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Five Things To Learn From Heston Blumenthal: Part 2

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

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What can you learn about presentations from a TV chef who puts vibrators into a giant, luminescent jelly to make it wiggle as it arrives at the table?

Quite a bit, as it turns out. Today, the second half of what presenters can learn from chef Heston Blumenthal.

3. A Sense Of Theatre
In the olden days, there was no TV or laptop to keep you amused in the evenings. Food, at least for the nobility, was the entertainment. Chefs in those days went out of their way to surprise and delight with grand reveals, illusions, and amusing tricks. Like this medieval gem of food theatre:

“The French would pluck a live chicken, brush the skin with saffron, wheat germ and drippings, then put the head under the belly, and rock the chicken to sleep. The live chicken was then served on a platter with two cooked chickens, carried to the table and the cooked chickens carved as the live one would wake up and run wildly around, to the merriment of the guests.”

Blumenthal delights in putting on a show, like the enormous pie containing four and twenty live pigeons that fly out on cue.

Your surroundings play a huge part in your perception of an experience, even without the magic tricks. A meal eaten overlooking the sea in France is going to taste better than the same meal eaten sitting on a bed in a freeway motel watching TV.

A presentation delivered with attention to the theatrical details will always work more effectively. Imagine that, like a medieval dinner, your audience had no TV to go home to, and that your presentation was their only source of stimulation that day. What would you do differently?

Create a sense of surprise. Dress the room up with mood lighting and interesting set pieces. Finish on a bang, rather than an ‘any questions then?‘ whimper. Leaving them wanting more. If you need help with this, money spent on a good event producer is invariably worth it.

4. Educate By Entertaining
Blumenthal spends a lot of time researching the history books for ideas. Who knew that the Victorians loved nothing more than getting blasted on laudanum, cocaine, and hallucinogenic wormwood liquor? Or that they invented the vibrator, for the purposes of some pretty dubious female therapy? Presented in the right way, history becomes fascinating.

After watching the show, you’re not only entertained, but a little bit better educated. Regrettably, this clip leaves out the scene where they take prototype jellies down to the sex shop to see which vibrator delivers the goods:

And that’s something to aim for as a presenter: to have people leave the room feeling a little bit more intelligent and educated than they were before. Saying, ‘you know, that was unexpectedly interesting.’  The trick is to tell relevant stories that bring your message to life, not just to speak a list of facts.

5. Love Your Subject
You can tell by the delirious expressions on Blumenthal and his kitchen team when they’re experimenting with covering food with explosive gun cotton, or building an ejaculating, Caligula-inspired dessert, that they genuinely love what they’re doing. It comes across in everything they do. Just talking about it makes their eyes light up.

Your subject might not be as interesting as that, but if you really like what you’re doing, it shows. Your energy rubs off on the audience, and they’ll share your enthusiasm. If you can’t summon up gleeful enthusiasm for your subject, that’s probably a clear sign you should consider changing jobs.