By Claudyne Wilder, Owner/Manager of Wilder Presentations
In business, people get paid for carrying out the details of their work. They spend hours in the nitty gritty of a project. Of course they are working towards an overall goal, but the goal is achieved only by accomplishing it step by step. Consequently, when asked to give a presentation on their work, they gravitate towards telling about their daily activities and the trials that occurred as they attempted to accomplish those activities.
Most audiences don’t want to know that level of detail. This article suggests you develop a story line that pulls the audience through the presentation and keeps you, the presenter, focused on real life examples and away from too much detail.
A sad story
Here’s an example of what can happen when the details become the focus of a talk. John was asked to give upper management an update on standards compliance. He spent a week gathering progress reports from each of the business units. He put together a very comprehensive presentation covering all the details of what had been done so far and what systems were left to be tested. He had forty screens of detail after detail.
Due to the level of detail the text on the screens was reduced to eighteen-size font. His flow charts were so intricate that he had trouble fitting all the boxes on each screen. The text in the boxes was reduced to size eight font. He gave the presentation. He had a lot to cover and his time was reduced from forty to thirty minutes. So he talked very fast.
Sometimes he sounded a little unsure as he talked about the compliance testing being done in each of the business units. The audience had trouble grasping the test processes so consequently they asked him many specific questions. He wasn’t pleased about his presentation or the way he answered some of the questions. He certainly had enough information about the compliance activities, yet his every time he thought about that talk his gut felt tight and he knew it hadn’t gone the way he wished.
A happier story
First, John needed a story line. The story line is like the operating system that serves as the foundation upon which everything is organized. The story line is not usually that difficult to identify. Tie it to the audience expectations. For example, what would upper management in John’s audience want to hear besides all the standards compliance problems will be solved? They want to know John is in charge of that process and it is moving ahead. John’s story line could have been, “We will be standards compliant.” Sometimes the audience even gives you the story line. In the construction example later on in the article, the company gave the bidders their story line.
Second, once a story line is identified organize the information into three to four distinct categories, chunks of data that add credibility to that story line.
Third, include only the details that support that story line and fit into the categories delineated. Now with these three layers in place anyone can create a much more compelling, integrated and convincing presentation. You can use the story line to filter out extraneous information.
Examples tell the story for you
Use examples that corroborate the story line. As you create your presentation you will think of many examples to include. You will probably have a limited amount of time to talk so choose your stories carefully.
Sue was scheduled to give a fifteen-minute talk to fifty presidents. The people in her audience were potential investors and referral sources for new business. Her story line was, “We have the connections.” All the information she discussed was under the umbrella of the connections theme. For example, she showed a couple of slides listing her seminar providers and then said, “We have over 2000 providers from all businesses and professions. Our list of seminar providers is twice as large as that of our major competitor.” She then gave one specific example of how one connection with a certain seminar provider led to the creation of new courses, thus adding a large ongoing stream of revenue to the business.
Walk the audience through scenarios
Make examples walk-thru scenarios or demos when possible. One company in the midst of a Global Business Integration Process had to constantly sell upper management around the world on certain processes to be used throughout the world. Some of the audience members were technically literate, but half were not. After experiencing some unresponsive and hostile audience members they created a presentatation theme of: “Your total client information, a click away.” Every time they wanted to get agreement for more money, or a new process or a change of software they walked them through a real life scenario.
One presenter walked the audience through the scenario of client calling and asking for information on all the orders, when they were shipped and when they would arrive. The client wanted the answer right then. The presenter explained how, with the new implementation of a certain software system, that information would be instantly available. The presenter did a demo but in the form of a movie. He played the part of the client and his company representative. The demo was interesting and illustrated that the client’s information was soon going to be only, “a click away.” The systems people began to be seen as useful business partners and their audiences became receptive to their suggestions.
Biographies are stories, too
Make the biographies of people relate to the story line. The biography of a person’s work experience can also be woven into the story line. Presenters in companies should remember to say a word about their work experience as it relates to their message.
A construction company bidding on a project knew that one of the key values of the potential customer was: “Flexibility, the ability to change directions in midstream.” For their underlying theme and story line of their one-hour presentation they chose, “Our flexibility as a company and as individuals is known by all our clients.” This story line was subtly included as each of the presenters introduced themselves. Each presenter discussed an overview of their projects, then related a specific example in which they were flexible and changed plans during a project.
One project manager told the story of being in the middle of building a non-smoking research facility only to find out that one of the scientists, a Russian Nobel Laureate, smoked. What to do? The building was beyond the design phase. The Nobel Laureate wouldn’t go down the elevator and then smoke outside. Besides the policy was not to have people smoking outside the building. Creatively they added balconies on to some of the offices. Now the laureate could slide open his office door and then smoke outside. If he sat down no one could even see him.
Two days before the actual presentation they practiced both the full presentation and their project examples used during each presenter’s introduction. Their flexibility theme was consistently elaborated on during the talk. They won the bid.
Use a picture to anchor your story line
A picture can serve as a focus of your story line and keep that line in your audience’s mind long after the talk. The picture can be a photograph, a simple diagram or an image. Recently I realized I wasn’t practicing what I preach. In my hour talk, “Point, Click & Wow! Giving Results-Oriented Laptop Presentations” I saw that my one-hour speech needed a story line. Granted I had stories in the talk but the whole presentation didn’t have one story line. About six months before this realization I flew on a circus-like trapeze and had wonderful pictures of being caught in mid air. I took those pictures, put them in my presentation and made the story line of the talk, “Go beyond what you ever thought you could do.” That theme now runs through the talk. It is more interesting to give and the audience likes the trapeze story as much as I like telling it.
Remolding a presentation
Technical people are now expected to integrate themselves into business units. In the past all their clients wanted to know was that something was done. Now they must work closely with their clients in showing how certain systems meet a business need. They have to walk a fine line between discussing details that the client doesn’t understand and insulting the clients by talking down to them.
Let’s assume that you are the technical presenter evaluating your presentation or you are helping someone evaluate his or her presentation before it will be given for real.
First, lay out all the screens in hard copy. You want to be able to see them all at the same time. Now ask: “What is the one story line?” Not two, but one story line. You write out your story line.
At this point you will probably have to chunk the data differently to go with the story line. Then streamline the screens in order to make them fit into your data chunks. Now with each slide answers these questions:
- How does this slide elaborate on my overall theme?
- How does this slide support my message at this point in the talk?
- Does the audience need this information in order to understand or make a decision?
- Can I hide this information and only show it if I am asked a question?
- Am I using this information because I spent hours collecting it or because my audience will find it helpful in agreeing to my recommendations?
- Do my charts tell a story and explain a key point or just show data? (You can even put the point of the chart as the heading or under the heading.)
When the product managers of one company answered these questions they reduced the number of their slides by one-half. A sales presentation went from eighty-five to thirty-five screens. A technical presentation of a new software application went from thirty to twenty-two screens.
A happy ending
As you begin to examine your talks and the talks of your staff here are some key points to remember.
- Set the theme based on your audience’s expectations and needs.
- Look for ways to include the story line in all parts of the presentation as the Construction Company did with their bios.
- Include only details that support the story line.
- Make your examples relate to the underlying theme.
- Sell the benefits with a theme, not the features with non-integrated bits of data.
There are rewards of having a story line run through a presentation.
First, you as the presenter are more confident as the presentation has a congruency throughout.
Second, the audience thinks you have spent hours on the talk as it comes across as very tightly organized. This leads them to think positively of you in the days after your talk.
And third, you will have a much better chance of your audience easily accepting your recommendations, which is the ultimate goal of many business presentations.