Following-up from my post last week, a fellow traveler in the world of communications strategy and training asked a question that stopped me short. It took a few long moments to respond which means that it was a good question for me. And it was simple, as most of the best questions are.
What do you look for in a presentation?
The response I gave my friend is this: I look for caring. One of my early gurus, the risk communication expert Vince Covello, teaches that up to half of the credibility an audience gives a speaker is based on whether or not she seems to have empathy and caring. "People need to know that you care, before they care what you know," I remember him saying, and I've often repeated this to those I work with on presentations, stakeholder dialogues and other important in-person interactions.
To me, there's at least two levels to a speaker's care.
First, does the speaker care about her audience? Has she taken the time to find out where we come from? Does she know what level of familiarity we have with the topic and its technical language, if any? Has she prepared in order to communicate as effectively as possible within the timeframe given by the organizer, thus demonstrating care and respect for our time? Does she care enough to show up early, and stay after her own speaking slot, in order to take questions, listen to other speakers, and participate in discussion? Does she tap away at her keyboard or smart phone while others are talking, or does she listen? Does she refer to comments of viewpoints of others in her own remarks?
Second, I'm equally interested in how much the speaker cares about her own message. I believe it was Nancy Duarte's book Resonance where I was first confronted with this question: How badly do you want your idea to live? If a speaker is committed to sharing her information -- if she really cares about it as an idea -- then I expect that she will have thought long and hard about how to explain and organize her ideas in the most powerful way. She will have prepared her messages so that they are as clear as possible, with no distracting images or side-topics. If a talk is rote reading of prepared remarks, or difficult to follow from point to point, or messy, I think it's fair to question the speaker's care for the message.
So if a speaker wants me to care, then she has to show me that she cares about her audience and her message.
Upon reflection as this week went on, I realized there is another important ingredient of a good talk for me: Meaning. More on that later!