I’ve been working with a group of technical professionals this week and am running into a familiar techie issue. My technical guys love monologue. And the longer, more data packed and deeply obscure the better. They make the case that if they are speaking to a technical audience, a complex presentation is expected; and, as long as that presentation is well structured, I can go along with it. The problem is that most of these presenters are techies speaking to a non-technical prospect. And that prospect is far more interested in the solution to his/her problem than in hearing the technical details of the subject matter itself. They just want to know what time it is, and they really don’t care how the clock works.
It’s not just technical people who struggle with this issue. Most subject matter experts can fall into the same trap. When you are passionate and knowledgeable about a topic, your natural instinct is to share it with others. You may have a drive to fulfill your own interest by telling your audience everything you know and love about your subject. But that can be overwhelming for an audience and your best intentions, which may indeed be to inform and inspire, will soon go south and take your audience with them.
So what can you do?
Keep in mind that what an audience usually needs is a lot less detail than you think it does. If you know one hundred percent about your topic, most audiences only need to hear five percent. As hard as that is to believe, think about it this way. You have spent years, perhaps decades learning the details of your subject and you may be spending a mere twenty to sixty minutes speaking about that topic in a presentation. You can easily see why for most audiences, less information is far more effective and manageable. Unless you are speaking to an audience who shares your industry expertise, give them the Cliff Notes. They will thank you for it.
Organize Your Main Points
Once you whittle down the topic to fit your audience and timeframe, break it up into small chunks. Pull out the three-to-five main points and build your presentation around them. Hearing a presenter tell me they are going to cover the top twenty-five tips for this or that is like an intravenous feed directly to my sleepy gene. I know in a matter of minutes (probably by number five) I’ll be snoozing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have those twenty-five items in your talk. But you will be much better off clustering them into groups of three or five and labeling them sub-points instead of main points so that your audience doesn’t get overwhelmed.
When you structure your material in a way that is palatable by offering small bites instead of mouthfuls you can trust that your audience will digest it easily and not choke or gag on TMI.
You can also rest assured that they won’t be checking (or choking) the clock.