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.

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