by Paul Carroll, Toastmasters International
In any presentation, time is limited, and you need to decide what your clients or colleagues need to know. Too much information might confuse your audience about what’s most important. On the other hand, sometimes you’ll find that your audience is very interested in a particular point you’ve made and you need to give them more.
Here are some tips for giving a successful presentation and getting the right level of information at the right moment:
Know Your Audience
When addressing new people do your research. Learn what they want. Learn about their capacity: what can they realistically afford to buy from you? What regulatory constraints have they? Find out which of your competitors they already do business with.
Speak in the Active Voice
When you listen to people who are trying to persuade you how often do they use active language? Do they say “I’ll do this and you do that”? Or do they say “This should be done” and leave unclear who is the doer? If something needs fixing do they own up and say “We got this wrong” or do they say “Mistakes were made”? In each case, the first is clearer.
Metaphors are tools to explain new or abstract ideas in familiar terms. Take the example: time is money. Time is an abstract concept. But when you equate it with money, business people have a reason to take notice.
Be Clear About Your Message
You must understand what you want to get across so you can decided how much detail is necessary for people to get your point. When Apple introduced the original iPod, engineers were excited about the technology. Customers were excited when Steve Jobs summarized the offer: “It’s a thousand songs in your pocket.” He knew how to grab his audience with a clear message.
Decide What to Leave Out
In the opening of your presentation give an outline for your audience to follow. As you prepare the body of the talk, keep asking yourself: is this fact necessary for understanding what follows? If not leave it out!
When I worked in finance at a project meeting with our IT colleagues, they gave us a presentation on a new system for reporting inventories of shares. The lead person spoke for 15 minutes about the binary code of the existing system as if we understood the relevance of a CPU register or new the difference between a CPU and an ALU. We didn’t! All we want to know was how we’d use the system. It was hard to stay awake.
Decide What’s Essential
Some details are not superfluous. How can you tell which are and aren’t? In the Q&A after you presentation, the specific questions asked are your guide to where you should use more details.
Directness aids clarity and minimizes the distractions facing your audience. Take cues from your audience on where to expand. When is a detail necessary? When somebody asks about it.
With our IT colleagues we tried again. This time we presented to them on what we needed. They asked a lot of very intelligent questions. Their very specific questions led to us delivering very specific information to them about how a system should be designed for execution.
In summary: Start by giving people enough information to follow your argument and get your message. Expand in response to their interests and need for more detail.
Paul Carroll is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organization that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.