Giving in to Temptation

We face many temptations when it comes to delivering business presentations. Giving in to these temptations may make us feel better, but they can destroy our credibility, undermine our message, and deliver our presentations unto banality.

One of the biggest temptations we face today is buying in to the false equivalency between the casual and the authentic. Our pop culture celebrates the casual (see casual wear, casual Friday, casual games, casual remarks, casual sex, etc.). We want to be comfortable. We want to be ourselves. We assume that the more casual and relaxed we are the more authentic we are.

You can see this at work most clearly in mass market film and television. When the character is meant to sound most genuine and sincere, you can count on the actor doing the following:

  • Vocal volume is dialed down to a stage whisper.

  • A little vocal fry is added to the end of each sentence.

  • The up-talk structure is overlaid.

  • The energy level is set at 0.002 emoji.

And then, seemingly with all the effort in the world, hackneyed lines like “Are you O.K.?” are partially birthed. We are meant to automatically assume, “Oh, he really cares.” Because he sounds so CASUAL.

This often carries over into the business presentation: the assumption that the more casual you sound the more authentic you sound. So as presenters, we are tempted to try to cover any uncertainty, anxiety, or lack of preparation -- and even clothe honest work -- with the casual mantle of faux awkwardness, employing vocal techniques 1-4 from above:

(Casually) “Yah, it is so random, I just happened to make this most amazing discovery.”

In a business presentation this can be tempting but deadly. It does not sound authentic, it sounds like everything else we are constantly bombarded with and so instantly becomes noise. You become pop culture and in doing so become too familiar, unoriginal, no threat, and easily dismissed.

It is fine to make pop culture references. It can be helpful to leverage recognizable touchstones. But do not be pop culture. Pop culture is temporary. Pop culture will change. And change quickly. The only thing you are advertising when you are pop culture is how temporary you are.

We have to fight that temptation.

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