- Author: Michael L. Poe
4th in a 5-part series
Have you been in the audience of a speech that went too long? I have. Twice this week. Once last week. And the week before. And quite a few last fall. You get the idea.
Why does this happen? It's what we know how to do. We create an outline and fill it with everything we know about the topic. If we leave anything out it will show that we are not thorough, that we don't know our stuff. Right? Of course, not.
Look at it this way--the retention rates for straight lectures is 5%. How much do you want your audience to forget? There are better ways to demonstrate your genius.
Here are some ideas to help you avoid trying to cover too much in one presentation
- Plan more than one presentation--Don't try to give everything you know on a topic all at once. Your first presentation may be best used as an opportunity to get your audience interested and in-tune with what you have to say.
- Follow-up with recorded online presentation(s) on ancillary topics not core to your main speech.
- Hold multiple webinars. With Adobe Connect, they are free for ANR academics and staff and they can be recorded and posted.
- Present specific "How-to" steps. Humans really like step by step instructions. Design your presentation around the essential steps to accomplish the task, experiment, creation of the document/policy paper, etc., whatever is the topic. No matter what your topic, you have a process to present.
- Use good examples. Anecdotes illustrating what did (or didn't) work for you will stick with your audience and serve to reinforce and remind them of your presentation. Humor helps, too.
- Use good visual illustrations. They have the same power as anecdotes. They stick with your listeners.
There are many more ways to make your point without drowning your audience. The key is to pick out what is essential for your audience, present that, then point them to other stuff elsewhere. Use websites. They are just big storage places, after all. Elaborate there--but not on the homepage where you'll just scare off people browsing. Actually your presentation should be like a good website. The home page is the overview, the basics are offered, with links to more in-depth information elsewhere on the site. People who want to learn more can keep digging.
Humans have limited short-term memory. Pick the essential points of your presentation and do the basics of speech writing:
- Tell them what you are going to tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you've told them.
Each of your main points should be mentioned times: in the introduction, the body, and conclusion of your presentation.
What about handouts? Use them, but not in paper form. Don't let your audience have them while you are speaking. That will only encourage them to ignore you as they peruse the handout during your speech. Use the handout as a follow-up, or in the parlance of advocacy, a leave-behind. We'll be talking about PowerPoint in the next posting, but keep this in mind now: if you have a great PowerPoint presentation, it will make a lousy handout. Why? Because ideally your PPT will have very little text on it. Your handout should have all the text that you will not be putting on your slides. Terrible, high-text-volume PPT slides make good handouts. So you should produce your handout first then pull out the jibber jabber and leave just the keywords to put on your slides.
More about PowerPoint use will be in the next posting.
In this series:
- How did you screw up your last presentation?
- Accurately introduce the topic
- Plan your presentation learner-centrically
- Avoid covering too much (this post)
- Don't rely on PowerPoint.