To say more, say less and say it better

In the past year I have presented at more meetings than at any other stage in my career. In many of these presentations, I have not got my point across as well as I would have liked. Often, this is not because of time, or not saying enough; I should have said less and said it better.

Theories of cognition tell us that we can only hold a certain amount of information in our working memory at any one point. They also tell us for long lasting memories to be made, we need to relate what is being said to what is already known. It therefore makes sense that if we want to be more effective in our presentations, we should focus on communicating a few key points clearly, that contain the core ideas.

When planning a presentation, I now consider the following points:

Bloating

Can what I am saying be said in less words?

If our presentations contain too much jargon, it becomes too hard for the audience to follow. When using too much specialist language and too many words, the point of the message is lost. We need to consider, do we use longer sentences and complex terminology to sound smart, or is true expertise shown by taking complex ideas and making them accessible? I admit, I have been at fault on this point in the past, but now understand that to truly get a concept across, I should trim back the extra content, and focus on the core point.

When we are trying to exemplify a point, we often use too many examples or too much data. If the audience have got the point after one data set, or one exemplar, why should we consider using more? Providing more will at best be boring for your audience, and at worst, confuse people who already understood your point.

JargonUse inclusive language that helps everyone understand
Avoid using jargon
Define any acronyms you plan to use, but do not use too many (3 is probably enough!)
WordsTrim back sentences
Summarise key points throughout
Data, and examplesPresent one set of data or one exemplar clarify or back up a point

Belief

Am I speaking from a place of knowledge on what I am presenting on and of the context where it is being delivered?

When presenting we need to consider why we are doing it. Are we trying to help ourselves by explaining what we are doing in a project, help other by informing them of new ideas, or connect with people so you can help each other?

Too often when we are presenting, we are unclear of the presentations purpose, which leads to a lack of self-confidence from the presenter. While we may know the topic on which we are presenting, we haven’t considered what the aim of the presentation is, and therefore what we are trying to get out of it.

Presentations can also be full of opinions, and often stop short of making clear conclusions or stating actions; this is often because we lack belief in our opinions, or we are worried that a proposed action may upset a colleague. Avoiding these uncomfortable conversations damages the power of a presentation.

Self-confidenceKnowledge leads to self-confidence Know the topic at hand
Know the experience of the people you are presenting to
OpinionsVoice opinions on difficult topics, and be clear in your thought process behind your beliefs
Following an opinion, state a fact that back it up
Cut the fluffState the conclusion or any actions clearly
Follow this with a singular, clearly stated reason why you believe this

Broadcasting Backwards

Have I considered my audience and how they are receiving my message(s)?

We need to consider our audience in the writing on our presentations, not only in its delivery. Many presentations fail to consider the contextual factor of who they are delivering to. While this affects the confidence of the presenter, it will also impact how the message is received and retained by the audience, especially if the presentation has no relevance to them.

Presentations of key, transformational ideas often fail to consider the questions that audience members may ask about the presentation, either during, at the end, or silently to themselves. Some of the audience may even be sceptical about the content.

ContextualisePut yourself in the shoes of your audience listening to your presentations
Focus on why what you are presenting on is important to them
QuestionsPredict questions from the audience Incorporate them into your presentation
ScepticsPlan for sceptics
Pick apart the holes in your presentation
Be prepared to engage with sceptics, and clarify your point

Key points

  • Cut the bloat
  • Present with belief in your arguments and your knowledge
  • Run your presentation backwards, considering your audience
  • Imagine you only had 1 minute to summarise your presentation; if you cannot do this, consider if you are trying to get across too much information in the first place.

Further reading:

Ashkenas, R. (2014, July 23). In presentations, learn to say less. Retrieved April 04, 2021, from https://hbr.org/2012/01/in-presentations-learn-to-say

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