Presentations: Focus on the Sauce

Full Disclosure:  I don’t want to disappoint too many of you, but Rob Jolles is no chef.  I do enjoy watching, however, some of the competitions involving cooking. It was in one of these shows where I got a wonderful lesson in cooking, along with a timely reminder about presenting.

My wife Ronni and I were watching the finals of Master Chef, Season 7, when I heard something that made me stop and smile.  One of the contestants had done terrific job of cooking a chicken dish, when guest chef Daniel Boulud said something that was rather amazing.  He complimented the chef on a near flawless preparation of the protein and other vegetables he was serving him, and then focused on the sauce.  Unfortunately, chef Boulud was not (as) so fond of the sauce. He reminded the contestant about the importance of the sauce by making this statement:

“75% of any dish is the sauce.”

Take a moment, and let that sentence settle in, because once you do, you’ll see it makes complete sense.  No matter how well you cook any dish, the sauce is what ultimately will provide the flavor and enhance the experience.  In fact, it’s the sauce that elevates the dish from a meal to a memory.

Now, let’s put away the cooking aprons, and look at the way you deliver a presentation.  The protein is the message, and words we use to communicate that message.  We tend to obsesses on the nuts and bolts of what we deliver, when in fact, it’s the sauce we put on those words that truly brings out the flavors of the meal. It seems so obvious, and yet, if it were this obvious, why do we spend such a small amount of time preparing the sauce?  A good sauce has a lot more than one ingredient in it, so I thought I’d list out a handful of components you might want to put into your presentation sauce:

  • Telling an audience what you are about to tell them is the meal; telling the audience what’s in it for them to learn what you are about to tell them contributes to the sauce.
  • Content is the meal; allowing an audience to explore that content within small group activities, role-plays or simulations contributes to the sauce. 
  • Providing key points is the meal; supporting those key points with analogies, short stories, and powerful quotes contributes to the sauce.
  • Speaking your words is the meal; providing energy, and enthusiasm, and varying your pitch, and pace to enhance the words you are speaking contributes to the sauce.
  • Asking your audience a question that requires a factual response is the meal; asking your audience a question that involves a case-study, or a comparison, contributes to the sauce.
  • Answering a question from your audience is the meal; using a question from your audience to involve the rest of the room by relaying that question to others, or reversing the question back to the person who asked it, contributes to the sauce.
  • Providing a nice, clean room to present in is the meal; providing well thought out music when your audience walks into that room, and during breaks that contributes helps create a wonderful atmosphere contributes to the sauce. 

Quite frankly, I could keep going, but I’ll stop here because, much like a good meal, you’ll run the risk of ruining the dish if you put too many ingredients in.  The right balance of ingredients in your sauce is what makes a dish tasty, and that goes for your presentation sauce as well.  In the end, it’s all about balance.  If you remember not to crowd your plate with too many words, or cover that plate with too much sauce, you’ll have a presentation fit for a king!

Related: Learning to Love Your Voice