Posts Tagged ‘practice’

Slutwalk as presentation training

I found a couple of intersecting stories in two Toronto newspapers recently that underscore what I often say in my presentation training sessions. The first story, which appeared in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, was about the city’s first-ever SlutWalk, which attracted 3,000 people who walked from Queen’s Park to Toronto’s police headquarters on College Street. I’ve learned since that the movement has spread to at least 20 cities in the United States, as well as to England, Scotland, Wales, Argentina, Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Sweden. All of this because of one well-meaning, but obviously misguided comment made by one police officer to fewer than a dozen women.

Apology was not enough

It all started when, during a personal safety presentation, Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti, told a group of 10 women at York University: ““I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Sanguinetti later apologized but his apology was not enough to soothe the angry women who organized the first SlutWalk because they believed they should be able to dress any way they liked without fear of assault.

Charlie Sheen bombed

The second pair of stories that raised my eyebrows, which at first appear to have no relation to the first one, was a review of the opening presentation of Charlie Sheen’s Violent Torpedo of Truth tour in Detroit, followed the next day by a second review of his performance in Chicago. Sheen bombed in Detroit; people walked out. However, by the next day an enterprising former Toronto disc jockey saved the tour in Chicago by changing the format.

Focused on themselves

So what do these seemingly unconnected stories have in common? Well it’s simply this: the speakers, Sanguinetti at York and Sheen in Detroit, got into trouble because they were more focused on themselves than their audiences.

Under-estimated his audience

In Sanguinetti’s case he saw himself as an authority figure, which he is in his professional capacity. In his world he’s in charge. He tells people what to do and they do it. Nobody questions him. So his sense of power is quite understandable. Where he made his mistake was in underestimating the power of the people he was speaking to, who have made his life a living hell ever since he uttered those unfortunate words. Interestingly, Sanguinetti and Sheen made exactly the same mistake, based on their perception of their own importance and power. In Detroit, Sheen said and did exactly what he wanted to say and do, assuming he didn’t need to answer to anyone – not even his audience. So his presentation was focused exclusively on gratifying himself; his audience could take it or leave it. They left.

Fixing the problem

What’s interesting is that former Toronto DJ Joey Scoleri was able to recognize the show’s problem and rectify it almost immediately. He knew that all he had to do was to take the focus off of Sheen and put it on the audience. So the next night in Chicago he turned the show into a question and answer session with himself as moderator. All of a sudden the audience became involved. They were no longer watching a public display of self-destructive abuse; they were exploring the man they had come to see.

You owe your audience

Sanguinetti and Sheen could have saved themselves a lot of grief simply by remembering that when you get up to speak, no matter how much power you have, your audience is more powerful than you are. You owe it to your audience and yourself to think of them first. Think of who they are. Think of what’s important to them. What are their values? How can you deliver your message in a way that will be meaningful to them? Because in the end they are the ones that matter – not you.

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About Thomas Moss

Thomas Moss is a speaker, writer and coach who provides business communications services, primarily in the Greater Toronto Area, including Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket, Vaughan, Brampton and Mississauga. Service is also available outside of the GTA.