A review of Matt Cutts from Google’s presentation skills

As the man behind search quality and search engine optimization in arguably the world’s most important internet company, some may envy his position. Few however, would covet the enormous and variable challenges he faces.
Cutts was the keynote speaker at PubCon, the premier social media and optimization conference in 2013, and it’s easy to see from this recording why he is so admired and successful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KnYqySMUL8#action=share

He is clearly an extremely intelligent and welcoming man whose conversational style of presenting holds him in good stead with his audience. You’ll see from the video that he breaks the usual recommended guidelines for opening a presentation and gathering his audience’s attention.

He does not shock them with a fascinating statistic, tell them a story nor recite a quotation; his style is different. He is his own man, and with a natural authenticity and dexterity he simply begins by asking ‘how is everybody doing this morning?’ and then continues as he means to go on, as if he’s having a conversation with friends.

It’s not what the text books or highly paid speaking consultants suggest, but for him it’s natural and it works.

There has to be a simple lesson in that – just to be yourself.

Thinking of your audience as friends will always serve you well.

Like many, he starts a little shaky with the typical ums and errs we see in even the most gifted presenters, but it doesn’t take him long at all to find his way. After a bit of humour, he sets his stall out nicely and articulately; he’s going to talk about Google in terms of where it has been, where it’s going and what the future holds.
Everybody gets it so they can sit comfortably knowing what to expect. They can relax.

As much as I like his style, this would be a tedious blog if I didn’t identify and share what I believe to be some potential missed opportunities he had to deliver his keynote with even greater impact.
There is one question that I would have liked part of that statement to answer: why should I care?

Why does it really matter where Google has been and where it is going?

It wasn’t critical of course for him to say so, as most of the audience was already there because that’s exactly what they wanted to know. Personally, I’d have welcomed a greater jolt to attention so that I’d be sure I didn’t want to miss a word knowing it was important to me and not just ‘information’ or him bragging about Google.

I’d have preferred a strong message message that would resonate with, and make a difference to me personally. Who knows, it may have won him even more supporters.

Despite speaking behind a lectern for 30 minutes or so before taking questions, he knew exactly how to bring his words to life through the thoughtful use of hand gestures and eye contact. It’s just a shame that he was grounded in such a manner as I for one would have welcomed seeing him unshackled from the lectern with a lapel mic, free to own the platform.

I have absolutely no doubt that much of his natural energy and presence was somewhat stifled by the barrier and we would have felt a far greater connection had he been given the opportunity to move.

Just imagine what he could have achieved had he been set ‘free’.

The pressure was clearly on at such an important conference so he wasn’t in a particularly easy position and excelled as best he could with what he had. Lectern aside, his message could have been further enhanced through tweaks to his style.

There were very few real pauses to emphasize his point and allow his audience a moment to reflect on what he was saying. For example, he referenced Google’s mission statement but rattled through it and then noted that it didn’t include the words search engine. This was potentially a powerful opportunity to emphasize the mission statement and to then pause to make his point with impact.

I’m sure that was a deliberate ploy for effect on his part although I can’t help feeling there was more for him to play with in reminding the world of Google’s mission.

He later said, “Mobile is huge”
This was another moment worthy of a thoughtful pause and an even stronger use of hand gestures to animate his point.

After all, mobile truly is huge.

“What do you think these numbers represent; 6%, 25%, 40%?”

Once again, this was a clear and timely opportunity to build up to his point with emphasis and using the power of the pause to allow the audience to ponder his question.
Just imagine him waiting a moment to say 40% and to say it with real elevation and emphasis.

Despite an impressive performance from a very passionate and committed leader it seemed to me that his closing felt a little on the ‘flat’ side.
Cutts stated that he had enjoyed the last 10 years at PubCon and thanked all of the people who had given Google feedback over the years.

That was it.

This was a real opportunity for him to conclude with a powerful visionary statement, or a strong call to action. It was an opportunity to leave his audience on a real high with a story to remember before he moved to the Q&A.

On the subject of the Q &A we also saw a slightly weak link from his close to jumping straight into questions; “with that I think we will open it up; whoever wants to ask questions” could have been more assertive and enthusiastic.

Note how after answering the first question he went straight on to the second topic referring to it as a “great question”. Whilst it may well have been from his perspective, in my experience it’s not wise to acknowledge the questions greatness unless you wish to offend those who have already asked or will ask questions that are not great.

It’s worth noting though that I wasn’t in the hot seat. It’s so easy to make observations from a distance, especially when it’s via a video.

Hats off to Matt Cutts for a superb keynote with our very best wishes for a well-deserved sabbatical until his next speech.

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