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5 Things Presenters Can Learn from March Madness

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. March Madness!

"George the Colonial" gives his autograph to Bill Cosby during the 1996 Atlantic-10 basketball tournament
“George the Colonial” gives his autograph to Bill Cosby during the 1996 Atlantic-10 basketball tournament

As a former college mascot, I had an opportunity to see March Madness up close and personal. Here are five lessons I believe are transferable from the basketball court to the corporate training room.

  1. Cinderella can win over the crowd. Sure people love the big names. Bob Pike, Nancy Duarte, Michael Allen – they’re the Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina of the learning and development world. Of course, if you have something to present then there’s a reason you’re in front of the audience. Just like George Mason (who beat a lot of teams they weren’t supposed to in 2006 to advance to the Final 4) and Butler (who came within a half-court buzzer beater of knocking off Duke in the 2010 NCAA finals), it’s important that you put together a strong plan. If you can offer an amazing learning experience, people will want to see you at the front of the room again. Conversely, if you put together a stinker just because you don’t feel people are expecting much from you, then few people will want to see you back.
  2. Someone is always watching you. One of the first rules of mascotting is that, regardless of what’s happening in the game, there will always be someone watching you at any given moment of the game. Given this fact, it’s important to be entertaining throughout the entire game (or at least avoid scratching yourself and doing other non-mascot-like behaviors). As a presenter, this is also true. Even if it seems that everyone is engaged in a small group discussion, the minute you pull out your cell phone to check your messages, it gives permission to every other person in the room to do the same thing. They’re watching you.
  3. The more crowd involvement, the better. As a mascot, I fed off the energy of the crowd. I also hoped to create energy, because I had a feeling that our players preferred to play in front of a roaring crowd. Getting them doing the wave? Absolutely. Crowd surfing? Definitely. What’s the equivalent in the training room? Giving your audience an opportunity to get involved through discussions. Or Q&A. Or a pop quiz. Want more ideas? Click here for an entire post about this.
  4. Creativity matters. Even the best ideas get old after a while. When doing a death-defying pyramid with the cheerleading team became routine, I worked with my coach to learn how to do some tumbling and added a standing back-tuck. It added a new challenge, a new level of difficulty… it was just new. The same goes for presentations you may have given dozens of times in the past. Why not try something new – it will challenge yourself, and your audience will probably appreciate it. Looking for inspiration? Go to YouTube. Check out a TED Talk or two. Take a look at some amazing PowerPoint decks at Slideshare.
  5. Close. Out. The. Game! When my GW Colonials squared off against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, it was a close game at half time (we were down 1). With about 10 minutes left in the game, my Colonials were up 17. The team was excited. The fans were excited. I was excited. And then we were up 10. And then we were up 5. And then we were on the first flight back to Washington, DC the next day because we lost in the final minutes. Too many presentations are like this. Great content. A great experience. And then it just kind of ends with a plop. No momentum. People just go back to their offices and… nothing. As a presenter, it’s essential to wrap up the presentation with a strong summary, a call to action, something that the audience will remember and do something with.

What did I miss? Are there any lessons from March Madness that you’re applying to your presentation skills? Write your thoughts in the comments section below.

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