Reflections on Sochi, the “Second Screen” and Half-Baked Decisions

(Is anyone listening? … Anyone at all??)

A while back I tried to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi. I say tried because I eventually became so frustrated by Matt Lauer’s and Meredith Vieira’s endless stream of intrusive babble that I switched the whole thing off. From what I saw, the ceremony had been painstakingly designed by its Olympic hosts to tell a story. The producers of the event had obviously worked hard to weave together a collection of objects, images, performers and music to create a spectacular narrative that highlighted Russia’s history.

Was it mere propaganda? Was it an idealized rewriting of history? Frankly, I can’t say because every time I started to become absorbed by the narrative and allow its images and music to carry me along with it, Lauer or Vieira would yank me out of the story line with their own narrative. And since theirs consisted mostly of arcane trivia, details of the mechanics of the production, or political editorializing, I found it impossible to sustain the sense of wonder that the grand production had been designed to stimulate. Unfortunately, turning off the sound to shut off their prattling also muted the beautiful music and sound effects. So I finally just gave up in disgust and switched the whole thing off.

A Colossal Waste!

As the room became silent, I found myself wondering about — and feeling sympathy for — the producers of the event. They clearly had undertaken months of preparation. They constructed a logical “through line” that told their story, then they rehearsed and coordinated hundreds of moving parts. In short, they had attempted to deliver a powerfully moving and cohesive viewer experience. Yet here sat these American TV talking heads intruding themselves at random throughout the event, dragging viewers on endless, mood-destroying side trips and distracting us from absorbing any coherent message or from being swept away in the spectacle. What a colossal waste!

Like Your Last Business Presentation?

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this NBC-broadcast of the Sochi Olympic Opening Ceremony was an apt metaphor for many business meetings I’ve attended. The same elements are present:

  • Someone works hard to prepare a logical narrative, often supported with multi-media components.
  • This person rehearses, then delivers the presentation.
  • Members of the audience ostensibly attend to the presentation.
  • Members of the audience are ceaselessly, often pointlessly, interrupted by their own, personal talking heads in the form of the ever-present “second screen” of a smartphone or tablet.
  • These interrupted members of the audience, in turn, become someone else’s “second screen” interruptions as their fingers tap out terse little messages that intrude into another presenter’s carefully-crafted presentation.

The result of all this fracturing of a presenter’s logical, cohesive message is that attendees acquire an understanding of it that is incomplete or badly distorted.

Half-Baked Comprehension = Half-Baked Decisions!

Now here’s the big deal: What distinguishes these business presentations from the Olympics Opening Ceremony is that those attending are frequently called upon to take an action or make a decision at the conclusion. But if your recall of the presenter’s message is sketchy or skewed, your comprehension is… well… half-baked! And half-baked comprehension can only lead to half-baked decisions!

So here’s your challenge: The next time you attend a meeting, try to fully “attend” to the presentation. Put yourself in the shoes of the presenter. Try to imagine the effort she expended to accumulate information, sift it down to its essences and build a presentation that would be engaging and informative. Then ask yourself if it makes good business sense to allow your own jabbering little device (your pocket-sized network talking head) to ceaselessly interrupt and water down your engagement.

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