An interesting thing happened to me on Tuesday night. I was delivering a class on the history of aviation, a topic I really enjoy, and was going through a series of events that occurred post World War I and the advent of the Barnstormers. I threw out a “fact” that I have known for so long that it was second nature to me. A member of the audience raised their hand a few moments later and pointed out that one of my numbers was slightly off. Behold the power of the Internet!
This event caused me to reconsider the way that I deliver my data. The minutia of the point was not the issue here, it was the magnitude of how quickly a person listening to my words could fact check and correct on the spot. I spoke with the CEO of Evolve Systems, Marnie Ochs-Raleigh, about this and she told me an equally insightful story.
Marnie was recently on a board during a round-table discussion for a NAWBO-MN event. (NAWBO is the National Association of Woman Business Owners) She had her smart phone with her and noticed that just a few moments after she had spoken a person in the audience had tweeted a quote about something she had said. She too was struck by this event and told me that it made her cognizant of the fact that words mean things, and that the speaker cannot control what people record.
Based on this line of thinking we began to consider how best to keep in mind that what we say can and will be used in the court of public opinion. Being snarky in today’s connected world may open you up for damage control later on when an offhand comment is tweeted out of context. One only has to look at the handling of the words of politicians and apply the same lessons to our actions and words. “What is said cannot be unsaid” is a phrase I have heard in the past.
I would like to offer some simple suggestions for all of us to consider. By no means is this a complete list, but one that I am hoping start the conversation around this issue. My top 5 suggestions are:
- Even if you do not use notes, use notes for any facts or figures you choose to offer:
This is especially true for publicly available figures or research numbers that are open to the public. That is not to say you should feel confident with your internal numbers “off the cuff”, it just means that things like the latest unemployment numbers or the tax revenue for2012 in Minnesota are publically available, via a cell phone, right now.
- Provide a Twitter Hashtag at the beginning of your talk.
You cannot control the conversation, but perhaps you can direct it a little bit. Providing a hashtag gives your audience the opportunity to engage with you, and with the rest of the group. And please, read them later! You will learn a great
- Don’t be distracted by people using their connected devices, be encouraged!
Yes, I admit it, they may just be checking their email, or Facebook, but they may be further engaging in aspects of your presentation that you did not anticipate. This is a delicate opinion, and I offer it humbly: If your presentation is fully of meaningful and engaging content they will be less likely to feel the need to read the latest sports scores. The same is true that your content may be so interesting that they feel the need to share it immediately. The view is still the same from the podium.
- Provide a link, not a hand out
By giving out a link you can save money (and trees!). Think about doing this at the very beginning of your presentation. The audience will be able to follow along as you present. *ProTip* include social media links in your presentation deck so that your audience is able to easily share your words of wisdom. Again, you cannot control the conversation, just direct it. At the end of the presentation think about providing another link to data or content you wish the audience member to have. You have a captive crowd, why not engage them.
- Your presentation is over, but your presence is not
Once you walk off the stage you are not out of the limelight. Your words and the impact you had on your audience is now “out in the wild” and subject to further input by you and others. Now is the time to reach back out to those that wish to engage with you. Follow them back on Twitter, respond to their questions, clarify your points.
Presentations are not a one way street, you to the audience, it is a superhighway of connections. What you said during the presentation may be lighting up the Internet while you are still shaking hands after the event. Data that you offered is now being checked, cross-referenced and dissected. Be ready for that.
I am not suggesting that you be afraid of speaking at an event. Knowing your subject matter is key to speaking success, and being prepared is universally a good idea. I can tell you from experience that no amount of preparation will keep you from making a verbal gaff. We have all said things that we wish we could immediately take back. Let’s just hope that the person in row 3 who laughed when you said it will be kind when they comment on it.