Stage craft vs content

Barcelona in February is gorgeous – mild, bright, and uplifting. So thank you Gartner for affording me four days in Barcelona last week at the EMEA  Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit, where I played a couple of different roles. First, encouraging people to network via a series of  ‘Ideas Exchanges’, a new concept which really took off. Plus, as a stage craft coach, helping Gartner’s  BI gurus polish up their big keynote presentation to the conference.

And here’s what I concluded after two days of  presentations prep work with the delightful Gartner guys. That it’s the content that counts as much – if not more – than the star dust. (Though they may not agree with me.) We ended up spending the whole of the  first day putting  stage craft on hold. What do I mean by that? The breathing exercises, body work, gestures, blocking – all the actorly stuff – was put on hold. Instead we dived deep into the content.  Why are we saying this? Does it make sense? Is it convincing? How do we make a better case? Isn’t that graph simply boring, let’s ditch it…and so on.

All of which left just a breathless final day to sprinkle some performance ‘star dust’ over my three presenters. I say ‘my’ because by the end of two days it felt like James, Ian and Ted were my children, about to appear in the school play. And the funny thing is that while watching them from the back of Barcelona’s cavernous Palacio de Congresos, I felt as proud of them as if they were my own kids. So thank you guys for keeping a straight face while singing your scales during warm-up. It was worth it.

But I digress. Here’s the thing, when prepping for a big presentation where do you put the emphasis – on content or stage craft?







7 responses to “Stage craft vs content”

  1. Debbie Capon says:

    My immediate reaction to your wonderful blog (as usual), was to dive straight in with content, and then you have the way clear for stage craft. In my past working life as an ad agency producer, one of the most nerve wracking parts of the job were running the pre production meetings. You might know everyone around the table but if you were not up to speed with content, the whole project could fail. So – I always made sure we were all as confident as could be with our content and then I could add my own stage craft once the meeting began!

    I do hope one day I can see you in action Nisha. It would give me much pleasure to see a master at work.

  2. Chris Howard says:

    It was a pleasure working with Nisha on this keynote…and nice to not be on stage for a change. I agree that initial focus on the content is crucial, because confidence with the content makes the stagecraft easier to integrate. This allows introduction of motion and tone to underline content elements (and actual words) that are mostly stable.

    Great work, Nisha!

  3. Rob Geraghty says:

    My experience also says that you have to work on content before the stage craft. What is interesting to me is that presenters really benefit from an outsider asking those questions like “does that make sense?”, “is that clear?” and “what do you mean by that?”. Representing the average person in the audience is hugely valuable and leads to a far better presentation.

  4. David Swarbrick says:

    You wouldn’t expect me to disagree that content is king: who remembers actors after 100 years – its the written play that survives. If its good.

  5. Ted Friedman says:

    Completely agree regarding content first! The reason we (and myself individually) were able to delivery a strong keynote is that we felt very confident in the content. Thanks for all your help along the way, both in tuning the message and giving us great coaching on how to delivery it!

  6. Ian Bertram says:

    I would echo many of the comments so far – content is paramount. Without content you have an empty lifeless story. The stage craft helps deliver the content in a compelling way.
    It was nerve racking and exciting at the same time. I’m still a little unsure about the singing….but Nisha swears by it….

  7. Priya Kale says:

    This was a really good post, Nisha. It made me sit up and think. Though I’m tempted to say that stagecraft matters more than content, it’s probably prudent to call it a 60-40 split in the latter’s favour.

    The true value of a speech or a conference is felt after it’s done; when you sit down and ruminate on what was said, process the ideas which were thrown up and think over what you’ve finally learnt from the experience.

    If the content has been delivered without stagecraft, you probably wouldn’t give it a second thought – it’s safe to presume that you’d give serious thought to only those ideas which make an impression.

    On the other hand, while voice modulation and hand gestures etc. help leverage the content, it cannot substitute for it. A flowery speech without a concrete message, for instance, is just a collection of shallow words.

    So in conclusion, I’m going to have to agree with you and vote for content over presentation without playing down the value of the ‘star dust’!

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