What I Learned About Presenting From Cirque Du Soleil

As an evangelist, obviously a lot of what we do is presenting. I always wish I could make my presentations more interesting and more of a show so I’m always watching how other people present. A great example is Cirque Du Soleil, which came through Seattle as part of their Kooza show. At a basic level, the Cirque Du Soleil presentation isn’t too different from any other presentation. A lot flashier, a lot more badass, but still a basic presentation. As I was watching I noticed a few things that I wanted to jot down and (hopefully) incorporate in my future presentations.

Make the easy stuff seem hard

This one is pretty basic but the Cirque Du Soleil guys do a good job of it. At the beginning in most of the acts, the performers look a little tentative. There’s a bit of a dramatic flair, they look like they’re concentrating really hard (and they probably are) and setting a baseline for what’s coming later. By building up the suspense the audience is impressed right from the beginning. The stuff after that is just gravy. And when they break out the safety gear, you know stuff is going to get real.

Always mess up

I thought this was fascinating. In a couple of different performances, the performers screwed up the act. Once it was a high wire guy messing up a jump and another time it was during a giant spinning-dual hamster wheel act where one of the performers almost falls off. At first I wasn’t sure it was on purpose, but after asking around, they always mess up the same part of the show. Why? One, it adds dramatic flair. But most importantly, it adds to the perception that this is really hard stuff to do. Then when they go into the hard stuff and nail it, the crowd goes nuts. I’m not sure how to do this on the tech side, but I have a couple of ideas.

Know how awesome you are

These guys (and girls) do these acts on a pretty consistent basis. They’re so good they can create a fairly convincing fake mess up. At the end, they let you know it. They do a great job of selling what they just did and getting people to cheer for them. Ultimately I think this is about confidence, but it’s also about taking yourself outside of the bubble and remembering that not everyone can do what you do. When you travel with Cirque du Soleil all you see around you are people just like you, but you’ve got to remember that the audience can’t do what you do. And make them love you for it.

Have a theme

One of the reasons I love Cirque du Soleil is that every act has a theme. The costumes, the props, the music and the choreography all revolve around a central theme. Kooza had a definite South Asian feel and some of the acts played up that more than others. But all of it together helped tell a story and engage the audience more and each act built on the theme a little bit. This is probably a bit tougher to do in a technical presentation but I can think of some things I’d like to do that would be more thematic in my presentations.

If you get a chance to see Kooza, it’s a great show. Just watch for the mistakes.