“Wing it?” . . . Don’t

Always speak to the people in your audience in ways that move them.

Offer them something that speaks to them in the language they understand and to the needs they have. Always offer them your respect and your heart.

Does this seem obvious?

That’s the paradox. We often forget that our audience is the other player in our two-player cooperative game. We mistakenly contrive our message in our terms, saying what we want to say and what we think our audience needs to hear in language that gives us comfort. Then we blame the audience if they don’t “get it.”

Too many speakers across the spectrum of abilities never consider the needs of their audience or why they have gathered to hear the message. Often, a presenter may simply offer an off-the-shelf solution message that isn’t even remotely tailored to the needs of the folks gathered to hear it.

The Curse of Hubris

Paradoxically, this occurs quite often when men and women of power and accomplishment address large groups of employees or conference attendees. Infused with the power and, too often, arrogance and hubris that comes with great success, they believe this success translates into powerful presenting. They don’t prepare, offer standard tropes, rattle off cliches, and pull out shopworn blandishments . . . and they receive ovations, because those assembled believe that, well, this fellow is successful, so he must know what he’s doing. What he says, whatever it was, becomes gospel.

But what we actually witness from presenters of this type is actually a form of contempt. Presenters from 16 to 60 offer this up too often. The lack of preparation by any speaker communicates a kind contempt for the audience and the time of people gathered to listen.

For instance, last year a successful young entrepreneur spoke to our assembled students about his own accomplishments in crafting a business plan for his unique idea and then pitching that idea to venture capitalists. His idea was tremendously successful and, I understood him, he sold it for millions. Now, he stood in front of our students wearing a ragged outfit of jeans and flannel shirt and sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. He was ill-prepared to speak and offered-up toss-off lines.

His sage advice to our budding entrepreneurs for their own presentations?

“Make really good slides.”

That was it.

Just a few moments’ thought makes clear how pedestrian this is. What does it truly mean? You need a millionaire entrepreneur to tell you this?

“Really good slides” means nothing and promises even less.

I guarantee that this youngster did not appear in his own presentations wearing his “cool slob” outfit. Likely as not, it was a great idea sharply defined, practiced many times, and presented knowledgeably by well-dressed entrepreneurs that won the day. And this is the lesson that our young presenters should internalize, not toss-offs from a character just dropping by.

So many of the dull and emotionless automatons we listen to could be powerful communicators if they shed their hard defensive carapaces and accepted that there is much to be learned. And there is much to be gained by respecting the audience enough to speak to them as fellow hopeful human beings in their own language of desires, ambition, fears, and anticipation. Conversely, we all can learn from the people we meet and the speakers we listen to, even the bad ones.

Winging It

In business school, you will espy classmates who demonstrate this pathology of unpreparedness. It’s called “winging it.”

Many students tend to approach presentations with either fear or faux nonchalance. Or real nonchalance. It’s a form of defensiveness.

This results in “winging it,” where contrived spontaneity and a world-weary attitude carries the day. No preparation, no practice, no self-respect . . . just embarrassment. Almost a defiant contempt for the assignment and the audience.

And this kind of presentation abomination leaves the easy-out that the student “didn’t really try.”  It is obvious to everyone watching that you are “winging it.”  Why would you waste our time this way? Why would you waste your own? You have as much chance of achieving success “winging it” as a penguin has of flying.

Winging it leads to a crash landing of obvious failure, and whether you care or not is a measure of character.

The chief lesson to digest here is to always respect your audience and strive to give them your heart. Do these two things, and you will always gain a measure of success.

You never will if you “wing it.”