What’s wrong with being a content speaker?

A couple of weeks ago I posted what turned out to be a pretty controversial blog called “What’s wrong with being a motivational speaker”. I thought it would be only fair to turn things around therefore and post something about what’s wrong with being a ‘content speaker’.

I’ll try to be just as tongue-in-cheek! :)

Oh, and by the way, if you think I’m talking about you, I probably amPile-of-Books!

Problem one: No charisma

We’ve all met them. The character-free automaton who might know his or her stuff, but has apparently developed that expertise at the expense of learning social skill or how to engage with the audience.

Like all cruel joke, it’s funny because there’s a shred of truth hidden at the bottom of it, perhaps…

How do you spot the extravert computer programmer?

They’re the one looking at YOUR shoes when they talk to you!

Substitute the profession of your choice, of course – accountant are often a easy target, too.

Typically this kind of presenter will cram slides with information, and if you’re really unlucky, simply read it to you, with barely any admission that there’s an audience. He (or she) regards his (or her) job simply to

  • get to the end of their alloted time without any messy stuff such as engagement with the audience; and
  • throw as much information ‘out there’ as possible in any old structure, with no thought for anything messy, such as an audience.

In other words, they don’t want to be there and they don’t you the audience to be there either!

Solution one: take something else to do during the presentation, pick up the print-out of the slides and read them back in the office. (After all, the slides are written as a document, not a slide deck in any case!)

Problem two: Old info

An awful lot of content-orientated speakers neglect their content. If it was good enough in 1962, they think, it’s good enough in 2013. Sadly for them, science moves on. The earth is now pretty much now universally recognised as not flat.

Unless the content-presenter continually updates their material to keep it absolutely current the audience is at risk of being short-changed with material that’s out of date and sadly, therefore, often wrong.

There’s an old saying that “Everything you read in the newspaper is absolutely true, except the one story you happen to know a lot about”. Content-based presentations are a lot like that – unless it happens to impact upon our particular area of expertise we tend to take what we’re told at face value; after, the speaker is bound to have checked their facts, right?


Solution two: Take everything you’re told with a pinch of salt (and by ‘pinch’ I mean ‘lots’) and be skeptical about everything. Sadly, this means you’ll also throw away anything the speaker tells you which is useful and accurate so you might as well not have turned up for the presentation in the first place. :(

Problem three: Bad data

A bit like the presenter with old data, some presenters will use the first data they find. To make matters worse, of course, they don’t even actually just use the first data they find (which might be wrong, of course!) – what they actually do is use the first data they find that they agree with.

In other words, they have something they need to say and therefore (albeit without meaning to) twist the data to support that. Something called Perception Bias means that people often don’t even notice stuff they don’t believe, so the only evidence they notice is stuff that supports their beliefs, not challenges it. We’re all susceptible to it, even properly trained scientists – although a good scientist will at least take steps to reduce the risks of the problem. Unless your speaker is a professional research scientist the chances are their material is only partial!

Solution three: Ask yourself the old saw from Louis Heren about when he was interviewing politicians: “Why is this lieing bastard lieing to me?”. They may not be, of course but going from the starting point that they are is a healthily skeptical place to be!

 Problem Four: an answer to an unasked question

There’s a sub-group of subject-oriented presenters who talk about what they know, because that’s all they know!

If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

If that topic or approach happens to match what you need, great. Chances are it isn’t a perfect fit though. A speaker on resilience techniques for adults at work might be great (I am, I think!) but there’s also the temptation to apply the same presentation to the need for a speaker on “Resilience Techniques for Children”. Dangerous territory, indeed!

By the way, as special subgroup of this type of speaker is the group with a ‘solution looking for a problem!  I’ll bet you’ve had to listen to them as they tell you the 10 top tips for doing something-you-won’t-ever-need-to-do-if-you-live-to-be-a-thousand. (The top ten ways to put on your shoes in the dark while being chased by extinct dinosaurs without breaking sweat – special tools for Thursday mornings!)

Solution Four: ignore them and do something on your iPhone ;)

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.