“My presentations are often written on an airplane or in the taxi on my way to the conference”, a client told me this week, “there’s just too much else to do.” Those comments led to a thoughtful discussion about why we do presentations at all and what we hope to get out of them. Too many people do presentations because they are expected to do them. It becomes a chore rather than an opportunity.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Many people focus on the wrong things when they’re asked to do a presentation. They spend their time gathering more information on a topic when they already know more than they could possibly present in the time they’ve been allotted. They don’t realize that a presentation is not a mind-dump of information. Audiences expect speakers to have done some editing. Audiences want the speaker to do the work in picking data that is relevant. And audiences want a reward for their attention.
Presentations should always be about the audience. You need to know who they are and as much about their backgrounds as possible. Then you can decide what’s in it for you. Decide on an objective for your speech. You might want to motivate, convince, educate, sell product or sell yourself. You need to have an objective so you can measure whether the presentation was successful.
Instead of spending hours on your computer googling for more information, write the conclusion to your presentation first. I call it the Big Finish. It’s the place you want your audience to be after you’ve been speaking for 20 or 40 minutes. Then write an opening that will grab their attention while you settle down your nerves. No matter how long your speech is those two things will total about five minutes. Practice the opening and closing, out loud, five times. That will take less than half an hour.
The stuff in the middle? Well, if you can, tell a good story that will make your audience more receptive to the Big Finish. They won’t be judging you on how many facts you put on the table so don’t try to cram in everything you know.
Usually, the middle takes care of itself because you know that content – that’s why you were asked to speak. If you like, you can even write it in the taxi on the way to the conference.