Ready for the Show

It’s early morning when I enter the conference room. I see a technician standing on a long ladder, finalising the light above the stage; another is working on a logo sign, trying to get it to hang straight. This is my favourite moment of a conference: the whole place seems to be in a state of disorder, and yet everyone is working quietly on-task. In just a few minutes the conference room will be transformed into a pleasant and welcoming venue for the guests attending. This isn’t magic, it’s craftsmanship at work.

I find Nadia backstage, sitting on one of the many cases, with a spaghetti of wires at her feet. She’s hunched over and reading from her opening speech, continuously interrupting and correcting herself. I’m alarmed. She’s definitely in the danger zone!

Nadia knows all about European trends in consumer behaviour. But this knowledge is a hindrance rather than an asset right now. She wants her presentation to be complete and accurate, including all the facts and figures. Not the best ingredients for an opening speech at a conference.

We’ve worked on the selection of content, trying to establish what this audience will find interesting. Nadia has had to make some painful choices, as she was attached to a lot of her original content.

We explored how she could fill a large stage. After all, a presentation for more than 300 people needs to have images and animation.

Now she’s sitting in a dark corner, running through her text. She squeaks that the audience is so much larger than she had imagined. I ask her what she needs and she says ‘to run’ and adds – in a tiny voice – ‘preferably far away’.

Moments later, we have closed off the conference room from early visitors and we’re on stage in the spotlights. The room is empty apart from the technical guys who sit silently in the back. As if we’re getting ready for a race, we run and jog on the stage. She throws off her jacket. We jump up and down and chase each other crazily all over the stage. Her hair gets tousled, damp stains appear under her armpits. Finally, she stands still and firm. Then even though she’s still catching her breath, she recites the opening lines of her speech loud and clear to the empty seats. We laugh and the technicians applaud exuberantly.

After this, nothing can go wrong. She puts her jacket back on, combs her hair. As the attendees enter the room she looks awake, ‘in the moment’ and reasonably relaxed. She presents energetically and with composure. Once in a while, she seems surprised about some new fact she has found out and wants to tell us.

When a colleague asks her afterwards what the key to her success is, she says ‘Running. To prepare for this, I ran and jumped all over the stage.’ He eyes her suspiciously.

If you are overcome by self-criticism and nerves just before a presentation, you can save yourself by knowing exactly what you need. Actually, that is part of your craft; just like the technicians who know exactly what they have to do to bring the room up to scratch. Ready for the show.