Sunday, December 5, 2010

Brevity in Your Presentations

Years ago the first cave people sat around a fire and told their friends stories. Their audience fell asleep, threw a rock at him or her, or listened attentively. The objective then and today is to get people to pay attention to what you are saying or be able to adroitly dodge slings and arrows. Care about your audience, be sincere but be brief.

Audiences want to hear your points and leave. Regardless of how fascinated you are with your subject, or consider your message absolutely critical, most people get bored very quickly and want to get on with other things.

You can condense your thoughts into a meaningful presentation. Consider that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a scant 269 words in length. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence is 1,337 words. It's more difficult to be simple but wisdom is often found in simplicity.

Your audiences are used to short sound bites of information. The younger the audience, the more impatient they are. Teens participating in a focus group said email is “something used to talk to ‘old people’ and is, like, so yesterday." They favor exchanging short, rapid dialogue with instantly updated messages or 140-character Tweets. Your listeners may range from young to old, but no one wants to sit through irrelevant information or slide after slide of confusing text. Prune your ideas like you would prune a rosebush. You'll end up with a more beautiful rose and more powerful impact in your speech.

Twenty per cent of what you say makes eighty per cent of the impact. Can you figure out that twenty percent and aim for the bull’s eye? State a context, your objective and get to the punch line. What do you REALLY think about this subject? What relevant evidence backs up your belief?

What does your audience need to know to do a job, increase their knowledge or efficiency, save them time or money, boost their morale, solve a problem, make a decision or take action? If you aren’t sure of your thoughts on a subject, you're apt to ramble expressing them to others. Take a break and let those thoughts germinate. Clarity of thoughts will bring about clarity in your speech. If there are addditional statistics, legal details, or facts your listeners need to reference, distribute handouts and documentation or publish them online. Avoid getting bogged down in details that your listeners will forget five minutes after they exit the room.
Phoenix speech writer Phil Theibert says “Keep it simple, keep it plain, tell them the truth and get the hell out of there.”

Your next audience will sigh in relief if you are clear and succinct and you won’t end up being a target!
“If you would be pungent,
be brief;
for it is with words as with sunbeams –
the more they are condensed,
the deeper they burn."
...Robert Southey
Jan D'Arcy
Resources: Check out my website for podcasts on various presentation subjects. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg looks at why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions -- and offers 3 powerful pieces of advice to women aiming for the C-suite.

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