Good friend and polymath Dr Kay Guccione invited me to be part of her presentation masterclass at the University of Sheffield, where I am reliably informed she trains the best researchers in the world.
I was looking forward to sharing the plethora of knowledge on engagement, body language and verbal communication I’ve learned through my background in Psychology, that I’ve sinced honed in my acting.
“Bossanova!” I said, a pidgin term for excellent understood by a select few (and now you).
“I want you to give one of the worst presentations of all time,” she then explained. After a moment’s bafflement, I realised the potential. This would be inordinate fun.
Giddy as a school boy, I read Kay’s concise-but-thorough brief on what she wanted from me, and we made our way to the masterclass.
Upon my introduction, I objected to the idea that I would give a “five minute” talk, having prepared forty five minutes of material (Kay’s craft background didn’t come into play this time and no sticky-back plastic was harmed, as my comically verbose powerpoint presentation was all I had with me, practiced the evening before for maximum self-assurance).
Turning my back to my audience, I began to read word for word from a set of power-point slides too small for my audience to read, in double-quick time. I rattled off my specialist terminology and occasionally peppered the complex subject matter with off-colour anecdotes. I made sure to use words like “obviously” when explaining intricate procedures, and chided the “imbeciles” who had previously opposed my hypothesis, before I had this data to rub in their faces.
By the end, Kay was the only one who dared ask a question (through gritted teeth to prevent from laughing), and I quickly and dismissively put her in her place.
Though I as a person hadn’t the faintest idea what she’d even asked me about the research [which was hers], I as Dr Robin Styles was not to be trifled with.
Our mutual friend Julie Wilkinson then stammered, shuffled and almost cried her way through a primary-school level exercise in unintentional condescension, and we sat back to see what those taking the masterclass had to say.
After the initial rollocking we took for our poor performance, and me in particular for my less-than-friendly attitude, the epiphany took place and those attending began to unstitch the proactive ways in which they could improve their own presentation skills by avoiding the negative trappings we displayed. I was given a copy of some of the raw feedback from the day, indicating that indeed, they’d gotten a lot out of it:
• feedback on presentation/actors presentation – brilliant
• actors coming in was great
• questions and answers at the beginning. actors
• actors, feedback on presentation
• tips for presentation style. How to get over nerves (importance of preparation). Feedback on my presentation, actors
• the actors, thinking about how you present yourself.
Kay herself had this to say:
Rob had great enthusiasm for the project when I told him about it, and he really bought into the character and put a lot into it, above and beyond what I’d anticipated. He’d done a lot of prep on his own initiative, which was great for someone as busy as I am. As well as being very funny, his disastrous presentation was very convincing to staff and students. It was obvious from what choices he made that he knew what best practice is, and went precisely in the opposite direction to highlight it. Just what we were hoping for.