Content in nice clothes

I get to go to a lot of conferences and I also get to speak at a lot of events too. So I spend quite a bit of time wrestling with content vs delivery. I’m lucky enough to work for an organisation that has bags of its own content, but we also have people better positioned to talk about it. We do great research, but it makes more sense to listen to our researchers explain it.

So I draw my content from a range of sources, inside and out. I think that is healthy. We encourage HR professionals to draw from research and thinking that’s outside of the traditional assumed boundaries of the profession – and I think that is right and proper. I work hard to make sure everything I waffle about can be well referenced.

So I try and pull this varied content into one place and use images and anecdotes to bring this to life for people. I try to make it informal and entertaining. Sometimes I do that better than other times. But generally (whether you are laughing with me or at me) I encourage people to enjoy as well as reflect. I dress my content up. And the thing is that when your content seems accessible people don’t question it that much. Or they question it in a friendly way, not as a genuine critical friend. Sometimes I get an easy ride. That’s not right. It might be natural, but it’s not right.

Recently I’ve seen some people with great stories to tell, but who aren’t great storytellers. People who couldn’t hold a room despite the fact they had great content. Despite the fact they had important messages to share, observations that could really make a difference. They have no content fashion sense and it kills them.

I’ve also seen people with virtually no meaningful content go down brilliantly, despite the fact that when they’ve finished speaking I feel stupider than when they started. They are stylish, but empty. Or perhaps they just know how the market works.

Recently someone asked me to help them out with their ‘presence’, as they want their work to do the talking, but they realise that presentation matters. That’s sad. That isn’t the way judging ideas or performance should work.

It’s a shame that we only recognise truth when it comes in nice clothing. It’s a shame that things in nice clothing get mistaken for truth. It’s a shame that substance doesn’t count for more.

I respect the right of people to demand to be entertained (I’ve seen Gladiator…), but I’m not sure we often realise the cost of that in terms of quality of thinking. I recognise that the age of sage on a stage is here to stay for a bit longer too. I know how the world works.

Smart and smartly dressed. I guess that’s where we need to be for the moment. But it would be great if more people spotted the Emperor’s new clothes didn’t require much material…

2 thoughts on “Content in nice clothes

  1. The philosopher’s lament. In order for something to be embraced it has to be ‘dressed up’ – at which point it loses its ‘truth’. But learning is not about content – I thought I made that clear! ;0)


  2. Hi David, I agree that whilst conferences are set up for on stage entertainment by one person then how to get good at that matters. Maybe the conference is not the only place to share stories though? People need to be thinking about how to tell their stories and connect people around them online.


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