Working with a co-presenter (or more than one) comes with its own set of potential problems and in this article, the third in his ‘How to…’ series, Stephen Welch look at the special challenges that team dynamics create.
We all know about the importance of rehearsal: when you are presenting with others, the rehearsal becomes even more important. In addition to knowing your content inside out, you also need to agree some rules with each other: and what type of co-presenting model you are going to use.
What? Different types of co-presenting?
Yes, there are four different types of approaches you can choose. When you are co-presenting, you will need to agree with your colleagues which model you will apply and agree processes accordingly. Many team presentations fail due to misunderstandings of team roles.
Here are the four types, in rough order of complexity.
1) Master and Slave
In this set up, there is one key presenter (the Master) who is more or less doing everything herself. The Slave is there to help with logistics, to get water, to hand out materials, to manage the roving microphone, or to advance the slides.
This barely qualifies as co-presenting but I’m letting it in because – if you are Master – you need to have a discussion with your Slave to agree how you want to work, and any special features of your presentation. Often if you are presenting at a big conference, you might get assigned a Slave on arrival and you must spend a few minutes with them agreeing how to work.
Once I was doing a presentation at a big Local Government Conference in Liverpool, UK. I got assigned a Slave on arrival: “This is Derek, he is going to sit at the back of the room and advance the slides on your signal”. OK, I thought that is fairly easy. We agreed the signal, and off I went.
The problem was that I had an intro slide and then slide 2 only came up about 10 minutes into my talk. It was meant to the punchline of my opening monologue. But Derek heard me talking about the content of slide 2 and must have thought I’d forgotten the signal. So, he helpfully advanced the slide too early and stole my joke.
So if you are taking a Master-Slave format, even though the Slave is not really a co-presenter, take a few minutes to clarify things and agree a clear approach.
2) Magician and Assistant
This is a slightly more sophisticated model. Whereas in Master-Slave the slave probably doesn’t appear on the stage, here the Assistant gets a supporting role.
But it is only supporting.
The Magician is definitely the leader of the presentation, but the Assistant maybe gets to do a bit, show a prop, or is a model for a demonstration. If you are doing an interactive presentation, or facilitating, the Assistant can help with those aspects as well, such as taking notes on a whiteboard, or clarifying certain points.
The Assistant may get to say a few things but they won’t be part of the main script of the presentation. His job is generally to look nice and make things run smoothly.
The critical success factor here is practising the demo, the prop and the role of the Assistant to make sure that element of your presentation is successful.
3) Host and Guest speaker(s)
When people think of co-presenting this is what they typically think of. But in fact this model has a couple of variations, depending on whether there are two speakers or multiple.
In the two-speaker version it probably means that the Host is the main speaker but then introduces the Guest who does a section. In the multiple-speaker version the Host is more like an emcee, or ringmaster, bringing everything together in a smooth flow.
In effect, the overall presentation then becomes a sequence of mini-solo-presentations, but with a couple of special features that can make the difference between success and failure. I’m calling these ‘hand-offs’ and ‘eye-ons’.
Hand-offs describe the way that you go from one speaker to another. As part of the handover, you need to set your colleague up for success. This means praising him/her, signalling how great they or their content is, and making your audience want to listen.
For great examples of this action, look at BBC’s stand-up comedy show, Live at the Apollo. In a typical show there is a famous host who does a comedy routine and then introduces some other (sometimes less famous) comics. Without fail, the lead comedian will ALWAYS introduce the others with great praise (‘he’s the guy who makes me laugh’, ‘I’ve known her for years and she always has them rolling the aisles’, etc.). This praise from the senior comedian sets the second up for success and as presenters we can learn from this approach: always introduce your co-presenters in the most exciting way possible (as befits the occasion of course).
Eye-ons are about what you do when you are not presenting. How do you behave when your colleague is presenting? There is one simple rule: while they are presenting, you need to put in your mind that your colleague is the most interesting person in the whole world and that their material is absolutely fascinating. If you don’t think this is true: pretend it is. After all, if their own teammate can’t show interest, why should the audience? Your problem is that you’ve heard him talk many times in rehearsals so are probably a bit bored by it. Fair enough: but remember it is the first time your audience will have heard it, so you need to role-model the right reactions.
I was once the potential client at a sales pitch by a consulting firm: they had clearly rehearsed and knew their stuff. But while speaker A was talking, speaker B decided that was a good time to look at his phone and check emails. This acted as a signal to the audience that the content was boring. By not supporting his colleague, speaker A ruined the pitch. Act like your colleague mesmerises you.
4) The Double Act
This is the hardest and most sophisticated model of co-presenting. In my experience you only get this when three things are in place:
- You’ve worked with the other person closely over a long time, and know each other’s thinking patterns. You can communicate subliminally; naturally, and spontaneously.
- You know your material inside-out and maybe have done the same talk several times so are well-rehearsed.
- You agree that the success criteria is the overall presentation, and are not trying to compete with each other for ‘airtime’. The success of the team is more important than the individual. Both of you have high levels of ego maturity.
Outside the professional speaking circuit and comedy double acts (again!), this is quite rare to see. It typically requires lots of hard work and hours of practice to get right.
Although sometimes, just sometimes, two people can co-present with a natural chemistry and flair without rehearsing. Here’s an example.
Of course it helps if they are masters of presenting, are friends, have lots of experience and have known each other for a long time. When you are 91 years old, and have appeared on TV for the equivalent of hundreds of hours, appeared in front of audiences of millions, and have given thousands of speeches, you too will be able to achieve this natural level of co-presenting without rehearsal.
Next time you are co-presenting, I offer two key tips
- Decide what model you are going to use.
- Rehearse, especially the bits where you go from one person to the other. (Unless you are the Queen of course!)