A Lesson in Presentation Skills from Young Slam Poets

Eleni Kelakos presentation skills training, public speaking training, Uncategorized

I recently watched a documentary film called Louder Than a Bomb that tells the story of four teams of high school students competing for first place in a Chicago-area youth poetry competition.  The documentary – and the Louder Than a Bomb competition —were brought to our attention by my husband’s client, the remarkable Canadian spoken word artist Shane Koyczan.  Since anything Shane suggests is not to be taken lightly, I figured the kids would be good— but I honestly had no idea they would, in fact, be jaw-droppingly great.  I was riveted by their fierce passion, and the depth and breadth of their eloquence, and their top-of-the-line presentation skills.

Watching the young poets gear up for the competition, I understood — as they did–that there could be potential heartbreak. The number of points the performers racked up as individuals, and as a team, was, after all, in the hands of the judges; and there could only be one first place prize. Which is why I so appreciated the wise mantra taught by the Steinmetz High School poetry coach and continuously uttered by the members of his team:  “The Point is not the point, the point is the poem.”

The point is not the point, the point is the poem.

eaning, the points you score are not what matter—what matters is the poem itself, and what you bring to it.

Good words to live– and perform–by.

The film got me thinking back to my days as an actress, and the agony and ecstasy I experienced auditioning for roles I most often didn’t get.  I remembered that all I cared about at the time was getting the gig: “Pick me! Pick me!”  I cared way too much about the point, so to speak, rather than the poem. It took me years to let go of trying to get the gig (the point) and focus instead on performing to the best of my abilities (the poem) irrespective of I ultimately got the job.  I discovered that if I gave it all I had and showed the people judging my audition the depth and breadth of my talents,  I could walk away with my head held high knowing I’d done my best.

As I am always telling my presentation skills training and executive interview coaching clients, beware of going in to an interview or presentation intent on making your audience like you, be impressed by you, or hiring you.  Those are outcomes (the point), and you can’t control outcomes.  You can only control what you do with the material, the speech, the poem, in the given moment. Rather than focus on outcomes you can’t control (the point), focus on what you can control: the work at hand (the poem). 

Focusing on the poem, so to speak, might ultimately get you the gig.  But that would just be a happy, coincidental and unforced outcome, and the result of your having surrendered totally to your performance in the moment.

How about you?  When it comes to your presentation skills or communication abilities, are you uber-focused on “the point” (e.g. being liked by others at all costs, making the sale, impressing your CEO) rather than on “the poem” (e.g. preparing to the fullest, listening deeply to a potential client, clearly communicating your abilities to a potential employer)?  How willing are you to let go of the outcome and to focus instead on giving the moment you’re in everything you have?

Whether you’re a young slam poet finding, shaping and sharing your voice in a darkened club, an entrepreneur looking for the right investors to support your big idea with hard cold cash,  or a speaker wanting to ratchet up your presentation skills, remember: When you let go of the idea of being chosen, singled out, or getting the gig, you are free to focus on what really matters:  Bringing the fullness of who you are and what you are capable to your art, your words and your work. And that is ultimately, a win-win for everyone. Because the point is not the point, the point is the poem.