A Fly In the Ointment

At a previous agency I where I worked, a consulting group was hired to conduct sales and presentation training for the entire office. They were consultants with a capital C, with all the negative baggage that word entails. Phrases like “work smarter / incentivize / impactful / leveraged” rolled off the tongue of their team leader, who resembled a slicked up Clark Kent. Natty blue suit, $1,000 designer glasses and utter disdain for his audience oozed from his sizable pores. While he actually gave some worthwhile information, the condescending manner in which he presented it was so off-putting, it was hard for the team to engage with his message.

Halfway through “Clark’s” big pitch in the conference room it became apparent that he dressed in something of a rush that morning, as he failed to zip the fly of his trousers. If you ever want to see a room of professionals revert to snickering second graders, this is a sure fire way to make it happen. At that point, he lost his audience completely. The fashion faux pas ran so counter to his message and mannerisms it became impossible to take him serious.

In another instance, the great stage actor Richard Burton was in a squabble with a fellow actor with whom he was appearing in a London play. During a dramatic dinner scene that preceded a long speech by the rival, Burton placed a glass of water just slightly on the edge of the table, where it was perched ever so precariously, just waiting to crash to the stage. It didn't fall, but that didn't keep the audience from focusing on the glass, in effect diminishing the impact of the entire scene. Burton's quiet sabotage of his stage rival was a subtle and effective way of distracting the audience from the message.

The point of all this is not to deflate stuffed shirts (although that can be fun). The point is to not let unnecessary distractions derail your message. When we do client presentations of design work, we take great care that any copy that is not part of the brand message (ie, body copy) is presented in Greek or dummy text. We want the client to focus on the big picture of brand and message and not focus on details that will be resolved at a later stage of the process.

Don't let an incidental distraction kill your message. Focus on the big picture so your presentation is completely buttoned down. And zipped up.