Presentation Skills Training with Dame Edna Everage

By Jeremy Blake on January 21, 2016

Bob and I had the good fortune to see Dame Edna Everage live at The Globe Travel Awards last Thursday. I’ve been a fan since I first saw her on television in the 1980s.

She gave us twenty minutes of stand up before presenting the awards with Lucy Huxley, the editor of Travel Weekly.

As I watched and laughed, and Bob and I whacked each other’s backs and roared in unison, I sat back and realised that what I was witnessing was an intimate performance and a showcase in improvisation. Dame Edna began by telling us of her recent experience of staying in an Ashram in India with only a handful of guests including The Dalai Lama and Oprah Winfrey.

Here’s five things that Dame Edna does really well that you can use to engage your audience.

1. Bonding with the most receptive helps you bond with all -D.E.E talked about the exclusivity of the places she’s been to in India and looked at the faces in the front row. “Now you darling, it's just the sort of place you’d never be accepted in.” Coming back to the rest of us as if prompted to share something else. “I am wearing my oldest dress tonight Darlings, turning back to the same woman in the audience, and I can see you are too aren’t you?"

2. Mock Industry Jargon -As the Dame read out the winner of Best Consolidator and waited for the winner to reach the stage we heard in a loud whisper, “I want a holiday, I want a holiday, I need a consolidator!”

3. Bank a clear observation then use it later – The winner of Best Car Hire Company was Affordable Car Hire. Angela Day the CEO looked fabulous as she climbed the stage. Barry Humphries, who clearly couldn’t conceal his male eye at this juncture, noticed Angela in all her finery. He made no comment and presented the award and then just as the photo had been taken and they broke from pose, he uttered, “You’re not very affordable are you Angela.” The lesson here is don’t just make the obvious comment as soon as it arises allow for comic timing to find its moment.

4. Single out those not listening – Someone rose from their place right near the front so all could see. “Where are you going Darling?” She mimed her reply something about a corkscrew. Cue Edna screwing up her face and she sat down promptish. An actor pal recently noticed someone on an iPad in the front row during his performance, the glow of the light was so distracting. In the interval the cast agreed to eject her. You can’t stop a play in full swing, although I once saw Harold Pinter stare at a couple talking, his cold eyes made them eject themselves. Though you can stop your presentation, you’re in control, you’ve been asked to speak – make one listen and others will tune in more.

5. Give time honoured advice with a twist – We asked Lucy Huxley if we could meet Barry Humphries. We joined a very small queue with life long fan Jo Rzymowska of Royal Caribbean right at the front. They had a wonderful chat about lots of things and she got to deliver some of his best lines wrapping them up into sage like advice. Her parting words were, “Now Jo, one more thing, your family, always put your family last!”

My father was a salesman who sold panelling for architects to specify in their projects across London for most of his career. He used to tell me which famous people he saw and bumped into then he started to get me people’s autographs, my first was Paul Daniels. I asked him for Dame Edna’s when I was about eleven or twelve. He tried to manage my expectations that he thought it unlikely he’d bump into her.

One day that same year he came home brandishing a piece of paper. “I got it Jayes, here it is, he signed it Barry Humphries, we met in a newsagent - had a lovely chat!” I was made up. My Dad made it to 71, Barry Humphries is 81, and on the back of this performance there’s life in the old Dame yet.