Building a Presentation People will Pay Attention To: Delivering Content

Getting your audience’s attention is just the first step in making a compelling presentation: You must design your presentation so that you keep reassuring your audience that you know what matters to them and will deliver real value to them.

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Your audience probably isn’t paying attention

If your audience could tell you what they’re thinking then, much of the time, it would be that message on the left. A very wise instructor at Learning Tree once said to me “You seem so confident that everyone is listening to you. Why don’t you assume that they’re all planning their next vacation?”

In my last post, I talked about w hat you need to do at the start of your presentation to ensure that your audience cares about you’re about to talk about. But, of course, that’s only the start of the problem: How do you keep your audience’s attention once you get into the body of your presentation?

The starting point for keeping your audience interested is understanding your audience, as I discussed in an earlier post. But, as you build your presentation, you have to turn that understanding into actual slides. Learning Tree’s Public Speaking: Compelling Speeches and Presentations has a five step process for converting that understanding into an effective presentation but here I’ll concentrate on three key issues: Letting your audience know what’s coming, delivering your value, and finishing well.

Letting Your Audience Know What’s Coming (and that it’s good stuff)

After you’ve used the introduction I discussed in my last post (and got any other required preliminaries out of the way) put up a slide that shows the topics you’ll cover and the order you’ll cover them in: This is the map you’ll follow through the presentation.

The topics on this slide should be the topics that you discovered that your audience is interested in. The introduction slide I discussed in my last post assures the audience that your presentation has value for them; This slide assures the audience that you’ll be covering the specific topics they care about. It’s worthwhile to repeat this slide after you finish taking about each topic: It gives you a chance to remind the audience where you just been and focus the audience’s attention on where you’re going next.

If nothing else, as you move through the topics, these slides tell your audience how long it will be before you reach your destination and they can  go home.

Delivering Your Value

In between these slides, you need to put the actual content for your presentation. Of course, you must make sure that you do focus on the topic you just introduced and that you do deliver the value that you promised at the start of the presentation.You should make sure that anything that isn’t about the topic or isnt delivering the value you promised is deleted from your slides: Be ruthless.

What you shouldn’t do is put many words on your slide. Think of your slides as a way of reminding yourself of what you wanted to say at this point in the presentation. For that, you only need a few words on the slide or, better yet, a graphic that expresses your main point.

There’s another reason for keeping your slides “word light”: Recognize that the audience is looking at the slides while they’re listening to you. If you put a lot of words on the slide then you’re asking your audience to look at the slide, listen to you, and read what’s on the slide as well — that’s just mean because no one could do all three of those things at once.

Besides, if you put a lot of words on the slide, you’ll be tempted to read those words. Believe me, there is nothing less interesting than watching someone read something aloud (especially if you can read it yourself).

If you do need to provide your audience with detailed information don’t put that information on the slide. Instead, give your audience a handout. You can create that handout as your create your slides: Just put your detailed information in the slide’s notes section and, after the presentation, provide your audience with a printed copy of your presentation. Better yet, offer to email the presentation (with the notes) to anyone who is interested. You’ll be surprised at how few people will ask for the details. Don’t feel bad: they won’t ask because they got everything they wanted from your presentation.

Finishing Well

When you’re done, take the time to put up two final slides that will remind your audience about why they were there. First, review the value that your first slide said you were going to deliver. If you promised to show how to use Google Docs, take a minute to remind your audience about all the things they now know; if you were going to show the financial impact of the restructuring plan, review the highlights. Don’t spend much time here: Your audience should know all of this (and if they don’t know it at this point, you won’t be able to fix it now). Your goal here is just to remind your audience that you delivered the value you promised.

Finally, give your audience something to do by finishing with a call to action. Presumably, you’ve left your audience better off than when you started your presentation. You could, for example, encourage your audience to use their new found knowledge of Google Docs to create their next memo with it; you could point out that now that they understand the financial impacts of the restructuring plan they can sleep easy at night, look forward to the future with confidence, or explain the impacts to others (or, perhaps, start looking for a new employer). Your goal here is to show that you have made a change in your audience’s lives.

This is the fourth post in a series of six on how to create a document or presentation that people will pay attention to. The first two posts talk about the importance of getting the readers’ attention and what you have to do before you start creating your document or presentation.

The post previous to this one shows how to start the presentation.

The last two posts do the same thing for creating a document that will get read, beginning with how to get people to pay attention to your document and then going on to discuss how to structure the document’s body so people will continue to read it.

Building your presentation following these rules won’t guarantee success — you’ll have lots of opportunities to make mistakes when you stand up. But these slides will give you a solid chance at hanging onto your audience’s attention until the end.

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