INside Track: Practically Perfect Speakers


Now that we’ve all been through the spring and fall conference mania with the InHOWse Conference, GAIN and everything in between, I believe it’s important to debunk a misperception prevalent particularly among younger attendees – that presenters have it all together and are walking talking success stories. Lest anyone think that I’m taking capricious potshots at our successful peers, I openly include myself in this crowd.



Just like every other human being on the planet, speakers are all about looking good. Mix that need in with the appropriate rationale that a presentation that focuses on a success story may help others replicate that success and you end up with seminars that accentuate the positive and deemphasize the negative.

There are 2 problems with this presentation paradigm. First, it may devalue the legitimacy of the presentation because of its lack of believability and applicability to the audiences’ circumstances. Second, if all is to be believed, the talk may set an unrealistically high bar for success for the audience and leave them feeling impotent and demoralized.

I, for one, do very much like to look good – especially in front of a large group of my peers. I also feel privileged to share insights that may help my fellow in-house designers. But, for the record, I’d like to say that I screw up multiple times on any given day and I don’t always follow my own advice. I believe the same to be true for my presenter peers.

To the presenters, I’d recommend throwing in some qualifiers to place their successes into a realistic context. To those in the audience, a healthy dose of skepticism and suspended disbelief will help you walk away with valuable insights and personal next steps. At the end of the day, as our business colleagues like to say, the onus is on both the speaker and the speakee to meet halfway and take responsibility for making the presentation a success.

3 thoughts on “INside Track: Practically Perfect Speakers

  1. paul

    Great article. I agree with you on common, rah, rah conferences. Everyone walks away thinking they will have a similar success, when if fact, our jobs are just as mundane as the next guy and finding success is more of a humbling experience within an organization.

  2. Marci

    Great post. The same can be said with design magazines which show great finished product and very little of the nuts and bolts, compromises, discoveries, backtracking, arguing, resourcefulness it took to get to that point. Don’t get me wrong. I love to look at the pretty pictures of the nice packaging, creative ads, etc. I always want to know more about the process. How did (you) manage decision making along the way. Convincing the decision makers that good design will be successful in the market. IS it successful in the market?

    Now we are really opening up to issues we all face.

  3. Dyana Valentine

    absolutely, Andy, Marci and Paul! We (speakers) got here (becoming ambassadors for processes we work from and content we create) by trial and error. Often, I notice that speakers (myself included) walk the line of transparency (to teach a point) and opacity (to engage participation and lead) in very different ways. There is great utility in holding space in a room with power and authority in service to what needs to happen in the room (and in service to command-for-value and attentiveness), without the hubris that has the opposite effect: alienation. Early in my speaking career, I threw darts by sharing stories and examples, sometimes spontaneously as I spoke, and listening/watching for what resonated. The stories that resonated always had to do with my personal process (for example my sharing other folks/my clients’ stories was always less interesting to an audience). So, as time moves on, I share more of my faux pas, anxieties and roadblocks from the stage. Seems to be working. Thanks for the great piece and terrific comments. Dy