Time Capsule: Please Excuse My Rear In Your Face, But I Have To Leave This Presentation: How HIMSS Presenters Can Suck Less
I wrote weekly editorials for a boutique industry newsletter for several years, anxious for both audience and income. I learned a lot about coming up with ideas for the weekly grind, trying to be simultaneously opinionated and entertaining in a few hundred words, and not sleeping much because I was working all the time. They’re fun to read as a look back at what was important then (and often still important now).
I wrote this piece in March 2009.
Please Excuse My Rear In Your Face, But I Have To Leave This Presentation: How HIMSS Presenters Can Suck Less
By Mr. HIStalk
Here’s my theory: HIMSS knows that most of its annual conference presenters aren’t nearly as interesting as the jaunty and trumped-up descriptions in the program, so they intentionally arrange the chairs in long rows so audience members can’t bail out discreetly. Even the doors are guarded – by throngs of standing attendees not quite sure they’re ready to make a commitment by actually sitting down, but thereby blocking your access to the cool, energizing air of the hallway that smells like … freedom.
(It would be cool if conferences would legitimize buyer’s remorse by leaving the session doors open and encouraging people to drift in and out based on their real-time interest level. The immediate feedback to presenters — both good and bad — would be priceless).
It would be so much easier if speakers did a good job in the first place. Having spent a shocking percentage of my adult life sitting in the dark on bad seats in convention center rooms, I believe I can offer some valuable speaker suggestions.
- Everybody dresses up to deliver their presentation, so suits don’t really make much of a positive impression. Try wearing shorts, an Insane Clown Posse tee shirt, or a kilt. Somebody may mistake your attire as a sign of inherent coolness or quirky genius, at least until you start talking.
- Unless you’re the CEO who’s actually in charge of the whole hospital, don’t lead off with a boring slide full of proud-as-a-peacock statistics about your employer’s ED admissions and annual budget. Audience members immediately drift off trying to determine whether your place is bigger or smaller than theirs.
- Nobody traveled to Chicago in the dead of winter to watch you recite a memorized speech. Add a little excitement by going off-script, under-preparing, or actually interacting with the audience instead of droning to them. Most of the HIMSS presentations are about as spontaneous as a press release and are delivered with a similar lack of enthusiasm (I truly believe presentations would be better if someone was chosen at random from the audience to go onstage cold and just wing it).
- Do not use PowerPoint as a TelePrompter. It’s fairly safe to assume that most of the people going to HIMSS can read. Avoid the Shakey’s Pizza sing-a-long moment (Note: actually, adding the bouncing ball might be kind of fun if you aren’t otherwise entertaining).
- Never put up a slide that requires you to say, “I know you can’t read this.” If our reading it isn’t important enough for you to fix your slide, leave it out.
- Be daring: don’t use PowerPoint, or if you can’t speak without it, use only graphics. A picture is worth a thousand words, so put in the right ones and you won’t have to say anything.
- If there’s any possible way can make your point without a slide, please do. This will shock the audience, however, who have never seen a non-keynote speaker actually speak without using on-screen bullet lists (you could even leave the house lights up, cutting into the sleep of those who stayed out too late the night before). If this seems too radical, you can pretend the AV isn’t working (“darned laptop …”), forcing you to reluctantly go off-script.
- Just because PowerPoint conveniently provides a bulleting function for creativity-impaired speakers doesn’t mean everything should be bulletized. Given the choice between being subject to a dozen PowerPoint bullets vs. .22 caliber ones, I might have to think about it.
- We know you have lots of facts, but we don’t want or need to see them all. Pruning your presentation takes you longer, but your time is inconsequential compared to that of the roomful of people forced to endure flabby prattling. Everybody loves a speaker who finishes early.
- Get out from behind the podium and create some energy for the giant room full of people drowsy from their $12 union-produced Caesar salad. If you can’t hold the attention of 500 or more people, maybe you should be writing articles instead of giving speeches.
- Do not look at the screen, point at it, or wave a laser pointer at it. It’s ours, not yours.
- Use photos in your presentation to remind us about the real life that we are anxious to rejoin once you stop talking. Pictures of people are perfect since everybody looks at those, especially if you slip in ones of celebrities or hotties. Pictures of your kids or pets always buy you at least a few minutes of goodwill (you can sneak those in by making them your desktop background).
- Don’t fiddle with your water or slurp it into the microphone. Attendees resent your having a nice, icy pitcher and a glass all your own, so it will make them thirsty. Or, it will make them have to pee.
- No clipart, no stock photos. One obligatory Dilbert or Far Side cartoon at the beginning and end is acceptable.
- Don’t use time at the end for questions. 99 percent of people in the room just want to head for the bathroom, coffee line, or most importantly, the Middle Eastern bazaar known as the exhibit hall. People charging the question microphone just want to prattle on with non-questions, showing off their knowledge instead of their lack of it. Their punishment is near-trampling as they try to swim upstream to the microphone as everybody else heads the other way toward the doors.
- Don’t mistake the post-presentation charge of business card-waving people to mean you were an outstanding presenter. Some people are natural suck-ups.