Events & Red Carpet

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Always Leave Em Wanting More

Pinnacle Performance Company   Volume 2 Issue 9

Always Leave 'Em Wanting More 

Content, Cutting and Message Clarity

“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.”

                                                            Leonard Elmore, novelist

One of the most difficult parts of cobbling together a presentation is deciding what material to keep and what to discard. Presenters usually find themselves in the position of having to convey a lot of new information in a very short period of time (i.e. sales calls, project updates). The natural inclination is to include exhaustive details, to fully plumb the depths of the given topic and leave no stone unturned. “How is client X supposed to realize how great our company is unless I tell him all about it?” “How is my team to make decisions without knowing the intricacies of our project?” More information means greater understanding, right? Wrong. And Red Carpet is here to tell you why.

What did you do last weekend?

A simple question that isn’t so simple to answer. Sure, you might be able to recount major events (went to the movies, had the family over, took the kids to a birthday party), but moments outside those “markers” would be more difficult to recall. Our brains do an excellent job of filtering out mundane details. In order to preserve energy, save us headaches and reserve resources for higher cognitive functions, they look for opportunities to go on autopilot. Routine activities typically trigger this somatic automation. We’ve done certain things so many times before, as soon as our brains recognize the patterned behavior, click!, we go on autopilot.

The identical result occurs when confronted with too much information. Our brains search for the aforementioned markers, something that stands out amidst the white noise. If too much material is thrown at an audience, there is a dilution of what’s important. In essence, everything becomes mundane, and their autopilots begin to activate.

Red Carpet has written in past newsletters about attention spans and maximizing retention rates. Content selection is another face of that many-sided coin. “Less is more” is an oft-repeated cliché that contains truth but offers no practical answers. What is one to do? Here are three simple guidelines that will help you distill your content:

Pick Three. Limit yourself to three major ideas/concepts/points. No more. One of the hardest things to do as a playwright, screenwriter or author is make cuts. “There’s so much good info!” No, there isn’t. “All these details are important!” No, they’re not. Make hard choices about what stays and what goes. If you’re having a hard time being objective, involve someone else. Another set of eyes and ears can be invaluable.

Start Small. If you’ve been allotted time to present, don’t plan on using every second. Challenge yourself to be as concise as possible. What would your presentation look like if you had to deliver it in five minutes? How about ten? Fifteen? Instead of trying to whittle everything down to fit your given timeframe, build your presentation in reverse by gradual addition. Stop when you reach 75-80% of your time allotment.

WIDLIO. Syntax artists may recognize this acronym: When In Doubt, Leave It Out. While English teachers may have had commas in mind when devising this mnemonic device, it can apply to content as well. Apply those scissors liberally. Make certain you rank the contents of your cutting room floor. If you change your mind or need to add more at a later date, knowing what almost made the grade will be valuable.

The urge for a presenter to “show up and throw up” every little detail can be difficult to resist. By distilling your content down and skimming the cream, you not only reduce audience distractions but also gain more control over what they retain. A bit of extra effort and some hard choices can make “less is more” truly win/win.

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