This four-part series considers the four biggest challenges facing presenters who make highly technical, detail or data-driven presentations. It’s true that these pitfalls await any unsuspecting presenter regardless of the presentation’s content and focus. But the dry abstraction inherent to more technical presentations adds to the obstacles. Luckily, these obstacles help remind us of opportunities to become even better communicators.
We posted about a challenge each week. Here’s the first one…
Technology has made us lousy listeners.
We've become lousy listeners. Technology—especially smartphones, tablets, etc—puts worlds of distractions in front of us wherever we are. And email, text messaging and social networks all but command our attention at any time and place.
If we’re both looking at the same slide and I can read it twice as fast as you’re reading it to me, I can blow through that slide, update my Facebook status, reply to an email or two, and Google that whatsit that just came to mind — all before the first bullet on your next slide.
If your presentation to me gets too deep into details and data I know I’ve got in a PDF whitepaper on the topic, I might as well start keyword-searching through that — if you’re lucky — else, there’s probably another email or two I can knock out.
And so on…
Worst. Listener. Ever. Sure, I’m your worst nightmare for an audience. But don’t dismiss my lousy listening without first considering the possibility that you helped make me that way. At least admit you gave me some pretty good reasons toshare my focus.
More importantly, all of this suggests some things we can do as presenters to avoid the problems of lousy listening. And if our content is filled with technical specifications, detailed data, and analysis — we must do all we can to earn the attention of our audience and to keep it.
Yes, of course, present with passion and energy. Yes, make eye contact when presenting in person. Check in with your audience when presenting online or by phone. But also:
Let’s be mindful of the fact that people have always been lousy listeners — and there are now even more compelling distractions. Even worse, sometimes our lousy listening feels justified — or at least not without reason.
So, it’s as important as ever to hone your message and deliver your presentation to captivate me. But it’s even more important than ever not to justify my lousy listening habits.
Be sure your presentation makes good use of “now” and “later” piles. Most of the research, details, and comprehensive analysis leading up to and fueling your presentation is very important, no doubt. But how much of it is crucial to present right here, right now? It can be very helpful to really pare down to the now nut. Then save the rest of that rich, detailed information in your later pile.
Put it in a follow-up document, make it available for your audience to comb through later if they’d like, put it in an appendix in your slide deck — or in the “Notes” section. I don’t doubt that it’s all good, but I suspect it’s not all needed now.
Next time we’ll consider the second key challenge technical presenters face: too often, technical presenters use bad visuals that can make a presentation worse than no visuals at all.
ZEHREN♦FRIEDMAN can help your data denizens and science sleuths be more effective communicators with a presentation skills seminar designed specifically for technical presenters: Helping Techs Talk to Mere Mortals is a two-day, highly experiential, hands-on seminar for six to ten people.