How did the Harvard Professor Abuse the Audience?

Presentation hell by Harvard Professor

Why are University Professors Boring?

It’s no surprise that a university professor might be a boring speaker. I believe they are encouraged to be boring. The rumor is that professors are supposed to make life difficult for students. I vaguely recall sleeping through many university lectures during my post-secondary education.

Does that explain why professors speak to a business audience with a similar disdain? (Do they really believe that a PhD makes them godlike?) Some professors offer their consulting services to business. They do that for two reasons. It can be a lucrative source of income. Two, it provides research and anecdotes for their teaching and publications. You’d think with that much at stake, they would “up” their game.

Worst Presentation Ever
Back to this annoying presentation.  This was the worst business presentation I’ve suffered through in the past 20 years. As a professional speaker and executive speech coach, I’ve attended hundreds of conferences and corporate meetings.  Naturally, I observe other speakers for lessons and insights to help my clients.

Impressive Credentials
This particular Harvard professor had impressive credentials. He was Harvard educated and a Harvard educator. He’d authored at least 15 books. He was endorsed by Jack Welch, and had spoken to business executives around the world. Wow! Sounds impressive!

But… he was a lousy speaker. Calling him “lousy” is being kind and polite to him but not to his audience. He certainly wasn’t kind and polite to the audience.

This person illustrated that you can excel in certain areas but that doesn’t make you a great speaker. You might have a good message but that doesn’t make you a great speaker. You might be intelligent and well educated but that doesn’t make you a great speaker. You might have written some popular books but that doesn’t make you a great speaker. You might have spoken many times to esteemed academic and business audiences around the world but that doesn’t make you a great speaker. None of those characteristics even qualify you as an adequate speaker. This professor was far less than adequate.

Speaking is a skill and if you didn’t invest the time, effort, insight, reflection or learning into public speaking you won’t magically become a great speaker.

The only way to become an effective speaker is to learn the techniques, get training (or coaching) and practice. Use every presentation as a learning opportunity to get better.

You might be wondering what this Harvard professor did wrong in his presentation. His most annoying behaviors could be summed up with these three observations:

  1. We can’t understand you
  2. We can’t see you
  3. You insulted us

Each of these was a tactical error but the strategic errors were that he appeared to be unaware or uncaring about his audience.

The worst presentation sin is to be uncaring about your audience. 

If your audience believes that you don’t care about them why would they listen to you or believe your words?

When you appear to be unaware of your audience you demonstrate that you don’t care about your audience. It also suggests that you might be self-centered and immature. This Harvard professional man appeared to be 60+ in years yet he seemed immature and insecure. 

 Part 1 of 3
Watch for part 2, How did He Fail?

Presentation review by George Torok

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