Presentation Matters . . .

The entertainment is in the presentation.  ~John McTiernan

This morning we interviewed several string quartets for our upcoming Young Virtuosi music festival in July in the south of France. We held the auditions at the Royal College of  Music in London in a nice room given to us by the head of the Strings Department.  He even popped in at the beginning and end to get feedback and see how things went.

These were young musicians of college and post-graduate age who are serious about music as a career and our festival provides them with much-needed live audience performance platforms.  And it is a gruelling schedule of 5 concerts in 6 days, with no repeat music.  In addition to playing as a quartet they will also be broken up and paired with some of the younger students (12-16) in piano trios, duets and other combinations.  Each person is also asked to have one or two solo pieces ready.  All in all a demanding, yet rewarding schedule.

While some of the quartets were just recently formed (the last 5 months), others have been playing together for a while.  And as you can imagine, the music was of a very high standard.  But what struck me the most was not the technical skills nor the music interpretation, but their lack of professional presentation skills!  On a scale of 1 to 10 the music was 7-9 and their presentation (appearance, audience awareness, speaking abilities, overall professional demeanor) was between 1-4!

In my years of working with executive teams and management groups, I have come away convinced that “presentation matters” and is as important to the audience as the quality of the information (or the music in this case) being presented.  While executives are becoming aware of the importance of presentation and professional demeanour in their work, it doesn’t look like this is a big topic at music colleges. These young up-and-coming professionals don’t seem to have been taught (in their four years at music school) much about presentation (how they come across to the audience).

In the auditions they walked in, more like shuffled in, rattled around getting set up, were in various states of dress, hair not always neat and tidy.  And when asked to talk about the music they will be playing, or to talk about themselves to the evaluators, there was very little eye contact, very little power in their voices, lots of giggling and looking at each other for approval, the usual plethora of “um’s and ah’s” and their speech was characterised by the modern youth language affliction of “like” and “you know”.  The effect of all this lack of professional presentation skills is to take away from the power of the group as a whole and their music.

The reason people pay to attend a concert is not just to hear the music.  Otherwise there would be an iPod on stage playing the most professional recording available.  No, they come to see people, and not just how they interpret the music, but the package and the presentation as well.  Are they alive and energetic, articulate, excited?  Do they move as a unified group when they enter the stage, or straggle in like a collection of misfits?  Are they well dressed and respectful of the audience?  All these are the “little” but vitally important elements of a great performance.

I believe we are doing an injustice in our colleges and schools (and even in business classes) if we don’t help students understand and appreciate the power of presentation. Presentation skills add value to everything we do in life, so why not learn them at an early age?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Presentation Matters . . .

  1. Great reminder of those essential skills, John. I think the situation may be a little different here in Denmark. Almost the children in my 9 year old’s class can use PowerPoint and are far, far more confident and relaxed on stage than I was until long after my teenage years. It seems that all these talent shows they watch have made presenting oneself to an audience the “new normal”. I wonder if the British (warning: generalization and stereotyping to follow) culture, which can be overly polite and retiring, has some impact on the ability of students to make a strong impression on stage?


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