Presentation Ethics – The Presenters Promise of Conduct

GUILTY – Presentation Malpractice

The verdict was about to be read aloud in the courtroom by the jury foreperson as the crowded gallery of onlookers held their breath. The words came in a stiletto delivery.

GUILTY, of Presentation Malpractice in the first degree.

The convicted presenter looked away from the jury and repeatedly shouted, ‘I’m innocent!, there’s been a huge mistake. Followed by the rationale, ‘you don’t understand…the pressure I’m under as a presenter, the pressure to inform an audience, entertain them, have high quality content and all that under crushing deadlines!, how can I be expected to be ethical, not distort the truth, mislead, exaggerate or plagiarize material once in a while.’

Once in a while?…Give me a Break!

In a world of seemingly ongoing high profile transgressions, business shenanigans with accounting practices, fallen political figures, one only needs to mention the Enron and WorldCom fiascos to generate lively discussion in the quietest of moments. Audience skepticism is at a fever pitch and each audience member has been conditioned to look for presentation indiscretions even if they don’t exist.

There was a period in my career I was involved in advertising. Now, there’s an industry that not only is held to a code of ethics but faces lawmakers if they cross the line.

I ask you to ponder the courtroom scene depicted earlier as a sobering reminder of the responsibility we all have as presenters to honor what I offer to you as the:

Presenters Promise of Conduct

Presenters Promise # 1 – Present with Passion, not Arrogance

There’s seems to be a fine line in presentations where a presenter presents passionately or with downright arrogance. Here’s my definition, passion is where a presenter demonstrates how much knowledge they can’t wait to share with the audience whereas arrogance is a presenter that constantly demonstrates how little the audience knows and to remind them how pathetic their mere mortal lives are. I’ve seen it and heard it. Ouch!

A Presenter is a person first, a presenter second

The more a presenter puffs out their chest in an attempt to elevate their superiority over the audience a funny thing happens. The bigger they try to make themselves, the smaller they become to the audience. On the flip side, the more a presenter treats the audience as peers, friends and fellow human beings they become some of the most powerful presenters in the land.

 Audiences are a group of people first, an audience second

 An industry term I often hear deeply disturbs me. Or should I say the application of the term. ‘The presenter really worked the room.’ That doesn’t sound very personal or friendly to me; it feels more like a robotic maneuver to manipulate individuals without their permission. The more an individual ‘works’ the room the greater success they will have in alienating audience members that are unlikely to return after the first scheduled break.

Presenters Promise # 2 – Intellectual Property: No Trespassing! – Didn’t you see the sign?

 How tempting it can be sometimes to want to perk up that presentation at the last minute. Besides you have seen other presenters do it all the time. It seems that some presentations I’ve witnessed demonstrate that anything that appears on the Web is up for grabs. Of course, technologies have simplified this electronic smash and grab thinking and behavior. How much simpler could it be today to download a photo image, some really well written text or copy, maybe even throw in some video and music files. Now that’ll really spark up my next visual presentation.

STOP! – In the name of the law, Copyright Law that is
There is considerable confusion and discussion on ‘fair use’ of published digital and web based material, images and sounds and could be one of my columns in itself. I’ll save you the pain of the legal intricacies of it all and offer you this tip. It’s one of my presenter’s promises and I ask you to stare directly into the mirror after your next presentation and say three times, all of the text and images in my presentation were created by me and no one else or I have explicit permission to use and acknowledge it. OK, that’s a lot to say, but sure is quicker than what you would be required to say during a litigation process.

Obtaining permission may seem to be quite a chore, not always. A bigger risk is the damage you will inflict on your reputation and creditability by engaging in copyright infringement. You might be doing it know unknowingly and to help you learn more simply type in two words into the search bar of your favorite web browser; Copyright Infringement.

Presenters Promise # 3 – Bury the Use of Business Folklore
There are many popular and oh so tired folklore stories floating around in presentations today. What frightens me is that many are them are distorted, unfounded or untrue.

Sometimes in desperation to support a point in presentations there is the temptation to take the point of least resistance and insert unsubstantiated folklore or myths at random. Recently, I heard a presenter reference an urban legend I had not heard in awhile. See if you recognize it.

Legend: Coca-Cola halted production of its flagship beverage in 1985 and introduced New Coke in its place as a marketing ploy to combat declining market share and rekindle interest in the original drink.

Status : False

Origin: As much as some would like to believe that the Coca-Cola Company is infallible, it proved in 1985 that it wasn’t.

A favorite of mine I’ve heard retold, modified and mangled that qualifies as urban legend and I’ve observed as part of executive sales and customer service presentations goes something like this, ‘One unhappy customer tells 10 other people’ I have seen it projected on screens and in printed handouts and heard it stated with such conviction that I myself started to believe that there is a huge granite monument out there that sales and customer service professionals flock to once a year to view and pay homage to the powerful inscription.

An unhappy customer tells 10 people – or 8 to 10 – they tell 5 more – or 10 more?

So which is it?
That’s my peeve, so I performed a web search and the information varied as did the sources, the industries and even the customer demographic. In my brief search I was unable to find definitive data to support the 10/10 statistic we hear so often. Don’t get me wrong, there is credible research available on this statistic. If you want to have some fun perform a web search with the key words ‘urban legends’ and see if you recognize any or may be unknowingly fostering some myths yourself.

When you voice research, get it right!
Use extreme caution when you find yourself wanting to voice research, just get it right. There are numerous studies and sources to choose from. Select and cross check the source, learn the variables and how they apply to your audience. You will then be prepared when someone in your audience raises the dreaded comment, ‘that’s not the way I heard it…where did you get that from?’ You can then calmly without defensiveness cite your source and data with flawless delivery and credibility.

I use that illustration as a flag of caution when using statistics, so called studies or quotes that are repeated so often that appear as lackluster and bland in presentations.

Verify your material and boost your credibility!

In retrospect, there is plenty of down to earth proven and established factual material available to make and support your points, why bother delving into urban myths and legends. Look for hard hitting and topical data that will help make you stand out as a presenter.

There you have it…the Presenters Promise of Conduct.

I leave you with one question, after your next presentation and evaluation:

How will you plead?

Don’t miss out on my Complimentary 2 Part Presentation Mini-Course Online

Great Presentations!
Richard Peterson, North America’s Presentation Coach™


Raves: "...the Presenting with Integrity™ program was amazing, I implemented five presentation techniques almost immediately after the program...if I'd of only taken this course years ago ...I can say.... THIS STUFF ACTUALLY WORKS!!!...thanks for the powerful coaching Richard."

- O.C., Manager, Facilities Supplies, MA., Unisource Worldwide Inc.

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