When most companies plan an event, they’re focused on the ‘how?‘ rather than the ‘why?‘
So there are endless meetings about what brand of wine to serve, and whether the delegates should be arranged theatre style or classroom style. Where should the off-site dinner be?
These are all important questions, but few people actually give much thought to why they’re having the meeting in the first place. Exactly what results are your organisation expecting, other than a feel-good round of applause at the end?
Giving thought to the ‘why’ has profound effects on the style of your meeting. Is the standard ’speeches & lunch’ model of meeting the right way to reach your communication goals?
Here’s an article I wrote on the subject for the latest issue of MICE.net magazine. It uses one of those clever virtual magazine viewers, so go here, then go to page 18.
No offence, but of all the people who read this blog, you are the most dim-witted, banjo-pickin’, web-fingered, snaggle-toothed, snuff-munching inbred that ever managed to read a computer screen. Hey, no offence!
What is it that makes people come out with lines like these in meetings and presentations? As if the magic preface ‘no offence’ gives them total diplomatic immunity to trample all over your ideas without anyone finding it rude or obstructive.
As if, as the great communicator and NASCAR hero Ricky Bobby noted in Talladega Nights, it’s enshrined in the Geneva Convention.
Here are the Top 5 Most Soul-Destroying Lines a presenter will hear in a meeting:
1. With all due respect…
2. No offence, but…
3. Here’s my two cents worth.
4. To be totally frank…
5. If I can just be devil’s advocate…
People who use these lines don’t care about making progress or improving people’s lives. They just like to use their nasty little veto powers to give themselves the satisfaction of stopping other people from getting the glory.
Number 5, in my experience, always comes from someone whose preference is do nothing, rather than something.
How to deal with them? It’s tricky, and depends on the vibe from the other people in the room. If you think people are on your side, then use your open questioning skills on your Devil’s Advocate. Ask them diplomatically for their own advice on how to solve the issue at hand.
Almost always, they will not have an alternative idea. Give them plenty of time to run with their line of negativity. Gently bring the topic back to whether the others in the room want to make some progress or just delay any decisions until the next meeting or the one after that.
Peer pressure always works better than a direct confrontation.
Which makes me sound like some kind of moody, tortured Christian Bale Batman character, and nothing could be further from the truth.
No, I’m literally in the darkness, sitting at the back of a conference, listening to a long presentation. The presenter is doing a pretty good job, but I’m ready for a nice afternoon nap.
That’s quite an achievement on a standard stackable chair. Long-haul airlines don’t need bigger, flatter seats. They just need to take the lights down and put a monotone presenter in the front of the cabin. Here’s one they could use:
Why Do They Turn The Lights Down?
In the olden days, even expensive projectors were Jessica Simpson-dim, which meant room lights at zero and blinding spotlights on the presenter.
And in movies and theatre shows they keep the lights down to focus attention on the stage or screen.
So that’s the ‘professional’ look for presentations, right?
Well, not very often. There are two sorts of corporate presentation: shows, and meetings.
When you’re doing a major product launch, for example, there will be a lot of theatrical elements. Concert-style lighting, professional performers, expensively-shot video, maybe even dancing bears.
So you need darkness to get the best out of your staging. And it’s all over in an hour or so, plus it’s exciting, so there’s little risk of audience slumber.
This is your standard conference-style series of presentations, with regular presenters, using PowerPoint. Plunging the room into darkness and adding a light show isn’t going to add ‘theatrical impact’ to it. It’s just going to put people to sleep after the first hour.
The sleep risk factor is doubled during the difficult, digestion-affected session after lunch, when you might as well be in a cave talking to bears in winter.
Today’s projectors are bright enough to work under most lighting conditions. So keep the lights up. Not up to full brightness, but enough for the presenters to clearly see the audience and get visual feedback from them.
If you’ve got a really large screen, or a room with strong light coming through the windows, rent a brighter projector and keep the lights up.
Don’t let your speech become a bedtime story for grownups.
Ian Whitworth believes passionately in the power of live communication, without the buzzwords and bullet points. He works as a creative director and principal of agency A Lizard Drinking. He is also one of the founders of audiovisual company Scene Change. Ian is an ex-professional presenter and long ago, ex-audiovisual technician. For non-presentation stuff, try @ianwhitworth.