Have you ever attended a workshop, training, or presentation where more than one person presented related content? If so, you know that the level of integration between the presenters can vary and that the teams who do it well find a way to weave a common thread from topic to topic and from presenter to presenter. And the ones who do it REALLY well make it look seamless and effortless. But how do they do it? Well, I’ll tell you.


On my way to telling you, I’ll mention something about myself: In addition to being a coach, I’m a musician—I’ve played guitar since I was 13 years old. And in the coaching I do, I often draw parallels from music when I work with clients on their communication. The topics of tempo, dynamics, and reading your audience show up quite frequently in my communication-related coaching meetings. But recently I was thinking about one particular aspect of music that I hadn’t thought about before in terms of its connection to business communication: namely, how jazz improvisation relates to team presentations.


It’s a constructive conversation


I love to play and listen to small group jazz because of its ‘conversational’ nature. If you’ve heard a small ‘straight-ahead’ jazz group (think of a Miles Davis quintet with trumpet, sax, piano, bass, and drums), you might’ve figured out what they’re doing most of the time. They play a recognizable melody 1 or 2 times to start a tune, and then each musician takes turns improvising solos before they play the recognizable melody again to end the tune. But they’re doing more than following a structure; they’re interacting with each other in a very constructive way.


When a jazz group is in sync, they sound like they’re building off of each other by listening intently and making space for each other. It’s not a competition for who plays the most notes or the flashiest licks. They’re not stepping all over each other trying to be heard more than anyone else. It’s a beautiful give and take much like the one that takes place when you engage in balanced, meaningful, and satisfying conversation.


Listen so you can play off of previous presenters


So you see where I’m going with this. The more you can make your team presentations sound and look like a balanced, meaningful, and satisfying conversation between skillful people, the better your audience will respond. This means that the folks who aren’t presenting should be watching and listening intently to what the presenter is doing, not only so that they could contribute with constructive comments during someone else’s presentation, but so that when  it’s their turn to present (solo), they can point back to and “play off of” something a previous presenter was saying earlier. So that’s how you do it.


Here’s how you shouldn’t do it: If you have one member of the team who goes off in a direction that has very little to do with what the others are doing, the audience will interpret it as a lack of cohesion. Either the presenters aren’t playing from the same sheet of music (so to speak), or you have a rogue presenter who’s trying to showboat. No matter what the cause for the lack of cohesion, the result is not good: it distracts from your message and erodes your credibility as a team.



For your next team presentation, think of how you can incorporate a more conversational and improvisational (i.e., a small-group jazz) approach to build your credibility as a team and deliver a compelling product to your audience.



Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with intention to get the business results they want. If you’re interested in working with Guillermo, sign up for a free meeting to explore how he can help.