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Presentation Lessons from A Small Town 4th of July Celebration

I spent the Fourth of July on Bainbridge Island, which is a short ferry ride away from Seattle. They do a great job of putting together an event that an entire community can enjoy: a 5k run, kids activities, booths with food and crafts and political parties giving out bumper stickers and funnel cakes (not sure these fall into the “food” category, but they are sooooo good), and of course a parade.

Looking around this year, I noticed some things that really seemed to get people engaged in the activities. Not just attending, but truly engaged! And when I see people who are riveted by what they’re seeing, I begin searching for transferable lessons that can be applied to the presentation world.

Here are three transferable lessons from the 4th of July to which every presenter should take note:

1. From a Punch & Judy Puppet Show: The children’s entertainment this year (a puppet show) was surprisingly entertaining. And the entire crowd – kids and parents alike – was into it. Perhaps they were captivated by the terrible, fake English accent of the puppeteer, but I think it had more to do with the fact that every couple of minutes, the puppets would ask the audience a question. And the audience shouted the answer back, waiting on the edge of their lawn blankets for the next time they’d be asked to participate. Transferrable Lesson: People of every age love to have an opportunity to participate.

 

2. From the Dunking Booth: Judging by the size of the line – both of participants and spectators – one of the most popular activities was the dunking booth. People paid a couple bucks to throw three baseballs at a target in hopes of dunking somebody in water. And people happily parted with their money in order to try to dunk someone in water. Sometimes when they missed the target on all three of their throws, they’d plunk down a few more bucks to have another opportunity to “win” (hit the target and dunk someone). Transferrable Lesson: People love to play. Find an opportunity for them to play with your content.

3. From the 4th of July Parade: Kids love a parade because they have an opportunity to perform a death-defying scramble onto the parade route, narrowly missing disaster from an oncoming fire truck for a chance to grab a jolly rancher that was thrown by the town’s Citizen of the Year. Adults, well, they may not love the parades so much. Looking around, most adults we chatting with one another, or scooping up their children before their scramble for candy screws up the marching band’s rendition of Louie Louie. Until the Shakespearean actors came marching down the parade route. And one actor shouted: “TO BE OR NOT TO BE…” and then he paused and gestured for the crowd to join him. And everyone yelled in response: “THAT IS THE QUESTION!” I don’t remember how many bands or emergency vehicles or community organizations I saw. But I remember the Shakespearean group. Transferrable Lesson: Give the audience an opportunity to participate. It keeps them awake. And they’ll remember it.

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