PodiumWise | Tips for advanced presentation skills

Reading Seth Godin’s blog post entitled “But you’re not saying anything,” reminded me of something.

Early in my career, I worked for an ad agency that was occasionally called on to create an annual report for a corporate client.

Inevitably, the client would want something that was great looking, with exceptionally high production values.  After all, the company’s image was at stake.  Page after page of gorgeous photography, custom artwork, colorful charts and beautiful typography would be printed on the highest-quality paper.

What I could never get over was how the whole effort would also yield paragraph after paragraph of beautiful-sounding prose—that said absolutely nothing!  You could read any page and not remember a single thing you read.  But it sounded good!

This vacuous copy was not the agency’s fault.  The agency’s copywriters always presented the client with a strong, meaningful first draft.  But then the copy would go through multiple rounds of reviews with multiple executives at the client company.  Each time, any word or phrase that wasn’t absolutely safe would be watered down or taken out all together.  Anything that had to be included but might somehow raise an issue, would be so obfuscated you could read it multiple times and not get a clear sense of what was being said.

Is there any lesson from this experience that could be applied to presenting or giving a speech?

One lesson I take from it is that obsessive polishing that is motivated primarily by image and safety, will ultimately render a piece of communication that is void of substance.

It will have no impact.  It will stimulate no thinking.  It will persuade no one about anything.  It will generate no action.  But it will look good and sound nice.

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