The Smartest Guy In The Room

I went to an event where I hoped to learn something.  It concerned a topic about which I’m often asked by clients and is an area that concerns my practice because it concerns them.  There were a lot of others attending the event and I knew quite a few of them.  I also knew that they, like me, had a fair amount of expertise on the subject matter and were there to expand that knowledge.

The presentation started out well – the fellow giving the talk was really good on his feet.  He kept the mood light which is always a good thing when the topic is kind of heavy and he engaged the group right from the start.  Unfortunately. it was all downhill from there and let me explain why.

Within the first few slides, he had made a few mistakes.  There was a math error (when something goes from 40 to 50, it’s a 10 percentage point gain, not a 10% gain – it’s 25%!).  There were some mistakes in explaining what the data meant due to his not understanding (or not properly explaining) how it was gathered and what it measures.  There were also a few things on which I would have chosen a different metric to make his point but that’s not really “wrong”; it’s just a different opinion and as you know I have a lot of respect for those.

The point is this.  When I’ve presented to a meeting – and I’ve made hundreds of presentations to groups large and small – I’ve always felt as if I had to be the smartest guy on the topic in the room.  I hasten to add that I wasn’t always (some would say most of the time!) but it made me think about many of the basics any speaker should consider.  Am I factually correct on every point I’m making?  Will this be interesting to the audience and make them think in new ways?  Are there experts in the room with whom I can make my point by asking it as a question?  In this case, I might have put the data on the wall and asked an expert in the room to answer a question that leads them (and the group) to the point I’m making.

When I invest my time in trying to improve my skill set, I want the person who’s teaching to be smarter than anyone else in the room.  That may not mean being the most-educated on the topic.  It does involve being smart enough to bring the group to new understandings based on the collective wisdom of the group, having your facts straight, and having way more steak than sizzle (but sizzle is important too!).

Have you had a similar experience?  Tell me!

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Smartest Guy In The Room

  1. Ozren

    You obviously recognize only authority with backing. I also have a problem with respecting speakers or teachers who make mistakes, no matter how trivial they are because I pay attention to detail. But I suggest not being perfectionist and looking at those details all the time. It’s good that your attention is at a high level, but try to forget those and look forward at what other things you can learn from that person. There isn’t necessarily a correlation between someone being a sloppy presenter and actually knowing the topic he is presenting. So sometimes close one eye and just try to take the positive things out of the experience. Hope this helps!

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