Accurate or powerful? What would you like your presentation to be?

In my last post, I wrote this story…

You walk into the room. The presenter is standing toward the front of the room, the first row of seats is empty as usual, and people are scattered around the room. You find an empty seat and sit as the presentation begins.

Very soon into the presentation, the speaker shouts out a question to the audience, “What are your biggest hurdles as you strive to be successful in your career?” He/she looks out into the audience and waits for a hand to go up or someone to shout out an answer… nothing.

The story didn’t start like that. If you had read it, when I first wrote it, it would have been this…

Very soon into the presentation, the speaker shouts out a question to the audience, “What are your biggest hurdles as you strive to be successful in your career?” He/she looks out into the audience and waits for a hand to go up or someone to shout out an answer.

Someone finally and quietly speaks up, “Uncooperative subordinates.” You sit and listen to the soft and painful gap, until the next audience member raises their voice.

Luckily, I have a wonderful editor… my wife. She reads my posts and points out when something doesn’t read right.

When I looked at the first draft, I realized that my writing is influenced by my many years as a technology geek. I often strive to be accurate. Painfully accurate. The last two sentences added nothing to the story. In fact, the answer of, “Uncooperative subordinates.” only served to muddy the waters. Someone in reading or hearing this story might start to wonder, “What is he trying to say? Does he have something against employees?” That answer was just something I made up. It had nothing to do with my point and distracted attention from the point.

After my editor read it, I was able to revisit the question, “What is my point?” and rewrite it accordingly. I was able to remove that whole paragraph and insert one word, “nothing.” “Nothing” created a greater contrast and made the point powerful, no participation.

So today’s point… You don’t have to be totally accurate. I still believe that more often the audience will eventually speak up quietly until they gain momentum. But sometimes you get nothing from them. That is when the lack of audience participation is demonstrated with the most impact. That is the story that should have been told to make the point.

What do you think?

Copyright 2008 Michael Cortes

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