Five ways to avoid Michael Bay-hem when clients take the stage

By Ben Ben |

January 9, 2014 | 7 min read

Michael Bay’s CES Samsung speech sent a shiver down the spine of company spokespeople and their PRs, says Propeller’s Ben Titchmarsh.

Michael Bay (briefly) on stage at CES

“His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy

There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti

He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready to drop bombs,

But he keeps on forgetting what he wrote down,

The whole crowd goes so loud

He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out”

(Excerpt from ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem)

You’ve seen the clip by now right?

At this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the biggest “did you see that?” talking point has surprisingly not been wearable tech, the connected consumer, or the ‘Internet of Things’.

Instead it’s been Hollywood director Michael Bay’s Samsung talk meltdown. Known for his signature big budget movies and his ‘Bay-hem’ directorial aesthetic best defined as ‘if in doubt, blow it up’, this was an explosive spectacle of an altogether different kind.

Bounding on stage to offer the opening gambit, "My job as a director means is that I get to dream for a living", the creator of what are often termed ‘high octane’ movies such as Transformers and Armageddon proceeded to live out many people’s nightmare.

After an apparent autocue malfunction, the Hollywood producer was left stumbling over his lines while attempting to help launch Samsung’s new 105 inch curved TVs.

After saying to his co-presenter Joe Stinziano, senior vice president of Samsung Electronics, “the type is all off - sorry. I'll just wing this," Bay mumbled: "I try and take people on an emotional ride and...errrr" before apologising and walking off the stage to the bemusement and shock of the assembled audience.

The spectacle had lasted all of 70 seconds. Social media schadenfreude was the inevitable first response.

Now the dust has settled, many people I’ve spoken to who are company spokespeople or who work in PR or marketing and are responsible for assisting with speeches will admit “there but for the grace of God go us all".

As Samsung’s Sphere TV presentation started going pear shaped, I can picture the blood draining from the faces of Samsung’s marketing people and feel enormous sympathy.

Working on a daily basis with tech, media, advertising and digital marketing businesses at Propeller, we’re often tasked with helping company spokespeople with talks and presentations and in my experience the feeling is very similar to being a football manager on the touchline. As much as you might feel like they are ‘kicking every ball’ from the technical area, you are fundamentally pretty powerless once your charges step out into the lights and no amount of arm waving will make that much difference.

But what can you do to make a speech go as smoothly as possible?

After speaking with colleagues and some industry contacts, here are five tips for PR and marketing professionals looking to give company spokespeople the best chance possible of creating the right kind of spectacle:

1. “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”

Whether preparing for a talk with a client, colleague, or expensively bought in ‘talent’ such as Michael Bay, if you are responsible for a presentation it’s your prerogative to worry. Applying Murphy's law that ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’ is the best approach. I suggest taking the presentation on two separate USB sticks and also emailing a downloadable link to the organisers as a back-up. Check, double check, treble check and then for good measure Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech the presentation is exactly how you want it and is ready to go.

2. "The more I practice the luckier I get"

You’ve had a practice run through of the presentation before right? Well even if you have, revisiting it on the day will make sure it is fresh in the memory of your client and is an opportunity to iron out issues. When working with particularly busy business spokespeople, we often use a shared taxi ride to the venue as a chance to run through the chronological order of the presentation or go to a quiet area to practice once we arrive. Find the event organisers and most importantly the technical people in charge of audio and visuals to run a test of the presentation.

3. Managing 'the talent'

Some company spokespeople have always dreamed of taking to a stage and keeping an audience in raptures. Others would rather pull their own teeth out. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Gauge what they are like and coach them accordingly. Some people need psyching up, others need calming down. Also make sure the presentation is not too ‘salesy’. As much as you might want to talk about your latest product, most people go to events with the intention of actually learning something useful.

4. “The type is all off - sorry. I'll just wing this"

As Michael Bay’s presentation showed, unexpected glitches will throw your presenter off their train of thought. If every single thing you’d prepared went up in smoke, give your client coping mechanisms like talking about a funny observation relating to the event or a wider industry trend. Sometimes the less scripted sections of presentations can be the parts that most engage the audience and really show the confidence of a speaker.

5. "Sometimes people ‘corpse’ in talks, but no one ever dies"

Working at Propeller, we go to a hell of a lot of events and hear the good, the bad and the ugly of industry speeches. In that time I’ve seen several people ‘corpse’ as they call it in theatreland, but you know what? So far no one has ever died. Prepare as well as you can, give your client the last minute advice “you’re a tiger” and loudly clap them onto the stage. I mean, what’s the worst that could possibly happen?

Ben Titchmarsh is head of media, marketing and partnerships at Propeller


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