Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The confidence myth- why confident presenters often miss the point

I've got a friend called Quentin.  He's an actor and a good one too with a long track record of theatre, stage & screen roles behind him.  Actors can sometimes be a bit full of themselves but not Quenty, he's a no-nonsense kind of bloke and when he says something to me with that special look on his face (like a bald bulldog chewing a wasp), I tend to listen.

We were working together with a group of high-end consultants preparing to pitch for a massive governement outsourcing contract in Europe. The pitch was strong, straight to the point and short.  The team was skilful and experienced and very good, with one crucial exception. Let's call him Bob.

Bob was a technically competent presenter, with great experience in his field, but he was 'performing' the role of 'opener' and 'closer' of the pitch and he was borderline bloody awful. He was a classic example of the confident (but not really) presenter yhou see in corporate life.  Here's what we could see with Bob-

  1. He was smiling like the joker from Batman
  2. He was talking too loudly for the room they were (and would be in)
  3. There was an edge of 'I'm not frightened of you' in his delivery
  4. He was trying too hard to be 'good'
  5. He was presenting like he was watching himself on video and enjoying the experience
Bob was a really nice man off stage, but as soon as he got up in front of an audience he became unbearable to watch, and he didn't know it.  As it always is, it became a matter of how do you broach the issue in a way that will allow him to learn, move on and do better for himself. Quent gave me 'the look' and I let him go.

Quent just asked him to stop 'performing', or 'pretending' to be something that he was not.  He wasn't fearless, he was trying not to show his fear.  He wasn't charismatic, he was trying to be charismatic.  He wasn't compelling he was working at being compelling and all of that effort to be something else, took away from his technical skill as a presenter and his honesty as a real human being.

Bob came back to the room a totally different figure. Thoughtful, slightly shy and awkward, reflective and decibels quieter and he gave the introduction again and his team were spellbound and applauded at the end.  Bob said to them, 'What's that for?' and one of them said 'for sounding like you really believed in what we are going to do.'  Bob smiled and looked at Quentin and said it's his fault, he reminded me of the dictionary definition of confidence.'
'What's that?' said his colleaguue. 'Con fides, in good faith.' said Bob and Q said

'The problem for experienced and skilled presenters is that they often become 'performers' and switch off the thing that made them good in the first place, their warmth and honesty as a person.  Then they become like hammy actors...'  Everyone laughed and went on with the reheaesal.

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