Are Your Key Takeaways a Needle in a Haystack?

By Jim Endicott

Imagine for a moment I hid a set of keys for a new Lexus in one of those personal storage lockers at Portland International Airport. And all you had to do is find the specific door, put in the key and it’s all yours!

My job?  I just had to explain to you how to get you there through the busy and hyper-distracting environment of an international airport. It’s not that I want to make it hard for you to find – to the contrary – I really want you to find it. But we may have a challenge. I like to use words to explain things. Lots of them.

Show you a map….you get it. But give you a turn-by-turn (bullet-by-bullet) set of instructions and…well, your Lexus may be waiting for a while in the parking lot.

This metaphoric dilemma is what presentation audiences experience every day of the week. If they didn’t know better, they just might suspect you were working overtime to make sure there was no way they could possibly “get” the really important stuff you intended for them.

The problem? You’ve been ruminating with that message for days, maybe weeks. They have mere minutes to understand your intent. You labored over your presentation slides for hours …they have 30-seconds to figure one out.

We’ve come a long way in being able to develop good presentations – yet in some ways have not progressed very far at all. Despite our enhanced ability to fade, pan-zoom, create motion, append media, present online, present offline and choose from an ever growing array of design layouts and shape effects, we’ve lost track of our prime directive.

(Seek to ‘do no harm’ comes to mind but perhaps there’s something even more important.)

At the end of the time you’ve been given…after all the collective hours of invested effort and energy…and at the conclusion of precious time invested by your audience to disengage from other priorities and be present…they must remember.

And this is where we too often let them down. We think software features = recall. They don’t.  We believe graphical embellishments by themselves create message clarity…they can not. And like someone who has relied on a cane long after the pain subsided, it has become an unfortunate part of who we are and what we do.

The process has somehow become more important than the outcome and we’ve abrogated a job that is ours and ours alone: creating message clarity and simplicity so others can truly understand.

So consider this personal challenge…

What if your personal compensation for the entire month was dependent on one single thing?

Here it is. If those sitting on the receiving end of your next presentation could remember and repeat back a simple few points they believed you wanted to get across, you got paid. If they could not or struggled to somehow distill those things out of the 40 or 50 points of emphasis you made during your presentation – your check went into a drawer until they could.

What would your next presentation look like?

I’m guessing your visuals would get amazingly simple. And those dozens of points you previously wanted to communicate? They somehow refined themselves down to a few simple ideas illustrated in visually rich ways and underscored with personal stories to make them powerfully relevant.

And the close? A single word or two on screen, reinforced and related to their lives.

Desiring to communicate so much, we often end up giving audiences nothing at all.

So I will leave you with a few simple things:

  • Set Clear Expectations on slide #1 and deliver on your promise.
    Where are you taking them and what’s the prize at the end of the journey?
  • Make the Path Simple & Straight
    Create a simple closing slide first which becomes the litmus test for all you say and be clear how the journey relates to the prize. (50-slide presentations are easy to create. 10-slide presentations are the mark of a great communicator.)
  • Let Your Audience Know When They’ve Arrived
    Many presentations seem to end simply because the presenter ran out of slides. In the simplest of terms and in the briefest amount of time, conclude your presentation by serving them up on a platter what you want them to remember and why. Simple. Crisp. Straightforward.

Ok, so I don’t really have a Lexus waiting for you at the Portland airport and there is no locker with a key. But the point is hopefully crystal clear. Don’t make it hard for your audience to walk away with something important. Clear away the visual and messaging obstacles to real understanding.

And most of all: Remember why you’re there in the first place.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching.  For more information about his firm’s services, visit  www.distinction-services.com

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