Have you ever listened to a speaker drone on and realized the more they talk, the less you understand? Yeah, me too. It’s frustrating, especially when you actually need the information buried beneath that pile of verbiage (or a pile of mangoes if you read our June issue! ).
RULE #1: When it comes to message construction, STAY TIGHT.
Agatha Christie’s famous mystery play, The Mousetrap has been running in London’s West End since 1952! How is it possible that audiences are still intrigued after 66 years? It’s due to Christie’s discipline as a thinker, and not just as a writer. She said: “I think the austerity and stern discipline that goes to making a ‘tight’ detective plot is good for one’s thought processes. It is the kind of writing that does not permit loose or slipshod thinking. It all has to dovetail, to fit in as part of a carefully constructed whole.”
“Austerity” means only that which is absolutely necessary to hold the audience’s attention and complete the story. No extraneous details, no labored explanations and certainly no confusing visuals — just like the best presentations at work. (Of course, if you’ve taken our workshops and applied the Key Message-Headline technique, you already know this. When you use this tool, you appreciate that it’s a thought organization tool as well as a presentation GPS.)
I recently read another fun, tight little mystery by popular American playwright Ken Ludwig, who said: “The one thing the best mystery plays have in common is that there are no superfluous subplots, even for purposes of theme. Great mysteries drive straight onward, staying on track from beginning to end.”
So do great presentations. Now ask yourself: When you’re creating content, do you “add in” in an attempt to be helpful, thorough or exact? Ask yourself: Is this really necessary, or does it actually obfuscate my main message? When it doubt, leave it out.
RULE #2: When it comes to message delivery, STAY LOOSE.
How do Broadway actors keep long-running productions fresh and inviting show after show, and even year after year? Their co-stars may be the same, their costumes, cues, and lines all the same…how do they keep it exciting? Easy. They know that every audience is new. Every seat contains not just a paying customer, but a living breathing person with emotions, thoughts, and expectations. What will this audience respond to? Where will they laugh, sigh, gasp? The actors must, therefore, adjust their timing and nuance their delivery ever-so-slightly to be at one with each audience. They are never unaware of their audience, and neither are the best presenters. Once you know your material, let go of the idea of perfection. Get out of your head and into the room so you can respond to your audience in the moment. Stay loose.
Have you taken the mystery out of your presentations?