How to Write Presentations and Avoid Data Dumping

Most presenters try to cover way too much information in way too little time.

If you spend an entire hour presenting on just one key concept, one key point, there is a really good chance that most people in your audience will remember your key point (at least for a short period of time). If you spend an entire hour covering two key points, your audience will have a 50% chance of remembering either (not both) of your key points. So, what that means is that an hour or so after your presentation, if you randomly asked people in your audience to name one of your key points, every other person will likely stare at you blankly. If you add a third point, the retention drops to just 25%. With four points, it drops to under 10%. And if you add a fifth point, only about 1% of your audience will remember ANYTHING that you say.

Quick! Think of the last presentation you heard at the office. Do you even remember what the topic was? If so, do you remember any of the bullet points?

I know what you are thinking… Wait a minute. If retention is so low, then why bother?

I’m not trying to discourage you, but I am trying to get you to face reality. If you design presentations the way that most people design presentations, your audience will likely not remember a lot of your content, and even worse, they probably won’t like your delivery.

However, if you follow the following structure, you will increase the retention from your audience dramatically. In fact, when I teach presentation classes using this structure, it is amazing how much of each presenter’s content that the class members remember at the conclusion of the seminar. Not only do they remember the key points and titles, but they also remember names, dates, numbers, and many minute details that typically shocks them.

So don’t get discouraged. Just follow the following tips.

Once you have that well written and well defined title, keep thinking like the audience. Ask yourself, “If I were sitting in one of these seats for an hour, and I only walked away with one key concept about this topic, what would be the absolute, number one, most important thing that I’d need to know or remember? What would make it worth my while sitting through this presentation?” Whatever that number one, most important, concept is, becomes your number one key point (your first bullet point).

Once you have that most important concept, then assume that the audience absolutely understands that concept very thoroughly. What would be the second most important key point that the audience would need to know? Whatever that point is becomes bullet point number two.

Keep going until you get three, four, or five points. Just as an FYI, a well-designed three-point talk will take anywhere from ten minutes to thirty minutes to deliver. A five-point talk is typically most appropriate for about an hour-long presentation.

The logic on this type of structure is pretty sound. If your audience is only likely to remember a few key concepts, then why not spend most your time on just the absolute, most important things that they need to know? By the way, on a scale of “most important,” when you identify the most important concept and work your way down the ladder, by the time you get to the fifth and sixth most important items, they will greatly pale in comparison to the number one most important thing.

Next time that you buy something, take a look at all of the options in front of you. Start rating your options from your favorite to your least favorite. Once you get to the sixth favorite, compare it to your top pick. Is there any real comparison? I went shopping for a suit a few weeks back, and I gave the salesperson a general idea of what I was looking for. As the two of us walked through the store, when I saw a suit that I liked, the salesman would pull it out and hang it near the mirror. When we got to about five suits, I went back and looked at each again. I was quickly able to rule out a couple, because compared to my top choices, they just didn’t measure up. Eventually, I tried on a couple of suits and made my choice. As the salesperson was taking my measurements for the alterations, I stood looking at myself in the mirror admiring the new suit. Of course, the two suits that I had quickly excluded were still hanging there. As I looked at them, I was wondering why I had ever even chosen them as finalist.

Your audience does the same thing. They may politely listen to all of your long list of 10, 15, 25, or even 50 bullet points, but somewhere along the way, they will disregard whatever they don’t feel is important for them at the time. If you are delivering a bunch of bullet points, this filtering process will likely start to occur fairly early in the presentation. The more focused your presentation – meaning, the fewer key points that you cover – the more likely that your audience will stay in tune with you and remember what you present to them.

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