Life Is Short: How to Quit Snoozing Your Audience With Information

There is something about a great presentation of information or ideas that leaves you feeling satisfied.

Photo courtesy of Graur Codrin | Freedigitalphotos.net
Photo courtesy of Graur Codrin | Freedigitalphotos.net

A great presentation is like a great dinner

Like a great dinner where you do not go away too full and you are not left hungering for more. It left you with a great taste in your mouth (pardon the pun) about your host or hostess and the meal was something of a harmonious interaction of food and environment. Everything flowed and you ended up feeling a sense of camaraderie with those with whom you dined.

In my last blog survey, I asked “As a reader, what are future topics that would be of benefit to you?” And one of the responses given was how to present boring information in an exciting manner.

In other words, how does one present information in such a way that it resonates with the listener and creates changed thinking?

I do not claim to be in any sense a guru of presentations. But the truth is that we are inundated with information every day. And I want to leave my listeners with that satisfied feeling walking out. I don’t know about you, but for me, it is not just about the content. Google will allow me to find anything out there on the world wide web.

What catches my attention, though, is the manner in which information is presented. Anyone can present information. But it is an art to leave your audience with that sense of dining at a great meal, pushing the chair back, and saying, “Ah, now that was amazing.”

Most of us are going to have to present some sort of information to a group of listeners. This could take multiple forms, from having to present something one time to a group of listeners to being a full-time teacher in a classroom.

This post today is not designed to be an end-all of techniques, but at least equip your tool belt with a few principles that you can carry into any type of information-sharing setting.

The what, why, and how

A key element of poor presentations is that many times the audience is introduced to the topic with the same feeling as stepping into a conversation mid-stream. Think of the last time you were at a party and were just “conversation-hopping.” Remember jumping into that conversation where everyone was laughing and you did not get there early enough to hear what was funny?

Remember that feeling? Confusing at best. Awkward at worst.

That is what we do to our listeners. We jump into a lesson or a stream of thought without on-boarding our listeners. And that is why it is not only helpful, but courteous, to give your audience the what, why, and how.

What: “Today we are going to have a conversation about _____. By the time we are done today, you will not only understand _____, but you will also have three tools of your own to use immediately when you leave today.”

Ok, you just hooked me.

Why: “Has anyone had a problem with _____ before? Oh yeah, me too. In fact, the other day _____ happened to me. And so I began to put some thought into it. And if you are struggling to have success in this area, I can tell you firsthand that I have some answers to help you with _____.

You just jumped into my life and personalized your story to resonate with mine.

How: “So how are we going to get there? It is going to be more simple than you might think. We are going to look at three creative ideas today, role-play them, and then offer some solutions. Sound good?”

You just connected my problem with your solution. I am all ears now.

This is a wonderfully simple technique but one that I do not see utilized much. Why? Because we are more concerned with outputting  our information than making the needs of our listeners our first priority. And we have to stop doing that or we will continue to make people feel as if they are joining that party conversation mid-stream.

The great thing about his technique is it is multi-purpose. It can be implemented into simple conversations or higher level discussion or into full-class teaching. It is a one-size-fits-all type of tool. And it works.

That PowerPoint presentation – you know the one

I have sat through my share of presentations, and I have that same rising tension each time I hear someone present information in a manner that looks like they copied an entire book onto their 37 slides of their offering of information.

We have all (unfortunately) had to sit through them. 

Small font. Many bullet points. Lots of text. Ill-fitting pictures.

I am breaking out into a sweat even as I type this.

I have read books and articles about how to captivate your audience through the medium of slides, i.e. PowerPoint or Keynote. And my desire today is to pass along some basic but essential tips that you can use as a grid each time you have information to share.

Read the experts

If there is one guy who has shaped my thought more than anyone else about the presentation of information, it is Garr Reynolds. He has a very helpful text titled Presentation Zen and it totally reshaped my thinking. Here are 3 principles that, if you remember, will de-clutter your slides and bring power to your presentation.

Limit your information

Have one key idea per slide. One. And limit your bullets to your top 3-5 ideas and limit the words in each bullet to just a few words. When I taught at the college level, I learned that I did not want to be the prof with so much detail on his slides that it become impossible for my students to listen to me and take notes. They were so frantically taking notes that there was no time to actually listen to me.

Slides are meant to merely supplement your talk. One idea is all that should be displayed. And better yet, only a few words per slide.

My greatest gift that I can give to my listeners is to allow them to take the journey with me. Don’t impede their progress. And to do that they must have the opportunity to listen. If necessary, create presenter notes or have a handout that lays out your information in greater detail.

I was at a 5-day conference not too long ago and all of the notes were fill-in-the-blank. You know how it goes. If the presenter does not happen to mention the right word in the right order, this low rumble breaks out in the audience as people are frantically trying to figure out what went in the 23rd blank on the page.

(Whispering) “He skipped the blank. He…skipped…the…blank. What was it?” And by the time the third person down from you relays it through the two other people beside you, you have then missed the next blank.

The most successful times of speaking that I have enjoyed are when I engage my audience and make them participants and not just receivers of information. Intentionally limit what you show. Your audience will thank you.

Make it visual

Pictures still speak a thousand words. Images or videos are powerful in drawing out emotions. And take the time to use high-quality graphics and stay away from the clip-art. Three options I use are freedigitalphotos.net, publicdomainpictures.net, and pond5.com.

Some powerful images at low-cost or no-cost.

Use one captivating graphic and then draw your audience into it to experience what you desire for them to experience.

Tell a story

You want to really draw in your audience? Make yourself vulnerable. Tell a story that maybe does not cast you in the best of light but allows your listeners to identify with what you went through and how you got through it.

Powerful.

Stories allow us to take the conceptual and turn it into the practical. They are the bridge between theory and practice. In many early cultures, story-telling was the primary method of teaching and passing along of information.

And let me add one thought on this topic: every story does not have to be about you, but if you have a story that relates your life to the lives of your listeners, you have emotionally captured your audience and they are ready to listen to you. Stories about yourself, especially the stories that make you human, will give you a power and influence with your audience that is indescribable. And at that point, learning, true learning, begins to happen.

These principles are not rocket-science and they may not even have provided an “aha” moment for you today. But they just cannot be used in isolation from one another. They are like a symphony where all the instruments playing together create a sensation that is truly moving.

And so the next time you have an opportunity to move information from you to your listeners, think through the bigger picture that each opportunity provides a chance to draw in your audience, have them identify to a need, and then walk away with tools for change.

And that is something that will also change your own life.

 

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