When Provocative Turns Offensive

Friday, April 29th, 2016 by Simon Morton

I attended a presentation earlier this week that was so offensive I’m still reeling from it. To pre-empt any ‘presentation prima donna’ accusations, the offence was not caused by the awful visuals, a blizzard of bullets or overuse of animation – frankly, this comes with the territory and you become hardened to such things.

Nope – the offence was caused by the crass use of a global human catastrophe to help demonstrate a particular business point.  Let me put this into context… The presenter told a story (not something we would normally complain about) about how the combination of being made redundant, then a few days later the 9-11 tragedy happening made him reassess his life and career, he would then travel the world and discover the product idea that launched his business and made it what it is today…

At least that’s how most presenters would tell the story.

But alas this chap wanted to make an impact…and an impact he made. The story was told in a vulgar tone, with images of planes crashing into the World Trade Centres as well as a jokey picture of Osama Bin Laden with a speech bubble telling him to set his own business up…

Up until this point it had been a fairly successful event. but when this happened the audience squirmed. The room went horribly quiet. The presenter, instantly recognised that he’d overstepped the mark, but it was too late, he was at the point of no return and looked ashen faced. To say he’d totally misread the audience was an understatement and, more importantly, not one of them (myself included) was prepared to throw him a lifeline of an encouraging nod of the head, or a slight smile. He never recovered and spent a painful 20 minutes on stage, the audience letting him squirm with absolutely no compassion whatsoever.

Now I wager that this offensive presentation probably started as a much more innocent brainwave. I’m sure the presenter had just wanted to rock the boat a bit and provoke a bit of a reaction from a semi-comatose conference audience – to stand out and be remembered.

The problem is that the lure of provocation eclipsed any proper consideration of the audience, his objectives or the key presentation message.

Provocation and shaking things up is fine, as long as it’s done in the right way and for the right reasons.  If it doesn’t help your audience to follow your call to action – or worse still, such as in this case, makes them less likely – then what’s the point?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’ve long been a fan of grabbing the attention of a presentation audience early on in the process. Done properly, it turns ‘ye olde presentation rules’ on their head and gives both presenter and audience license to engage in a much more powerful way. The resulting engagement ensures everyone gets more out of the process – the audience becomes invested in the message being shared (and thus more likely to do something as a result) and the presenter isn’t having to compensate for what is often a terribly dull experience for them and the people in front of them.Story Season 1

More importantly, turning things on their head is a pretty easy thing to do.

After all, the bar is set pretty low for most credentials presentations delivered today. The vast majority follow the same old opening structure – anodyne title slide, a dull agenda followed by a handful of slides sharing company information in mind-numbing detail (more than often accompanied with a world map showing office locations using pin icons).

Simply stepping away from this engagement sapping opening and instead sharing an insight that demonstrates an understanding of your audience’s issues already puts you head and shoulders above your fellow presenters.

No need for fireworks, crass provocation or bawdy humour. The reality is that simply making your next presentation audience centric will ensure you stand out. So stop thinking of clever high impact ‘tricks’ or hooks and focus on the most important stuff first – message, structure and call to action. Do this right and your audience will remember you for all the RIGHT reasons…

PS – Want a second opinion?  Ping us your presentation and we’ll analyse your audience and give you an action plan on how to significantly improve its messaging, structure and design in our free Presentation Healthcheck service

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One Response to “When Provocative Turns Offensive”

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