There is an old tale of the chatterbox who, when asked for the time, responds with a complete set of instructions for how to build a clock. Or, as I once heard a wit describe an exchange with a garrulous speaker, “I asked him the time, and he told me how to build Switzerland!”
Unfortunately, this tell-all tendency occurs regularly in presentations, and it does so because of an occupational hazard: presenters must be highly knowledgeable about their subject matter, which includes expertise in their company’s core offering as well as a wide array of related subjects to support their expertise. This occupational hazard can afflict any businessperson—from a C-level officer to the most junior executive.
As a result, when businesspeople are called upon to communicate their company story, they have so much information churning around in their brains, they often try to tell all of it to their audiences—producing sagas of encyclopedic length. Most of the calls for my services as a presentation coach are to help presenters make their stories more concise. No one has ever called to help make their stories longer.
Why would any presenter be prolix and wear out their welcome with any audience? The reason is that they labor under the well-intended but misguided concept that, in order for their audiences to understand anything, they have to be told everything.
At Suasive we address this challenge with our Story Development process that begins with—wait for it—the end.
As the second of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People advises, “Begin with the End in Mind.” When you start your presentation development with the goal, the objective of your story, you immediately avoid the common troubled audience reaction, “What’s the point?”
An essential parallel step is to do a deep analysis of your intended audience: their needs, their wants, fears, and hot buttons. When you do this, you immediately avoid another common troubled audience reaction, “Why should I care?” or its companion reaction, “What’s in it for me?”
These two seemingly obvious and yet frequently overlooked steps will eliminate unnecessary boiler plate content. They will also give lie to the pervasive concept of the “corporate deck.” One size does not fit all, and if you try to make any communication attempt to do that, you will carry forward excess baggage.
The next step is to brainstorm. Businesspeople willingly engage in free-form out-of-the-box thinking for strategic planning, product development, or problem-solving, but they rarely use the same process when it comes to creating a presentation narrative or, for that matter, writing a report, speech, or memo. The result is a data dump that inflates content into an epic tale rivalling War and Peace. Instead, the brainstorm provides an opportunity to see all the potential ideas in advance and to select only what the target audience needs to know and, most important, what they don’t need to know, also known as TMI.
Make your story concise by being crystal clear about your point, what’s in it for your audience—and do the data dump in your preparation, not your presentation.