Presenting ideas, or inspiring confusion?

by Peter Watts

I opened a Twitter account in order to have access to the random thoughts of one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore. His humor makes the dullest journeys enjoyable, and if you find yourself in a bookstore pre-flight I would especially recommend “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” to all business travellers.

Moore is a great communicator not just on the printed page, but with his fans, and I recently saw a Tweet concerning an interview Moore gave to the “Ink and Page” blog.

In response to a question about his use of social media, Moore suggests a new test that I think should be applied to all presentations. We’ll call it “Moore’s Law of Attention Deficit Disorder”.

 Is your presentation constructed to “promote ADD, rather than an exchange of ideas”?

Within training classes I talk about the guiding principal of “Never under-estimate the ability of your audience to completely miss the point.” Moore’s Law of Attention Deficit Disorder describes perfectly what causes the phenomena; we hit audiences with way too much information!

Every presentation should contain a key message; a single idea that holds everything together and provides narrative structure. If the audience is not to become the victim of an acute ADD, it’s essential to prune the presentation. Cut, cut, cut, and then cut some more. Anything not directly connected to the key message has got to go!

At the end of the interview Moore provides golden guidance for all presenters. It’s contained in the penultimate line, in speech marks. I’ll leave you to read it for yourself, along with hopefully that excellent novel about the Lust Lizard.

Presentation structure: Your main message

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by Peter Watts

The most valuable asset a presenter can have is knowing exactly what their presentation is about.

Thinking about a forthcoming presentation, can you answer, in one short sentence, the following question:

What is the one thing you want everyone to be saying as they leave the room?

  • In a recruitment interview it might be “This person is the best choice for the job
  • In a sales situation it might be “That product is the most reliable
  • Bidding for a budget, it could be “This project delivers return on investment

Encapsulating your presentation down to one succinct message can be surprisingly difficult. The different pieces of information which you want to include can compete with each other for air-time in a noisy log-jam of presentation possibilities! Remember that if you find it difficult to identify that one main theme within your presentation, then your audience will find it impossible!

Simplicity is a priority. The simpler, stronger, and shorter your message, the better. Your goal is to deny the audience the opportunity to do anything other than get your meaning, loudly and clearly.

Imagine your message as the central pole of a huge canvas umbrella, the type you might sit under for an al-fresco meal on a hot day.  You want people to feel comfortable and secure under the umbrella of your presentation, and that pole, your message, is it’s central support.

See the message clearly written down the side of the pole. Every point you make in the presentation must stem directly from it. Just as the individual struts of the umbrella all connect to the pole and support the canvas, anything that isn’t firmly attached, is going to flap around, distracting the audience.

If you need convoluted connections to get points to stay in place, then they don’t belong in the presentation. Leave them out! Keep it simple! Don’t put in extraneous details that will only cause people to become confused.

In a later blog, we’ll discuss how to handle objections in presentations. For now it’s worth noting that many objections are caused by these lose flapping features that make the customer challenge “What’s with that bit, I don’t see where it fits”. Eliminating the extraneous, leads to less objections.

Having a clear and overt main message in your presentation makes things easier for both you and your audience.

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