Overcome the perils of confusing and losing your audience when presenting complicated concepts.
Excessive information and details can baffle the audience, while oversimplifying ideas loses your point and patronizes listeners. Strike a balance and keep your audience engaged by following these guidelines:
- Define terms and acronyms to lay the proper groundwork.
- Present the conclusion first, not the evidence. Then provide just enough proof to support your findings.
- Break down concepts into smaller, more easily understood parts, and explain each one.
- Demonstrate your product or procedure while explaining each element or step.
- Gauge audience comprehension by asking for questions every 8-10 minutes.
- Offer details after your presentation, in the form of support materials that you hand out, email or post online.
—Adapted from “Don’t Dumb It Down,” Christopher Witt, Communication Matters,http://christopherwitt.com.
Giving an effective presentation depends largely upon how well you know your audience. As you write your speech, ask these questions:
- Who are they? Are you speaking to younger or older people or a mix? If you’re dealing with a mixture of ages and backgrounds, speak directly to certain parts of your audience at times. Example: “Some of you folks born before 1980 may remember …”
- What do they know? What kind of knowledge do your attendees have? Are they well-versed in your topic? Do they have the needed background details? Will you need to simplify your message?
- Why should they care? What benefit are you offering your audience? Consider the audience’s level of investment and their needs and wants; then cater to them.
- How might they respond? Anticipate their questions and prepare answers ahead of time. If they could become negative, you may want to address potential objections upfront.
— Adapted from “Match Your Presentation to Your Audience,” Guest blogger, http://hbr.org.
Engage your listeners by having them speak first. Pose a question for them to answer before you launch into your remarks. You can even display it on the screen as they enter the room, to start them thinking and talking with the people around them.
Then invite the audience to share their thoughts, concerns or experiences by answering the question in front of the group. That immediately involves them in what you have to say, building their interest.
Throughout your presentation, refer back to their comments to show that you listened to them and that what you have to say is relevant to their situations.
— Adapted from “Have Them at ‘Hello’” Elizabeth Mortensen, Forbes, http://www.forbes.com.
Don’t rely on words alone when you want people to pay attention to your message. Pictures increase the likelihood that they will read, understand and act on your instructions.
A study that compared different forms of instructions given to emergency room patients shows the powerful impact pictures have. One set of patients received written instructions only, and another set received the same instructions accompanied by cartoon drawings.
The people who received instructions with images:
- Were more likely to read the instructions, 98% compared to 79% who received only text.
- Understood better. When they were asked questions about the instructions, more than 45% received perfect scores. Just 6% of patients who received text only answered every question correctly.
- Complied with directions. Only half of the text-only group followed the directions for daily wound care, compared to three-quarters of the group that had images too.
— Adapted from “See What I Mean,” Ann Wylie, Wylie Communications Inc., http://www.wyliecomm.com.
One of the best ways to grab audience attention is to tell a personal story. Here’s a list to help you remember real-life events to add to your next speech:
- What happened on your first date? Your first day on the job? Your first job interview?
- What’s the strangest thing that ever happened during a business meeting? At a restaurant? During vacation? In a dream?
- What’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
- What’s the saddest thing that ever happened to a friend?
- What made you the most embarrassed—or angry?
- What was the most inappropriate letter—or gift—you ever received?
- What events are funny to you now but weren’t when they happened?
- What sticks in your mind when you think of various people and events in your life: Your relatives? Your high school or college dances, teachers and classes? Stories your parents told? Learning how to drive?
At the beginning of your presentation, don’t tell your audience: “Don’t bother to take notes. I’ll provide you with a detailed handout when I finish.” That suggests to your listeners that they don’t need to focus on what you are saying as you speak. Besides, if everything is written down for them, do you really need to present at all?
Better strategy: Provide them with a handout of the skeleton of your presentation and encourage them to take notes as they see fit. Or you make available through your website additional handouts and more in-depth material.
While everyone else is jumping on the high-tech bandwagon, you can make a great impression in a low-tech way. All you need is a flip chart, some markers and tape—and these tips:
- Test your tripod. Make sure that wherever you will rest the flip chart is sturdy. When you are writing in a hurry, you may press down harder than normal, and you want the tripod to hold steady.
- Plan to use more than one color. You will need to plan and practice in advance, but you can add impact with color. For example, you might write ideas in blue, with red bullets to set them apart. Action items might appear in a contrasting color, like dark purple. Just be consistent with color when you use it, or your chart will end up looking like a preschool art project.
- Practice tearing off pages and taping them to the wall. The key to flip chart use is the ability you gain to save thoughts and brilliant ideas to inspire participants later. You may want to start your tearing before the session or to prepare strips of masking tape and place them ready to use on the wall. You will speed the process and look more polished too.
- Write large and legibly. Everyone in the room should be able to read your writing. That means you will need to print neatly. If you cannot write both quickly and neatly, recruit a participant to write ideas while you lead the session.
— Adapted from The First-Time Trainer: A Step-By-Step Quick Guide for Managers, Supervisors, and New Training Professionals, Tom Goad, AMACOM, http://www.amacombooks.org