Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance and other books on leadership and change, developed the Energy Bar™ as a free tool to help people in organizations get their ideas across in ways that get people committed and engaged. RickRick has advised leaders from many countries on ways to apply this new tool successfully.


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What Street Performers Can Teach Us About Making Presentations At Work

Last weekend I was in Scotland and attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There were close to 350 performances in theater, music, circus arts, etc. etc. scheduled for that day.

Although I did attend one of those performances (which was very good), I was most attracted to the street performers. These buskers try to earn money by performing for people who are just passing by.

I got interested in which performers grabbed my attention and held it to the end of their performances so that I was compelled to put money into their hats. Here is my unscientific look at their power to influence me.

Image from timeout.com/edinburgh

They Grabbed My  Attention

They often engaged their audiences with banter or (in the case of some clowns) with silent gestures. As one performer was setting up his performance space, he needed to hold our attention while he put a lot of props in place. For some performers, this was dead time as far as potential audience members were concerned so often the audience just moved on.

This performer, however, used the set-up time to get us engaged in his show. He talked to us and got us laughing and moving. For instance, he needed space to do his acrobatic feats, so he asked us to move. But, he overdid it on purpose. His strategy worked because instead of being 300 or so strangers standing in a circle, we were turning into his audience.  

When he saw a woman taking his picture, he fell to the ground and rolled around as if he were a fashion model.

With someone else, he borrowed her smart phone to take her picture. Then he tried to get all of us to crowd into the shot and he acted frustrated when this huge circle of people couldn’t fit into the view finder.  

They Held My Attention

This same Acrobat began his show by saying that he was going to do a very simple thing to get started. With that, he placed a ladder on his chin. He was going to balance that ladder on his chin!

But, he then put the ladder down and told us a story.

Then again, he placed the foot of the ladder on his chin for a few moments, and then interrupted himself once again – and again. That built anticipation and some wonder,

“Could he actually balance that ladder?”

I was reminded of the “bumbling” television detective Colombo, who would often end interviews with suspects by taking a few steps away, turning back and asking another question. And another.   

Quite often the buskers promised something I hadn’t seen before. One guy appeared to be rolling a large soap bubble up and down his arm and then tossing it over to his other arm, all the while moving his body in a dance with the bubble. The bubble was probably made out of Plexiglas, but by the way he delicately touched the bubble, he made us believe that it really was a fragile soap bubble. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. His performance was simple, beautiful, and different.

Along The Royal Mile of Edinburgh there were places where buskers could perform. Thousands of people crowded the streets with vendors and other performers vying for our attention.

If I caught sight of jugglers, I might turn toward them, and then turn away the instant I realized that I had probably seen a juggling act much like this one many times before.

The dancing “soap bubble” was new to me so I stayed. But, in other instances, the performers themselves engaged me. Often they made me laugh and so I was willing to stay simply because I liked who they were and how they engaged the audience.

They Told Me What They Wanted Me to Do

Anyone in sales will tell you that you need to ask for what you want. The buskers who simply put a hat out on the ground didn’t do as well as those who asked for what they wanted.

Although most performers did not hold my attention to the end of their short shows, the soap bubble guy did. It was a dance that I found hard to take my eyes off of. He performed to recorded piece of music. His performance ended in sync with the end of the piece. There was something quite satisfying about experiencing a beginning – a middle section of his show – and the clarity of the ending.

Then he told us what he wanted us to do. “Ladies and gentlemen, money is evil. . . So give it to me and I’ll spend it responsibly.” I laughed and gave him money.

In conclusion. . .

I think there is a lot that we can learn – and certainly that I can learn – from street performers. If you have found ways to grab and hold the attention of people in corporate presentations, please consider telling us about it in the comments section.