Details are crucial to the impact of business presentations. Just as with stories, movies and news reports, the change of a simple detail or a tiny piece of information can completely transform the final product. The change may even result in a totally different story!
In fact, the effectiveness of both movies and presentations depends on several key factors. Yes, it’s important how people interpret the material presented and how people are impacted by that material. But pretty much the effectiveness hinges on who is telling the story and how it is being told.
In a really good movie, for example, there’s not one wasted scene. There’s no dialogue that doesn’t accomplish something. Everything in a great movie has a reason for being. Everything is there to contribute to the story. And, most importantly, there will be a really good reason for the adding or removal of every detail, because this can completely change the course and ending of a story. It is said, for example, that if you see a gun in act one of a play, that gun will need to be fired before the play is over.
Here is a link to an HBO ad by BBDO New York. It’s no accident that this ad was awarded a Gold Lion at Cannes in 2008.
But, unlike in great focused movie storytelling, in presentations it’s all too common to find things (PowerPoint files, Keynote etc.) that convey a lot of information the audience couldn’t care less about. And so all that stuff doesn’t help the presenter one iota to achieve his/her goal. And it probably interferes with concentration.
So when we’re building a presentation, we really need to ask ourselves. Is the material in the presentation relevant to our message? Will it help the audience to understand our main message? Are we telling the right story to the particular people who are listening?
Besides delivering information that doesn’t matter to an audience, we also all too often deliver or present information in the wrong way. Little details like word choice can completely change the meaning of a story and so they can also skew the understanding of an audience. The result? Great ideas and projects aren’t bought; they’re simply left behind because of little things that ended up making a big difference.
So regardless of the story you tell during a presentation, it’s essential to build a script that has a very clear goal, a goal that is your focus and that helps you to take your audience from point A to point B. To do this building, it’s crucial to know what is the level of knowledge and expectation of your audience, and, most importantly, what is the true objective of the presentation.
To figure out what that is, try answering the following: “What do I want my audience to feel and/or think and/or do after experiencing my presentation?“
See, it’s not uncommon to confuse the true objective with the presenter’s role during a meeting or even with the theme of the presentation itself.
A journalistic aid
Now, after knowing what your true presentation objective is, you need to create the best story for it. One that lead your audience from your starting point to your ending.
The script is the tool we use to build this story.
Regardless of the script you build, it’s important to define what is critical and what is removable information. After all, that non-critical information is the equivalent of the scenes and dialogue you never see in a great movie, the things that bring nothing to the table. The things that don’t help the audience follow or understand the story.
So to be sure that only the most relevant information is in your presentation, we suggest you use the following journalistic checklist.
Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How much? Keep the focus narrow, stay with the goal. How would you want the first paragraph of a news item about your presentation to read?
The right answers to these six questions should certainly focus you on the essential information and so ensure a better understanding of your story by your audience.
A lifesaving comma
And speaking of punctuation (okay, we weren’t, but we need to), we’d like to share with you a story that illustrates the message of bad details making for bad outcomes (and vice versa): The Russian Tsarina Maria Fyodorovna once saved the life of a man just by changing the position of a comma in the text of his court sentence. The quick-thinking Maria, who did not agree with the decision of her husband, Alexander II, used the following trick:
The Czar sent the prisoner to prison with this sentence written on paper (in Russian, of course, but the error is the same): “Pardon impossible, to send to Siberia.”
Maria ordered a new sentence drafted, and, pretending to read the original paper, changed only a comma. And so the message became: “Pardon, impossible to send to Siberia.” The prisoner was released.
And that is how a comma saved the life of a very possibly innocent man.
So in your own presentation writing, remember: a simple detail – a comma, a bullet point more or a bullet point less – can make all the difference in the story you tell and how it is received by your audience.