A magical performance – business lessons from John Hotowka

Have you come across John Hotowka before? He’s a Speaker, Humorist and Magician and a well known respected member of the Professional Speakers’ Association. I’ve known John by reputation only until last night, when I saw him perform at a private function. Absolutely brilliant!

But the purpose of this entry is not just to sing his praises, but to draw some lessons for those who present their message in the business world.

Lesson 1 – Preparation is everything

I’ve no doubt that John practises his act endlessly, as indeed does any skilled performer (athlete, actor, musician or otherwise). But audiences often fail to appreciate this. We’re used to seeing performers on stage, but they’re good because of what happens before and after. The BEFORE is the prep (develop your skills, know your audience, understand the setting, decide what outcome you want). I noticed John spent a long time mingling amongst the audience before coming on stage – he’s warming up but he’s also getting to know them, their mood, the vibe in the room. This is a great lesson for business speakers. The AFTER is the review, when ‘actors’ critically evaluate their performance and take in feedback. For great performers this is a cyclical process that never stops – PAR = Preparation, Action, Review.

So if you have a presentation to give, adopt a similar approach.

Lesson 2 – vocal delivery

They say the secret to great comedy is timing, and John’s got that off to a tee. There’s great use of the dramatic pause, there’s some theatre in the delivery of the words. It gets attention and it has impact. So many presenters fail to do this. It’s a confidence thing – they feel the need to fill all the air-time with noise (words or umms and errs), as if the audience will get restless. But with sufficient confidence and stage presence you can play with them and entertain them with more drama in the voice. Good speakers know to let the words reach the audience, to give people time to emote in response to a powerful word, phrase or insight. I also loved his vocal use of highs and lows, loud and soft – it adds so much impact to the performance.

Lesson 3 – thinking on your feet

John operated in a tricky environment last night, with background noise, excitable children in front of him and an audience spread left and right. But he improvised beautifully, adapting to the circumstances and working confidently with his ‘volunteer’. Scissors fell on the floor but he used it to raise a laugh. No matter how much preparation you do before a performance, there’s always a random element to contend with. Inexperienced presenters panic and constrict. But professionals adapt and use it to their advantage.

Lesson 4 – innovate

I think John’s developed a really clever and powerful niche for himself as someone who energises people through his magic skills. Some might consider it a bit abstract and fluffy, but they misunderstand the power of what he’s doing. We learn best through analogy and metaphor and experience, not by simply receiving logical instructions and dry information. He brings key business messages to life through an imaginative and highly creative approach. It’s no wonder he’s highly sought-after as a keynote speaker and motivator.

So if you’ve not seen John perform yet, go to his web site and seek him out. You won’t be disappointed.

Projecting your voice

I had a fascinating chat with my good friend Darren Gordon yesterday about the voice and how to project. Darren trained as an actor and now runs an acting school in Manchester, as well as directing films.

He and I have worked as co-facilitators on a number of Speakeasy sessions, and it’s always interesting to hear how different people express themselves at those sessions, especially during the 30 sec round-the-table intro. Some people have difficulty projecting and create very little energy in their speech. Darren told me he used to have the same problem, but resolved it through a simple exercise.

Find a piece of text, ideally something requiring some variety in pitch, then read it so you’re getting your voice to reach different distances. Choose an object at perhaps 10 feet, 25 feet, then right at the back of the room and mentally picture reaching that mark with your words. Imagine you’re actually throwing the words at each successive spot. Give the words and sounds time to arrive.

It’s not a case of trying to talk louder. The improved projection comes from the mental visualisation of where the voice is going to reach. Like everything else, it requires practice but if you have a weak voice with poor projection, try it!

Launch of Speakeasy Groups

What a night we had last night! The launch party for Speakeasy Groups attracted about 100 people and I was thrilled with the mood of positivity and collaboration that was evident throughout. In no small measure that was due to Kwai Yu (pictured) who gave a terrific overview of the Networlding concept, a new take on networking devised by Chicago-based Melissa Giovagnoli. It’s all about developing deeper, mutually beneficial relationships based on shared values and beliefs, and it resonates with so many SME business people who suffer from networking fatigue.

We were also treated to 4 PK-style presentations (Pecha Kucha) from Dan Hasler, Tamsin Fielden, Juan Yanez and Mark Jones. I was really impressed with Mark’s creativity and willingness to invent new ways of telling his extraordinary story. He popped a (red) balloon to theatrically demonstrate a key moment in his life when a blood vessel ruptured in his brain, leading to a near-death experience (in his words, he died twice!).

10 year-old Rebecca (Juan’s daughter) came fresh from Britain’s Got Talent auditions to sing a couple of numbers for us – no doubt where she gets her performing gene from!

I must thank Cobbetts solicitors for kindly hosting another Speakeasy event (this one a lot bigger than normal!). Their encouragement of the Speakeasy concept is greatly appreciated, and another example of the collaborative approach that Kwai and Melissa are espousing. Kwai is running a Masterclass on 7th Dec at Manchester Business School, if you’re interested.

So thank you all for supporting us in such numbers – my growing band of associates/ambassadors AND those people who came to find out more.

For more information about how to use Speakeasy to develop persuasive, confident communication skills, click here.