confusion originalTalking about the transition from confusion to communication – have you heard that quote by Ben Truman:

If you can’t convince them, confuse them.

It’s one of my favorites when it comes to presentation technique with our old favorite, PowerPoint slides.

Imagine you’ve hidden a suitcase containing $1 million somewhere in a big city. Your task is to explain to people how to find it, but if no one finds it then you get to keep it yourself. Imagine how you would prevent people from understanding your instructions. Maybe with long lists (bulleted) of all the details along the way? You’d carefully emit or drown out the landmarks amongst descriptions of irrelevant sites. That’s how many presentations appear. You’d really think people were trying to stop you from figuring out what the most important point is.

If you want to move from confusion to communication, here are ten of the most important things that I can think of to help you to get your message across.

1. PowerPoint is not your manuscript.

…so don’t write what you will say, word for word in full sentences on the slide. If you create your presentation this way then, fine. When you’ve finished, go back to the beginning and make a brand-new deck of slides to support your message with the audience in mind. Keep the manuscript to yourself.

2. Don’t tell them everything you know. Just the essential things they need to know (remember those landmarks).

First imagine you only have a few seconds to speak and write down the one, single most important thing they really need to know. This might be good material for the last slide. Then write a couple more things, imagining you get a tiny bit more time. And so on. Writing the last slide first can help you to focus your presentation.

3. Deliver content gradually.

People’s capacity for taking in information is far more limited than you think. Remember this is the first time they’re seeing your material, even though it’s extremely familiar to you.  If there’s too much content, you can start by dividing it onto several slides.

4. You have guaranteed attention at the beginning and the end. Don’t waste this.

At the start the audience are expectant, curious and hopeful. Even if you lose attention after the start, you have a chance to get across your most important message. At the end, if you say, “this is the last slide” or “just to sum up”, they’ll wake up and listen (because they’re so happy it’s over…).

5. Don’t tell them stuff that’s obvious or do the same as everyone else.

Things we’ve previously been aware of have a tendency to fade rapidly into the background for our senses and are not noticed any more. It’s a survival thing. We notice what’s new and sticks out. Make the important things stick out. Do things differently.

6. Don’t overload your audience’s language perception.

Reading complete sentences on a slide and listening to spoken sentences compete for the brain function that analyzes speech. If you overload this function, by having too much text on the slide, nothing is retained in people’s working memory. Your audience may take in the information, but they won’t remember it afterwards. So reduce complete sentences on your slides into keywords. Disrupt the grammar as far as possible. Individual words or short phrases, just like pictures, don’t require speech analysis. People can easily take in pictures and text simultaneously.

7. Use images to help people remember.

If you ask people what they remember of a presentation they invariably say the pictures. Pictures are powerful. They really stand out and can communicate more efficiently than words. But remember, communication, not decoration. The picture that is pretty, but pretty irrelevant, will only have a negative effect on your communication.

8. Put the message of each slide into the title, so that no one will miss it.

The title should be a short statement of the main point of that slide, the conclusion or the bottom line. Find a short phrase that sums the whole slide up. If people miss the details they may still notice and remember the title. The title tells them why they should listen to the details. The ultimate slide deck will give a complete shortened version of your presentation captured in the titles.

9. Tell a story, don’t write a report.

A report, like a scientific paper, starts with an introduction and background and everything that has gone before. Then it talks about how things were done and the results. Then the conclusions (the best bit) come last of all. If you follow a report format you can spend way too long on the background: like the history of the company, management group, facilities and resources etc. – all about you. Pang, you’ve lost your audience already.

A story starts by telling them the reason they should listen and why it’s important. So start by describing the end, create a mystery around where you’re heading, or ask a rhetorical question. Make it interesting and relevant. Motivate and inspire people. If you succeed they’ll listen to all the rest, because they understand why they should.

10. Use simple language if you want to convince people.

Long words, complicated sentences and special terms cause LOSS of credibility. A lot of research indicates so. Remove the special terms except for just a few carefully chosen, to show you know what you’re talking about. Use a language that you could use to a child but don’t patronize; don’t speak in a childish way. Simplify everything more than you actually feel comfortable with. Then talk as an expert talking to experts, with an attitude of confidence and competence.

That’s it. Simple as that. Go for it!

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