Las Vegas may be the gambling capital of the world, but it’s no place to risk your reputation.
Certainly not when you’re at the globe’s biggest consumer gadgets event and the world’s media is not just watching, they’re in the same room.
Unfortunately for movie director Michael Bay, he does seem to have gambled badly on an autocue delivering his script, as he joined a Samsung executive on stage at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) to talk about a new curved TV screen.
What happened next merely proves that no matter how high your profile or rank, the smartest people forget the first rule of presenting: never begin unless you can deliver the speech with zero technology.
That’s because another law – Sod’s – decrees that if technology could fail, it will fail.
In the old days it was the bulb in the overhead projector; these days it’s more likely to be a software glitch.
Initially, as the autocue apparently malfunctioned, Bay said he would “wing it”. He soon realised he couldn’t. Exit director, stage left.
Ironically, Samsung must have been cursing TV at this point; the clip has gone around the world.
So what can we learn here? The trouble is speakers have become obsessed with PowerPoint-style, scripted presentations – everything has to be word-perfect and garnished with slides. The reality is, as we frequently emphasise to delegates, most audiences have glazed over by the fourth scripted paragraph, the eighth bullet point on the sixth slide…and there are still 56 slides to go, each one littered with clichés and jargon.
Just ditch the script, give bullet points the bullet and hide the slides.
Still not convinced?
Think of the best speeches or presentations: would Churchill’s, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender,” have been improved if the phrases had flashed up, one by one, on a screen with some accompanying pictures of sand and cobbled lanes ? (Never mind that this was the Pathé, not PowerPoint era.)
Of course not. The best speeches are just that: speech.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a few key words jotted down, nor should you overlook practising a speech out loud several times the night before – not to be word perfect, but to remember the key parts, to sense where to pause, what to stress and, above all, to know how it sounds before your audience does.
Bay was so mortified by his effort, he blogged about it soon after. He’s even garnered a good deal of sympathy from people who say they share a dread of public speaking and he even admitted, “I guess live shows aren’t my thing”.
But that’s to miss the point. Public speaking is rarely scary or “not your thing” if you’ve prepared properly for every eventuality and for Bay, a malfunctioning autocue was not one of them. As Mark Twain is believed to have said, “It takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good off-the-cuff speech”.
Michael Bay will have to live with the consequences of his CES performance.
No chance to shout “Cut!” on this disaster movie, Mr Bay.