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100 tips for presentation mastery: How to define your persona

This article is a continuation of a series offering 100 tips for delivering a masterful presentation that will leave them cheering for more.

Publicity photo from Charlie Chaplin's 1921 movie The Kid. Feauturing Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan.

The last article discussed client expectations.

This article examines persona: tips for developing a consistent on-stage character.

Tip 4 – Develop an on-stage persona.

The great comedian Charlie Chaplin, when asked how he developed his Little Tramp character, explained, “Little as I knew about movies, knew that nothing transcended personality.”

We all pick up signals from other people. This is especially true whenever someone is in the public eye. Regardless of the size of your audience, each individual in that audience will feel some sort of personal connection with you. You set the tone; the audience responds. Emotions are contagious, and people will mimic the emotions you suggest to them.

Although the audience may consciously unaware of your personality, attitude, education, posture, and other attributes, you should be completely aware of them. They direct the performance. Bob Vincent, in Show-Business Is Two Words, expanded on this theme when he said the following:

“The minute you appear in view on stage, several hundred eyes and ears are examining you, very carefully. All of your assets and liabilities become apparent immediately. If you’re an egotist it shows! If you have no depth of emotion it shows!! and [sic] if your sole purpose for being on stage is to make money and only please yourself, and not the audience, that shows too.”

This leads to a dilemma. Do you masquerade as someone else on stage, or do you allow your personality to come through, warts and all? Funnyman Steve Allen, in How To Be Funny: Discovering the Comic You, advised, “Your stage self should be very close to your actual social self.”

Being yourself has a number of distinct advantages:

  • You’ll be more genuine with the audience, and they’ll sense it.
  • You’ll never have to remember what your character would do.
  • Your genuineness will make it easier to focus attention on the presentation goals.

Displaying a depth of genuineness in front of strangers can be frightening. It requires exposing your inner self with all your faults. Fortunately, it is not necessary to present all of you to the audience, just those parts of you that you wish to share. The key is to share those parts that are the genuine you. You can define your persona by following the steps listed below.

Step 1. Examine your personality – A place to start is in examining your personality traits and determining which of those traits you wish to display, and which you choose to downplay. Be honest with yourself. If you ignore one of your personality quirks, it won’t go away. Your learners will find it anyway. In my case, the traits I picked to focus on include a zeal for my topic, a humble attitude, a stiff posture, a non-smiling face and a dry sense of humor.

Step 2. Align your traits into a persona – Once you know which personality traits you wish to highlight, mold those traits into a base character you can comfortably maintain throughout the performance. Align your character with those traits and only allow your character to behave in ways that reflect your natural makeup. In this way, you will be both genuine and focused in your performance. I have taken the traits I listed above and attempted to mold them into an everyman: one who discovered he somehow became an expert; is amused by the expertise and enjoys sharing it; who is humble about himself while being passionate about his message; a straight-laced middle-class business person whom zany thing happen to that he may or may not be in control of. This persona allows me to play against type and generate laughs at my own expense.

Your character should only do those things that are a part of your natural makeup. You already are a unique character. BE YOURSELF!.

Tip 5 – Your wardrobe matters as much as what you say.

Within seconds of taking the platform, your audience has sized up your competence via your wardrobe.

There are ten grooming and wardrobe items you should consider when dressing for a presentation.

Persona – What your stage personality? Does your wardrobe align with that persona? If your stage persona is fun and hip, do your clothes communicate that image? Your attendees should be able to discern your basic persona by the way you dress.

Sharpness – Do you properly maintain you stage clothing? Is it free of tears, missing buttons, and loose threads? Are they clean, starched, and sharply ironed? Are your shoes polished? Are they silent—no squeaking or clicking—as you walk?

Color – Do the colors you wear align with your look? Carole Jackson popularized the theory that divides people into the four seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—based on look. The Ask Andy website offers some helpful tips on identifying your season and then selecting aligned clothing for men.

Appropriateness – Is your wardrobe appropriate for your audience? Do you look like you belong in front of the group you are speaking too? It is always wise to dress like your attendees, but one notch higher, and with a more professional look. In this way you demonstrate respect for your audience and communicate that you are the speaker.

Jewelry – Is your jewelry—watch, rings, cufflinks, necklace, earrings—sharp, impressive, and color coordinated? In this Examiner’s many years working in Walt Disney World training, we taught cast members to eliminate distractions, especially jewelry, that interfered with a guest’s ability to focus on the cast member’s face. Your jewelry is not the focal point of your presentation and should not distract attendees from focusing on you.

Grooming – Your grooming should, like your clothing, reflect your persona. A conservative presence will vary from a more edgy persona. Your hair should be neat and appropriately trimmed. Men should be clean-shaven, unless your persona is intentionally scruffy. Additionally, your nails should be trimmed and polished if you are a female.

Tip 6 – Wear a door-to-door wardrobe.

You are on stage from the moment you leave your home—in the taxi, on the plane, at the airport, in the hotel—until you return to it. Look like the professional you are at every step in your journey.

What related tips do you have? Feel free to share.

In the next article of this series we will examine design as we offer 100 tips for delivering a masterful presentation that will leave them cheering for more.

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