seeing what we want to see

Nelson Mandela represented many things to many different people. Those who met him in person, and who were not public figures, often spoke of his humility and his gift for making them feel incredibly special. In other touching stories it is clear he also had a wonderful sense of humour and a talent for comic timing.

He seemed to be a master of self-deprecation - after giving up the presidency he often referred to himself as a ‘poor, jobless pensioner’. It was a typical Mandela tactic that allowed people around him to relax.

During the multi-party negotiations in the 1994 democratic election, he would tease the rightwing Afrikaner, General Constand Viljoen, by commenting: "We have to let the white man talk; after all, he is from the supreme race." A mischievous grin would cut through any politically charged situation.

He was one of the very few political statesmen who referred to our very own Queen Elizabeth not as “Your Majesty” but as “Elizabeth”. When highlighted by one of his grand children why it might not be the thing to do, he replied “Well, she calls me Nelson”.

Yesterday we learnt that the Nelson Mandela memorial interpreter was ‘a fake’, and his gestures were simply ‘childish and gibberish’. There has been much written about the embarrassment and disrespect to the deaf around the world. Not to mention the obvious security questions. 

We have a feeling here at Edison Red that Mr Mandela would have seen the funny side to the situation. It is funny, and the more you watch it, the funnier it gets. His gestures seem to consist of no more than a handful of different moves. There is an awful a lot of obvious repetition.

This is a blog on presentation skills of course - so how does this bizarre moment in history relate to making an impact when you command an audience?

Well, the one thing you would have to say about this mysterious faker is that his make believe was incredibly convincing. He equaled the status of those dignitaries that he stood along side.

Not all of us know sign language, but as human beings we instinctively have an acute awareness of body language. The gentleman in question here remained confident and assured throughout - reminding us that we can often accept someone's credentials based purely on their physicality.

You may have a compelling message in your next presentation but, if your body leaks signs of nervousness or fear, we focus on that and not your content.

We would never suggest you fake anything, as it rarely turns out well, but yesterday’s example is still a fascinating study in self-belief – however ridiculous.

Image credit: Flickr

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