonyms for "playful" – can be very engaging qualities.) Certainly, a dynamic presenter wants to give "full play" to his emotions – whether play involves range, liberty, license or freedom (within "PG" or, perhaps on occasion, "R"-rated limits). And even the phenomenon of the "play of light and shadow" can be an analogy for the rapid movement or sudden ebbs and flows within and between our two basic dimensions – "thinking-feeling" or "gravitas-comedia." (And I also freely mix lecture, exercise and group discussion.)
One other duality worth noting is the contrast of "play" and "work." While the former can be strenuous, for example, playing a competitive sport, true play always retains the objective of "amusement, diversion or enjoyment."
(b) Humor. Can you think of a more universally accepted, if not admired, way of being "playful" or "playing around" than through humor? I mean, why do all those personal ads invariably ask for a person who "can make me laugh" or who has a good sense of humor? Anyway, "humor" is "the recognition and expression of the incongruities and peculiarities in a situation or conduct." A capacity for humor often reveals an ability to appreciate and comically convey life’s absurdities, to poke gentle fun at others and also, especially, to laugh at our own flaws and foibles. Such acceptance through knowing laughter is the essence of healing humor. And there is a definite method to mirthful madness: People are more open to a serious message when gift-wrapped with humor!
In contrast to the more clever and verbal aspects of wit, being humorous often has a wildly or subtly outrageous non-verbal component. Consider these well-known comedians or comic teams:
(a) the studied or exaggerated gestures and protestations of Jack Benny,
(b) the slapstick of Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello,
(c) the wild antics of Robin Williams or Jerry Lewis,
(d) the nebbish-like and neurotic angst of Woody Allen or Gilda Radner, and
(e) the poignant absurdity of Charlie Chaplin, both in his "Little Tramp" mannerisms and persona and in his vivid and visual depictions of mechanical or megalomaniacal absurdities, e.g., a Hitler character bouncing off his head a huge inflated globe of the world.
In fact, the powerful use of non-verbal behaviors has some of these artists on the edge of being "provocatively playful." (Can there be such a thing as "wordless witticisms?) Still, I like to distinguish wit from humor with a vivid visual: Imagine blowing up a balloon. Humor is letting the air out and watching the balloon spin and sputter crazily about the room. More keen and concise than humor, wit involves sticking a pin into the balloon. As Shakespeare noted: Brevity is the soul of wit.
While I have tried to argue the playful, universal and critical value of humor, not all would agree with this position. I’m reminded of a syndicated Pogo cartoon. Pogo and his somewhat cynical catfish friend Porky are lazily boating down an unspoiled, scenic river. Porky is crediting God for a job well done…except for one thing. Porky exclaims, "It is jes too bad he didn’t knock off a day earlier when he was ahead."
Trying to dissuade the catfish of his misanthropic attitude, Pogo claims, "If it weren’t for human beans life wouldn’t have as many laughs."
Porky’s instant reply: "It wouldn’t need as many."
Being all too human – whether as speaker or student – we need the laughs. And the aforementioned comic genius, Charlie Chaplin, provides one powerful explanation:
The paradoxical thing in making comedy the tragic is precisely what arouses the funny. We have to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy.
And speaking of powerful forces and the forces of powerful speaking…seek the higher power of humor: May the Farce Be with You!
The "Four ‘P’ Principles of Powerful Presentation" have been outlined as a 2x2 matrix or "Paradoxical Model." While perhaps an ideal model, for me, the concepts and their application have been evolving over the course of more than two decades. This performance schema is battle-tested! My head and heart-felt belief is that when a presenter blends the "cognitive and effective" as well as the "gravitas and comedia" then, to invert "the bard," an interactive stage can become a world defined and designed, transformed and transferred by both speaker and audience. (Emailstressdoc@aol.com for articles on integrating interactivity in your programs.) In fact, such interactive potential has me pondering whether this model goes beyond dynamic speaking. Might it also be a template for being an engaging and powerful leader?
So don’t miss the chance to explore and practice this "Purposeful-Provocative-Passionate-Playful" dance. Steps to help us all become more "Powerful" and to…Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a psychotherapist, an international/Celebrity Cruise Lines speaker, and training/OD consultant for a myriad of corporations and government agencies. Recently interviewed by the BBC, the Doc is a syndicated writer and the author of Practice Safe Stress: Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression. In 2003, Mark received the inaugural National Association of Social Workers-Metro-DC Chapter’s Social Work Entrepreneur Award. The Doc is also America Online’s "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City. See his award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource by National Public Radio (NPR). Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com. Mark is an advisor to The Bright Side ™ -- www.the-bright-side.org -- a multi-award winning mental health resource. For more info on the Doc’s speaking and training programs and products, email email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.