Presenting your message

Reading is a big hobby of mine and a good vehicle for me to better-understand the motivation behind some books is to attend a certain reading series here in Toronto.  I won’t name it because it’s irrelevant to the example I will describe to support my point, and the naming of it would be unfair (all such series have imperfections) and would only serve as a distraction.  I recently attended an event in the series and it spotlighted two authors dealing with the same broad topic.  Their respective books attacked the topic from different angles but they were basically in agreement about the core issue.  The monthly events are very well-attended and held at a large downtown hotel, which I suspect are strong factors, despite the ample amounts of wine served, for inducing nervousness in the authors.  Many writers do well during their 20 minutes at the podium, speaking clearly and engagingly about their story and reading interesting and representative excerpts from it. You need to know that I’m a person who can be won over by people who do this well and often buy their book afterwards. By and large, almost all the authors do a good job at the readings but on occasion a writer will climb up on the stage and appear to wing it.   Sometimes it works… that particular night, not so much.  Here’s why I thought the writer was unsuccessful at the event (and why I didn’t buy the book):

  • Lack of preparation: I’m guessing he was confident that his reputation as a good writer would afford him currency with the crowd, or that his immense knowledge of the topic would provide him with riveting talking points.  As a presenter, this is a fatal trap too often fallen into.  Nothing is a substitute for a bit of prep work when asked to talk about a topic.  Frame the talk, itemize what you want to cover, and then flesh it out with short, interesting examples or anecdotes.  Rehearse it.
  • Self-absorption: This is a killer in presentations, particularly in a rigidly formatted one like a reading (speak, read, sit for moderated Q&A).  Getting sucked into one’s mind while on stage is dangerous because although it can convey confidence with the material, it’s too easy to lose track of the audience and how they are responding.  In that evening’s case, the author blew past the time boundary for speaking and reading and just kept going on and on and on.  The audience?  Let’s just say it was as if knockout gas had been pumped into the ballroom.

About Peter Armaly
I get jazzed by automation, big data, and blockchain tech. Business, technology, and fitness are things I understand. Scotch, wine, food, and fiction are things I appreciate.

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