How to say nothing in your next presentation

Have you sometimes gone along to a presentation -it may be entertaining and enjoyable – but at the end of it, or a few days later, you think to yourself – what did I get out of that presentation? It’s easy to fall into the trap, as a presenter, of saying nothing in a presentation.

What are some of the traps:

1. Stating the obvious

We were once working with a human resources professional for a large organisation preparing a presentation for an HR conference. His draft Key Message was “People are our greatest asset”. Yawn. Find a novel angle or your personal perspective. In his case, his organisation had recently grown from a start-up type business to an established organisation and his Key Message became “We’ve needed different types of people for the different phases of our growth.” That’s much more useful to the audience.

2. Saying too much

Far too many presenters try and say too much in their presentations. As Garr Reynolds has said:

You can go deep or you can go wide, but you can not do both, and frankly you can’t even go that deep or that wide either.

“More is Less” – the more you try and cram into your presentation, the less your audience will remember. This is a lesson I am still learning. I’ve often been seduced by the great presentation fallacy that “If I say it, they will get it”. It’s not so. In order to get it, your audience needs to hear it in words that make sense to them, and they need to be given examples of how it might apply.

Adding support for each point in your presentation takes time. Therefore you need to include less points.

Cut, cut, cut.

3. Only telling stories

Much is made of telling stories in our presentations. But if your presentation is only stories – it’s a meringue presentation – sweet, light and lovely at the time, but no long-lasting substance. I have seen a few professional speakers fall into this trap – they link together a raft of beautifully crafted stories that make us laugh and make us cry…have a great time…but what was the point again?

Stories are there to support the message – so there had better be a message. You may think it’s obvious, but it needs spelling out. Let your audience know what the point is.

4. Ignoring the audience

About a decade ago, a well-known professional speaker and technology writer in New Zealand was giving a presentation to a breakfast meeting of a networking organisation. Her topic according to the program was “E-mail Marketing”. However, she had recently become enamoured of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and that’s what she wanted to talk about. At the beginning of the presentation, she asked members of the audience how many had websites. Out of the hundred or so people, only 4 put up their hand. But despite this signal – she went on to talk about SEO – a topic only of interest to people with websites. The presentation is not about you – it’s about your audience – you are there to serve them.

5. Speaking only at a conceptual level

Some people are very comfortable at a conceptual and abstract level. They love to pepper their speech with conceptual metaphors. But if there’s nothing to tie down the abstract to the concrete, the rest of us won’t get it. Chief executives and senior managers are often guilty of this. They speak in visionary metaphorical language and staff are left thinking “What does that mean for my job?”

Note: This post was inspired by How to say nothing in 500 words (a lesson in writing) by Maki of DoshDosh, which was itself inspired by an article on writing academic compositions written in the 1950s.

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