Cut the Information, And Increase the Engagement

The speaker at the conference was sharing the results of a three-year research project. Brilliant ground-breaking research that was extremely relevant to all in the audience. This was enough to grab everyone’s attention – even though he appeared to be reading off his slides – each of which contained eight to ten bullet points with longish sentences. By the fifth slide, attention was waning and by the tenth most were checking emails on their handphones. And he still had eighteen slides to go!

We’ve all been there – in the audience (I hear your groans!). Sometimes, you are in the role of speaker – charged with sharing your important information with colleagues, peers, managers, staff and/or clients. How do you do that and NOT fall into the trap described above? Here are some hints.

It’s Not a Buffet

Some speakers with a lot to share will try to serve it up buffet style. They think, “I’ll just put it all out there in front of them and they can choose what they like.” It might work with diners, but with audiences it only confuses them. They become overwhelmed by the options and end up remembering nothing. Far better to serve it a-la-carte – placing one dish at a time in front of them that they can savour and appreciate.

You Must Prioritise

They won’t remember all you say. In fact, some research shows that even good speakers get as little as 10% retention. Those hearing complex information for the first time need you to highlight the key points. No listener can retain more than five to seven points at any one sitting, so you need to identify which points they will retain. It is even better if you can put these in order of importance. This helps them make sense of the information. Otherwise it is just a ‘data-dump’. Use phrases like:

“And the most Important point here is… “

“If you only remember one thing from all of this, make it… “

“What we learned most from this was… “

Does this mean that you may have to omit some information from your presentation? If so, that’s totally fine. Have a handout or include additional information in the conference papers; but don’t speed-read through a mountain of information that was never meant to fit into your allotted time. This is cruel to your audience and damaging to your reputation.

You Must Repeat Yourself

Make sure you summarise all your points – not just at the end, but throughout the presentation. As you move from one point to another, mention again the points you’ve covered so far. This helps them keep the information in context. Like the announcement on the MRT telling you what line you’re on and the name of the next station, it helps them get a sense of where they are going.

Change Modes

Simply delivering information – generally from behind a lectern backed by words on a slide – is one mode of delivery. It will be the most effective mode for some of your presentation; but because it is so often the only mode used by bad speakers, it should only be used when there is no alternative. You can avoid this by changing modes regularly throughout your presentation. Here are some ways you can do this:

• Give examples, stories, case studies and anecdotes

• Use a comparison with a concept already familiar to them to explain some new concept

• Use images and graphics to illustrate points; but make sure they are clear and only show the image relevant to the point you are talking about at that time.

• Show them a sample, souvenir, award, etc (as long as it’s large enough to be seen by all)

• Blank the screen to draw all attention to yourself as you make a key point

• Come out from behind the lectern (if possible)

A good rule is to aim for modal change at least every seven minutes.

NEVER underestimate the value of stories. Choose wisely so that they don’t take too long to explain; but always remember that the stories in your presentation will be the part that the audience finds most engaging and that they are most likely to remember. Experience has also shown that this is the part of the presentation where you will feel most comfortable.

Use Emotionally Intelligent Information Sharing

To create engagement and retention, a presentation must mix both logic and emotion; so, don’t just think about what you want them to know at the end of your presentation, think about how you want them to feel so they will remember it.

Talking to a group is an inefficient way of transferring information. It is, however, proven to be an excellent way to have people prioritise your information and be influenced by it. In a tim.