Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Clueless Smart People


Japan is an interesting place. So many things here are ultra modern, high tech, totally nuanced and sophisticated. You take it for granted that your refrigerator door opens from either side and is deathly quiet, that your vacuum cleaner is very light weight and efficient, that your toilet has more control options than most aircraft. So when you hit something out of character you really notice the difference. Presenting skills is the outlier.

We were brought in to consult for and train a very large company’s CEO for a key speech he will be making. We looked at the last year’s speech by the previous CEO. All attempts to humanise the speech had been deleted by that President and it was boiled down to boiled cabbage. An amorphous lump with no life, passion, energy or interest. The explanation was that the audience was made of Presidents of related companies and boiled cabbage was all they could take. Anything else might be considered too radical. In the banking world, it is acceptable to fail, as long as you fail conventionally. Presenting in Japan would seem to be the same case.
When it comes to communication and persuasion when presenting, this is a big blocker to progress in Japan,. The level is so low here, that the audience has been trained to expect boiled cabbage and if they don’t get it, they are unhappy. This sucks even smart people into the vortex of underperformance and even stupidity in some cases.
Watching a very, very innovative, well educated scientist and entrepreneur destroy his presentation really brought home to me the professional gap around presenting in Japan. He is obviously very smart, has become a legend in Japan for innovation and is rightly lauded for the pioneering work he is doing.
His content was very, very good but the delivery was very, very bad. The full message was lost because of the way he presented it. He could have been so much more effective by doing one ridiculously simple thing. Presenters in Japan - don’t put everything on the one slide, in multi-colours, creating a screaming screen nightmare.
The slide he had up was a massive jumble of ideas that stole from the key point he wanted to get across. Slides are free. We can have as many as we want these days, so why try to cram all on to one screen? Because it is all up there at once, he had to use differentiating colours to try and help us navigate through the psychedelic fog. You might have thought this wasn’t a bad idea and maybe you should do that yourself at the next opportunity? In fact, it makes things a lot worse because the audience now has too much visually to absorb on screen. It is all competing and canabalising against itself.
He is a very smart guy, so why doesn’t he get such a simple thing right. The issue is that awareness in Japan of how it should be done is so low. There are so few role models here, so everyone winds up copying all the dud examples of presenting duds. This becomes the stock standard approach and everyone fails, but fails conventionally, so no problem. Well perhaps no problem, as long as you only present in Japan and only to Japanese people.
We can all become too screen reliant in a lot of cases. Do we really need to visually support what we are saying with slides? Sometimes, one slide is enough. I saw the Starbuck’s head Howard Schultz give a speech in Japan, using one slide with only their logo on it. The talk was very effective, because we had to concentrate on the words. In other cases when the content is complex, then properly ordered and prepared slides help to sort and clarify the information we are receiving.
If we decide to use slides, then the platinum rule is one idea per slide. That is pretty simple isn’t it. It doesn’t mean we can’t use many slides though. If we are clicking through slides every few seconds, we can actually whip through large numbers of slides in a 30 minute speech. There is no legitimate link between the number of slides and the length of the talk. It very much revolves around your objective.
A different slide every couple of seconds may be appropriate, if the idea is we want to reinforce images of the company or the business or tell a story visually. A very limited number of slides may be better, if we want to go very deep into the subject matter. By restricting the number, we force the audience to concentrate on the limited ideas we want to register with them.
When we have one idea per slide, we can dispense with the "coat of many colours" approach. Sometimes a single image on screen, which we use as a backdrop to what we are going to say, works well. It might have the image and a single word and we elaborate on that word and image. I saw a presentation recently where that was the method used. It was one of the highest quality presentations I have seen in a long time. The content was complex, the ideas were mind numbingly large, but the delivery was excellent. The simple image and single word meant that we very quickly understanding the visual point and could open our minds up the ideas in the complex message.
Smart people in Japan, stop doing unnecessary, clueless things with your presentations please.
Engaged employees are self-motivated. The self-motivated are inspired. Inspired staff grow your business but are you inspiring them? We teach leaders and organisations how to inspire their people. Want to know how we do that? Contact me at greg.story@dalecarnegie.com
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About The Author
Dr. Greg Story: President, Dale Carnegie Training Japan
In the course of his career Dr. Greg Story has moved from the academic world, to consulting, investments, trade representation, international diplomacy, retail banking and people development. Growing up in Brisbane, Australia he never imagined he would have a Ph.D. in Japanese decision-making and become a 30 year veteran of Japan.
A committed lifelong learner, through his published articles in the American, British and European Chamber journals, his videos and podcasts "THE Leadership Japan Series", "THE Sales Japan series", THE Presentations Japan Series", he is a thought leader in the four critical areas for business people: leadership, communication, sales and presentations. Dr. Story is a popular keynote speaker, executive coach and trainer.
Since 1971, he has been a disciple of traditional Shitoryu Karate and is currently a 6th Dan. Bunbu Ryodo (文武両道-both pen & sword) is his mantra and he applies martial art philosophies and strategies to business.




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