Scrap The Cat Pics If You Want To Be Taken Seriously

I attended a HR forum recently with some decent topics and speakers.  There was good energy in the room, most everyone was engaged and then… the cat picture!

A HR speaker from a well-known, global organization got up to talk about talent management and her second slide was some stupid cat image. To add insult to injury, she says, “I can’t help it.  I’m a cat person and this was just too cute.”

O – M – G.

I literally wrote in my notes, “As a HR pro, never put a cat pic in your presentation if you want to be taken seriously.”

I took a quick look around my table full of HR types—mainly men—and tried to gauge if their reactions were the same as mine. Within seconds, the phones were on and she’d lost them.

The really unfortunate aspect of this whole story is what she had to say was top notch, but in a second her credibility was damaged and people started checking emails.

Giving presentations is hard.  There’s a ton of research, prep work, practice—not to mention getting up and trying to keep the attention of adults who think about “other” things every few minutes.  I speak at these HR conferences and the audience is always a mix of levels and motivation. Finding the balance between what will entertain as well as educate requires work.  Here are my other pieces of advice for giving your next presentation, whether it be to your Board, your team or to a room of 300 HR skeptics.

  • Try to avoid PowerPoint. I know. This is nearly impossible at times, but it’s amazing how much more people really listen if they aren’t trying to read a zillion slides.
  • If you must have slides, limit the text.  You would think this is so obvious by now, but unfortunately many speakers still try and get us to read eye-charts.
  • Tell stories with meaning.  Sure, we all love a good story but make sure to connect the dots.
  • Don’t do all the talking.  I know—I get groans when I ask my audience to participate, but usually they get over it and get more out of networking and talking with their peers.
  • Give them something new.  Just one “aha” moment will leave you in good graces.
  • Do put in visuals.  I’m actually a big fan of images to drive home a point or your theme (as long as it has nothing to do with kitties).  I like self-deprecating pics myself… like the one of me in a turquoise leotard from 1977.  Classic.

HR practioners need to get out more and be visible to their broader HR community.  Speaking gigs are an easy way to promote your organization, your area of expertise and yourself.  Remember you can quickly lose all those benefits by putting your credibility in question.

Just say no to cats.

FOT Background Check

Kathy Rapp
Kathy Rapp is the President of hrQ, where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent or HR Consultants to drive business results.  Prior to joining hrQ, Kathy booked more than 15 years of human resources leadership experience working for such companies as Morgan Stanley and First Data Corporation.  A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent issues can be addressed via the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen  (David Lee/Sammy and sadly, Gary Cherone).


  1. Stewart Farr says:

    I also get really sick of the “Team” or “Performance Team” showing *insert sports hero here” achieving whatever task they set out to do.

    If companies were like sports teams – we would all work less hours. But would deliver twice the effort in short 90 minutes (or 45 minute) bursts. We would get awards once a year for the work we delivered on that particular day. We would meet once a week, in casual outfits, and discuss how we would work together the only other day of the week. The rest of the time we would be working on our own, making sure we were good enough to deliver on that 1 day of the week where we are all business.

    So ditch the high-fiveing sports hero, scoring the home run/goal images from your PowerPoint. It makes us depressed for not being able to see daylight past our cubicles.

    While I am at the following also need to follow suit:
    – Soaring eagles
    – People climbing mountains
    – Proud Animals standing in stances (Like a Stag in the Moonlight).

    They are very depressing as we think of things like filing TPS reports (pun intended).

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Hey Stewart! Thanks for the comments and I say we throw red staplers at the next prez with soaring eagles!

  2. friv 5 says:

    I just love the cat pictures alone, so adorable.

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