Giving a presentation? Be dull.

Does it ever pay to be deliberately dull—and be told you’re “unexciting?”

Yes! Although I shudder to say so because usually the answer is NO. Too many presentations lack zest.

You’ve been there, in the audience, pretending to listen, straining to stay awake, counting the minutes left in the meeting, or the number of slides left in the deck.

And yet, occasionally, dull works; exciting doesn’t.

The other day, Janet Yellen, the new Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, presented the Fed’s semi-annual Monetary Policy Report to Congress.

13 minutes. 1,560 words.

And predictable, except for one thing—we’ll get to that in a second.

But predictable was the point.

“I am a sensible central banker,” she said, responding to the question, “Are you a sensible central banker?”

What kind of question, by the way, is that? Well, for one thing, it’s closed, with either a yes/no answer. “No” would be intriguing:

“No, Congressman, I’m not a sensible banker. I’m not even, really, a banker.” Then, laugh hysterically. “I’m a wild and crazy person, pretending to be a banker.” More laughing. “Just ask my colleagues, they’ll tell you—I’m completely insane. And I control the money supply. All of it!”

If you’re running the Fed—an organization created in response to financial PANIC—your job is to look and sound sensible. And Ms. Yellen, with her deep knowledge and experience, certainly does.

She thanked lawmakers twice that day for calling her unexciting (Wall Street Journal).

But here’s what was unexpected: she offered to stay the entire day.


The head of the congressional committee thanked her for the offer. “Madam Chair,” he said, “you’re in luck. We’re not staying all day.”

But they stayed almost six hours. That’s a long time for Q and A. And her endurance sent an important message too.

Tip: Know your audience.

Ms. Yellen’s audience that day was not regular people like you or me. It was the global financial markets, running trillions of dollars, euros, yen, and yuan—an audience desperately hoping for dull.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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