When we prepare a presentation, in our enthusiasm for and expertise in our topic, we often disregard our audience's capacity to absorb information. We operate from a "more is better" mentality, reluctant to leave out any detail that somehow, possibly, maybe could be relevant.
The result, however, is far different than what we intend. Instead of dazzling our audiences with our knowledge and depth of understanding, and motivating them to buy into our message, too frequently we create audience confusion and overload.
WHAT AFFECTS AUDIENCE ABSORPTION?
Certainly the sheer volume of information included in a presentation has a big impact. As you prepare your presentation, ask yourself, "What is my critical message?" "What is the one thing I want people to remember once they leave the presentation?" If you filter all your data and information through those questions, you will become clearer on what content is critical and what is just nice to know and could be provided in handouts or as a follow up after the presentation.
Other variables that affect audience absorption are:
- Rate of Speech. If you speak too slowly, listeners may get bored and take mind vacations. If you speak too quickly, particularly if your material is involved, listeners may not be able to follow. Audio record your presentation when you rehearse and see what the pace sounds like when you play it back. Since it is sometimes difficult for us to be objective about our own voice, ask a colleague to listen.
- Complexity of Information. The more complex your data, the more challenging it will be for your audience to absorb it. In your preparation, research what your audience already knows about your topic to help you determine the appropriate level of complexity to present. Be sensitive to non-verbal clues from the audience (frowns, confused looks) and be ready to re-explain a point or give an example to enhance understanding.
- Language Choice. Choose words that make it easy for the audience to grasp your information and remember it. Stay away from jargon unless it is well understood by the audience. Use descriptive, colorful words. Speak at a vocabulary level that is appropriate for your audience. If the audience has to invest a lot of energy in deciphering what you're trying to say, they will have less to invest in comprehending your meaning.
- Organization of Material. Even the most complex information is easier to absorb when it is presented in a logical, organized fashion. Create an outline of your presentation when you are initially designing it because an outline more clearly shows flow and progression. Chunk your material so that it falls into logical modules. Use transition statements between modules to help the audience move into a new section. Summarize frequently.
3 KEY TECHNIQUES TO HELP AUDIENCES ABSORB
These techniques can make the difference between an audience internalizing your information and being able to recall it or not being able to remember what you said five minutes after they leave the presentation.
- Pictures and Graphs on Slides. The more you can use relevant and engaging images or charts on your slides, the more you enhance the audience's ability to absorb your message. Slide after slide of wordy bullet points not only becomes boring, it makes it more difficult for the audience to pay attention, as they are splitting their focus between listening to what you're saying and reading what's up on the slide. Images can aid understanding and memory yet not distract, like printed words do, from the speaker's verbal delivery.
- Stories. Stories are an exceptionally powerful tool to help an audience retain key points because they are filled with human interest...characters, scenarios, tension and resolution. Craft stories that strongly support your key message and then practice them numerous times until you have the timing and intonation perfect.
- Examples. Closely related to stories in terms of impact, examples can help the audience understand relevance and application. When you are preparing your presentation, develop numerous examples that will resonate with this particular audience, perhaps using people or work situations that are familiar to them.
What other techniques have you used to help your audiences absorb your message?