The year 1997: Beanie Babies and Tamagotchis were the must have toys, Seinfeld and E.R. were the most popular television shows, Princess Diana died in a car accident and James Cameron’s epic masterpiece Titanic was what everyone talked about. The film won fourteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and grossed 1.8 billion dollars worldwide making it the first film to hit the billion-dollar mark. As if the film didn’t make enough money the first time around, it’s now back and (depending on your opinion of 3D) better than ever. It was re-released this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s demise, which occurred on April 15, 1912. Here are a few lessons we can learn about presentations from Cameron’s depiction of the ill-fated ship.
Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from Titanic is that preparation is essential– in this case, a matter of life or death. The real tragedy enshrouding the R.M.S. Titanic is that the ship carried only enough lifeboats for 1,178 people, a third of the total number of passengers and crew on board. It was originally slated to have 64 lifeboats, enough for everyone, but the designers infamously decided that that many made the deck look too “cluttered”. So, essentially, it was a lack of preparation that left 1,514 people dead that infamous April 15 a hundred years ago.
Preparation is paramount in nearly everything we do, including working on presentations. We may have the gorgeous exterior, the well-planned aesthetic, the great content, the compelling story, but without sufficient preparation we will flounder. Keep this in mind when fashioning your next presentation. Things may look perfect from the outside, but it’s the amount of time and energy you put into practicing and rehearsing that matters in the end.
Another good lesson from Titanic is to fake it until you make it. When Jack is invited to have dinner with Rose and her uppity crew in first class, he’s pretty much clueless about how to act, what to wear and what to say. Luckily, he borrows a nice suit that fits him perfectly (the magic of movies) and he does his best to fit in amongst the royalty on the R.M.S. Titanic. He ends up leaving quite an impression, holding his own in conversation, telling stories and in general, fitting in the world of the rich and famous.
Nervous about that upcoming presentation? Worried that you’re going to flounder and forget everything you practiced? Anxious that you don’t belong on that stage talking to all those important people? Be like Jack and fake it until you make it. Be confident even if you feel two inches tall. Smile proudly and assuredly even if you feel like inside you’re about to break in two. Act like you’re a pro at presentations even if you feel incredibly intimidated. Acting the way you want to feel will help you begin to genuinely feel that way.
And lastly, challenge expertise, preconceived notions and social norms. Brock Lovett, the treasure hunter looking futilely for the Hope diamond says that Titanic’s captain had “26 years of experience working against him. He figures anything big enough to sink the ship they’re gonna see in time to turn. The ship’s too big with too small a rudder. It doesn’t corner worth a damn. Everything he knows is wrong.” Expertise is important, but it’s also imperative to challenge it. Think outside the box and approach problems from a different angle than usual. Challenge yourself to think outside of your normal parameters when crafting your next presentation. You may see something you haven’t considered before.