'Matter of Laugh or Death,' a humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
PUBLIC SPEAKING ANXIETY REACHES AUDIENCE
I used to have anxiety attacks when I had to give a presentation to a group of people. But over the years I’ve become more accustomed to public speaking. Before giving a talk now, I just ask myself: Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? So maybe my mind will go blank and I’ll break out in a cold sweat, or maybe I’ll faint or wet my pants. So what? I’ll get over it. (And the few times those things have happened I did indeed get over it…eventually…after months of therapy. By the way, those well-publicized “astronaut diapers” come in handy. Much better than being handed an expensive invoice for carpet cleaning services.)
Well, nowadays I am once again having anxiety attacks about presentations made to a group of people. But now I am having these anxiety attacks while in the audience. As I sit there listening to the guest speaker, I often start to worry that he or she will never, ever, ever shut up.
There are two problems, as I see it. First, public speakers often do not begin by explaining exactly how long they plan to talk. If they would just say something like, “This presentation will last one hour. So exactly 60 minutes from now, if I am still talking, feel free to get up and walk out, or throw pencils at me, or both.”
That I could handle. If I know there is a scheduled end point, I am much less likely to panic during the presentation. (Whether I doze off or not, however, is entirely up to the speaker.)
The second problem is much more insidious. It is the out-of-control proliferation of Microsoft’s PowerPoint program.
Nothing against Bill Gates, but I have a feeling that PowerPoint was invented by Satan. The popular software program makes it WAY too easy for someone to turn 20 minutes of useful content into a three-hour marathon of unnecessary charts, graphs, photos, and those tedious video clips that never play correctly anyway.
If you’ve never experienced an endless PowerPoint presentation, you don’t know what you’re missing. They are brutal. They make a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles seem like a carefree, happy lark. While sitting there, you have no idea if the speaker’s presentation contains 30 slides, or 130 slides, or 930 slides. You start to suspect you might be in trouble when after 45 minutes of talking, the speaker is still displaying slides that say, “What we will cover today.”
All PowerPoint computer files have the extension “.ppt.” I believe this stands for “Power Point Torture.” Sometimes a presenter will reproduce his lecture notes verbatim onto PowerPoint slides. Rather than stand at a podium lecturing to his audience face-to-face, he instead will stand with his back to the audience, in the dark, and recite his lecture, verbatim, from the text projected on the screen. It actually makes you long for a few unnecessary charts, graphs, photos, and tedious video clips.
This type of rote-recitation-in-the-dark presentation is always fun. (And, of course, I am using the definition of the word “fun” that means: being on the verge of hurtling oneself through a plate glass window even though the conference room in on the 9th floor.)
There are two things we ought to do to reduce the number of businesspeople splattered on city sidewalks after leaping from 9th floor conference rooms: 1). All PowerPoint presenters must be licensed—with the licensing course consisting of a three-hour PowerPoint presentation, just so they feel our pain; and 2). hand out “astronaut diapers” to everyone in the room, just in case.
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