Onsens (hot springs) are ubiquitous in Japan and part of the culture. The act of getting naked and soaking in the bath with others is a means of communication. In Japanese it's called "Hadaka no tsukiai" (Communication in the nude). With "Hadaka no tsukiai," to soak with others in your in-group is to freely expose everything and communicate the "naked truth." Naked, we are all the same regardless of rank. In theory at least, this kind of "exposure" leads to better, more honest communication.
This got me thinking: What if we thought of designing and delivering business presentations in a way that was more "naked" as well? A way that was simpler, fresher — perhaps even a bit cheeky — and far more satisfying to both presenter and audience. That is, in a way that was freer. Free from worry. Free from anxiety over what other people will think. Free from self-doubt. Free from tricks and gimmicks and the pressure to pull those off. Free from hiding behind anything (including slides) and the fear of possible exposure that accompanies such hiding. Remove all encumbrances, be in the moment, naked...and connect.
Being naked involves stripping away all that is unnecessary to get at the essence of your message. The naked presenter approaches the presentation task embracing the ideas of simplicity, clarity, honesty, integrity, and passion. She presents with a certain freshness. The ideas may or may not be radical, earth shattering, or new. But there is a "newness" and freshness to her approach and to her content. And if she uses slideware, her slides fit well with her talk and are harmonious with her message. The slides are in synch, and are simple and beautifully designed, yet never steal the show or rise above serving a strong but simple supportive role.
Why are we afraid to be naked?
Presenting naked is hard to do. But it wasn't always this way. When we were younger and we performed "show and tell" at the front of the class in elementary school, we were honest and engaged — sometimes our candor even made the children laugh and the teacher blush. But it was real. We told great stories...and we were only six. Now we are experienced and mature, we have advanced degrees and deep knowledge in important fields...and we are boring.
One reason we are so dull as adult presenters is because we are overly cautious. We are afraid. We want it all to be so safe and perfect, so we over think it and put up a great many barriers. Or we retreat, however unconsciously, and play it safe by hiding behind a stack of bulleted lists in a darken room in a style void of emotion. After all, no one ever got fired for just stating the facts, right?
Next time, to be different — to separate yourself from the crowd — try presenting naked.
How to present naked
This is not an exhaustive list (so please send me your naked ideas), but here are a few things to keep in mind when trying to present naked.
• Be present in the moment. Right here right now. Do not be occupied with thoughts of the future, of thoughts concerning what the results of your presentation might lead to. Do not ask about origins and ends leaving the moment forgotten. When you are with your audience, all that matters is that moment.
• Don't try to impress. Instead try to, share, help, inspire, teach, inform, guide, persuade, motivate... or make the world a little bit better.
• Keep the lights on. Find a compromise between a bright screen and enough room light for you to be seen. Do not hide in the dark — the audience came to see you as well as hear you.
• Forget the podium. Move away from obstacles that are between you and the audience.
• Use a small remote allowing you to have the freedom to move around the room/stage as you like.
• Don't attempt to hide. What's the point? Do not be evasive intellectually or physically.
• Do not become attached to your software — if your computer crashes, screw it...the show must go on immediately, not after you have rebooted. Stuff happens, move on. Your message is far greater than the technology helping you.
• Keep it simple. All of it. Simple goals, clear messages, and moderation in length.
• Are you just a bit cheeky? Then that should show in your presentations too. Let your personality shine through. Why hide one of your biggest differentiators?
• Be credible.
• Do not use "corporate-speak" — speak like a human being. You can not be naked if you say something like "best practices" or "empowering a new paradigm."
• Think of your audience as being active participants not passive listeners ("Passive listener" = oxymoron?).
• Be comfortable with yourself being "naked." It takes practice and it takes confidence. The confidence comes with practice. Audiences hate arrogance and cockiness, but they love confidence...if it is genuine.
• Never decorate your messages or your supporting visuals. Decoration is veneer. Think design, but never decoration. Design is soul deep, decoration is "Happy Birthday" placed atop a sponge cake.
• Think in terms of what makes a good meal and good design. Think balance, harmony, variety...and content that leaves them satisfied and delighted, yet wanting more.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. Therefore, I hope you will share your ideas here on other ways to "present naked." I'd love to hear from you.
Presenting 100% naked may not be appropriate for every case, but stripping down as much as we can often will make a huge, refreshing difference. The result will be a presentation that is different and somehow more real, "real" like a frank conversation among friends. In my experience, the higher up the management chain you go, the less real the talk. People at the highest level of management do not often present naked, but I wish they would.