Regardless of the reasons, which I'll suggest in a moment, the fact is important because speaking to captive audiences represents a rich opportunity to profile your company and message, reinforce the good feelings of customers and maybe even win a few new clients.
Making an impressive presentation also serves secondary goals, like enticing potential partners to step forward to work with you on new projects or uncovering competitive information from interested questioners at the end of your talk.
Among the worst-case examples I witnessed recently was the talk by a popular columnist who raced through his written speech in the finest tradition of Evelyn Wood speed reading. The result was one-fourth mumble.
Another case was the university professor who lectured the audience with rambling anecdotes that had little to do with the subject and a lot to do with how important his clients thought his work was.
A third case was the highly intelligent computer scientist who would have been better off spending the day as he normally did - relating to his computer monitor.
Of the better presenters I've seen recently, I would give the highest marks to Larry Prusak, knowledge management expert from IBM. Not only was his content rich with high value-added examples, distinctions and insights, but his style was impeccable, a blend of intimate conversation, fatherly encouragement and some harsh words for researchers.
Why, then, do we find so many speakers unable to deliver well? For my money, there are at least four reasons.
First is the competence of conference planners and organizers. While many can identify the experts, for the most part, they are unwilling to pay for top speakers. Thus, you get a number of notable keynoters and the rest are a gaggle of individuals trying to make a name for themselves or looking for an opportunity to add material to their resumes.
A second reason is most experts are not public speakers, have not practiced public speaking and don't consider public speaking an important skill.
This leads to the third reason, especially among top executives, why they deliver so poorly. They confuse their title with their ability. A senior vice president can deliver a presentation, but can't necessarily do it well.
And that leads to the fourth reason. There is often no incentive to perform well. Companies generally do not have a line on a performance review that measures how well executives present information. Sure, when you fail miserably to deliver well, everyone knows it. But the bar is set fairly low in the first place, so passable is acceptable.
Public speaking in this age of information flood waters is an effective, efficient and productive way of getting your message across. I would think a performance standard in this era of attention to quality would be appropriate.
You can send John e-mail at email@example.com; his Web address is www.cais.com/makulow/.