The State of the Union and Presentations
by Jerry Weissman
Ever since George Washington’s first State of the Union address in 1790, U.S. presidents have delivered their constitutionally-mandated annual speeches without visual aids. President Obama’s second State of the Union yesterday was no exception. Just as all his modern predecessors have done, Mr. Obama spoke with the aid of only a TelePrompTer, but he did offer a dissenting opinion on the annual ritual that all presidents perform.
The ritual began, as they always do, with a grand ceremonial entrance into the House of Representatives chamber. Mr. Obama made his way through the packed chamber with all the pomp and circumstance of a coronation, shaking hands and/or hugging the members of congress and government who lined the crowded aisle. As he approached the podium, he stopped to greet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who smiled at him and said, “Good speech.”
The president smiled back and replied
, “I don’t need to deliver it now; everybody saw it.”
Mr. Obama was referring to the fact that text of his speech had been leaked in advance. His remark was a sardonic commentary on an aspect of State of the Union speeches that resonates with presentations: dual functionality.
In a prior blog
, you read about the pervasive business practice known as “The Presentation-as-Document Syndrome” in which the PowerPoint slides serve as both a visual aid and a send-ahead. This practice not only serves neither purpose, it actually diminishes both purposes. Moreover, the practice defeats the purpose of the actual presentation itself because advance material telegraphs the presenter’s content.
Avoid presidential sarcasm: Resist requests to send ahead your PowerPoint slides and use them only as illustration of your presentation.
Dual functionality is only effective when you serve as the message and the messenger and do them both at the same time, in real time.