What’s the toughest presentation in the world? A short, simple one.
It’s easy to talk for a long time about things that interest you. The difficult thing is conveying important information in a limited amount of time. How is it done?
You’ve got 5 minutes
I’ve been working with a group of engineers, helping them prepare for Ignite presentations for their annual conference. An Ignite presentation consists of 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds for a total speech time of five minutes.
They engineers all start out with typical PowerPoint presentations, loaded with stuff like bullet points, tiny text and confusing graphs. When I remind them that each slide will be onscreen for fifteen seconds, that they’ll be speaking while the slide is in view and that audiences can’t simultaneously read, understand what they’ve read, listen to a speaker and understand what that person is saying the engineers became unsettled.
It isn’t easy being simple
It turns out that simplicity is hard.
Think about it. If you’re asked about something you’re passionate about—for example, a favorite hobby or a project you’ve been working on—it’s so easy to talk at length about the subject. You might tell people about how you got started, what problems you encountered, why what you’re doing is so interesting, etc., etc., etc. You might get animated, using gestures and your voice to convey your excitement about the subject. You could go on and on and on and on and on about it!
But the Ignite format imposes a hard stop at five minutes. Once it’s over, you get the hook.
The trick is to convey as much information as you can in five minutes that will be enough to pique people’s interest, give them some knowledge and leave them wanting more.
Know your audience
To determine what goes into your presentation and what doesn’t, you have to figure out what’s important to your audience. Then you need to be able to communicate that information in language that’s persuasive and easy for that audience to understand. You need to speak differently to each audience because what matters to investors—how they’re going to make money by working with you—might not matter to your fellow engineers, or the audience at your upcoming TED talk or the high school students you’re talking to at STEM Day.
Focus on benefits, not features
You want to bore a room really fast? Concentrate on the features of your idea. People often present laundry lists of features, such what color something is, how much it weighs, what it’s made of, etc., etc., etc.
Benefits, on the other hand, are how these features work to help people. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod to the world, he spoke about the features a bit, but he focused mainly on the benefits. It was tiny compared to the Walkman and boom boxes, it was stylish and it enabled you to “fit a thousand songs in your pocket.” Boom, there’s your benefit! Find the benefits of your ideas and communicate those to your audience.
Presenting information simply, knowing your audience and focusing on benefits aren’t just for the Ignite crowd. These principles can guide you in every presentation you do. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address lasted a little over two minutes, but its message has reverberated throughout history. As hard as it might be, simplicity is a great goal to strive for.