How did he fail?
What three things did the guest speaker persistently do to sabotage his presentation?
We Can’t See You
The first sign of a keynote-gone-wrong was his position on the floor instead of on the stage. He never stepped upon the stage. That meant that the only image that the audience of 200 executives had of him was the video crew scurrying to follow him amongst the tables. The lighting was poor and the video became boring quickly. The room was set up for a stage presentation (so everybody could see him) which this professor ignored. I’m not against a presenter leaving the stage to walk into the audience for specific reasons. As a keynote speaker I’ve ventured into the audience to dramatize a key message then returned to the stage. He never set foot on the stage.
An audience attending a keynote presentation expects to be able to see the speaker clearly most of the time. This presenter didn’t seem to know how to use the stage to his benefit. He was always lost in the crowd.
That suggested that among other things he simply wasn’t an astute big-room presenter. Perhaps he would have been more comfortable speaking in a classroom of 30 students or boardroom of 12 executives. If he knew the difference between a keynote speaker and a boardroom speaker, he shouldn’t have accepted the speaking engagement.
He didn’t use slides which certainly doesn’t make the speech. But, good slides might have filled the gap for visual messaging. Most of the audience tired of watching the video of the wandering professor. They simply appeared annoyed and searched for something more interesting to watch.
We Can’t Hear You
The next flaw was that we didn’t hear or understand many of his words. Why? He mumbled often. Mumbling is a sign of incomplete thoughts and the lack of editing your words for a clear message.
His voice often trailed off at the end of his sentences. That’s a common mistake made when a speaker is thinking about their next thought instead of finishing the current thought.
He wore a lapel microphone and often turned his face away from the mic which meant that his voice faded. That’s a mistake made by novice speakers.
He had a slight accent which made some words unclear. He made a joke about his accent in one of his online videos. But that wasn’t the real challenge with understanding him.
The real issues were:
- He didn’t know how to use a microphone
- He failed to enunciate his words clearly
- He seemed not to care about his audience
You Insulted Us
The previous two flaws suggested ignorance.
This flaw suggests arrogance. The man was insulting to the audience. Is that something they instill at Harvard? Or is that what Harvard students expect from their professors?
His arrogance was expressed in the phrases he used and the manner he used them.
During his presentation he’d make what he probably felt was a profound statement. Then he’d pause, look around and add one of these admonishing declarations.
“Everybody got it”
These didn’t appear to be questions. They weren’t phrased as questions and the tone didn’t suggest a question.
He stated these phrases so often that the audience recognized that he wasn’t asking a question or expecting an (honest) answer. It became obvious that this was his way of saying “I just said something important”. The second part of the meta-message seemed to be “if you didn’t get it, you are stupid or weren’t listening closely”.
No one dared to respond with “No, I didn’t get it.” or “What do you mean by correct?” Instead, the audience simply ignored him.
The most annoying phrase he used was the word “Clear”. This seemed to be his favorite word because he uttered it more often than any other word. He barked this word most often after delivering a (profound?) statement.
He appeared to be pleased with himself when he said this word. Perhaps this word was a way of stroking his ego. The word “Clear” was never delivered or received as a question. It was a challenge at best and more likely a boost. I was reminded of a doctor or medic yelling “Clear” immediately before apply the defibrillator paddles to the chest of an unbreathing patient. Was this his way of trying to recharge a dying audience? Or was he sensing disaster?
Part 2 of 3 for How did the Harvard Professor Abuse the Audience?
Read Part 1 here
Watch for part 3
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