Does your audience want to fast-forward you?


Does your audience want to fast-forward you?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

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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The sobering truth about what an audience remembers

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Last week I spent three awesome days at the Presentation Summit. In this post, I want to explore what audience members remember from a presentation, using the first three keynotes of the conference as my examples.

I asked as many people as I could what they remembered from each of these keynotes. This was an informal, non-random, non-scientific survey.

Nigel Holmes

Nigel Holmes

Photo Credit: Rikk Flohr –

Nigel Holmes is a phenomenal graphic artist who used to be Art Director for Time magazine. His presentation didn’t start well – there were a few technical hitches and it took him some time to hit his stride, and even then he wasn’t a hugely energetic speaker. When I asked people about Nigel’s presentation, they often mentioned the slow start, but then they went onto say that they loved what he showed us, and enjoyed his quirky brilliant mind. Every person I talked to had a different take on what was the point of Nigel’s presentation, depending on what had most relevance to them.

Carmen Taran

Carmen Taran

Photo Credit: Rikk Flohr –

Words such as sparkling and scintillating were created to describe speakers like Carmen. Everybody I spoke to loved her as a speaker. One person said “I don’t care what she talks about, I’ll listen to her”. They often mentioned what she was wearing – a gorgeous cream and gold jacket over cream trousers. Then they mentioned her slides – how polished and beautiful they were. I had to prompt people as to what they remembered from her presentation. As with Nigel’s speech, everybody gave me a slightly different answer.

Garr Reynolds

Garr Reynolds

Photo Credit: Rikk Flohr –

Garr presented to us via Skype. Audience members were immediately able to say to me that Garr’s message was “Be like bamboo”. And they knew what the metaphor meant – be flexible and adaptable like bamboo. Garr made 10 points elaborating on this bamboo metaphor. When I prompted people to recall those 10 points, most people could recall only one or two.

Garr’s bamboo metaphor also elicited some strong reactions. I was talking to two women and one said to me “We’re adding a room to our house and the floor is bamboo. I felt so pleased that we’d chosen bamboo – it’s strong but flexible.” Then the other woman erupted: ‘I hate bamboo. Our neighbor has a forest of bamboo and it keeps sprouting up on our lawn. We just can’t get rid of it. I hate bamboo!” Neither of these two women could remember any of Garr’s points.

My take-aways

1. You don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression, but the cleverness of that saying has eclipsed the broader truth – that you have many chances to correct that first impression. Your presentation is not ruined if you make a bad start.

2. Your message, your slides and your delivery need to be balanced. You don’t want your presentation to be like a movie where people only remember the awesome special effects. Your slides and delivery are there to serve the message.

3.If you don’t present a clear overarching message, your audience will choose (sometimes randomly and unconsciously) the message they take out from the presentation or they may not get any message at all. For most types of presentations, I believe it should be you, the speaker, who decides what the overarching message is. I’ve said “most types of presentation” because I can see that it could be a valid approach to give a speech from which each person takes a different message – depending on what is most important to them.

4. When you choose a metaphor as your overarching theme, beware of the baggage your metaphor may carry. It might be necessary to acknowledge possible preconceptions at the beginning of your presentation so that your audience can put their reactions to one side and focus on your message.

5. If you cover many points of equal importance and at the same hierarchical level, your audience will have difficulty remembering them all.

I loved my time at the Presentation Summit. To be able to hang out for 3 days with people as interested (obsessed?) with all things presenting was awesome. The dates for next year’s conference are October 17th- 20th.

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