John Cleese is my new hero. His genius extends well beyond the confines of Monty Python. I had heard about his lecture on creativity from multiple sources, and finally watched it. In my opinion, he really nails it. Watch the video, and then we’ll discuss its connection to presenting better after the jump!

“Creativity is not a talent, it’s a way of operating.”

I often ask attendees of The Better Presenter workshop to raise their hands if they consider themselves to be creative. I normally see a few hands go up, reluctantly. I think it is because we have forgotten how to be creative, and also because we think you either have it, or you don’t! As Cleese clearly explains, we are all creative, but we have to work at it. We need to “quiten our mind down” and get into the right state of mind. When I’m planning and designing a presentation, this is exactly what I attempt to do. I try to find that creative state of mind, and it definitely takes time and discipline to get there.

As he goes on to explain, you need a few things to achieve this creative, or “open” state of mind. Here is a quick summary:

  1. Space – seal yourself off so you cannot be disturbed, create an oasis of quiet.
  2. Time – designate a specific period of time for this creativity to take place, with clear lines for normal life to stop, and then start up again.
  3. Time (again) – you must allow yourself to be comfortable with taking the extra time to find the best creative solution, instead of taking the first thing that comes to you, because “maximum pondering time leads to the most creative solution.”
  4. Confidence – you must not fear making a mistake, you have to be free to play, and take risks.
  5. Humor – nothing gets us from the closed mode to the open mode faster than humor!

If these techniques are new to you, I recommend trying them out during the brainstorming phase of your next presentation. This will set you off on the right foot, and you might be surprised at what you come up with. I find that I need to do this somewhere other than my office or home, because there are far too many distractions and opportunities for disruption in those two environments. Empty classrooms, the library and coffee shops are my go-to places for creative work.

And just remember, after you are satisfied with your creative output, to return to the “closed” state of mind, to get the project done!

Do you agree with Cleese’s process? Do you have one of your own? Or, maybe a better question is… what is your favorite scene from Holy Grail?! (Mine is definitely, “She’s a witch!“)

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