After a presentation, most people will forget about 40% of what they learned within 20 minutes. As a presenter, you are working against tough odds anytime you get up to speak. However, using this one tip can help you make sure your information sinks in with your audience.
I use the following example to help my students understand an important, but often overlooked, concept in presenting: general versus specific information. While there are many things this speaker does well, there is a crucial problem with this presentation. The information presented remains general for the large majority of the speech. Take a few moments to watch it now.
Now ask yourself the following questions: “Where are the people in this speech?” and “What or who do I care about at the end of this speech?” The answers to those questions help to illuminate the problem with the presentation content and, more importantly, with the inefficacy of the message. Generalities rarely move an audience.
General vs. Specific Information
Information that is general makes a larger case from a farther away, whereas information that is specific looks at a smaller case from close up. Read these examples and see how you process the information differently because of the level of generality or specificity.
General: Children all over Tennessee are fighting Leukemia.
Specific: I met Allie on my most recent visit to Vanderbilt Hospital. The first thing I noticed about this bright-eyed, 5-year old was that she had just a few tufts of brown hair left. In the brief time we spent together, I learned all about her cats and her pink bicycle, and I learned that her laugh that could light up any room. Allie is fighting for life against Leukemia.
General: Our company was able to provide services to 10 new clients in the most recent quarter.
Specific: When Julie Tate opened her Spring Hill Pottery Shop in the small town she had lived in all her life, she felt like her dreams were finally coming true. However, she knew that she needed to market her business if it was going to be successful, but she had no clue where to start. That’s where we stepped in to help share Julie’s dream with her local market.
Moving from Statements to Stories
Another way to look at general versus specific information is to view generalities as statements and specificities as stories. While the specific examples above aren’t fully fleshed out narratives, they do show a movement from a simple statement that can be easily forgotten by the audience, to something that sticks with them or sinks in at a deeper level. Journalist Stanford Erickson puts it this way, we “learn what [we] care about and remember what [we] understand.” While we both care and understand the two general examples above, we don’t care about or understand them on the same level, or rather, from the same distance. The narrative form of the specific examples brings them “closer” to the audience. We can’t “picture” or “feel” much in the general statements, but in the more specific examples, we can now attach names, and emotions, and senses to the information being presented. That move toward specific, narrative elements results in greater audience retention and recall.
As a presenter, work to bring your information closer to your audience by framing it in specific details that help your audience members process the information on a deeper level. When you move from general information to specific information, you’ll find your audience is more attentive and invested. And as a result, the information you are presenting will sink in.
For more ways to fight the odds stacked against speakers and turn them in your favor, register for our online presentation skills class now.