In Perfect Harmony

By Colin Harris – Conchcom Ltd

In this article I’m going to explain how doing a group presentation is a bit like singing in a choir.

Once again, massive thanks to Terry Simpson for proof reading it.

We're not quite as attractive as this lot
We’re not quite as attractive as this lot

I’m in a choir.  I’m a comedian from Birmingham, the choir is for Birmingham comedians, it’s called “The Birmingham Comedians Choir” – I’ll pause for a moment to let you digest the creative brilliance of the name…

I must confess – I haven’t got a great voice.  I used to sing a few bars of a song as part of my act until one day another comedian pointed out that my voice wasn’t good enough to amaze people, or bad enough to make them laugh.  Anyway, I can carry a tune and I’ve been put in the bass section where we usually get just 4 different notes we have to sing in any song.

And it is great fun. There’s something uplifting when we get a song sounding good – a sense of group achievement.  But when it goes wrong it can sound pretty dire…..

We’ve got our first gig in a few days at a benefit concert for Syrian refugees.  Some of you may at this juncture be thinking “haven’t they suffered enough?”

“But what’s all this got to do with presentations?” I hear you mutter.

Well, if you consider a lot of situations when you’re presenting to a customer you are part of a wider agenda.  OK, maybe you’re doing the important solo – but is someone else introducing it and setting up the whole meeting?  Is someone else going to talk about the implementation, or discuss a particular topic?

I’ve seen loads of group presentations, and been part of a fair few where the following has happened:  Person A has introduced it, Person B has done their bit, then Person C has come on with a completely different topic, followed by person D who introduces another subject, and then finally back to Person A to wrap it all up.  …And to jump to a footballing simile that can seem like having a bunch of superstars on the pitch that can’t score a goal…. England anyone?

“Ahhh,” I hear you shout, “what they need is a theme to tie it all together.”

And you’d be right.  Someone’s got to conduct the choir…

The conductor controls the timing– and whether we should be louder or quieter…
The conductor controls the timing– and whether we should be louder or quieter…

So yes, after we’ve decided what our theme is going to be, someone needs to be in control as we plan it, rehearse it, and deliver it.

Now having a common theme is important.

However, I’ve seen group presentations where there’s been a theme, and where persons A, C & D have done their bits referencing the theme.  But then in the middle, Person B has done their bit using a completely different theme or without referencing the theme at all.  I’m not sure which one is worse – not having a hymn sheet or not sticking to it.

Obviously, unlike a choir, we’re not all going to present at the same time – although it would certainly make for a memorable day ….

Now there are certain songs where at one part the harmony deliberately creates a clash –  I think the technical term is ‘discord’.  And that’s fine as long as the next bit resolves that clash – it sets up tension.

And sometimes in a presentation we want to set up a bit of tension – maybe we pose a controversial topic or ask a challenging question – and again, that’s fine – let’s just remember to resolve it rather than leave it hanging because all the audience will remember at the end is the unpleasant clash.

Also, when we’re singing a song we don’t always stay at the same volume – we have quiet bits and loud bits – light and shade if you like.  Thus our presentation needs variety – not just in terms of volume (although, frankly, some presenters do suffer from a monotonic delivery); it needs changes of pace, tension, and resolution.  And it’d be nice if it finished on a crescendo, rather than just stopping suddenly or petering out leaving the audience confused.

The key things to remember are; someone needs to be in charge (the conductor), have a structure, agree on a theme (and everyone’s presentation supports the theme), plan it, and most importantly rehearse it.

Plus, and this is the biggie – we’re a choir – we aren’t competing with each other – we are working together as a team to create the best result we can.  OK, so we all want to be the superstar but we win as a team and we lose as a team.  It doesn’t matter if the bit you did was great if the overall performance was poor.  Or, going back to football for a moment… It doesn’t matter if you score a wonder goal if you allow the Russians to equalise in injury time…

Right, I’m off to practise my 4 notes.