One secret to keeping your audience engaged: Be ruthless!

Picture this. Someone has asked you to present to the very people you need to reach. It’s an exciting moment, and all you can think about is everything you want to tell them. Every. Little. Thing.

This is a recipe for disaster.

Why is this our natural inclination? Well, for starters, we know our subject well and a lot of times we love it dearly. They asked us to come and talk, right? So, don’t they want to know all they can about the topic?

No. No, they don’t.

Your audience wants to know only what is relevant to them. And they want to understand it quickly and easily. They don’t want to climb through the irrelevant or the complicated to understand how you can help them.

The only way to give the audience what they want is to follow the advice I share with every person I help: Be ruthless.

Last week I was watching an episode in the second season of a popular show. I had high hopes for this season because I loved Season 1. Unfortunately, by episode 3, I was lost. They were trying to cover a lot of ground and moved too rapidly. By episode 3, I had no idea what they were talking about. I won’t move on to episode 4.

That’s what it’s like when a speaker throws out a lot of information very quickly and uses jargon and complicated examples. The audience is busy trying to decipher what the speaker is talking about and ends up missing the next point. And the next. Before long, they tune out completely. They are too lost to catch up.

To keep your audience engaged and interested, you must ruthlessly clarify your message until you are very clear on the main point of the whole talk. What should the audience come away with?

Ruthlessly go through your outline or script and get rid of anything that doesn’t serve that idea.

Ruthlessly cut out or explain anything that is unclear or too complicated to easily and quickly understand.

This last part can be scary, but keep in mind that you aren’t talking down to an audience when you clarify and simplify. You are honoring their time with you. If you give them too much to decipher and figure out on their own, you’ll lose them fast. There’s a lot of competition for attention. Ruthlessly clarifying and simplifying your message ensures the audience will enjoy the journey you take them on and not get lost along the way.

For tips on how to decide what to cut, see presentation expert Nancy Duarte’s article: How to Write a Great Talk: Murder Your Darlings.

To dive deeper into how to develop a great presentation, read her book, Resonate, available for free on Duarte.com/resonate.

We’d love to hear about your presentation experiences. What approaches have worked for you? Are there sources of information about presentation effectiveness that you’ve found to be valuable?

Posted by Stacy Raine, CPS’18

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