In addition to those three major errors (part 2), here are two more significant flaws.
He uttered the phrase “How many…” several times during his presentation. It’s a phrase used by novice presenters in a feeble attempt to engage the audience.
When done well, the presenter asks a question and expects to see a show of hands. To encourage the show of hands the presenter raises his hand to demonstrate the desired response. The presenter pauses and looks at the audience while waiting for the response. The presenter then acknowledges the audience by summarizing the response. Depending on the question and response the summary might be, “About half”, “Looks like 80%” “Only a few”.
When you ask for a response from the audience it’s important to both acknowledge their participation and use the information for your next point.
Don’t bully the audience into meaningless activity to make you feel good.
Also, don’t use this technique more than three times in your presentation because it gets boring and feels manipulative.
How did the Harvard professor use this technique?
He committed almost all the possible errors. He didn’t use the information he gained. He didn’t summarize. He failed to acknowledge the audience. The audience quickly tired of playing this silly game so most ignored his questions. The professor ignored the discomfort of this audience and diminishing lack of response because he posed this question at least 10 times.
The clock offered hope to the audience – the end was near. After the speaker ended his presentation he delivered one more careless statement, “I’ll answer all your questions.”
What might be wrong with that claim?
The damaging word is “all”. There was no way he could fulfil that promise, for two reasons. There were 200 people in the room and there wasn’t time to hear any significant number of questions.
The more relevant reason is that no one has the capability to answer all the questions any person might ask. How would he respond to these questions?
“Why have you been insulting your audience?”
“Why do you appear to be such a pompous ass?”
“What’s my favorite color?”
“Where are the remains of Jimmy Hoffa?”
“What are the winning numbers for next week’s lottery?”
You’d think a Harvard professor would know the difference between all and some. A simple litmus test for the validity of a statement is “Does it contain an absolute?” If it contains an absolute it’s most likely not true. Another way to put that is “if you’re using absolutes you’re probably lying.”
As if to test the professor’s claim, one person asked a frivolous question, which the professor ignored. He didn’t keep his promise to answer “all” questions. The end of his speech was marked by his failure to respond to a question after he promised to answer all questions.
The professor would have been smarter to say:
“We have time for a few questions. What points would you like me to clarify? ”.
“I welcome your questions about the topics I raised and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.”
“Who has a question about how to implement these ideas?”
An experienced presenter knows that if you want better questions from the audience you need to guide them to ask more relevant questions. An experienced high school teacher would know that because there are stupid questions. If you want your audience to ask smart questions, you direct their attention to relevant issues.
Another lesson that most successful people in any profession learn is to under-promise and over deliver. Don’t promise “all” if there is any possibility of not being able to deliver.
I believe his message was that successful business needed to be more aggressive in seeking opportunities and advantages. That’s a good message. But his message got lost in the overwhelming feelings of annoyance, insults and dishonesty.
Each of us received a copy of one of his books. I’m a voracious reader of business books but I still haven’t opened his book (months later) because I don’t like or trust him. He certainly didn’t build rapport or trust during his presentation.
A successful presentation would have excited people about receiving and devouring the speaker’s book.
He was the worst speaker that I’ve seen in at least 20 years. His presentation served as a gruesome example of what not to do during your presentation.
How could an educated and experience presenter be so bad? If this professor was an example of Harvard’s best, what does that say about other Harvard instructors? More importantly, what can we expect in the quality of thinking and communication skills of Harvard graduates? Was Jack Welch’s testimonial taken out of context? Did Jack Welch ever hear this professor speak? If Jack did, what would Jack really say?
Those are not the questions or thoughts that a speaker hopes to generate from his listeners. But by the looks around the room and overheard comments, I believe those were the predominant thoughts in the minds of the audience. This presentation was a disaster.
Part 3 in this series of 3
Read Part 1
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