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Do You Put People to Sleep When You Speak?

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By Dale Dauten

“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” – Dorothy Parker

Walt Disney once pointed that the key to success was to do something so well that people will pay to see you do it again. So, using that as a standard, here’s the question: When was the last time you saw a business presentation that you would pay to see again? OK, that’s too much to ask. How about this: when was the last time you saw a presentation that you’d want to sit through twice?

One reason that presentations have become exercises in forced concentration is the dumbest advice ever offered to presenters, the old Keep It Simple, Stupid. This leads to The Lucidity Paradox, where you make your points so clear that they disappear.

Another piece of classic advice to presenters is the old What’s In It For Me principle, where your remarks address the audience’s self-interest. That would seem to be good thinking, but the fact is that most people have their self-interest figured out before you begin and come not to learn but defend. So, instead of KISS or WIIFM, I say the best advice to follow comes from the people who know audiences best, the ones whose livelihoods depend on knowing audience: the folks in the entertainment business who say, “Leave ‘em wanting more.”

Let’s face it, the typical PowerPoint presentation is an exercise in leaving the audience wanting less. So how is it possible to cover a topic thoroughly and still leave the audience wanting more?

What got me thinking about that question was a presentation by Mike Figliuolo (fig-lee-OH-lo), a former corporate guy who’s now consulting on how thought processes influence communication via his company, ThoughtLEADERS. Here are three of his suggestions:

1. “An individual’s compensation is inversely proportional to the number of PowerPoint pages he or she will tolerate before having a stroke.”

2. “If it’s two pages, it’s not a summary.” (Figliuolo quotes one executive commenting on the readability of written reports as saying, “If it has a staple I won’t read it.”)

3. “When people start thinking, bad things happen.” (The advantage of moving quickly through a presentation is that, done properly, you guide management to the conclusion you want to reach before they have time to let their minds wander off onto another agenda.)

You can see where he’s going here – right to the point. Seems easy enough, but it isn’t. Why? Figliuolo points out that the person giving the presentation yearns to impress the boss and the way to do that has always been by working hard. Thus, if you’re a typical corporate employee, you believe at some level that showing management all the research and data you’ve collected will impress them. Alas, it only impresses them that you think like the little people.

So you keep it short but NOT simple – you keep it big and fast and leave them working to keep up. You have the details available, should they want to see them. They won’t. But, with some luck and skill, they’ll want to see you present more often.

Dale Dauten is author of six books, two nationally syndicated advice columns and the founder of The Innovators’ Lab. His latest book is “(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success” (John Wiley & Sons). He can be reached at www.dauten.com.

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