To our adulation and trepidation, we’ve been invited to a prestigious event to make a presentation about our area of expertise.
Naturally, we accept the invitation and are immediately gripped by that most basic professional desire – to impress others with the breadth and depth of our knowledge. This is imperative. The person who invited us to speak is entrusting us with an entire hour on the tribune, after all, and now we are hell-bent on proving that trust was well placed. We want to prove we know what we’re talking about.
How best to accomplish this? Like many inexperienced or untrained public speakers, we determine we must shower our audience with a mother lode of data to illustrate how vast our reservoir of knowledge. So, in assembling our speaking notes and PowerPoint slides, we basically parade out everything we know on the subject of our presentation, thinking our audience will be exhilarated and awestruck by our mastery of the topic. The result is a data dump on an audience that finds itself drowning in information so voluminous that each component part seems only tenuously related.
What we haven’t accounted for is that people can only absorb relatively small amounts of information during a limited timeframe. Unfortunately, because we’re obsessed with our own definition of a tour de force performance, we neglect the needs and limitations of our audience.
The winning formula is a narrowly focused package of information that shows a tightly-knit relationship between the concepts and assertions we want to express. What’s needed is a simple presentation structure.
By creating a simple presentation structure, we can achieve two monumental things.
Let’s examine these in a bit more detail.
Trying to write and illustrate a data-dump presentation is time consuming, confusing and stressful because we are juggling far too much information, not all of which can possibly be seamless, let alone point clearly to an overarching theme or key message. If we forge ahead on this dizzying path, we will be heading to the tribune mentally loaded down with a Samsonite suitcase full of information that is difficult to memorize and articulate. We will be pressed to fit all this data into the time we’ve been allotted. It’s a pot of stew that amplifies the anxiety that naturally accompanies any public speaking date.
Once we realize that less is more when making a speech or PowerPoint presentation, our task becomes immensely simpler and more focused.
Now we can ask ourselves a couple of operative questions: What point are we trying to make? What are the essential pieces of information that make that point? Never mind the minutia. Too many details mean too many bits and pieces of information we must juggle and organize. Stick with the big picture.
Having made those decisions, we’ve swept our desktop mostly clean and our world changes in our favor – and our audience’s favor.
Now we’re heading to the tribune with a presentation that is focused and lightweight (in volume, not substance). It’s easily memorized and articulated, and we won’t be pressed for time. In fact, we’ll delight our audience and the event’s master of ceremonies by, perhaps, completing our presentation early. Meanwhile, our audience understands our key message and easily absorbs the supporting evidence. They will actually remember much of what we’ve said.
The remaining question is this: What are some of the simple structures or blueprints we can follow when drafting our presentation?
We’ll review a host of those options next week in a blog post headlined, 10 simple structures for your presentation.