- A presenter’s peers can save the day with clarifications, humor.
- Learn presentation skills that give you the tools you need.
Imagine you are in a room full of highly technical engineers. You are an employee of a consulting company that is presenting information to them on various research topics. As you give your talk you expect pointed questions, cynical remarks, sarcasm and even some playful humor. At the back of the room sit your peers, waiting their turn to present.
I attended this meeting with other consultants, some of whom were relatively new to the field and some of whom had Ph.D.s. Their presentation abilities ranged from those who could remain calm through the question period and provide good answers, to those who were scared to death and couldn’t answer the questions very well. Age and experience did not seem to be a factor. A few of the younger speakers coped quite well, and I suspect they had gained experience and training at college and other venues.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
Culture of helpfulness: As the presenters were challenged and questioned, they occasionally froze trying to understand the technical question and form an answer with adequate detail. I hate to see anyone put on the spot (I have been there myself), and it made me feel good to hear the presenter’s peers at the back of the room jumping in to help clarify the question and provide information. This is an excellent culture of employees who have an inherent instinct to help each other and make sure that all are successful. This in turn maintains the image of the research/consulting company, which is hoping to make a sale.
Exceptional workplaces have a strong focus on making sure employees have good communication skills, a sense of balanced fun and respect, and trust for each other. Instead of sitting at the back and smirking as the presenter “crashes and burns,” fellow employees will do anything to help advance each other and the company.
Death by public speaking: The second visual I have from the meeting was that of a relatively young consultant who was presenting. It was an image I have seen before in different forums, and it haunts me. The young man appeared scared to death and was nervously coughing and clearing his throat. His peers helped him out when they could, but his stress just grew. I was relieved when he finished and sat down.
Fright and poor presentation skills are preventable. Organizations such as Toastmasters International can help a person become a good speaker in six to 12 months and an exceptional speaker if a person stays longer. The cost for six months of public speaking training can be less than a tank of gasoline. Many companies send their employees to Toastmasters to help them succeed. Find a club at www.toastmasters.org.
You have to laugh: The third visual I have from this meeting is that of an experienced presenter trying to get a video to work in PowerPoint. The documentation for his research project included a high-speed video of a large test explosion, which would show a flame running through a flammable vapor cloud and transitioning into a fearful explosion. Explosion videos are one of the highlights of these presentations, and everyone waited in anticipation.
The presenter spent a minute or two trying to get the video to work but was unsuccessful. “You will need to act out the explosion,” one of his peers shouted from the back. Another shouted: “Can you do an interpretive dance?” The presenter was the type who could take the humorous comments in stride, and the room erupted in laughter. With the laughter in the room the failure of the video became inconsequential and the presentation continued without it.
The presenter’s peers knew that humor was appropriate for him. They knew he had a sense of humor and would “play with their comments.” I am sure you would agree that the comments would not have been appropriate for the previously described stressed presenter. Humor is a great tool to have in a meeting or presentation, but be careful it does not cross the line and hurt someone. If there is a single person in the room who would be impacted negatively by the humor, it is not worth it.