What will they say …

… when you leave the room? When you’re not there to correct them? Or to explain what you actually meant to say? Or that this was not the point?

Yet, it’s exactly what they heard and what they made out of what they heard. If you want them to say it differently, then you’ll need to give them the words to do so. Use a clear structure that helps them see your point. Use metaphors and analogies they can relate to so they understand exactly what you mean. And use words they can easily memorize in simple language that have a meaning in their minds (as opposed to your mind).

You’ll never know what’s in their minds and there’s never going to be a guarantee that they understand it the way you intended it to, but you can always try harder to empathize.

It’s pronounced “creativity”, but it’s spelled “effort”.

When we see a brilliant headline that just nails it and puts in words what we feel in just the right way, we tend to attribute it to a burst of creativity. Especially when we ourselves struggle with this kind of eloquence. It seems that some people are just naturally born to find these words.

Yet, we often overlook the fact that a brilliant wording is usually not the result of the first attempt. Creativity means effort. It means to just not settle with the first idea, but to keep digging deeper and deeper until we find a wording that truly nails it.

David Ogilvy, probably the world’s most famous headline writer, was said to tirelessly come up with alternatives, sometimes more than a hundred, before he would even start to evaluate and choose one.

It’s a technique that I regularly use in my own work and I call it the Ogilvy method: Don’t settle with the first idea but keep the variations coming and coming.

If you make that a habit, you will find yourself looking behind the corners and taking unusual routes much more often – leading to much more creative results.

Cute and clever is a trap

Cute and clever is a trap that businesses easily fall into. It’s deceptive because it seems that this is what the others are doing as well. When you see these slick presentations that win the deal, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s the slickness that did the job.

Yet, more often than not that’s not the case. It’s clarity that wins in most cases. With clarity comes slickness. Not the other way around.

You can have beautiful words, gorgeous slides, and catchy titles. Yet, when clarity is missing, your audience will not buy into your story.

It’s like with special effects in a movie. A movie with great special effects might be fun to watch, but a movie with a great story beats the special effects every time. Of course, a great story that’s implemented brilliantly beats both.

For presentations, it’s the same. Clarity beats slickness. Clarity plus slickness beats both. The good news is that once you have clarity, it’s so much easier to find the slickness that you were looking for.

Someone’s got to suffer

The journalist and language teacher Wolf Schneider famously said: “Someone’s got to suffer, the writer or the reader.”

The same is true for speakers and audiences.

Either we let our audience do the hard work of understanding. Of getting the point. Of looking for what we mean.

Or we do the hard work to make it easy for our audience to understand. To get the point. To see and feel what we mean.

The good news is that as a communicator you get to choose.

Yet, depending on your choice it means that we need to go the extra mile to think and re-think of ways to come up with better metaphors, visualizations, and stories. With easier words and ways to interact with our audience. It means that we need to invest the time to practice until our story works. But it also means that it’s so much more likely to resonate with our audience.

How do you choose?

What’s her job?

When doing a sales presentation to a group of people, it really helps to understand what each person’s role in the meeting is.

Who is the decision maker? Why did she bring this or that person? Often, it’s not what it seems at first sight. And sometimes, we might underestimate the importance of these roles.

For example, there might be a finance manager whose job is to take care that you don‘t overcharge. There might be a product manager whose job is to take care that you don’t bullshit. There might be a marketing manager whose job is to take care that what you propose fits the overall brand story.

But it might just as well be the other way around. That the product manager is really dying to use your innovative solution and hoping for you to convince her boss. Or it might be that the boss is eager to pull your proposal off but the sales director needs to be convinced because if she isn’t all-in her team won’t be motivated to make it a success.

When knowing exactly why everyone’s there you can much better resonate with what’s important to them.

Not my fault

“On slide 19, I clearly stated this …”

Of course you did. But your audience didn’t get it. And that’s the end of the story. If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. It’s our job as a speaker to make our point obvious. To speak with clarity. And to light the path so our audience is willing to follow.

If they don’t it’s not their fault. It’s ours because either we haven’t been able to create that clarity to follow our line of thought or we haven’t researched well enough what resonates with our audience. If we want to make an impact, we’re better off taking responsibility for it. This way, we can improve the next time.

How to decide what to leave out

If you’re anything like me you could probably speak for days about your topic without you getting bored. Most likely, your audience won’t grant you as much time to speak.

So, what to leave out?

Here are two questions that may help you find an answer. Start with clearly stating the change you’re trying to make. Then, for every part of your presentation, for every detail, every slide, and every word, ask yourself:

  1. Does it contribute to making my point obvious to my audience?
  2. Do they care?

If the answer isn’t a resounding “yes” to both questions, then this detail most likely doesn’t belong into the presentation – at least not in its current form.

A great presentation is 100% relevant and delivered with clarity.

How to serve your audience well

Here are four ways that make your audience’s life so much easier.

Keep it short! How often have you been frustrated by speakers who just won’t cut to the core. We are all busy and still grant the speaker access to our time. The more the speaker values our time, the more we value her effort.

Make it relevant! You’re not doing a presentation for you. You do already know what you’re going to say. You’re doing it for them. So, what do they need from you? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? What is it that matters most to them? Make it about these things.

Take responsibility! There’s a very simple rule in speaking: If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. This is always the speakers fault and never the audience’s. So, take responsibility and keep it simple. Use their language. Use examples that make it easy to relate to. Have a clear structure that makes it easy to follow along.

Make it entertaining!
Just because it’s serious doesn’t mean that it can’t be fun. Think about yourself: if in doubt, we’d always choose entertaining over boring. So, if we can deliver the exact same content but 10x more fun, why shouldn’t we?

Answers and questions

There are at least two kinds of people: Those that have more answers than questions and those that have more questions than answers.

Given that most things are complex, few things have simple answers and each one of us is an expert in even fewer things, it’s hard to believe that any one person would be able to have definitive answers on many things.

People who have many answers tend to confuse answers with opinions and decisions. They tend to believe that their opinions and their decisions need to be right.

They don’t.

It’s perfectly ok to have an opinion even if you don’t know all the answers. It’s perfectly ok to decide what to eat, where to go, or what to say even if you don’t know all the answers. It’s probably even required in most situations because we hardly ever have all the knowledge that it takes to find the right answer.

But that’s ok. We can have an opinion and still acknowledge that there might be a different truth that we don’t fully grasp. Or that we just don’t know enough about, yet. We can always adapt.

It’s when we insist on being right all the time that we have stopped getting it right. Being right is hardly ever the point though. Working hard to be right leads discussions to become fights.

The world would be a much nicer place if we took opinions for what they are, if we admitted that we don’t know much about most things, and that getting it right is often a more helpful posture than being right.

Tell me only one thing

The default mode for presenting is this:

“I’m going to tell you everything I know and when I’m done, you are going to be convinced.”

Of course, we all know how that usually turns out.

The thing is that “everything” is often quite a lot. It’s overwhelming not only for your audience but also for yourself because it’s hard to find the clarity to speak about “everything”. It’s hard to find a structure that makes it easy for your audience to follow along when you speak about “everything”.

A much easier and much more effective way of approaching a presentation is this:

“Don’t tell me everything but tell me only one thing and make it the most interesting thing.”

Make it the thing that makes your audience curious, that’s most surprising or most exciting for them. When you do this and when it really matters, i.e. when they really care about that thing, then they will want you to tell them more. If it’s exciting they will even beg you to tell them more.

And of course you do.

But not by telling them everything but by telling them the next thing that’s so interesting that they will want you to tell them more. And then you do it again and again and again. You drag them down a rabbit hole, drag them ever deeper and make them curious. You lead them up to the point where you’ve actually convinced them.

So, when preparing your next presentation don’t tell me everything. Tell me only one thing and make it the one thing that makes me want you to tell me more. It’s so much easier to prepare. It makes it so much easier to find the clarity to structure your presentation. And it’s so much more interesting to listen to.

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz