In the TV sitcom Modern Family, all the characters at different points speak directly to the camera. They talk to the audience in a break-the-fourth-wall style confessional.
The fourth wall is the invisible barrier between the audience and characters in a movie. You physically see the other three walls: one behind the stars, and one on each side. In movies and TV shows breaking the fourth wall sometimes works and sometimes it simply annoys the audience as they lose the illusion of being immersed in the story.
There is the same metaphoric fourth wall between you and your audience when you present. Your first goal as a presenter should be to break this wall, otherwise your audience will not connect with you and your message.
At an early-morning breakfast seminar Carolyn Creswell, the founder of Carmen’s Muesli, opened by saying: “When the alarm went off this morning, I thought, this better be good, and then I thought sh** – I better be good!” The audience laughed and immediately connected with her. She had successfully broken the fourth wall and she was one of us.
Standing behind a lectern or speaking to your slides rather than your audience strengthen the fourth wall and leave your audience feeling disconnected. Instead, share the real you perhaps through a relevant story or a humorous opening that captures people. Learning and using people’s names also work towards dissolving that fourth wall and immersing your audience in your presentation.
If you are directing a Hollywood blockbuster or a TV soap, by all means respect the fourth wall. However, if you want your next presentation to be a blockbuster, spend the first couple of minutes smashing that wall to connect with and dazzle your audience.
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