Presentation lessons from our French Polynesian Tour Guide

By Tamara Carrillo McLeod August 21, 2023

To him it was simply a coconut, but to me Ray held the secrets that can transform any presentation

There is nothing that can spark the creative juices like a change of environment, mixed with the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure. And there is no better place to find those things than on the islands of French Polynesia.

There were so many elements of these beautiful surroundings that provided both inspiration and therapy for the soul. However, one particular day stands out above all the rest. It was our day with Ray, a Bora Bora local who took us on a 6-hour tour of his beautiful home. While Ray’s goal was to familiarize us with his beautiful island, a more profound lesson emerged. Unintentionally, Ray imparted a masterclass in presentation delivery.

What did Ray do to make the experience so special? In the end, I believe it really boiled down to these 3 key things:

Lesson #1- Ray delivered an experience

Ray did not deliver a presentation that day; he delivered an experience. So much so that my brain was not able to multitask and play both the role of a participant and a presentation coach or analyst. I was only capable of one thing while Ray was talking, and that was “to be present”. I was a passenger on this journey, captivated by the experience and taking it all in.

This is what every presenter should strive for: to create an experience that makes the audience feel like they are right there with you, along for the ride, and trusting you to take them wherever you need them to go. Just when we thought we knew the direction, Ray had a surprise along the way. “Would you like me to show you how coconut milk is made?” he asked as he grabbed a coconut that had just fallen from a tree. But he didn’t deviate from his goal, and the coconut didn’t take us off course, because somehow Ray managed to both deliver the lesson of the coconut through a beautiful analogy about how the coconut tree is the tree of life, with elements of the tree having an important role in Polynesian life, art, and well-being. This was not planned, but it was brilliant as he was able to deviate from the original agenda for just a moment, add something special to the experience, and then tie it back to the overall goal. This is an art, and Ray was the ultimate artist.

Lesson #2- Ray showed how great presenters create space for their audience to take it all in.

That is exactly what Ray did throughout the day. He filled our minds with amazing history, facts, and data, but then paused to allow us to take it all in. He used a combination of beautifully planned moments of silence mixed with impromptu opportunities for quiet reflection. At one point along the journey, we were heading to meet Ray’s cousin and swim with some stingrays in a place his family had been going to for over 30 years. Along the way, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a point where 3 distinct and magnificent colors of water seemed to all merge together. I was looking over the side of the boat in amazement at the beauty of the visual before me. Ray stopped the boat and asked,

“Would you like me to stop here for a while? Go ahead and take all of this in. We can just float here for a bit. Do you both mind if I play my Ukulele for you? I must warn you that I am not very good.”

This was not part of the plan. The most masterful presenters are completely in tune with their audience at all times and are able to do an “in the moment” audience analysis. They have both the agility and emotional intelligence to adjust their agenda in service to the needs of their audience. Ray noticed that I needed a moment to pause and to take it all in, and he gave me that opportunity. That is what every audience needs: time to pause, reflect, and take in the colors and the experience before them. It is our role as presenters to create space for our audience.

Lesson #3- Ray demonstrated the secret ingredients of connection- Passion, Authenticity and Vulnerability. 

Six hours together is a long time, and from a presentation standpoint, it can feel like a lifetime, but that was not the case with Ray. Our time with him felt too short. He left our minds full yet somehow wanting more. He connected with us throughout the day in the absolute most authentic way. He shared personal stories – some of them were happy, some sad. He demonstrated courage and vulnerability in his willingness to open up to us. Ray is one of 9 children and had to drop out of school at the young age of 10 to begin working to help support his family. He shared the joys and hardships he had encountered throughout life, but in this process of sharing, he never made it about him. It was in an effort to provide context for a deeper story or to island life, history, or culture. The stories acted as beautiful transitions to the next point in our journey. And the passion he demonstrated within each story and throughout the entire experience had so many dimensions.

I will never forget this experience with Ray, and my goal for each and every one of you is to remember these lessons and create an experience for your next audience that they too will never forget.

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