You can’t have a great presentation without great preparation. Your success as a speaker directly correlates to the work you do ahead of time. I often tell my students that research and content development is like fishing with a casting net. You want to throw out the biggest net, so you can pull in the most fish. That way, when it’s time to start piecing your presentation together, you have more to choose from. But it’s that step after researching that seems to trip a lot of speakers up. They’ve gathered lots of great material, but they don’t know which “fish” to actually put into the presentation. This step in the process is called selection, and it can be a tough one. However, if you stay focused on your goal and on your audience, you can thoughtfully edit down the material you’ve gathered.
Stay Focused on Your Goal
One of my favorite presentation books is Jerry Weissman’s Presenting to Win: The Art of Telling Your Story. This is what he says about the concept he calls Data Dump:
Too many businesspeople labor under the mistaken assumption that for their audience to understand anything, they have to be told everything. The result is long, extensive presentations that amount to nothing more than Data Dumps. It goes something like this: “Let’s show them the statistics about the growth of the market. Then we’ve got the results of the last two customer satisfaction surveys. Throw in some excerpts from the press coverage we got after out product launch … And don’t forget the financial figures, the more the better.” This is a formula for a failed presentation. Your audience will either be overwhelmed by the information or will simply give up and declare, “So what?” The Data Dump must be part of your preparation, not the presentation.
During your selection process, pick out only the information that is directly related to the goal you want to accomplish. A presentation is formed as much by what you put in as by what you take out. And for every great presentation, you can be assured that there are great things on the cutting room floor. It’s okay. It’s part of the selection process. Whether you are trying to inform or persuade or inspire your audience, select only the material that helps you accomplish that goal.
Stay Focused on the Audience
In addition to selecting the information that helps you accomplish your main goal, you must keep your eyes focused on what matters to your audience. In a study to see how much of a presentation audience members typically retain, researchers found that following a 10-minute presentation, the audience only remembered 50% of what was said. That means the other 50% was something your audience didn’t understand, or relate to, or care about. There will be information that you gather during the research process that matters greatly to you but doesn’t matter at all to your audience. Editing is a tough process, but as you prepare your presentation, keep asking yourself: What does the audience need to know? What do they want to know? What is important to them? Let those questions guide your selection process.
The next time you’ve completed your research, use these two key principles to inform your editing process. A presentation that is written with the goal and the audience in mind is well on it’s way to being successful.
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