November 18, 2008

How's your packaging?

Lee Potts, over at Breaking Murphy's Law, pointed out this interesting post on Strategic Guy's blog about a presentation gone wrong due to the speaker's appearance and alleged lack of preparation.

Except that some of the people who responded in the comments were at the presentation and didn't find it disastrous at all, nor did they have a problem with how the speaker presented himself.

There's an interesting dichotomy that is illustrated in this discussion -- between the concept of a speaker as buttoned-down, tie-wearing, and "professional," and the speaker as authentic, genuine and "being himself."

Then there's the issue about "carefully crafted presentations," which seems to be code for PowerPoint, vs. a typed speech on a piece of paper (there's some disagreement as to whether it was "crumpled.")

Not having been there myself, and only having the one image to go by, it's hard to tell what the truth of the situation really is. I do find myself torn about whose side I would take, and I can see both sides of the argument.

I agree that a speaker should dress appropriately and have a well-prepared and practiced presentation.

On the other hand, if you're not a suit-wearing type of person, is there a way to present yourself professionally and still be authentic and still be yourself? Yes, I think there is, and I do it all the time, "suit-free," when I give presentations in corporate environments.

According to the commenters, the speaker is well-known in their community. It wasn't shocking to the audience that he wasn't wearing a suit, because they know him, they know where he's coming from, and understand that he represents a different kind of community as an expert on social media.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the comments which make a good case:

"I can actually see his point, and think he intended to come across as off-the-cuff and casual. His presentation and appearance were, in effect, part of the message he was trying to convey. Namely, that online communities are less about formality and impersonal product promotion and more about relationships and one-on-one communication."

"As for dress code, I think it's funny that companies still get their guidance on this subject from the likes of Lehman Brothers rather than Apple, Microsoft or Google.

How many times have we been stuck listening to some out-of-touch "executive" in a $200 necktie read directly from bullets on a PowerPoint slide deck? Ugh!"

"If buttoned up, conservative companies really want to get involved with social media, then they need expand their thinking to go beyond what is expected (i.e. suits, ties, and PPTs). Results matter much more than appearance."

Regarding his presentation skills and preparation, only those who were there can decide whether he was effective or not, but here are a couple of comments:

"Last, during Justin's presentation was the only time I heard laughter and talking at the tables. This is called audience engagement, and is a sign of a good presentation."

"The dynamic in online communities is not about slick, canned presentations being fed to customers; it's about conversations rather than canned speeches."

It's an interesting discussion, and I don't think there's a "right" answer that applies to every situation. Each speaking engagement is different and requires the speaker to understand and respond to each particular audience.

In this case, there was clearly one person who didn't connect with the speaker and felt his style was inappropriate. There were others who thought his style was perfectly appropriate for the topic and the setting.

Go check out the post and the comments and let me know what you think.

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6 comments. Please add yours! :

Anonymous said...

One of the best presentations I ever went to was in university.
The chick who showed up to do the presentation was 5 minutes late. She had on a rumpled suit and mismatched shoes. Her paperwork was falling out of her bag. She handed her slides to the AV tech (long before powerpoint presentations) by scooping them out of her pockets in NO order whatsoever.
She profusely apologized over and over, spent another 10 minutes sorting out the messy piles of notes from her bag.
Then she went back to the AV tech and tried to sort out the slides and apologized that she hoped she got them in the right order.
She finally took a deep breath and started her presentation about being in a post graduate program.
Of course you can guess, the slides were comprised of her dog, her kids, some mathematical formulas which she switched back and forth and scrolled all over the place.

After reading off the first page of her notes word for word in a monotonous voice, she couldn't find page two and started rummaging through her bag.
She pulled out a folded piece of cardboard and held it up to the audience saying "GOTCHA"

Then she proceeded to give a wonderful presentation on "how to do a presentation".

You've GOT to be yourself up there or the audience will turn off.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

That's a great story, Jacki. I've always wanted to do that, except I was afraid it was too risky. Nice to see that someone pulled it off memorably!

Marc Hausman said...

Hi there, Lisa.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on my post in the Strategic Guy blog. You can actually watch a video of Justin's presentation at the Tower Club here:

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for the link, Marc. I'm looking forward to checking it out!

Cheryl Pickett said...

If I had to wear a suit (gal's version) I'd never do a speaking engagement. I really don't like wearing jackets, and I don't do skirts and dresses a lot either.

I totally agree that one should look appropriate, which to me is basically, clean and neat. For some that means shirt and tie, for others, nice slacks and a sharp top. It think it depends some on the topic too as has already been noted.

Cheryl Pickett

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for sharing, Cheryl! I'm so glad women aren't required to have the equivalent of a tie in our professional wardrobes!

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