From Presentation Skills to Masterful Performance: 12 Tips from Billy Crystal

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The Sunday V - February 26 2012 - Victoria Labalme.png

Billy_Crystal_Victoria_Labalme_Presentation_Skills_1.jpgIf you're watching the Academy Awards this evening, you will glean some great insights from studying Billy Crystal's style as he hosts the event.

As you seek to improve your own presentation skills, consider the following

12 techniques:

Notice Billy Crystal's...


1)     Rhythm & Pacing - how he will move faster or slower in sections. He may use this for comedic effect, to engage the audience or to command attention and shift tone. Remember to vary your pace.


2)     Use of the Pause - how he pauses for effect -- for humor, for sincerity, to shift to a new section. This is what I call "landing your point." Avoid rushing through your material. Give the audience time to take it in.


3)     Variety of Tone - notice the variety in his speaking tone, which ranges from warmth to humor to respect for nominees. In other words, he is not speaking in "one color" but instead is engaging the full power of The Prism Effect™. Use the full spectrum of what you have. The audience craves variety. Important note: Keep in mind that tonal shifts must always come from the "inside out."  If you force the shift, you will sound inauthentic.


4)     Physicality - how he embraces and welcomes the audience through his physicality - with open arms or with the angle of his upper body. Notice how he adjusts the angle of his upper body (think of a satellite dish shifting) to connect with the  audience in different locations: the people seated far back in the balcony, those directly down in front, and those watching from home (through the camera lens).


5)    Foot Placement - how he adjusts the placement of his feet, the balance of his weight. Often new presenters will lean forward into the audience. Though this can communicate passion, it often communicates nerves. Notice how Billy is grounded - emotionally and physically.


6)     Range of Humor - rather than be word-based only (with a verbal "set up and punch"), Billy is also a master of physical comedy, character work, impersonations, singing, and performing small bits. Wouldn't it be fun for you to incorporate a small piece of performance humor at your next event?


7)     Facial Expressions and Non-Verbal Reactions - how he adds these after a joke (or sometimes even between lines) to enhance the humor. Observe how he might shrug his shoulders or raise his eyebrows to add Non-Verbal Punctuation to a joke.


8)     Improvisation, Riffs and Off-the-Cuff Humor - which he deftly adds and then may even refer back to later for comedic effect (what is known in comedy as a "callback"). When speakers get committed to a word-for-word script, they lose any opportunity for spontaneous humor. Avoid this mistake. Stay loose.


9)     Use of Microphone - how he "trusts the microphone" to do its job so that he is never shouting, even though he is speaking to thousands of people in the Kodak Theatre (and millions more via satellite / television). The mark of an amateur is someone who projects even when they have a mic. The mic is there for a reason. Let it do its job.


10)  Intimacy with a Large Crowd - how he acknowledges specific audience members seated in front which gives the vast space a far more intimate feel. Many politicians will do this as well. Consider a brief nod of acknowledgement to a couple of people in your audience...


11)  Smiling - how he smiles as he talks, a technique often used to raise spirits and the level of enjoyment for the audience.


12)  Sense of being at ease, in control, having a good time - Notice his overall enjoyment of the experience and his sense of being at ease. Despite the enormous pressure, Billy has a way of exuding this sense of comfort and Relaxed Command which is what your audiences want from you as well.


BONUS TIP: As you notice all these techniques, rather than simply be a passive observer, do your best to also visualize yourself engaging these skills. Psychically place yourself on a stage and in the moment of presenting, for this alone will take you much farther down the path of advancing your own skills. Be the viewer, be the student, and be the host--all at once.

© Victoria Labalme Communications, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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When preparing for a presentation or speaking in public, it is good to keep in mind how our brain works. According to Dr. John Medina, the human brain is a pattern recognition machine. Our brain likes to be able to predict with reasonable accuracy what is going to happen next, so we unconsciously scour the sensory landscape trying to find patterns.

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