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A Single Point of View Can Be Wrong (Even Your Own)

I recently attended a conference where the closing keynote presentation was a 90-minute talk by a celebrated industry expert who had given many speeches, including a TEDx Talk. The organizers had spent a lot of effort hyping this general session, and I came into the room with high hopes. During the session I sat with a friend who, like me, earns his living as a professional speaker and master of ceremonies. In all fairness, having speakers watch other speakers can be a tough situation, as many of us are highly critical of those who take the stage (and this is often true of anyone who sees others perform the work they do regularly).

This particular talk was not to my liking. I was not being hypercritical, but I just did not like the speaker's style. While the presentation had useful content, the way he structured his words did not resonate with me. He was not awful, but I simply did not like how he spoke to the audience. The longer the speech went, the more I was convinced this session was a failure.

As we exited the ballroom, I asked my friend what he thought of the keynote address. My colleague thought the speaker, his content, and the overall experience were fantastic. He went on to describe how he was taken with the style of the man on stage and the way he delivered the information.

Huh? Had we been in the same room?

As we continued to talk, I realized that this was a perfect example of how conference presentations are similar to art. While one person loves a Picasso or Jackson Pollock, another might sneer at these artists' true value. Even though my friend and I sat in on the same experience, we came away with two very different opinions.

Was one of us wrong? No, an opinion is a personal thing, a feeling that belongs to the beholder. Those of us who work in the meetings industry see this phenomenon regularly in post-event evaluations. Some in the audience love certain aspects of a conference (hotel, meals, speakers, etc.), while other attendees give them low marks. Even when the majority raves about a certain aspect of an event, others will actively disagree.

We can often get caught up, for better or worse, in a single person's judgment, and sometimes it is our own opinion that we mistakenly trust. My experience at this recent conference reminded me that what I perceive is not automatically on par with others' views. I share many of the same experiences and beliefs with the friend who sat with me at this closing keynote, but in this case we were not aligned.

As it turns out, others in the audience that day shared both points of view. By informally polling other people at the event, I found that the crowd was split in how much they enjoyed the talk. My findings do not diminish the talents of the speaker at all, but instead serve as a reminder not to jump to conclusions too quickly when dealing with subjective topics like the personal effect a session has on everyone in the crowd. We all have points of view. Remembering this helps us to recognize the value in events that just don't hit us the right way – and perhaps even serve as encouragement if we ever feel that our own events miss the mark.

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst," a speaker who mixes meaningful content with a high energy presentation style that results in audiences gaining new knowledge and taking action on what they have learned. Thom is also the host of the "Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do" podcast. He can be reached through www.ThomSinger.com or (512) 970-0398.


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