While some might strive to mimic Steve’s style of storytelling with just a few slides, very little text, and seamless demos, I am not suggesting that you have to match him. However, I would like to suggest that you at least try to bring your “A” game rather than “phone it in.”

Recently, I was invited to attend the Canadian introduction of Research In Motion’s new tablet, The Playbook. This is RIM’s answer to the iPad. It is understandable that this event is important. You only get one chance to make a first impression and, as a Canadian company, RIM had a bit of home-turf advantage.

As a Canadian and a fan of innovation, I was hopeful that one of Canada’s most innovative companies would wow the audience. Sadly, it was average to embarrassing, when it could have been so much more.

It began with a typical PowerPoint presentation with lots of bullets, but my hopes were dashed when the Playbook was brought out and, instead of being connected directly to a projector, it was laid on an overhead projector. What? Huh? It was at that point that you could see all of the smudges from handprints across the screen of the device.

The demo was fine, but it was not as polished as Apple’s tend to be. To be fair, maybe the device or the software running on it was an early version that would not support a connection to a projector.  It just seemed like an opportunity too valuable to miss, yet they still did.

Subsequent presentations lacked even a modicum of enthusiasm. Some even went so far as to suggest that one of the presenters might have been hung-over, which might have explained his leaning on the podium and monotone delivery.

The last presenter I saw was from Adobe, and when it came time to switch laptops from Windows to Mac, he realized he did not have the right adapter to project from his MacBook. He announced that there would be a slight delay while he exported his Keynote presentation to PowerPoint. Those in the audience familiar with Macs cringed because we were afraid that our worst fears would come true — and they did.

His presentation ended up having a number of blank slides, forcing him to stand in front of the audience and say, “Normally this slide would say…” to explain the white screen we were all looking at.

The entire event was to be repeated the next day in San Francisco; I hope that that audience got to see a dramatically improved effort.

So as not to make this just about Apple and RIM, I should mention that I also attended a Nokia session where they presented their product roadmap, but even it felt lacklustre. In hindsight, I think it was simply a stalling tactic until the Microsoft-Nokia partnership was announced. During the session, we were treated to presentations from different Nokia team members and a key Nokia partner — none of whom really stood out in terms of engaging the audience.

The lesson here? Every time you stand up in front of a group, no matter what the size, you have an opportunity to engage and inspire. How about giving it your best shot? You don’t have to put on an awe-inspiring show like Cirque du Soleil, but your goal should be to do more than just “not suck.”