Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes interviewed Mikhail Prokhorov, the richest man in Russia, and expressed amazement there was no computer on his desk. “We have too much information and it’s really impossible to filter it,” Mr. Prokhorov replied. Individuals presenting to him are expected to research, succinctly synthesize and edit their ideas.
It’s ironic that Steve Balmer, President of Microsoft, said, “I get impatient. So most meetings nowadays, you send me the materials and I read them in advance. And I can come in and say: ‘I’ve got the following four questions. Please don’t present the deck.”
Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and our daily hours are not. Audiences become anesthetized when verbally and visually overloaded. A confused mind will say, “No!” The presenter who extracts only the essential information from the vast amounts of available complex data and communicates this in an understandable and useful way will bring sighs of relief from the audience.
I recently coached a client who was going to be one of the last speakers during a day-long conference of 500 people. He called to tell me the prior speeches had been so boring and technical that over 380 people walked out. It was disconcerting to watch the audience disappearing but he was eager to get on stage. He was pleased to have an excellent reception for his practical, tailored message.
It’s imperative to conduct an audience analysis before you even begin writing your material. What is their level of knowledge? What are their goals? What is useful to them right now? How can I get immediately to the punch line and get their attention? And when you think you’re finished, ask what material/slides should I leave out? Presenting isn’t a time to display every idea you’ve picked up in your career. Sometimes a person drops loads of data to prove they’re an expert or to validate their own self-worth.
If it’s impossible to get prior information on your audience, ask a few basic questions before you begin speaking. You’ll discover you need to give more background or skip five slides in the middle or even talk about something different than you planned. It takes time to wade through reams of material, consolidate relevant ideas and filter out extraneous information. But you’ll be in demand and elicit applause if you adapt your material to your audience.
The way to be a bore is to say everything.” …Voltaire