This week’s newsletter is based on a longer essay. For that reason, I’ve included both the short version, in case you’re pressed for time, and the longer version, in case I’ve hooked your interest. 

The short version:

Adults enjoy depth and artistry in your presentations. You don’t have to make people shout ‘Yes!,’ or force them to run around the room…and those things are rarely the mark of a legacy-bound expert. 


The longer version:

I was listening to an audio book by Jordan Peterson. He made the point that while happiness matters to our lives and to our health, the philosophy that posits it as the only goal of existence is a little infantile, and crumbles at first contact with reality. 

I agree. And in the world of professionals and presenting, I personally find the 'cult of fun' more annoying than perhaps any other approach. 

Make no mistake, the very best and most enjoyable presentations typically make wonderful use of humour, wit, storytelling and other gratifying devices. They transport and transform. They may even include audience interaction, which is fine, if it's done with a degree of class. Yet these devices are always in the service of a greater point; ideally, making your core idea come to life in the minds of attendees. 

There's another approach, and it stinks. 

I recall a speaker at one particular conference shouting at the audience: 'Can we have fun today? Will that be okay?' That sort of phraseology is always the first warning sign, and sure enough, he lived down to our expectations. The next thing to happen in the room was everybody being ordered to their feet, to run around greeting one another with high-fives. 

The time in my life when I enjoyed running around a room and greeting my playmates effectively ended when I graduated from nursery school (kindergarten) to primary school. A group of professionals in a room do not enjoy being made to play ring-a-rosie, and it embarrasses me that the technique endures in my industry. These professionals are also typically pressed for time. The speaker took up 15 minutes, doing something utterly pointless and vaguely cringeworthy. Speakers often command relatively high fees, and, to my mind, 15 minutes worth of pointless distraction borders on malpractice. 

By contrast, a couple of weeks ago I attended a summit for professional speakers in Auckland. The session I enjoyed the most - by leagues, miles and enthusiastic bounds - was a talk by a National Geographic photographer. 

He'd traveled the world, photographing eerie remnants of old World War One battle-sites. With a calm voice, completely devoid of sing-song or artifice, he walked us through his universe. He displayed black and white imagery of unexploded weaponry, and fields covered in mist and the ghosts of conflict. He took us down into underground caverns in France, where Australian infantrymen had left graffiti for their families. He mesmerised us with beautiful storytelling, delivered word-perfectly from a prepared script, in the style of a formal lecture. The experience was deeply rewarding. I'd travel to the far side of the world for that again any day. 

The degree to which this presentation was superior to the: 'Hey, let's all have fun today - now give me a 'yes!'' approach was striking. Here was an adult, an expert, an authority, calmly addressing  a room full of intelligent people, delivering fascinating insights and memorable ideas, filling his allotted time with value, rather than a mere circus ring-leader trying to distract half-wits with smoke and fluff. 

Our world, our industry, needn't be an embarrassing cacophony of aerobics instructions for people in suits. We are allowed to explore art and depth, and we should. It is unnecessary to pepper a presentation with exhortations to the audience to 'Say yes, if that's what you want for YOUR life!', and frankly, it's juvenile. Oh sure, NLP this, and behavioural that. But ultimately, you're treating them like children. Please don't. 

What if, instead of viewing ourselves as infant-wranglers, we aspired to something higher? What if we aimed to be the Anthony Hopkins of our craft, the David Attenborough of our industry, the artist on the agenda? 

Clapping handies is cute, and you will have them laughing for a few moments. But ultimately, the laughter comes from a place of awkward embarrassment. If you move their souls and feed their minds instead, you will be creating a legacy...not just entertaining a mob. 

First and foremost, speaking is art. The more we elevate that art, the more valuable our offering becomes.


Douglas Kruger, CSP, is a global speaker and author of five business books with Penguin. He has won the national championships for Public Speaking, through Toastmasters International, a record 5 times.

In 2016, in honour of excellence in his craft, Douglas was inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame by the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa. In 2018, the National Speakers Association granted him the accreditation of Certified Speaking Professional, a designation held by only 12 per cent of speakers globally.

See him in action, or sign up for his free newsletter, ‘From Amateur to Expert’ at Email