Use the Pareto Principle for More Powerful Presentations

ParetoThe 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, helps explain the power of simplicity. The 80/20 Rule is pervasive in our world. For example:

  • 80% of traffic jams occur on the 20% of roads
  • 80% of beer is consumed by 20% of drinkers
  • 80% of profits come from 20% of customers
  • 80% of sales are generated by 20% of sales people
  • In other words, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, the Pareto Principle can be seen in all areas of life. From traffic to beer to business and everywhere in between, the 80/20 Rule dominates. And, believe it or not, the 80/20 Rule applies to your presentations too.

First, it’s important to note that the point of the 80/20 Rule is to help you realize that most things in life are not evenly distributed, including your time resources. But when you recognize which 20% of something gives you the most reward or return on investment, you can make a conscious decision to focus on those aspects.

So when it comes to your presentations, here’s how the 80/20 Rule comes into play:

  • Your content – Most presenters struggle with content creation because they don’t know how to focus their main points. As such, they try to put everything they know about the topic into a short presentation. But using the Pareto Principle, you can see that 80% of your results will come from 20% of your content; therefore, focus on the vital few pieces of information—the 20%—that will be most important for your listeners. Don’t rely on your instincts to identify the 20%. Instead, use data to determine the truth about what to put in your speech. Analyze your audience and look at who they are. What are their pains? What problems do they need to solve? What will help them be less overwhelmed, more organized, more successful? Then, focus just on those few items and give 80% of your content around those 20% of main points. Remember, keeping your message simple keeps both you and your audience focused.
  • Body Language – We all have dozens of gestures and body language tools available to us, but most people use only about 20% of what they have in their toolbox. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it does simplify the options. However, using the same old 20% of body language all the time could be boring for you and your audience. Think of it like wearing the same pair of shoes every day. They work, but the “wow” factor is gone. So rather than using the same 20% of gestures and body language 80% of the time, try out a few new hand movements, facial expressions, and even body stances. You may just find that they open you up to a whole new realm of possibilities.
  • Vocabulary – The Oxford English Dictionary contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries. This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections and words from technical and regional vocabulary not covered by the OED, or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20% are no longer in current use. If all these were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million words. Even though we can choose to use any of these words in our presentations, the fact is that 80% of the time we use the same 20% of words in our presentations. If this works for you and delivers stellar results, then great. But if you’re looking for better results from your presentations, perhaps it’s time to stretch your mind, learn new words, and expand your vocabulary.

Finally, the Pareto Principle does not mean you can ignore key aspects of your presentation (or key aspects of anything for that matter). So while you may create 80% of your presentation in the first 20% of time, or you may focus on 20% of your key points for 80% of the time, you still need to add in the details that turn your ho-hum first draft into a high caliber presentation.

Will you take these steps? I already know what 80% of the people will. The real question is, what will YOU do?