presenting naked

Screenshot: I may have done it recently. Japanese culture values the public bath (銭湯) and onsen or hot springs (温泉). Both are communal nude baths, something culturally observed to break down communication barriers and raise bonding.

After a recent presentation I had reasons (impromptu audience feedback from strangers I hadn’t noticed in attendance) to revisit the ethic of presenting naked.  Garr Reynolds addresses it in  The Naked Presenter. The book begins by describing Reynolds’ first nude bath with his colleagues in Japan as standardly hosted in the culture by his employer. Reynolds believes the onsen experience can inform—should inform all presentations.

I literally didn’t notice people outside my presentation audience who were nonetheless present. I’m unsure why and it’s a problem if you want to reproduce a presentation formula that’s effective: You should understand what caused it.

Moreover, stranger feedback was surprising: People described room dynamics and audience reactions to which I was oblivious.  They also repeated verbatim comments I had made, benignly I thought, and noted key reactions. I was shocked. In her book Rapt science writer Winifred Gallagher describes how an experimental group in an attentional study was so focused on its task it didn’t notice someone in a gorilla suit who walked by beating his chest.

In the light most flattering to me, perhaps I was so focused on my audience I didn’t notice non-invested observers outside it. In a non-flattering light, it’s a mega blind spot or self-awareness deficit to miss dynamics right around you. No matter, I’m revisiting Reynolds’ work.

Lastly, there are other de facto onsens in our culture. Places people come clean and unwrap; taxi cabs, hospitals, beauty salons and saunas, marked by a nakedness and candor that are insight rich, but regularly escape business’ core interactions.


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