Lab learnings: Presentations as Performances

September 6, 2017

As part of The Lab’s internal training program, a group of six Labsters recently participated in a 2-day intensive presentations course, tweaking their presentation skills, and understanding all about how to deliver better presentations.

Below, Elaine details her experience and take away learnings from the course. 


A few weeks ago, I embarked on a presentation training course with five colleagues for 2 days. 

The course was called “Presentations as Performances”, and led by Harli Ames (Experienced corporate trainer, coach and professional actor with advanced training in performance (Graduate of the National Institute of Dramatic Arts; NIDA)), from Kún Communications.  

The programme outline looked slightly unusual, including “theatrical training techniques” & “psychological techniques to manage performance anxiety”. I thought it could be interesting to get someone with an acting background teaching us some new tricks on how to be engaging on stage (or in a meeting room full of marketing and insights managers!).  

Labsters Elaine, Andy and Anna in action

But I have to admit: I had done presentation courses in the past. I had already gone through the confronting experience of being filmed when presenting and watching myself back to pick out the “ums” and weird use of hand gestures. So, as much as I appreciated the opportunity to get a reminder on the “dos and don’ts” for memorable presentations, I was slightly expecting more of the same. 

Yes, this training also included the daunting prospect of being filmed and picking out things to improve on... 

But it was so much more than that. 

Firstly, our trainer was one of a kind.

From the moment we walked in, Harli set the tone by stepping away from the table, sitting us in a circle, and having a very informal conversation to start the day.  He made us feel relaxed and comfortable from the outset.

Harli didn’t use any slides over the course of the 2 days. He gave techniques, (some more unusual than others!) drawn from the world of acting and psychology, that we could practice and apply day in, day out. He gave us the space to practice and help each other improve, while also guiding and inspiring us with his own engaging and compelling communication style. 

Secondly, the programme itself was spot on. 

Having worked with executives across Top 500 Fortune companies, Harli has a strong focus on ensuring the techniques he shares can be applied in a business context. The crucial point for me was that we were given practical tools and skills that would immediately take our presentations to the next level: the difference between our morning presentation on day 1, to the same presentation later that same day was resounding. By applying these tools, I realized how we could not only improve our presenting skills, but also really take so much of the work we do to a new level. 

Our role as researchers and brand strategists is to inspire our clients, challenge their thinking, and tell compelling & meaningful brand stories. All of the techniques we learnt in this course apply themselves to this context. 

Brand stories are engaging when they are designed with a clear purpose to have an effect on their audience and when delivered in a bold and confident way. Brand strategies are most successful when they are communicated in a clear, structured way, focused on key points that are most important. And the tools we practiced helped us grasp how to do just that. 

Labsters Mik, Lena and Jen delivering their presentations

Last but not least, what made this training unique was that it was grounded in the belief that wellness plays a critical role in our ability to engage audiences.

The approaches we were taught go beyond presentation techniques: Harli incorporated mindfulness and breathing exercises in the two days, to highlight how taking care of our body and mind can help us be the best version of ourselves: calm, centered and present. Overcoming the stresses of daily life and managing anxiety is a key focus of the programme (co-designed with Harli’s wife, Kate McGregor, Dr of Psychology) to empower people to be bold and present with authority and confidence. 

I came away from this training with a different perspective on presentations: rethinking them as performances, with all the physical and mental conditioning and preparation this entails. But, this course also made me reexamine my role as a brand strategy consultant, and the importance of being engaging & communicating brand stories that inspire & instigate action. 

We all know the hard work starts after the training, that we should apply what we have learnt and stick to it. But, even if I apply just a few tactics I have learnt, I’m confident I will notice a difference in how I tell brand stories, and how others relate & connect to them.