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Presentations: What to Cut and What to Say

communication Jun 16, 2021

So you have a presentation coming up. You’re wondering the best way to approach the process to get the results you want. Too often we try to accomplish too many things in a given presentation and fall into the trap of over communicating that confuses our audience.

Start with a clear purpose for your presentation. Do you want to inform? Is there an action you want them to take? Is there engagement and buy-in that you need? Do you want to equip them with tools or resources to be more effective? Then, think about your audience and determine your best approach for that group of people in their unique context with their unique communication needs. 

My colleague came to me as he prepared for the meeting with our board of directors. He was the project lead and knew the ins and outs of all the details. He had received feedback on previous presentations and he knew he needed to adjust his approach, but was unsure how. For him, success in the presentation was being able to present so well that there wouldn’t be any questions as he finished. Is that what presentation success looks like for you too? As we talked  I offered an alternative mindset. His audience was a group of people three layers removed from the project and non-technical in their understanding of the situation. They didn’t need details, they needed highlights. They needed to get engaged and ask questions so they could understand the project with their own frame of reference. 

When my colleague moved his approach from answering every question before it was asked to setting the stage with key points and inviting questions it changed everything. He had a more positive experience, and feedback from the board on how helpful the presentation was fueled his ongoing interest in this new approach. 

We give a presentation because we have content that our audience does not. However, our purpose is not to help them know everything we know. That’s an impossible goal. We have to sort through all that we know and like every good movie director, leave even some really good stuff on the “cutting room floor” before we get to the finished product.

Time to Prepare!

Preparation is your friend when it comes to making a presentation. Keep these in mind as you decide what to cut and what to say.

  • What do you know about your audience and their context? Learn how knowledgeable they are on your topic. Ask a few questions to understand their expectations to shape your “cutting room floor” activity.
  • What are the ways they like to receive communication? Different groups have different needs. Use past experiences to notice what worked and what didn’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment with something new to see how it goes.
  • What is your goal for the presentation? Keep it simple and focused. One clear purpose is often most effective. Think about your primary goal -- to inform, make a decision, invite engagement, solicit feedback or input, etc.)

When making a presentation or facilitating a meeting there are multiple layers of communication skills that can help you reach the outcomes you are looking for. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs to layer on a few more of these skills. Comment below on what preparation makes your presentations memorable and effective at achieving your communication goals.

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