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Don’t Give Mystifying Presentations Please

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The global chief’s private jet has landed. We are all assembled in a luxury hotel’s gorgeous function room. The big brand name, the resplendent silver mane, the speaker’s resume and abundant confidence all speak to a brilliant talk coming up.  After the obligatory networking and chatting with tablemates over lunch, the main event gets underway.  The keynote starts well but gradually we start to lose connection with the speaker’s message.  The talk is full of supple subtleties.  The main point becomes fuzzy, distant, unapproachable and impenetrable.  We sit there wondering are we all stupid, because we can’t grasp the speaker’s nuanced argument or is the speaker simply rambling and incoherent? 
 
Actually, it doesn’t matter which of us is stupid, because the talk has failed.  The speaker has not been able to get the message across in a way that resounds with the audience.  Being intellectually brilliant and speaking above your audience is not effective communication. We have to know who is in our audience, their level of understanding of the subject and their capacity to be challenged.  We need to be able to communicate, which means the listeners can understand and follow what we are saying, rather than trying to impress with our own brilliance.
 
Structure helps to guide the audience through the proceedings. This speech, if it had a structure, it was obscure, vague and puzzling.  Consequently the speaker lost the audience. A heavy mist rolled in on this speech after about the first ten minutes and engulfed us all in such a way, that we struggled to follow where this meandering was going.  What was the point being made here?  Where are we going with these stories?  What is the key argument being made?  These are all bad questions for an audience to be asking.  They should never have to wonder because the speaker is clear, coherent and provides direction.
 
The use of slides on this occasion was minimal. In many cases this is a blessing, but not this one.  We needed some more form to follow the speaker’s points.  We were lost. We could have found a path, if there had been some visual guideposts for us.  The slides roll out and pull as along the path of the argument.  Other simple ploys like "there are three key issues" or "the five areas of urgent attention are…" helps to frame the content in a way where we can track it.  These structures help us to relate the current point to those preceding it.  
 
Maybe a fellow genius, if indeed our speaker was a genius, may have been simpatico with our speaker’s intent and understood the thesis.  Alas we were just ordinary punters, turned out in the hope of a nice lunch and some enlightenment from this font of knowledge.  Our font this day though was dry and not at all helpful because we couldn’t get the point.
 
As speakers we have to make it easy for our audience to understand us.  If we are going to be clever and tangential, we run the risk of losing people.  If we are fixated on subtlety, we can be too opaque for the troops and they just get lost.  We were all crime scene witnesses to the merciless murder of a major brand that day.  When the big cheese fails like that, we doubt the whole organisation.  Our faith in the firm has completely subsided.  Apart from the damage to the company, the individual’s personal brand is shredded, torn and tattered.  
 
The stakes are high when you are a presenter, so mastering the ability to connect with your audience is critical.  Don’t over complicate the exercise.  Have a clear structure, be easy to follow as you navigate your way around your talk and pitch it at the right level for your audience.  Do that and your personal and professional brands will be enhanced, appreciated and working for you, not against you.
 
 
 
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