Beware the Identity Police! Public Speaking Plea

Yep – once again I’ve been told by presentation skills course participants that, much as they’d like to be more creative, when they are presenting at, or on behalf of their workplace, they have to present slides and they have to use certain logos and even certain fonts.  This is a multi-national company and head office, in this instance in the USA, wants all the offices to be united by the same branding.  The same look.

Now imagine you are sitting in a conference.  One after another, the delegates get up to speak.  they use slides with the same logos and the same fonts… time after time after time.

How are you going to distinguish them?  How are you going to relate to each person if they are using the same format as the last one?  Or remember who said what?  How are you going to stay awake?

What we remember

We remember things that specifically appeal to us, often when the new idea is explained in terms of something we already know and if it stands out.

Examples:  to an audience of  fruit growers  you might explain how to expand their company in terms of planting seeds and watching plants grow;  to raise funds for a charity by telling a story in the form of a well known parable (eg The Good Samaritan).  I once saw Tony Buzan, of Mind Mapping fame, speak and he read out a long list of words, a bit like these:







Muhammad Ali




Which out of those are you going to remember?  The ordinary words or those that stand out?

Interesting and memorable presentations

When we make presentations we are asking people to give us their concentration to focus on our ideas.  As audience members, our minds seek out connections and associations, to help us understand what is being said – hence the fruitgrowers and the Good Samaritan links.  Our attention is kept when something unusual jumps out at us, hence the Muhammad Ali idea – when someone tells us an anecdote or who illustrates a talk with a useful example.  In other words, tells us something we weren’t quite expecting to hear.  It is hard to keep our minds engaged when we are presented with endless streams of facts.  When we are constantly analysing we are unlikely to be  connecting to the emotional content.  And if we don’t care about the content, if we don’t feel something about what is being said, then the abstract never becomes personal and we are likely to forget it, if we ever got engaged in the first place.

As presenters, if we don’t fully engage with our material – which is almost impossible when you are forced into a restrictive format or, worse, asked to use a set of generic slides, created by another person or people – then how can we hope that our audiences will?

So to the Identity Police I make this plea:

Branding is one thing, identikit presentations quite another.  Any organisation that is creative, united in purpose and values the individuals that make up its workforce can surely trust its presenters to find the presenting method which best suits them and the context in which they are speaking?  Marketing and Comms departments – please don’t force people to use technology they may prefer to do without; to then pile on logos to clutter up their slides and to demand specific fonts.

International companies who do this – beware.  What works on one continent may go down badly on another.  When Pepsi was marketing their slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back To Life”, in China the slogan meant “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave.” Oops…

(Thanks to the New York Times, Small Business Information)


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Photo:  Police Patrol by mac_filko

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