Hot Dogs, Shadows, and Helium

Nigel Holmes’ keynote address to focus
on what we see, not just what we hear

You might think that an opening keynote address for a presentation conference would discuss technology, or PowerPoint, or slide design, or how to speak more effectively.

You wouldn’t normally expect it to focus on how to win an eating contest.

Patrons of the Presentation Summit have come to expect the unexpected, and after his 2010 debut, Nigel Holmes has become famous for providing it. Last year, the former art director for Time magazine squeezed out an entire tube of toothpaste along the stage and later dressed up in a caveman suit.

This year, it will be eating hot dogs. And studying shadows. And, allegedly, helium, and the inhaling thereof.

Last year’s keynote might prove a tough act to follow and Holmes is quick to note that integrating physical performance into a presentation can’t be just about shock and awe. “When thinking about ‘performance,’ never do it just for theatrical effect,” he says. “There must always be a point. When dealing with statistics, the possibilities are endless. It’s a great way to depart from yet another bar chart.” Indeed, last year’s toothpaste caper was in lieu of a conventional chart to show personal hygiene statistics.

“While this kind of presentation is not for everyone, you’d be surprised at what you can pull off, if you relax and try. Presenters are too often tethered to the podium, but it really pays for the audience to become part of your presentation. They will remember being part of it for a long time.”

And the risks of eating hot dogs, sucking in helium, or donning a caveman suit? Holmes is more concerned about being gratuitous than in having something go wrong on stage. “Do not worry if things don’t go according to plan. Mistakes are a perfect introduction to talk about why it went wrong, so I see mistakes as opportunities. It also makes people understand that you are just another human, like them. So to fail slightly and then recover is good, in a funny way.”

Mistakes and all, the Presentation Summit runs September 18-21 in Austin TX. You can read more about Nigel Holmes’ keynote address, and see the entire schedule, at Seating at the conference is limited to 200 patrons.

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