Garr Reynolds, at Presentation Zen, is a must-read blogger/writer/authority on presentations for anyone involved with marketing, communications, or any sort of presentations. He also has some views that he shares from time to time that are highly relevant to any thinking about marketing.
His latest is a masterpiece as well, and it deals with the issue of Inspiration in presenting:
If your presentations, speeches, and your words in general are inspiring to others—or if you yourself are deeply inspired by the words of another—it’s just a matter of time before someone emerges to dismiss the importance of such inspiration. It’s just a matter of time before someone will try to bring you down. They will demean your enthusiasm, optimism, and hopefulness as symptoms of shallowness. Inspiration is OK, but “too much” inspiration is inconsistent, they will say, with the idea of serious content and a serious message. This, of course, is complete horseshitake.
I urge you to read the whole thing. It’s worth your time.
Now, onto the arguments. 🙂
I gather that Garr himself was inspired to compose this paean to inspiration by one Barack Obama, orator extraordinaire, currently the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for President. Mr. Obama has been under attack recently for the seeming emptiness of his soaring rhetoric, and Garr leaps to defense of not Mr. Obama, but of soaring rhetoric:
Attacks on his record and experience are fair game, but it’s ironic that Obama’s amazing oratory skills are belittled by some as unimportant—and worse that they are just a symptom of a man without ideas or a plan. You know, a man who is all hat and no saddle as they say. Logically this does not follow. A man can be articulate, engaging, inspiring and have important content. But my point is not to discuss politics here, of course, but simply to address this issue of emotion, inspiration, and communication in a way that relates to our own lives as business people, academics, researchers, and leaders of all kinds.
Since I too do not wish to discuss politics, of course, I won’t get into an analysis of Obama. Rather, an analysis of Obamania is warranted.
Because while I agree with Garr 100% on the importance of emotion and inspiration in communication, I do not believe that takes the place of authenticity, honesty, and being actually right on the facts. In the era of mass communication, you can bullshit your way; in the cluetrain era, that just isn’t going to fly.
Mr. Obama is not the ultimate issue; his supporters are. His presentation skills, his oratory, and his communication skills are truly incredible to watch. But at the end of the day, if he is successful in his quest for the White House, he has to deliver on all that inspiration. After having told everyone that Yes We Can, and that he will Change the World, if he comes back with, “Well, as it turns out, things are much more complicated than I had thought” then all the rhetoric and inspiration and oratory in the world are just a bunch of horseshitake. Whither Obamania if his words turn out to be mere empty rhetoric?
Garr thinks the attacks on Obama for his soaring speechmaking are illogical, unwarranted, and amount to “bozos grinding you down”. I disagree. Because nothing, frankly, is worse than inspirational oratory in the service of bullshit. Plain old crappy lies can be detected, and the consequences avoided. But getting inspired, getting emotional, getting uplifted by someone’s oratory, only to find out you’ve been had, you’ve been scammed, you’ve been bamboozled, that’s a tragedy.
Consider the real estate industry.
As the bubble was bursting, there were a number of people within the industry who claimed that there is no bubble, that the downturn is temporary, or that there will be no recession. Would it have made any difference if David Lereah employed oratory the equivalent of Cicero? Or his words were as inspirational as Tennyson’s? No, and no.
The facts on the ground are not entirely susceptible to inspiration. People may be swayed by inspiration, but the facts are facts. A bozo who took out a subprime, zero-equity ARM on his nonexistent job isn’t suddenly going to be able to make $2500 a month mortgage payments simply because he’s inspired.
Yet, is not inspiration in the service of bullshit responsible for much of the mess we’re in today? Irresponsible people inspiring other irresponsible people to ignore the basic fundamentals of economics and personal finance got us, and a whole mess of consumers, into the bubble. The real estate industry, and all of us, would be much better off if mortgage brokers and real estate agents said fewer Yes You Can, and more No, You Can’t!
At a smaller scale, I think most good real estate agents know this. You can dress up a house, portray it in the best possible light, and inspire a buyer to take a chance on a rundown dump: “It’s the opportunity of the lifetime, and the house just needs a little love. It has great bones. Fixer-uppers are exactly where your investment pays off. Yes, You Can!” But if you don’t back up the oratory, back up the inspiration with actual facts, you may find yourself the subject of a nice little lawsuit.
Again, let me reiterate that there’s nothing I actually disagree with in Garr’s great post. He’s right on all counts.
I’m merely extending his remarks, if you will, but reiterating that inspiration and communication are wonderful things — but that you must, must, must have the facts to back up your inspiration. The time for bullshitting consumers, clients, people is long past us.