Does your audience want to fast-forward you?

by Tony Burns

Maybe I’ve got spoiled by my TV set-top box but, in so many of the presentations I’ve attended recently, I would love to have a remote-control with a fast-forward button! I’m sure you know what I mean – you really want to hear the useful and valuable information that the speaker has to offer. But so often, they drag out the trivial low-value material and then run out of time before they really hit the important stuff.

So when you’re presenting, how do you make sure that your audience doesn’t think about pressing your fast-forward button?

Here are three danger areas:

1. Delivering too much background. If you find yourself saying the words “Before I start…” – take stock. You HAVE started! So get on with it and “cut to the chase”. Another danger-phrase (among many) is “let me give you some background…”

It’s my experience that presenters over estimate how much background an audience actually needs. I cringe when I attend a seminar and they spend ages at the beginning, telling me how useful this material is going to be. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think it was going to be useful so… please move on. Telling me that it’s going to be useful is not actually useful – stop selling and start telling!

And this one is really common – “To start, let me tell you something about our company.” Quick – where’s the remote?

2. Labouring the easy and obvious. If something is complex, difficult or new, then it makes sense to take your time explaining with examples and analogies and a visual (not verbal) aid to help the audience understand. But if it’s not rocket science – pick up the pace! Just deliver the briefest of explanations and observe your audience to tell whether they’ve got it or not.

It’s better to have them ask a clarifying question than to labour the obvious and seem to be treating them like idiots.

3. Not providing value. If your audience is looking for a solution to a problem, spending a lot of time talking about the problem will make them want to fast-forward you – so that you get on to the solution. If your audience wants to know the reason why something is happening, they’ll get frustrated hearing you talk about what‘s going on. And if they want to know what action they should take, move through your research and findings and fascinating analysis as quickly as possible (if in fact it’s even necessary) so that you can get on to tell them what they should do.

Audiences want value. They want material that they can use – not just new or interesting – they want practical. Deliver that and they’ll be engaged. Get that wrong and they’ll hit the fast-forward button – interrupting you with questions to try and garner some value before time, or attention, runs out.

It’s the planning that matters

The time to get this right is the planning stage. Think about your audience – what do they already know about this topic? How much background do they really need to understand your recommendations? Most audiences are smarter than we give them credit for. Get to the value ASAP.

If you’re using our SpeakerMap system you’ll know how to divide your material into (usually three) sections. These don’t have to be the same length. In most presentations the time-wasting happens at the beginning and the good stuff, comes near the end. So savagely edit the earlier sections, cut back the slides and when you’re delivering, stick religiously to your plan and don’t add more content ‘on-the-fly’. Then you’ll get a reputation for being sharp.

And when audiences know it’s you who’s presenting, they won’t bring their remotes!

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Hadden – Remote Possibilities August 7, 2013 at 2:07 am

I wholeheartedly agree Tony!

Fairly recently I wrote a pair of posts along similar lines, though they focused on presenting online. All the same, the issues you’ve highlighted are very similar to the ones that I picked out, namely:
* Spending too long on introductions (of the speaker, or of gadgets – like the chat box in a webinar. Does anyone REALLY benefit from being told to type their message and press Enter?!)
* Staying too long on any slide – including the single slide that most presenters show during their entire Q&A session!
* Fixating on “interaction” (typically through polls, in a webinar) instead of value.

The post below outlines those 3 common errors, and links to a 2nd post that shows how to AVOID them. (If you’d like to leave a comment on either, I’d be delighted.)
Do you make this #1 mistake when you present online?

Anyway, it’s great to see new content on Speaking About Presenting. I’ve found your SpeakerMap excellent – very practical and succinct, yet with tangible examples to make it easy to follow.


Martin Tolley September 16, 2013 at 2:55 am

Reminds me a little of Elmore Leonard’s advice about writing – “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”


STEVEN J. FROMM, ATTORNEY, LL.M. (TAXATION) October 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

Tony, I will get right to the point; great post! I really got a lot out of your post and getting right into the meat of things seems like a compelling idea that should be remembered and followed. Thanks for all of the tips.


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Julie December 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

It’s a good idea to watch other speakers and clock when you want to fast forward them. Also, if you’re good at reading body language, you can usually tell when your own audience wants to do that to you.


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