Presenting in the Streets

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As presenters, we operate in a pretty safe and static environment: There's usually a screen (and a wall!) behind us while the audience is in front of us, seated.

But there are other types of presentations that are much more challenging. Like presenting in the streets. Which is what city guides do.

You've probably done a tour with a city guide at some point in your life. I mean the sort of guided tour where you walk around a part of a city, occasionally stopping to hear about important events, buildings or people from that area.

Now imagine yourself in the position of such a guide. Notice all the differences to your usual presentation? You will find yourself presenting in a different environment every couple of minutes. You may be standing in front of a building, in the middle of a crowded place, in a quiet back yard, or next to a noisy motorway, all in the course of one presentation. Your audience isn't static either. People will constantly change their position relative to you or they may be distracted by things going on around them. And on top of it all, the weather may change at any minute and you're going to get wet unexpectedly.

This is a rather stark contrast to your everyday presentation in a safe (and dry!) conference room. Still, I think there are 3 aspects in presenting in the streets that can provide us with insights for our "normal" presentations.

Distractions

As a city guide, you have to learn how to deal with distractions. You may temporarily lose the attention of parts of your audience, when they become more interested in a nearby shop than in the historical building you're talking about. I've noticed that city guides don't usually try and "force" these people to listen. It's their own choice, after all, and they will usually switch back to listening on the next stop (and some other members of the group will be distracted instead).

In a "normal" presentation, we will often lose members of the audience, too. The distractions are more subtle (hopefully), like when they are reading messages on their mobile phone. As long as that is only temporary, we shouldn't be bothered too much. It's only when we see more and more people not paying attention that we should think about doing something to get their attention back.

Slides

Obviously, you won't be showing slides during a guided tour. You don't need to, since you have something much better to show - the real thing (like a building or a place). Actually, city guides do often use some sort of "slides". They have old photos of buildings or people to show to or pass around their audience. All this makes things much more tangible. And of course those "slides" don't contain a lot of text - you wouldn't want to read a long text while standing on a street corner, would you?

This correlates with the recommendation to use more visual slides in your "normal" presentation. The audience is there to hear you speak, not to read text from a screen. Also think about how you can make things more tangible for your audience. Is there something that you could give to the audience to pass around that's relevant to your talk? Or try to think of props to bring up on the stage (but not for cheap effects).

Storytelling

A presentation in the streets is going to be pretty scattered. You stop at one place, tell your audience about it, then move on to another, and so on. What ties these stops together is the overall theme of the tour. But even more so, each stop usually comes with a story or two of its own. So this is the place where some famous person made an important discovery. Or: an important event that happened in this very spot you're standing now. And so on. City guides have mastered the art of storytelling. The audience is there to hear these stories and those stories are usually what is remembered best. Think back to your last guided tour. Which facts do you remember? Do you remember any stories?

I wrote about using stories in presentations elsewhere. Does it need repeating? The results are in; stories work. Please do try and incorporate stories into your next presentation.

Conclusion

Learn from the city guides - they know best how to keep an audience's attention and how to present in a way so that their audience remembers.

(Photo of Claudia Weinschenk by yours truly)

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Creative Commons Licence "Presenting in the Streets" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.