Confessions of an unprepared presenter…

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 07.00.02Someone recently asked me what was the worst audience I had had to present to.  This really got me thinking about what a ‘difficult or hard ‘audience really was.  Years ago in the flush of youth and inexperience, I might have said that a ‘hard’ audience was one who disagreed with what I had to say or objected to what I was proposing (and believe me this was a common occurrence in the HR part of my career).Now however I am happy to accept that people are entitled to have different opinions and that is what makes speaking in public a great challenge.

No, the worst audience I ever had was one entirely of my own making…so here is my confession.  Years ago as a young, newly appointed HR Manager I was invited to the annual Sales Managers Meeting and I messed up big style. Here are three of the major things I did wrong.  Please feel free to learn from my  mistakes.

#1 I hadn’t prepared at all.  I didn’t realise that I would be asked to speak, I didn’t anticipate it and even more importantly, I hadn’t recognised the opportunity was there for me to speak and influence  this group and establish credibility and impact.  More fool me.

#2 I didn’t think about the needs of the audience at all.  All that was whizzing around my head was a random list of information I wanted to say.  And guess what – they weren’t interested and who can blame them?  Nothing I said was perceived to be relevant, beneficial or remotely connected to their needs, their issues and their world.

#3 In the absence of content of any value,  I resorted to emotional appeal (not a great move with a group of 20 hardnosed salesmen (all men by the way).  I am cringing now to think of how I pleaded, simpered and misread the tone of the meeting.  Afterwards I won some friends and had tapped into the protective nature of the guys but I had totally missed the chance to be credible, strong and authoritative.

No surprise then when the questions were harsh and unforgiving, the facial expressions patronising and sympathetic and the response to my (weak) call to action lack lustre to say the least.  More importantly, because I had messed up my opportunity to establish a relationship with 20 people in one go, I then had to painstakingly try to build 20 relationships one by one.

What an amazing learning experience (if painful).  So here are my three lessons:


  1. Search out, recognise and create opportunities to leverage your influence through speaking to groups of people
  2.  Think about the audience and what they need to hear, not what you want to say
  3. Just because you know things doesn’t automatically mean you can communicate this effectively
  4.  invest in your skills and get good at knowing what to say and how to say it

What was your worst audience?  Share your thoughts and comments.  Look forward to hearing from you.

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