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Tree Solo by jay holobach

Have you ever had a conversation where something you said caused the “I have no idea what you are talking about” look? In a one-on-one conversation immediate feedback allows you adjust on the fly. Unfortunately, as a presenter, the audience-to-presenter feedback loop is a lot less immediate.

How do you avoid assuming everyone knows what you’re presenting? True, some of the audience may know some of the story but not all of it. You’re the presenter. You own the story line. You know its plot. Your job is to package the message in a way for the audience to comprehend the plot the same as you do.

Here are some “plot” guidelines for you to think through before your next presentation…

1. You are the Tour Guide (a.k.a. The Storyteller)
Have you ever been on a tour where the guide told a story so well you felt as if you were there when it happened? That’s someone who’s taken a bunch of facts and woven them together into a cohesive message. A story. A message that resonates.

Think of your presentation in a similar light. Remember last week’s blog? We said to identify the “big idea” and up to three main points to support it. Once you have that, your next move is to figure out how you want the audience to connect the dots. Do you want to lead with the main idea and then build support – or – start by building with the supports and finish with the main idea?  Whichever way you decide, don’t leave it up to the audience to connect the dots – they may end up with a different “big idea”.

2. Do not assume polite listening is comprehension.
You cannot assume your audience will understand what to do with the “big idea”.  If part of your message is to sell an “action”, you must be very clear on what that “action” is and its importance to the audience.  Do not assume everyone will arrive at the same “go do”.

3.  Leverage visuals to clarify your message. 
Every slide, every picture created must be done with the audience in mind. Remember, they are seeing it for the first time. You’ve lived with it for a week. They are trying to digest the image and listen to you talk. The average person comprehends nearly 200 words per minute. Throw in a visual (or two?) and you’ve created cognitive overload. (LESS IS MORE when creating slides/visuals.)

How many presentations have you seen where the visuals weren’t clearly marked, acronyms flew around the screen, and the message was lost? Going the extra mile to ensure your visuals are self-explanatory will help deliver your message. Let me repeat myself: Less is more.

4.  The audience doesn’t need every detail to get your “big idea”
My husband’s art teacher once told him to paint a tree doesn’t mean painting every leaf and branch in painstaking detail. A simple shape and color shift will tell the tree’s story. Similarly, when creating your presentation, filter out the less important “stuff” and organize the path of critical thinking.  The old adage “keep it simple” is applicable here.  Your job is to simply express the thought journey that arrives at your message.  No more, no less.

Be intentional