Title: My case against honestly passionate presentations
Alternative title: Something got me started against honestly passionate presentations
An honestly passionate presentation may mislead the audience. Let me explain.
Suppose we have to present a new version of the Windows Server operating system. Historically, each new version always had a lot of new and exciting features, additions, enhancements, new concepts and so on. So does the version we are about to present. Now, depending on the particular systems engineer, administrator, CIO or company, different features will have varying importance. Of course, all features are cool and important in the grand scheme of things. But particular features are going to have more significance to particular environments. Having written that, some features in general are more interesting, more important and have a wider significance and appeal. And this is the point I want to focus on.
Take Windows 2000 Server for example. It was a major step above and beyond Windows NT Server. There were many new and exciting concepts and enhancements, too numerous to mention. But Active Directory in general was more far reaching and important than, say, a particular feature like Distributed Link Tracking, although both subjects were cool and important. Now if a presenter was really passionate about Distributed Link Tracking, she could deliver a presentation in which Active Directory would be presented using boring, dry speech and Distributed Link Tracking would be presented in an engaging, enthusiastic way, with step-by-step explanation of how to set it up and the benefits of it. Then the audience would walk away from the presentation feeling that the most impressive feature of Windows 2000 Server was Distributed Link Tracking.
Let me give another example. In the case of Windows Server 2012, soon to be released, it is obvious that the advances in Hyper-V, in general surpass in significance any other feature. But if a presenter would present these advances using boring business-like speech, whereas she would present another feature with straightforward down-to-earth explanation and enough excitement, then the latter feature would gain the audience’s attention. Let us say for example that the presenter was all excited about DHCP’s new high availability feature. It is not an insignificant feat for Microsoft to introduce high availability in an area that historically needed a full-blown clustering deployment. But, it is not as widely important, game-changing and significant as the advances in, say, Hyper-V. Now, if a presenter would present these Hyper-V advances as if reading from a dry book or white paper and, also, chose to present advances in DHCP with straightforward explanations and excitement, then the audience would attribute higher significance to those advances than they should.
The point I am trying to make is that the correct way to present something that is a sum of parts, like the Windows operating system, is to present every part with the same manner and guide the audience to understand how significant each piece is in relation to the others and the grand scheme of things. In the case of an operating system, the grand scheme of things is how the operating system fits in the corporate environment in general. If the presenter is really passionate and knowledgeable only about specific parts, she will tend to overemphasize those over others that might deserve more attention and credit.
Also, the audience tends to be enthusiastic when something is presented by a knowledgeable and passionate presenter. Knowledgeable presenters make they audience feel that the concepts and the implementation is something that they can grasp, because of the presenter’s knowledge and self-confidence. But the same presenter that is knowledgeable in one area might have a very vague idea about another area and might present it in a way that does not make a lot of sense to the audience. It is, thus, very important, to have presenters that are knowledgeable about all parts of the product they present and that they have a clear understanding on how to guide the audience and explain to them the whole rather than the part. In any case, the audience should leave the presentation having a clear idea about the parts that were explained and understand the importance and significance of each one. The presentation is unsuccessful if the audience obtains a skewed understanding and biased preferences because of the way the presenter guided them to form their opinion. And the easiest way for the audience to be misled is for the presenter to be really passionate about some of the parts. For example, the presenter might have tried them and have grasped their use and benefits in situations that she can relate, although for parts that may matter most, she may have not master them or cannot relate to them or their importance. For a presentation to deliver the correct message, the presenter must take a well balanced approach concerning all subject matters, all subject parts and not some of them.
This reminds me of connoisseurs who taste food. Such experts should not have any favorite foods. This is something that is understood amongst them, although other people may not realize the need and importance of it. The way I understand it, say that you want to be an expert on judging cooks. So your job will be to judge food by tasting it. (Not a bad job! Darn it, why didn’t I think of this earlier in my life?) Now let’s say you do not like fish and you love meat. This may lead you to rate fish dishes lower than meat dishes, regardless of the cooks’ abilities. Thus, to be such an expert, you first have to have no favorites. Accordingly, to be a good presenter, you should have no favorites, or rather, you should not favor one feature over another. You have to have the same knowledge, passion and confidence about all features that you are going to present. Otherwise, you may unwittingly mislead your audience.
To present something (anything) is a tricky thing, so much more if this is a sum of parts. The presenter must be careful so as to give each part the presentation it deserves. It is important to help the audience form an unbiased opinion of the parts and how the fit into the “big picture”. Let me give an example; it is a silly thought experiment, but here it is. Suppose we have to deliver a presentation that has two parts; one is to sing a song and the other one is to perform an illusion. I do not know how good Mick Hucknall is at performing illusions, but he may not be as passionate and experienced as David Copperfield. If we let Mick Hucknall to deliver the presentation, then the audience might form the opinion that the song (whatever the song might have been) was superb, whereas the illusion was not so great. Accordingly, I do not know how good David Copperfield is at singing, but he might not be as great a singer as Mick Hucknall. Thus, if we let David Copperfield deliver the presentation, the audience might form the opinion that the illusion (whatever the illusion might have been) was superb, but the song would never be a hit. And if you would let me deliver the presentation, the audience would wish they would have never left home to come to the presentation.
Of course, this is a silly thought experiment. Such a presentation, if in fact there would ever be a reason for it, would have been delivered by not one but two presenters: a competent singer and a competent illusionist. But in the case of a general presentation of something like an operating system, that is performed by only one presenter, great care has to be exercised, in order to give each part of the presentation the credit it deserves.
What I describe here may be next to impossible to get right. A presenter will always have her unique experiences, opinions and passions and she will inadvertently express them in the presentation. But let us keep my advice as ideal that all presenters should strive for. Presenters have this obligation to their audience.