Why Public Speaking is Like an Action Film

It’s the peak season of action films and summer releases — a time where all good folks head out of the heat into movie theaters to escape from reality with a cool drink, popcorn, and the noise and excitement of the latest action movie. Every action movie has a great formula:

  1. Good guy — typically the underdog in some way but a likeable character
  2. Bad guy — typically just a nasty character who is greedy, rude, and generally unlikeable
  3. A riveting plot — good guy and bad guy fight it out somehow (depending on film type this could be a physical fight, a courtroom battle, good guy saving world from impending doom, etc.)
  4. Some romantic interest — good guy not only saves the world, triumphs over bad guy/evil, but also falls in love and lives happily ever after (or so we can assume)

What’s not to love about movies? The fast paced action, dramatic music, and thrilling plots keep us literally on the edge of our seats in anticipation for the next moment. Your presentations as a project manager are a lot like an action film, and this is why:

  1. You have a captive audience — No, your audience has not paid money to sit in front of you to hear your presentation (or probably not), but they attended because they are interested or involved in the topic that you are discussing. Your job is to inform, entertain, and engage with the audience.
  2. You have a plot — Your presentation may not have as many twists and surprises as the latest thriller, but you have a purpose as to what you are delivering. Whereas movies may strive to entertain, inspire, and emotionally charge an audience, your presentations may focus on motivating, decision making, or collaboration. Audiences for either movies or presentations have to be engaged to understand and connect with what they are seeing.
  3. You are the good guy, the hero of the show — Nobody wants to see a project manager fail or a coworker struggle. Nervous presenters have fans in the audience silently cheering you on. Heck, the nervous presenters make your audience connect to you as an underdog taking on a herculean task of standing up in front of a group of folks and talking (did you know that this is the #1 fear of most people in the workplace?).
  4. There are bad guys — You don’t know what will happen next. Yes, you probably have a slide deck, you may have rehearsed your presentation, but somewhere out in that audience lurks the bad guy determined to throw you off your stride. A well placed question can cause even the seasoned pro to falter and scrambled for ideas, sentences, and ways to get back on track. As our current hero (didn’t realize that was your role, did you?), you need to have the agility of Jackie Chan to be able to thwart any questioner and keep your audience enthralled.
  5. You will triumph — Okay, every presentation may not be perfect, but let’s face it some really great directors have made some really horrible movies as well. The more we watch presentations and deliver presentations, the stronger we will become as performers. I’ve managed to literally fall in front of a group of 150 people and survived that presentation (oh yeah, and I fell by tripping over the projector screen feet that were clearly marked with bright yellow tape) and gone on to use it as an example in other presentations that I’ve given.
  6. You will fall in love — Okay, maybe this last one is a stretch. If you truly hate presenting I can’t promise that you will someday love it. But if you think of your presentations as a movie, yourself as the good guy, and your coworkers as the bad guy (and who can’t get a kick out of this from time to time?) then I think you can at least get to liking to stand up in front of people and present. How many people get to say that they star in their own action film anyway? How cool is that!

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