How to give a better talk

This past week I gave a talk at our state wide nursery and landscape trade show.  After my talk I stuck around and attended a couple of sessions, most of which were pretty good.  One talk, however, set my teeth on edge.  The presenter was a grounds manager for a local college that has embarked on a program of all-organic landscape care, including use of compost tea.  Personally I don’t know much about compost tea aside from the fact that mention of the term causes Linda to go apoplectic.  But I try to keep an open mind about such things so I grabbed a seat near the back of the room to see if I could glean a useful nugget or two.  After 20 minutes I thought I was going to need to have someone physically restrain me from wrestling the speaking to the ground and pounding the remote from his hand like a smoking gun.  He wasn’t a scientist and made no claims of such, nevertheless there is one  fundamental concept of the English language that every presenter at a professional meeting like this must never, ever,ever, ever,ever,ever,ever,ever, forget.  It is this: Words like better, larger, more, taller, healthier, and so on are comparatives.  And any time we use a comparative it is followed by ‘than something’ otherwise it is meaningless.  As I noted in one my earliest post on the blog, advertisers use comparatives without actually comparing them to anything all the time.  “Scalp and Shoulders shampoo gives your hair more shine.”  More shine than what? Not washing it at all? Rinsing with this morning’s leftover coffee?  So every time this guy blathered on about how compost tea made the landscape healthier or the organic program made the lawn greener, I was like Alice in the Dilbert cartoon; “Must… control… fist… of… death…”  I will freely admit to having biases against potions that sound like something concocted by the Macbeth’s witches, but as discussed in my post on PGR’s I can be persuaded by credible data.  In this case there were none forthcoming.  While many in the large crowd listened intently and took copious notes, the speaker waxed on about improved organic matter, reduced disease pressure, and improved growth and vigor.  His evidence?  He had a microscope slide of a drop of compost tea and which showed living bacteria. That was it.  Hate to break it to you guy, but most 4th graders have looked at the same in a drop of pond water.   During the question and answer session I finally spoke up.  I admitted my biases and skepticism up front and asked straightforwardedly, “Do you have any evidence that the compost tea did anything?”  The speaker, who was earnest and likable enough confessed, “No, not really.”  I applaud his goal of trying reduce chemical inputs compared to past practices.  I respect him for his willingness to give a 2 hour talk in front of 150 people.  But without any data or clear point of comparison eventually you become a huckster trying to shill a product.

2 thoughts on “How to give a better talk”

  1. Unfortunately, the guilty parties won’t read your criticism or take it to heart if they do. You really want to get in a snit, try argueing with someone who has read “Wheat BellY”. That’ll make you crazy!!!

  2. Excellent point, Bert. Our MG coordinator is giving a class this week on what constitutes a good talk and how we can improve both the informational content and other aspects such as the PPT and some hands-on ac
    tivities. (Sometimes it’s just wording… I started this as “…how to give a better presentation.” I’m guilty!) My particular irritant (causing Alice like thoughts) is presenters who write out their talk on PPT slides and then read them. If there is an especially important point that can be put in a few words, that’s okay. But PLEASE expound on it in something like a conversational tone. I can read, thank you very much. If that’s all you’re going to do, just give me a printout of the slides and let me go home. Unfortunately, I’ve been to a number of these “presentations.” I make note of the speakers’ names and avoid future talks by them.

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