I attended an event recently where the presenter was the co-author of a well-known book on a hot business topic. He is also a senior executive in a prestigious firm whose name you would recognize. My expectations were high -- given his obvious expertise, I was counting on some valuable insights as well as an engaging presentation style.
But then his ego got in the way.
At first I thought his name dropping and rambling stories, where he was generally the hero, were perhaps just lack of preparation [although I'd bet he's given this presentation or some version of it hundreds of times]. But then he committed ego's cardinal sin.
He 'shushed' an audience member who tried to ask a question. In spite of his proclaimed willingness to take questions, he looked at this woman with her hand raised and said, "No...I'm sure I'll cover whatever it is you want to ask."
Absent a crystal ball, how would he know what the woman was going to ask? And even if he was correct in his assumption about her question, what an arrogant way of shutting down her [and perhaps others'] engagement with him and the material.
WHAT CAUSES EGO TO GET IN THE WAY?
Some degree of ego is healthy in a presenter. It helps you believe in yourself, manage anxiety and strive to make a valuable contribution to the audience. But when a presenter's ego runs amok, he's forgotten the golden rule: It's All About The Audience.
Fame and fortune can certainly lead to an over-developed ego where it's easy to believe that, since you know so much more about your topic than the audience, they should just hang on your words, not interrupting, not challenging, not probing. Yet, I'm sure we can all come up with examples of famous speakers who don't let ego rule their presentations -- people like Jimmy Carter and Steve Jobs come to mind.
The subject of ego has even made it into the TED commandments: "#6 Thou shalt not flaunt thine ego. Be thou vulnerable."
So the moral to my rant is...no matter how famous, how expert, how intelligent you are, it's not about you, it's about engaging with your audience to provide something useful, thought-provoking and relevant. In the end, they, not you, will be the ultimate judge of whether or not you've been successful.
What examples have you seen of ego getting in the way of a good presentation?