I paid $44 to watch grown-ups read

4 July 2014

Okay, so a hot breakfast and networking were included, but that’s not why I accepted the invitation to this event.

I really did want to learn about opportunities for my business and clients to connect with key public and private organisations in my city.

The line-up of speakers seemed impressive. It included representatives from local, state and federal governments; a high-flying multinational; a visionary land developer; and a trans-Tasman major projects procurement brokerage.

Every speaker was a manager or a director; and yet, despite their professional attire and titles, all but one of the six speakers presented like amateurs.

They dedicated the first seven of their ten-minute slots to talking up their respective achievements, tuning into the WIIFM wavelength maybe in the final three.

About half stuck to the time limit.

Most turned their heads too often (and some even their bodies) to their projected slides and read out their messages.

I’ll concede that this was somewhat helpful, because the amount of text, and size and colour of the type made deciphering the slides impossible from where I sat – which was facing the screen three metres away.

I don’t recall the audience being asked a single question, rhetorical or otherwise; such was the dearth of engagement. Rather ironic, I thought, considering it was our desire to engage that had motivated us to venture out so early on this very chilly morning.

Were the speakers nervous? Possibly. Had they thoroughly prepared, with a clear purpose and the audience in mind? I wasn’t convinced.

I paid my money, put my bum on a seat and helped to warm the room. Was I expecting too much for my $44 (or $29 if you discount the breakfast and event management costs)?

I didn’t assume I’d be entertained, but I was hoping to be enthused and impressed into action.

I think it’s reasonable to expect that well-paid executives of well-known organisations are well-trained in public speaking and presenting. I also think it’s unreasonable to ‘wing it’ and expect an attentive audience to believe you’ve done them a favour or ask them for one.

Just because you’ve delivered a hundred presentations doesn’t guarantee you’re competent. The difference is in the resonance, not the volume.

Perhaps I’m biased, but when organisations don’t care enough about their corporate reputations to ensure their representatives are skilled appropriately for this task, the message I receive is that they don’t value learning, training or effective communication… which are all important to me.

Public speaking proficiency can’t be the measure of an employee’s capability for the job they do away from the podium, i.e., how they spend most of their work day. But when it’s the first impression of a company the target audience encounters, shouldn’t we all get our money’s worth?

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