Thursday, January 6, 2011

What not to mention: Why airing the speaker's laundry doesn't help

Here's one of my pet peeves, speaking as an audience member: Speakers who tell me too much information about their disappointments in the event or their preparation for today's talk.

It's a small thing, but I tend to wince when I hear:
  • I was going to address the points that the earlier panelist made...
  • I wanted to show you photos of our lab, but we can't seem to get the projector to work...
  • Nobody told me there would be so many of you and I'm afraid we don't have enough handouts.
  • I really didn't have enough time to prepare, so I'm just going to move quickly through a presentation I did last week...
As a speaker, I think you dilute your presence and impact when you throw these lines out with the proverbial bathwater.  Audience expect and deserve prepared speakers, not excuses and apologies, and setting a negative tone sets an immediate impression at the time when your audience's attention is high--making your stated flubs all the more memorable.

Instead, figure out how to make a positive out of it. "I'm so glad to see this overflow crowd. If you don't get the handout, I'll be posting it online at this website..." or "Let me react to Dr. Smith's comments on a topic we both follow closely," when an earlier panelist grabs the lead advantage.  And ask yourself: Does the audience need to know this?  Since these asides are rarely scripted, stop yourself before you wing it to ask--and consider whether silence might be golden in this situation.

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