One Sunday morning I was searching around online for something interesting to do that day. I came across a website listing local classes in various topics – yoga, sushi-making, scrapbooking, blogging, and more. Suddenly my eye came across one that instantly captured my attention: tight-wire walking. I grinned widely as I clicked through to read the class description. I was intrigued for two reasons. Firstly, how often do you get to try something like tight-wire walking? Secondly, my communication consulting business is called Pitch Circus, so obviously I liked the tie-in with the circus theme. I saw there was a class taking place that afternoon, so I quickly signed up and prepared for my journey into the unknown.
I left the class that day with a bigger grin than when I had signed up a few hours earlier. But not because I had mastered tight-wire walking. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s hard, and I sucked. I was grinning because my experience had given me a rather clever idea for a presentation lesson.
The piece of advice I most vividly remembered from the instructor was to keep my arms bent in an L shape when balancing – elbows pointing out to my sides, and hands pointing upwards. This kept my body weight more centralized and ensured my balance adjustments, by moving my forearms at the elbow, were more subtle. If I had held my arms completely horizontally out to the side, as one is typically inclined to do when attempting to balance, my adjustments would be too large and I’d constantly be overcorrecting and throwing myself off the wire. Good tip, I thought.
The comparison to presenting was immediately apparent. Most presenters need relatively small and easy adjustments to improve their skills dramatically. Massive overhauls are rarely necessary, and will likely only make you appear unbalanced and inauthentic. This is why I say that anyone can be a great presenter. All it takes is a fresh perspective and a bit of effort.
I went on to use this tight-wire walking analogy in a presentation I gave the following week, and received some chuckles from the crowd as I showed a picture of me sprawled out on the safety mat after another failed attempt. Had I not made an effort to pursue this creative pursuit in my personal life, I would not have found the inspiration for my creative presentation.
Creativity at work comes from how you live outside of work.
To truly stand out in your presentations, and your career in general, you need to stand out in your personal life as well. Brainstorming new ideas within the confines of a cubicle rarely amounts to greatness. You need to do interesting stuff in order to have interesting stuff to say. What are your hobbies? What inspires you in the evenings or on the weekends?
If you plop down in front of the TV immediately upon getting home after work and spend the rest of the evening there, it’s going to be difficult to bring much creativity with you into the office the next morning. Conversely, if you spent your evening at a class, networking event, sporting function, quirky restaurant, or another stimulating activity you’ll probably leave with at least one story to tell and a fresh perspective on how to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.
Tying these unique experiences into the message of your presentations makes you different. It also unleashes the power of surprise, because people aren’t accustomed to presentations actually being interesting. Your efforts to inject creativity into your interactions with coworkers and clients will be noticed and appreciated. You’ll see smiles creeping over people’s faces as you launch into one of your funny stories. People will start seeing you as an interesting person who’s fun to work with. You’ll be giving them something to talk about after their time with you.