You know what I’m talking about: Emails, cell phones, texting; we’re bounced around all day long between one snippet of information and another.
Little work of any import happens in such an environment. But that’s reality for most of the workday. And it’s tiring. I don’t have to tell you that.
We’re bombarded with snippets of information hourly.
It’s no different in a presentation situation. You may think you have the attention of a cohesive group in an “out-of-the-line-of-fire” conference room, but it’s rarely “undivided.” Minds don’t automatically shut themselves off from outside issues when the eyes are focused on a lectern.
In order to have an impact, you have to capture the imagination. You must do it in a way that not only “sticks,” but lodges your message between the appropriate grey cells and resonates for a much longer period than the presentation itself (at the very least)!
Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when you create your next important presentation.
1. Make it about one central idea, theme, or principle.
If you’ve been to a convention of any size, you’ve likely suffered from information overload. Maybe you were diligent enough to take notes during each of the sessions, but did you ever review them again? Either way, how much of the program did you retain in active memory after the event? How much of it did you act upon?
Too much information hoisted upon us in a short period of time becomes “corporate soup.” No one flavor stands out. It’s not memorable.
Another analogy is phone numbers. They’re seven digits because that’s been found to be the average amount of information the human brain can memorize at one “go.” Any great amount of disconnected information is simply lost.
For example, more sophisticated, corporate gatherings are “themed.” They reinforce one central idea throughout (a short phrase, usually) and each presentation carefully supports that central theme. You come away from a full day of talks with a clear, resounding message, with lots of smaller points that support it. Recall is much easier, because none of it conflicts. In fact, it all reinforces.
Think about your presentation structure in the same way: One central theme, with points that support it. You’ll have the most impact on audience retention, and more importantly, immediate interest while you’re live on stage.
2. Start with the problem.
If there’s a surefire way to instantly get your audience’s attention, it’s talking about the problem they’re suffering from—you know, the one that desperately needs a solution. It’s typically the reason you’re all in the same room to begin with. That’s where you want to start your presentation.
The problem you share with your audience is what you have in common; there’s nothing that will bind a group together like a shared challenge.
Once you have their attention, you can move on to the solution—they’ll be much more receptive than when they entered the room.
I’ve seen advertising managers do a full hour on plans for the upcoming quarter without the slightest hint as to what need the advertising addresses, or why it’s important to the audience. At the end of the presentation, you’re left with the question, “Hmmm, what was that all about? What’s in it for me?”
Ever been there? No need to answer.
Make sure your presentation answers an audience need … and that they know what it is.
3. In a focus on emotional impact.
So many presenters focus on facts but don’t reflect on how the information will affect the audience. Even the quarterly financial performance will have an effect on the employees in the room. After all, that’s what it’s really all about!
What does it mean to them? How will it affect their customers, their roles within the company, or opportunities for each of them going forward? Most audiences are filled with human beings. The presentation is for their benefit, but we don’t actually get into what that benefit is.
If you watch television, your favorite television shows are likely not fact-based (I can’t think of one that is). They’re mostly about relationships. Even the news focuses on effects on people. It’s what we’re interested in. We make decisions based on emotion. Don’t leave it out of your presentation. Appeal to the head and the heart.
4. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I spent a good eight years of my early career writing and producing television commercials. I spent a further five years running an ad agency.
Throughout that period, I was always cognizant of the fact (through research) that audiences had to see a commercial at least three times before it registered—before it had any kind of impact.
Audiences need to see a television at least three times before it registers.
Purchasing television time was based upon that principle, measured in “Gross Rating Points.” It’s a principle that holds true in any kind of communication. In fact, the simplistic structure of a presentation is,
Tell them what you’re going to tell them (opening),
Tell them in detail (body)
Tell them what you told them (closing).
It’s so basic and yet so powerful. If you were to ask a successful politician, that principle would likely come back as one of the first rules in any election campaign.
5. Speak directly to your audience.
One of the most important things you learn as a professional speaker is to make your presentation about your audience. Audiences don’t care about the presenter; they care about themselves, their problems, and how to solve them.
A really good exercise, if you write out your speech or presentation, is to review it and count the number of “yous” versus the number of “I’s.” You need A LOT MORE yous.
Use conversational language (language you use every day) and keep your sentences short and to-the-point. The very best presentations are a dialogue between the audience and you.
Don’t’ Forget Creativity and Fun!
There are more techniques for connecting with your audience and capturing their attention. But that’s enough for now, or I’ll definitely be responsible for information overload!
More important than any of the principles above is creativity. Humans notice and remember things that are different. Be different! Have fun with your presentation. Use an interesting prop, a turn of phrase, or a dramatic visual – but make sure it’s central to your key point.
And please, please, please, get rid of the screens of text. They do neither you nor you audience any good whatsoever, unless they truly need the sleep.
If you have other powerful techniques that you use that trump these, drop me a line. I’m always ready for a good idea, particularly if I can pass it on (with you mentioned as the source, of course).