IT’S IRONIC THAT IT IS THOSE IN THE PUBLIC EYE who are most in need of presentation training.
It was 2006 and I, along with other ‘in country’ China experts were invited to present to 200 Australian government and business professionals who had flown to Beijing to attend the Australia-China Conference. The entire conference lasted from Tuesday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm, and understandably the delegates were relieved when, on Friday evening, they were invited to celebrate the conclusion of the conference with drinks at the hotel bar. It had been a long week.
For just over an hour the delegates took advantage of the generous ‘open bar’ as they continued to network with other Australians as well as Chinese government officers and private business owners. An hour later, a brass bell was rung, and we made our way into the dinning hall for the final banquet.
I found myself seated next to Mr. Anton Mayer, who’s business card read Economic Development Unit Manager. At 65 years of age, he reminded me closely of my own father, and we bonded quickly. Moments after making acquaintances the MC announced that an Australian federal government minister would give a short speech; dinner would have to wait. Short it was, as well as light-hearted. We laughed as our stomachs rumbled.
On conclusion the federal government minister received a warm applause, and minds returned to the dinner table. A few of the more heavy drinkers began getting rowdy. Then the MC announced the arrival of another speaker, Mr. Pi Qiansheng, Chief of the Administrative Committee of Binhai New Area of Tianjin. Stiff and expressionless, a black suit wearing man strode into the hall. Behind, trailed his smiling translator, similarly dressed, but notably more jovial.
Mr Pi took to the stage, and placed his notes on the lectern with an audible thud. He coughed once, glanced around and then begun. “It is with great pleasure that I accept this invitation to present to you about the advantages of doing business in China, notably Binhai New Area of Tianjin…”
Most people were squirming in their seats by the 20 minute mark. Mr Pi’s clear but emotionless talk was broken only by the eager translator. At the 40 minute mark the crowd was noticeably hostile, and yet the speech droned on. “Tianjin this…” and “Tianjin that…”. No reference to Australia, or any of the people sitting before him.
Now, eight years on, when I think about what I remember most about this presentation, it wasn’t the content but rather the comment made to me by the gentleman seated to my left. Picking up a single chopstick, the 65 year old Australian economist turned to me and said, “Morry. Kill me! Stab me through the ear, and kill me!”
The moral of the story: “It’s not what you say, but what the audience remembers” that is most important. Mr Pi Qiansheng would be wise to consider this next time he addresses an audience, because he not only wasted our time, he created a negative impression overall. He did not make his presentation ‘Personal’ to his audience. While Tianjin is the sister city of Melbourne, he made no reference to this relationship. He didn’t even talk about the Australian businesses that had already invested in the Binhai New Area.
Mr Pi also didn’t have an ‘Action’. He didn’t encourage us to invest in Binhai or come visit his city in the near future. He only told us information upon information, expecting us to draw our own conclusion.
And because there was no action, there was no ‘Benefit’. If Australian businesses invested in Binhai New Area, would we receive a reduced tax rate for the first 5 years, in alignment with our sister city arrangement? Could Australian businesses take advantage of reduced bank loans? None of us would know, because Mr Pi had completely ignored us.
So while I can remember, eight years on, that a senior economist wanted to die, I have no idea of the point of the presentation. Be ‘Personal’, have an ‘Action’ and follow that action with a ‘Benefit’, and you will avoid killing your audience with boredom.