I talk a lot about making things audience-centric, which is really just thinking about your audience, and giving them the information that’s relevant to them. And I often preach a message of simplicity (I probably sound like a broken record!) But part of making your presentation audience-centric means knowing when more detail is required and finding ways to provide it in as clear a method as possible. There are really only 2 types of presentations in the world. One is to sell, and the other to teach or share.
Most of the presentations I design share the goal of getting the recipient to either hire you, or fund you. It’s about getting people to say yes. The decision to say yes has to hinge on simple, powerful ideas. If they are saying yes to you, they are most likely saying no to someone else. So to stand apart from your competition, make it simple and obvious. The choice should be clear. Complexity doesn’t really help you. Audience-centricity means knowing that your audience doesn’t need a lot of detail.
“But every presentation isn’t just to get people to say yes”
Correct! Sometimes you are presenting to let people know what you’re doing, or share some new ideas. Your goal is to have your audience know something at the end that they didn’t know before. You don’t want or need them to say yes.
Audience-centricity in presentations of this type means knowing how much they know and how much they want to learn. David Macaulay, the host of the show Building Big is a master of this. He has a way of explaining engineering concepts in a way that people that know nothing about it can understand. He doesn’t get into a lot of detail because the audience isn’t interested. His focus is on the big concepts, and he makes them crystal clear.
But what if he were presenting to an audience of engineers on the latest bridge building techniques? The audience would already understand the big, simple ideas, and would only really be interested in more granular detail. Broad concepts aren’t all that useful to an audience of this type.
Another example? Let’s say a physician is presenting the latest thinking about how cancer cells proliferate. If the audience is oncologists, the information has to be detailed or they’re not going to learn anything they don’t already know. Plus, an audience of this type likes detail. But what if the physician is presenting it to an audience of non-physicians? Let’s say they are talking about advances in cancer therapy and our understanding of cancer to TED. Then it needs to be in broad concepts that a less-knowledgeable audience will understand. One size doesn’t fit all. You have to tailor to your audience.
Are there ever situations when more detail is needed in a sales presentation?
Yes indeed! If you are pitching for new business or to get funding, your goal is to get them to say yes, which is about broad concepts. But it’s often a good idea to include detail about specifically how you are going to do what you propose. Execution is about more than just the big idea; it’s about the step-by-step. Your solution must have enough specifics to be meaningful and credible. After you’ve laid out your solutions is a good point to give a bit of detail about how you’re going to do it. Timelines, tactics, or strategies help potential clients or investors know you’ve put a lot of thought into it and have a plan in place.
Before you author
Think about what your goals are for the presentation. It may seem like it goes without saying, but it’s worth articulating the question, “what’s a win in this situation?” Think about what the best outcome is. Is it that you want the audience to know or believe something? Or is it that you want them to know or believe it, and consider you an expert or guide? If the goal is to get your audience to say yes, your goal should go beyond that. It should be not only to get to yes, but to set the stage for a fruitful partnership.
And think about what your audience knows and what it needs to know. Once your goals for the presentation and understanding of your audience are well-established, the choices about how much detail to include become self-evident and the presentation will come together with ease.