Yesterday I attended an event in Barcelona supposed to be presenting the latest of the blockchain technology and projects. Organized by an international team, it was held in a wonderful space in the city and the room was packed. Full house to the point we were queuing to get in. So, let’s agree that expectation from the audience was very high.
I was part of that audience and of that expectation, but I must confess that I left the event mostly frustrated.
It was a general disaster in terms of public speaking’ basic rules. I bet you most of us there, experts and non-experts in blockchain, it doesn’t really matter, we understood very little, received no clear messages on what was expected from us, were left wondering why any of the presented projects were relevant, and, worst of all in my opinion, no inspiration was flowing in any direction in the room.
I am being harsh, while very conscious that sitting at the audience side and evaluating the speakers is always the comfortable part of the equation. As I have been many times at the speakers’ side, I know what it means to expose yourself and your project to large and demanding audiences. Not easy. But you need to prepare, for the sake of your audience, and especially when you know that expectation is high and you’d like to get some impact from your presentation.
Painfully, my evaluation from yesterday’s event cannot be very positive. I am mesmerized that the same “good old” mistakes of public speaking are still happening in such top-level international events and that no-one from the organization seems to care.
Specifically, this is the short list of classic mistakes that the organization and the speakers made last night, most of them part of the ABC of public speaking’s manual:
#1: No eye contact with your audience… Ow! It was an unbelievably bad opening keynote. The presenter of the event – and remember this is a glamorous, international, innovative, top-level event-, performed his welcoming speech moving constantly back and forth on the stage, like a bored lion in a cage, staring down to the floor and scarcely vocalizing. And for 10 minutes he went on like this, looking at the audience only once and out of the corner of his eye. Now, here is the obvious question: how are we supposed to get that he has any passion in what he is organizing if we don’t get his look? No eye contact, no authenticity or credibility. Sorry. Next one, please.
#2: Reading or listening to you? Don’t make me choose, please. The second speaker had a better attitude on stage, and she was looking at the audience from the beginning of her presentation, thank goodness. But then her very first slide is cramped with text so she forces the audience to decide between reading all those bullet points in small typo while trying to listen, or “just” listening to her. Our brain suffers with that decision, and when we have to choose, we tend to go for the easy: we look and listen but read not. Beware of dense texting in your slides: audience has come to enjoy you and your performance, not to read from a screen.
#3: A strange diction hinders your message. This was a really difficult case to go through. The speaker showed preparation beforehand, somehow you could tell there was an underlying script to the whole thing; but her strange diction in English, combined with the low tone of her voice, made it that only 30% of what she said was understandable. I still have no clue what she spoke about, or what is the added value of her project or whether she had a call to action for us. We completely missed the message, and the (again!) overloaded slides did not help. When presenting in a different language than yours, take your time and vocalize so the message goes through.
#4: Your passion is great but not enough. The speaker had a natural passion that was immediately captured by the audience. And passion is always a good connector to the people that are listening, but passion alone is not enough, as in this case. The message was confusing; he was speaking too fast as well, so it was very hard to identify the key ideas and the (oh no, again!) too-dense slides were not helping. In the end, it was not clear what was the speaker looking for with his talk…was it to inspire? Was it to move us to action? Was it informative? Passion needs to go hand-in-hand with a clear and appealing message.
#5: Social impact project with no call-to-action? No way! In this case the project had a natural appeal: it deals with social impact objectives and actions. But I cannot recall what it was about; nothing in the presentation was memorable, unfortunately. A real pity, the potential was lost somewhere on the talk. The speaker was very nervous and nevertheless did a good job with the English. But he spoke too fast, his slides (yes, once again!) were packed with text, he was constantly turned towards the wall-screen and not the audience and, most important for the type of project he was presenting, his ending was dispersed and had not a clear call-to-action, if there was one at all. If you expect something from the audience, you better define beforehand what that is and create from there a powerful ending.
It might be that I am too demanding when I am at the audience side. But the truth is that I had high expectations for this event, and to meet those expectations I booked a ticket long ago, I created the space in my agenda, I took a long train to Barcelona, queued for a while to get in, fought for a seat, listened with attention and respect to all speakers and even applauded each one of them. I mean, I think I did my part. So I cannot help but wonder why did the ones on stage not take their part more seriously. I wonder why they did not prepare better for the challenge.