When I started giving presentations, I used to say too much. I don’t mean in the number of words I used. But in the number of ideas I was trying to get across.
I first realised this when I began running workshops. Some participants would say,
“Wow. You’ve given us SO much information today, which is great. But I don’t know where to begin. I feel overwhelmed.”
Comments like these felt like someone had shoved a whiteboard marker up my nose. They hurt.
After years of practice, I learned it is not the number of ideas you present. Rather, it’s the quality that matters.
Say less to an audience, and they take away more.
If you’re planning to give a presentation, don’t try to force-feed your audience with too much material. Because if you do, you won’t get the impact you want.
Imagine you’re trying to get your boss to back a new initiative.
As an eager-beaver subordinate, you can fall into the trap of including this statistic or that statistic and this and that data. You include so many graphs and pie charts that only someone as brainy as Elon Musk could understand your slide deck.
Unfortunately, this approach will make your boss’s brain hurt. And without a carefully crafted message, your presentation flops.
However, you’ll make a much bigger impact by spending more time thinking about what you’re trying to say — and less time trying to find royalty-free images or adding whizz-bang slide transitions.
#1. Don’t open PowerPoint until you’ve opened your mind
After giving thousands of presentations, I’ve learned that being clear on your main idea is the most important job for a presenter.
Therefore, before logging in to your laptop, think more. By this, I mean spend 10x more time thinking about your presentation than you normally do.
It’s your responsibility to be clear about your point of view. It is not something the audience should be forced to do either during or after your presentation.
This is how I go about crafting clearer messages:
- Write down — or mind map — every idea you have about your topic. This is what’s known as a ‘brain dump’.
- Put that list to one side — ideally, 24 hours. When you return to it, you’ll probably have another idea or three to add.
- After a period of reflection, take your list of ideas and delete, delete, delete!
Get rid of everything that you don’t need to say. Or you don’t need to say right now. Or anything that the audience will have heard before or know already.
- Leave only on the most interesting and essential thoughts you must get across.
#2. Choose your key message from your list
This is a crucial step.
From your refined list (Step 1) select what will become YOUR BIG IDEA.
This is the one message you are going to focus on.
Often, your key message will jump out at you. Sometimes, it will need a little work. It will need a little shaping and tweaking. Whatever you do, spend as much time as you need (or have got) to clarify and distil your thoughts.
Don’t move on until you’re happy you have something clear, simple and important to say.
#3. Structure your presentation with your Big Idea front and centre
They teach trainee journalists not to ‘bury the lead’. By this, they mean not hiding the main idea deep within an article. Readers will lose interest if they can’t see the point of reading.
Similarly, with your presentation, deliver your big idea at the start of your talk.
Don’t build up to it. Hit them with it (verbally, no actual violence, please) from the start.
You’ll come back to your Big Idea throughout your talk. But if you don’t reach your crucial point early on, your audience will stop paying attention.
There are lots of presentation frameworks out there that can help you do this. This one is an oldie but a goody…
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them (Your Big Idea)
- Tell them (expand on the Big Idea)
- Tell them what you told them (summarise the Big Idea)
Remember, a presentation is not about you. It’s about your audience.
As I learned several years ago, if an audience feels confused or overwhelmed, they may do nothing. That’s not only a mistake. It’s a waste of time.