August 27; Will The Presenter’s Words Remain With The Audience Out the Door?
MANAGEMENT BY THE BOOK:
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One-Minute Management Lessons For The Busy Faithful

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Chapter Eight: Communication; 27 August

For my part,

even though I am not physically present,

I am with you in spirit…

1 Corinthians 5:3a

Will The Presenter’s Words Remain With The Audience Out the Door?

Presentation

yoest_stern_business_school_NYU_nov_2006_cropped

Your Business Professor speaking at NYU

The presentation was mind-numbing, boring and long. The speaker took so long and the PowerPoints were so dense because the speaker had so little to say. Some in the audience nodded off. I know. I was there.

I was the speaker.

Your Business Professor had 50 minutes of allotted time for 12 minutes of content. Or maybe the numbers were reversed. Either way made for a painful experience for the listener.

As a novice speaker I feared Albert Einstein’s admonition, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” I included any and every jot and tittle. I didn’t have the time or the wisdom or the experience of knowing what could be safely deleted and the message still delivered. I thought if I vomited enough volume I would lurch into the perfect memorable presentation.

I wasn’t smart enough to deliver a short speech.

The purpose of a presentation is for recallable content. Andrew Abela, Ph.D., the Dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America, writes, “Your objectives should be about how your audience will change as a result of your presentation: how they will think and act differently after they leave the room.” (Andrew Abela 2008) p 5. Our goal should be as English poet W. H. Auden says, “A professor is one who speaks in someone else’s sleep.”

I would only understand later what the French aristocrat writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry* wrote, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Or as Coco Chanel would say, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory” (Lindig 2014)

***

The military would like this minimalism, so much that they call presentations, ‘briefings.’

The Army uses four types of briefings,

  1. The information briefing is to inform the listener. [No recommendations]
  2. The decision briefing is designed to obtain an answer or decision. [Recommendations]
  3. The mission briefing is designed to review important details or give specific instructions.
  4. The staff briefing is designed to secure a coordination or unified effort and to exchange information. (Army 1971)

The incoming data overload often mentioned as “Death by PowerPoint” is physically and intuitively ineffective. But let us not blame a software solution. It is possible for the manager to deliver a lot of content that will be remembered in a few visual aids. Forget the 50-plus deck; use less than 10 slides. Or fewer.

***

Investor Brad Feld notes that the best Board of Directors meetings are where,

The CEO then puts up one slide with the issues he’d like to discuss.  These are bullet points that are crisp yet detailed enough to know what the issue is.  This is then the bulk of the meeting.

Some CEOs are capable of running a 2+ hour discussion off of one slide (I love these guys). (Feld 2009)

A single-slide presentation? With a few bullets? Your audience will love you too. I wish I had known this years ago.

For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit…1 Corinthians 5:3a

###

*Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote The Little Prince, the most famous book in French literature. And he flew P-38 Lightings for the Allies in WWII. Saint-Exupéry was shot down and killed probably by a German flying a Messerschmitt near Corsica in 1944. (BBC 2008)

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8 Responses

  1. The bad news for anyone delivering a presentation is that, despite all your hard work and careful choice of content to include in your presentation, most of it will go in one ear and out the other.

    Researchers once ran a test to measure how much of a presenter’s message sticks in the minds of their audience. They found that immediately after a 10-minute presentation, listeners only remembered 50 percent of what was said. By the next day that had dropped to 25 percent, and a week later it was 10 percent.

    Since very little of your message will stick, you must be absolutely clear in your mind which 10 percent you want them to remember, and then design your presentation to make sure that happens.

    Here are some tips my high school teacher gave her students.
    Make sure you choose a clear and compelling theme. You first write the headline and then craft your content to reinforce, repeat and dramatize your theme.

    Make it a game. Audiences are willing to do almost anything a speaker request provided it seems fair, fun and familiar. If you announce at the beginning of the presentation that you’re going to have a contest, and then follow up with prizes, for audience members who recall certain aspects of the speech, you should get the effect from the competitive audience members.

    Use visual aids. Forget the myth about auditory. We’re all visual learners; pictures stay in our minds far more commonly than abstract concepts and words.

  2. Molly M says:

    I am really struck by the line “I wasn’t smart enough to deliver a short speech”

    So often we are told to have a 15 minute presentation prepared, or a 10 page paper written, and yet these arbitrary times and lengths can be detrimental to the quality of the presentation or paper. Sometimes shorter is better.

    It takes a lot of practice, knowledge, and understanding to deliver a short, concise speech. This seems strange upon first thought. Shouldn’t it be harder to give a 3 hour presentation? In reality, being efficient and succinct is the hardest task. When you do research and know a lot of information about a specific subject, it is easy to relay all of the information you know to show how much of an expert you are. However, keeping information short, to the point, and presented in an easily digestible way takes much more effort.

    This is where revision becomes an authors best friend. Re-reading and revising a speech or presentation is the easiest and fastest way to get rid of wordiness, confusing sentences, and excess information. Practicing a speech or presentation to yourself or to a group of friends beforehand will provide feedback on where to cut, and what to keep.

    Presenters everywhere need to up their level of self-awareness to understand when a speech or presentation has moved from efficient to ‘snoozefest.’

  3. Arturo says:

    Nowadays, successful managers are the ones who combine business expertise, creativity and technical knowledge. However, sometimes people tend to make a lot of mistakes when designing presentations.
    Studies done by The British Bank Lloyds TSB reflect that there is a very low attention retention span at the time of hearing a presentation. As quoted by Anne Fisher at http://www.fortune.com “The average adult attention span has plummeted from 12 minutes a decade ago to just 5 minutes now.” Participants on the study said that their short attention span was due to stress and decision overload in nowadays fast paced lifestyle. Also, with technology and social media distraction, from laptops to smartphones, holding the audience’s attention is very complicated.

    Considering this information, you have to take advantage of every minute during a presentation, as five minutes are very short to make a positive impression. With such a short attention span, the presenter has to find ways to keep the audience interested. First, they need to engage with their audience directly and not talk about themselves. Second, presenters need to utilize only one idea per slide to avoid confusion and frustration. Also, using technology as much as possible such as cellphone polls or sketches may be very useful. Finally, they must take plenty of time to create the presentation and familiarize with the topic.
    Successful presenters have to understand that there is a stronger impact on what the audience sees in a presentation than on the words they hear. They also need to focus on setting up a goal. If they don’t know what they want to achieve, the audience never will either.
    In my opinion, presentations should focus completely on the audience’s needs and not on the presenter. They should also focus on what ideas are the most important and always remember, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.”

  4. Mike C says:

    I believe all adults have experienced the effects of a poorly executed presentation. As a presenter, there are at least three basic questions to ask oneself, when preparing a speech: (1) who is the audience, (2) what’s the proper amount of time and amount of information to be presented, (3) how to best deliver the subject matter, both orally and visually to present an excellent speech. The goal is a speech that will be remembered and talked about by the audience.

    In today’s world of short attention spans, it’s helpful for a speaker to be clear, concise, detailed, and brief. The military got this one right long ago.

    It’s easy for the novice to use too many slides, one uses them as a crutch; speaking points to guide one through the presentation. Thus, less memorization and demand for a presenter to really know the subject matter is required. On the other hand, one slide for a two-hour presentation is “mind-numbing” for me. I enjoy watching a good visual presentation, it keeps my attention focused on the speech.

    It comes down to experience in preparation and presentation of many speeches; with practice, one will find their individual formula for giving an inspired speech.

  5. Lauren R says:

    This article reminded me of a former co-worker who was to give a speech that included a PowerPoint. The slide requirement was between 20 to 25 and she somehow came up with 65 slides. After a week of grumbling and petty office politics, we convinced her to drastically reduce her slides to 40, which was still well over the limit.

    One of the things that struck me the most–and it’s an important bit of advice included in this article–is that she pulled together her slide deck based on what she would want to hear and all of the information she thought was interesting. Despite constant reminders that no one would be focused on a PowerPoint presentation as long as 20 slides, let alone 65, my co-worker was resistant to cutting it down “in case an important piece of information was missed.”

    I believe her fear of not giving a complete and informative presentation isn’t unique to my colleague; in fact, as I moved on and found myself pulling together PowerPoints for CEOs and clients, I realized that there was a heavy reliance on large PowerPoints to convey messages instead of using verbal communications. When delivering a speech in front of the audience, YOU are the main event. After all, you’ve been invited to speak or present because you are recognized as an expert and people want to hear the information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” not cobbled together on a PowerPoint that looks like word vomit.

    Ultimately, pulling together the perfect visual aide requires you to get outside of your own head and stop worrying about whether or not the audience will be engaged with what you have to say. Visual aids are a complement to your presentation; not a crutch. In a world where people have fewer hours in the day to get all the items on their to-do list checked off, it’s important for speakers to follow the keep it simple stupid (KISS) mode of thinking and rely on their own expertise and speaking skills to deliver messages that captivate and resonate with their audiences.

  6. Debby L says:

    According to their website (www.theminimalists.com), the Minimalists, comprised of two guys named Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, are currently on tour to teach Americans how to live a minimalist lifestyle.

    Minimalism is a growing trend revolutionizing the way we live life, and I think we, as business professionals, can learn a lot from it. The concept of minimalism is to determine the purpose of your objects, or in this case, the purpose of your presentation slides and visuals. If something does not serve a purpose, you should eliminate it.

    However, minimalism is not just about getting rid of things. Having a minimalist mindset helps you identify and maximize the potential of what you may already have. For example, take an inventory of all the cups in your cupboard. Divide the cups into groups and reassess what you have in hand. Could you donate or reconfigure your existing cups into something else? You have to be realistic and rational about what you decide to keep in your inventory. This is a great approach for your presentation so that you summarize and list only the key talking points. Also, during your presentation, you must ensure that you talk about things that are relevant to your topic.

    According to an unknown author, “minimalism is not subtraction for the sake of subtraction. Minimalism is subtraction for the sake of focus.”

  7. JMK says:

    In the fast-paced life we are living, time is very valuable; therefore, we have to respect our time and other’s as well. A presenter who gives a short and concise presentation, he/she sends an indirect message to the audience that indicates his/her respect and consideration of their time, which is a powerful massage that may always be remembered by the audience.
    My professor of training and development course once said, “Be short. Be bright. Be gone.” I very much like this phrase and always recall it whenever I present as it sums up how to be an effective presenter. To achieve these three B’s; first, we have to understand our audience very well by learning their knowledge on the subject and what information they need to hear. Second, we need to focus on the key points that we want to present. Third, we have to learn to cut out the information that is unnecessary and doesn’t backup our key points. Fourth, we should stimulate our audience to keep them engaged and that could be done by using different techniques like telling a short story or asking questions. Fifth, we need to know when to complete the presentation and give enough time for the audience to ask questions. Following these steps will enable the presenter to deliver an effective and memorable presentation and gain the audience admiration and appreciation.

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