On the origin of specious presentations

Feb 10 2009 by Janet Howd Print This Article

It's hard to escape the fact that this year is the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. But think back fifty years, to 1959, as the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species was being celebrated and mankind's dream of being whisked skyward was also becoming reality.

As jetting off to prove that travel broadens the mind got underway, organizations - believing this was true and that flying employees out to meet face to face with overseas affiliates and competitors would lead to greater productivity on their return - began to ensure that air travel had a protected line on budget sheets.

As a consequence of this special status, attendance at trade shows and conferences became the height of business and academic fashion and to be invited to deliver a keynote presentation or paper was - and still is - considered the acme of success.

But rosy pictures of jet-setting and of mutual conviviality on the conference circuit are far from the reality. Being stuck for hours in crowded airports, crammed into constricted airline seats, squashed into stuffy, ill-lit meeting rooms for days on end with only one speaker in ten worth hearing; being allowed only six minutes to deliver a well-practised half hour presentation and finding that the keynote speaker - whose presence and a chance to be in it was the main reason for attending in the first place - has merely faxed over a presentation for some poor hick to read out.

It so happened that neither Darwin nor Wallace was able to make a personal appearance as Keynote speaker at the Linnean Society meeting in London when their papers on natural selection were presented. What's more, the audience who listened to the poor hick on that occasion batted not so much as an eyelid at the papers' controversial conclusions.

Damp squib as that presentation may have been, it rocketed Darwin into action! Fourteen years older than Wallace and with twenty years of research under his belt, Darwin had already done more that enough due diligence to verify all his findings and support his seriously contentious conclusions.

Realizing that if he continued to hold his ideas so close to his chest he was in danger of stifling the life out of them, he wrote like a man possessed and less than eighteen months after the joint paper's underwhelming reception, completed and published On the Origin of Species.

No new theory however professionally presented can by-pass the due diligence interested parties must undertake before they are able to buy into it. Even listeners on the same wavelength as a presenter require time to digest ideas they have not thought about before and only those who own and can verify the information they present can hope to get their findings acknowledged, let alone accepted.

The amount of hot air spent in delivering specious presentations of fatuous origin to audiences around the world over the past fifty years is unlikely to have delivered a fair return on investment - although it will definitely have added to global warming.

Though business today is experiencing an economic down turn the like of which the world has never seen before, no previous age has had a World Wide Web to fall back on. With E-mail, YouTube, iChat, Yammer, Linkedin, computers, laptops, and innumerable hand held devices we are able to connect across the miles as never before.

The business of presentation is uniquely positioned to continue unabated. For as we have seen from Darwin's example, valuable ideas fly round the world whether or not their originator flies with them.

The main problem I see for virtual presentations is the same one that has dogged delivery in real time. If organizations don't ensure that employees own and can verify the information they have to expound then the bulk of presentations will remain as specious and worthless as ever.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.