By Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk
by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, president
I have quite a few speaking engagements coming up about which I’m very excited, so I’m always looking for opportunities to see others in action, the better to hone my craft. Additionally, I am fascinated by communication styles and issues, differences in the way each generation is wired, how we can work better together and those types of things. So when I recently saw a local organization was hosting an event that covered all these things, I was quick to register.
This organization attracts some pretty amazing talent, and their lunches are always educational and entertaining. I was looking forward to it. I’m sad to say, that anticipation was quickly quashed. First, in the speaker’s introduction, which we all know she wrote herself, she compared herself and her style to that of Carol Burnett. Now I understand that you have to toot your own horn a bit in biographies, but to compare yourself to what can only be called a living comedy legend is pushing it as far as I’m concerned. But maybe I’m just being sensitive (and have an undying love for Ms. Burnett).
She started her presentation by talking about how important it is to know your audience and to understand different generational and personality types to be a good communicator. Now we were getting somewhere. She then quickly gave an overview of each of the generations – Traditionals, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Gen Y (or Millennials). As a cusp Traditional / Baby Boomer, she had a lot to say about both of these groups. She discussed their strong work ethic, their focus on family, the importance of title over income and what can sometimes be called a fiercely competitive nature. All interesting stuff.
Then she moved on to my group, Generation X. We are a far smaller cohort than the boomers that preceded us and the Millennials that follow. We have also been described as the first “slacker” generation, due in large part to Douglas Coupland’s book that coined the phrase in the first place. However, as we have entered our 40s and positions of power and leadership, a new portrait has emerged. Fiercely independent, we like to take care of things in the time and space we think best. Micromanagement will make us want to crawl the walls, but we have proven to be persistent enough to effectively create and manage companies and creative enough to solve some pretty difficult problems in unique ways. We create family-like circles of friends to whom we’d gladly give any needed organs, can be quick to judge, are somewhat politically ambivalent and distrustful of politics and politicians in general. (I’ve done a bit of study in this area myself.) So when the speaker got to Gen X, I was excited to learn what she had to share. After regaling us at length with the wonderful characteristics of her generation, in less than 5 minutes she reduced us Gen Xers to slackers who don’t like to work, need constant direction and supervision and are poor parents who feel entitled because we all got a trophy on our Little League teams. (She’s off by a few years here – this started later in most cases.) I sat there a bit stunned. Here she was speaking before a room of mostly 40-something business owners basically telling them that they are not wired to run businesses. I started scanning the room to see if I was the only one getting my dander up.
I won’t bore you with her take on Gen Y or left- vs. right-brain styles, but will mention that she basically trashed the groups to which she didn’t belong and never got to the point of her presentation before being called for time. Afterwards, a respected colleague came up to me and asked what I thought. Turns out I was not alone in my frustration.
So why the rant? While I did get rather annoyed and felt that I had wasted $35 plus a couple hours of my time, I was vividly reminded of the importance of a few basic strategies for making a successful presentation, so I didn’t exactly walk out empty.
Know your audience. Learn a bit about who you will be talking to, so you can tailor your message to them. You want your audience to leave feeling that they learned something and that you were a worthwhile investment of their time and money.
Practice and keep an eye on the time. Know how long it takes to go through your content and make sure you have enough time to finish what you have to say in the time allotted. Leave a bit of time for questions too. You don’t want the host to have to nudge you off the stage. It looks bad and is disrespectful to your audience.
Know your topic. No one can know everything, but if you are putting yourself out there as an expert on a particular topic, make sure you know what you are talking about. Anticipate the questions participants are likely to ask and read up on the latest information in that area.
So with these lessons in mind, I have been preparing for my social media talk to the Small Firm Section of the Atlanta Bar Association on Thursday. Here’s hoping no one writes a blog post on my miserable failure next week.