Adam, a product developer, came to me recently to run through an incredibly detailed presentation. Every corner, nook, and cranny of every slide was packed with multistep processes and detailed diagrams. Details were central to the discussion, in Adam’s mind. And so was his business speak, which Adam had dialed all the way up to nine. His extreme detail and business jargon, he reasoned, were vital to his credibility and authority, as well as his message.
Unfortunately for Adam, I didn’t believe him.
They say the devil’s in the details, and in this case, those details were dragging him straight to hell.
If Adam truly understood his subject, why couldn’t he explain it simply?
Why was he hiding behind all of that business speak?
Density and complexity unravel your power. Simplicity creates it.
As Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain a thing simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Not to contradict Albert, but: let’s go with the assumption that you do understand your topic. Let’s say you even understand it very well. What’s keeping you from describing it simply? Maybe the ability to explain something simply is the source of a little misunderstanding.
If you want your presentations to be smart and more successful, keep these five tips in mind:
1. Look beyond the title slide.
What is your presentation really about? If you just replied with the presentation’s title, you’re missing the point. Look instead at the impact you want to create. What does victory look like when you have finished delivering your material? If wild success shows up, how will you know it? Ultimately, the presentation is about what action you want your audience to take when you are finished. What action do you want them to take tomorrow? The next day? The next week? That’s what the presentation is really about.
2. Step into their shoes.
Structuring a powerful presentation starts with what your audience is thinking. Don’t focus on the way things are for you; visualize the way things are for your audience right now. Describe the picture they are seeing, and you instantly build trust and rapport. This results in an audience that registers: “You see me. You see us. You know our situation.”
Opening with a high concept—a universal truth we all connect to—is always the best place to start. Depending on your audience, your high concept might be: “Doesn’t it seem like we all want a sense of safety in the workplace?” or “Doesn’t it seem like everyone wants to feel as though he or she is being heard, listened to, and understood?”
For many of the companies I coach on their investor pitches, you will hear entrepreneurs begin the conversation with a “Picture This” statement—a comment that appeals to the visual nature of human beings. The presentation begins with a visual; ask your audience to see the way things are (a high concept), followed by the way things could be (that innovative, counterintuitive twist).
3. Don’t leave out the heart.
After you create the visual of the way things are, you want to introduce the facts, figures, and logic that back up your vision. But the facts you include won’t speak for themselves; you need to provide context. That’s the difference between saying, “Here’s the number” and “Here’s what the number means to you…and the people you care about.”
Emotions drive our actions, even for the most analytical among us. Leaders capture the hearts and minds of the clients they serve. That means you can’t leave the heart out of the story. Tell your audience: What’s the urgency here? What’s the danger of doing nothing? What’s the emotional impact of no action?
4. Think, feel, do.
For every slide you put on the screen, ask yourself these three questions:
1. What do I want my audience to think when they see this slide?
2. What do I want them to feel?
3. What do I want them to do?
Not every slide will include all three elements, of course. Some slides are more informational than others. Is there a way to incorporate elements of emotion and action into the story? What about combining an emotional appeal with statistics and data that drive home the point? The best presentations bring these three elements into every part of the story, in varying degrees, to create the action and outcomes you want.
5. Clean it up, or move it out.
If you can’t answer the think, feel, do questions, then you need to ask yourself: Why am I keeping this slide? Why am I keeping this headline or paragraph? If people feel a headache coming on because your presentation is denser than a neutron star, clean it up and move it out. Get rid of the density. Delete the business speak. Introduce clarity. One idea, one slide.
Remember, you’re there to inspire and motivate your audience. The people in front of you want to know: What do you want us to think, feel, and do differently? By clarifying your message, you’ll move from “reporting facts” to presenting a powerful message that creates action.
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