Degrees of Finish – perception is reality

In Henry Boettinger’s wonderful book “Moving Mountains – the Art  and Craft of Letting Others See Things Your Way”, he describes an incident where his colleagues made a presentation to an executive before the real thing – a big presentation to a group of senior executives. The preview was superb. Every detail and lesson were brought to bear. Timing was exquisite.

When the group finished the preview, the executive just sat silently shaking his head. He told the group: “It’s no good. Your presentation is simply too slick.” The executive went on to say: “Yes, everything is perfectly clear. Yes, there is convincing evidence on every point. Yes, the alternatives all look bad. No, nothing relevant has been overlooked. Yes, it is a first-class job. Yes, you have carried out your assignment in a thoroughly professional way.”

So what was the matter with the preview?

The executive went on to say: “My colleagues will find the razzle-dazzle offensive and will become unconfortable. They will feel that they have no place at all to apply their judgment. I ‘m afraid if you show them what I saw, they will modify your proposal, and I don’t want that to happen.”

The presenters asked the executive for advice on what they should do. Here is what the executive told them:

“Make the visuals look cheaper and less finished…Miss a few cues when one man turns the story over to another. Right now you come on like professional actors. But don’t change the story’s message.”

The moral of this story from Henry Boettinger is that if your presentation comes over as being too slick (often as a result of too much rehearsal), it loses its credibility. When the audience sees you as a smooth talker (aka snake oil salesman or used car salesman), they will start to question your motive and the message of your story will get lost in the glitter.

That – by the way – is another reason why you should always keep your slides SIMPLE. No big company logo on every slide. And no cheesy clip arts and special effects! You want to keep your glitter to a bare minimum.

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