I encounter busy slides from time to time (often a lot of them in the same presentation), and the one thing they all have in common is that they represent the knowledge and research of the person that put them together. The presenter/author really knows their stuff. They could talk your ear off about it, frankly, and this is what they’ve done in slide form.
When you are figuring out what you want to present it’s easy to employ this kind of broad approach that results in you putting everything but the kitchen sink into your slides. Hours of earnest effort and years of cumulative knowledge come together in a miasma of charts, graphs and bullets. It all means something, and it’s all super-duper important! Telling the client everything you can think of is what I call the “more is more” approach – and the results are all too familiar.
Basically, you are telling them what you have to say, rather than telling them what they need to hear. It’s presenter-centric, not audience-centric.
Presenter-centric is all about you. It’s what you want to tell them*. Audience centric is about knowing your audience and giving them the right amount of information – and making sure that information is what’s really important to them.
You’re at a party and this person you’ve somehow gotten stuck next to is blathering on about how awesome and wonderful they are. They got the highest SAT scores of anyone on planet earth, and just traded in their awesome car for an even more awesome car, and could have gone pro in some sport or another, and have just become an expert in something that, frankly, is too complicated for you to even understand so they won’t bother explaining it to you, and they spent 3 years feeding malnourished elephants in Africa, and, and, and…
You’re not getting a word in edgewise, and you’re not impressed. You’re bored. It’s all about them. This is what a presenter-centric presentation does to its audience. (Ok, it’s not quite that bad, but you get the picture)
How to avoid this?
1. Ask questions
At the beginning of your preparations, ask yourself a few basic questions:
- What’s a win in this presentation? What do I want them to think, say, or do?
- If I were in their position, what pieces of information help me to know what I need to know to decide to take that action?
- How long am I usually able to sit and listen before my mind wanders?
2. Make it a dialog, not a monologue
Structure your presentation so that there is less time with you standing up there presenting, and more time with you having a conversation. This means asking questions, discussing, and in general, just involving them. They aren’t the recipient of a presentation any more, they’re a party to a conversation. Everybody is sharing.
Why is this good?
Because you win by listening and understanding. You’re not going to learn anything if you present at them the entire time. And they’ve gotten bored if you wait until the end for Q&A.
A major trick to making your presentation a dialog, is to not have such busy slides. If you have 30 things on each slide to get through, your goal becomes getting through the slides, rather than talking with your audience. Try putting up a slide with just a couple of words (maybe your general subject), then just discuss it with them. You’re no longer pitching to the deck, you’re talking with the client. It’s night and day.
3. Put yourself in their shoes.
First, imagine knowing what they probably do about this. Then construct your story around what you would want to know if you were them.
Put less into your story, less on your pages and less on your shoulders. Make the choice you want them to make simple and obvious. If the difference between winning and loosing is whether you remember to say enough things in just the right way, you aren’t making it simple, and you’ve just as likely lost already. Complexity doesn’t help you. Break it down for them. Let them know that you understand the problem as no one else does, have the ideal solution, and are the ideal partner to carry it out. These are simple concepts and shouldn’t take a long time to explain.
5. Summarize and start over
Look at the busy slides you’ve made and summarize them in a way that would fit on a post-it note. Why a post-it note? Because it forces you to be brief and that helps you to find the simple, powerful truth. Simply paring down your existing slides will never get you to an audience-centric place. It’ll be just a slightly less wordy presenter-centric presentation. So allow yourself the process of putting a ton of information on your slides. Then, try to summarize them on post-it notes. Once the post-its go up on the wall, you’ll start to see what really belongs and what is extraneous. Then build new slides from the post-its. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
It’s actually more work to make an audience-centric presentation because you have to think about your audience, not just your knowledge of the subject. But an audience-centric presentation does more than just improve your relationship with the client, it wins more business more of the time. So less is more after all.