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Closing the gap between expert and audience

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April 16, 2019

There’s something really enjoyable about being present when a well prepared speaker gives a great presentation. Comfortable presenters translate that ease to their audience who are then more likely to pay attention. But being a comfortable presenter takes preparation.

If you are going to the trouble of giving a presentation, then an engaged audience, paying attention, is the compliment you want to receive. You are sure to know what outcome you want to achieve but regardless of the outcome, an engaged audience is the bridge to reaching that goal. Outcomes will range from transferring information through to piquing sufficient interest to be called back.

There are two parts required to being comfortable giving a presentation: having a story to tell and having it supported with great visuals. Rarely will a story will be effective without visual if it goes for any length of time beyond a few minutes. I have bad news – you are not going to be sufficiently fascinating on your own.

Having a good story to tell and being able to tell it with the appropriate physical support takes skill that can be learnt. If you need to check if what I am saying is true, have a look at a few TED talks with the sound down and look for dissonance in the speaker’s body language. You won’t see too many uncomfortable speakers in TED talks because they are trained to tell their stories so that they present well. Their body language and use of physical space supports the story they are telling.

Now think of the last dreadful speaker you saw – can you remember what they were talking about? Or do you remember their pockets being full of phone/ wallet/keys making lumpy shapes, or them standing with their feet crossed at the ankles appear to teeter, or did they look at their powerpoint slides to read out bullet points of text while turning their back to their audience?

Those awkward, untrained, ill prepared speakers are wasting money – their time and yours has a dollar value. If there is no yield, if no-one understands, if no-one leaves inspired/informed/convinced, then money might as well have been donated to charity where it could have turned a benefit.

Training in preparing your story and presenting it well is an investment in the event and in your skill set. Consider it a spend with a guaranteed return on investment – there aren’t too many of those!

The purpose of good visuals to support your talk is to close the gap between you, the expert, and your audience. Audiences are more engaged when you will present information that fits their context and translate that information through experience with them. Investing in good visuals is a cost-saving exercise on several fronts. Much less time is wasted at the event through disengagement and results will come faster as the information you share is translated into knowledge. Without the support of good visuals you can share as much information as you can jam into bullet points on powerpoint but it won’t get through to your audience – the gap will be too big.

So what are good visuals? Good visuals are the result of clarity in the story combining with design work created to a framework that supports the way data becomes meaningful information. Data/facts only begin to become meaningful when put in a context that is relevant to the audience. This can be at odds with the context familiar to you, the speaker, but you are already an expert so you aren’t the target audience for your own content. And that’s where it gets hard, experts easily forget the gap between their knowledge and the novice audience member.

The KISS principle applies here as much as it does to any design activity. All designers will tell you that simple designs are the hardest to achieve. They take high levels of expertise and the confidence that users will understand. The same applies to presentations. Some people will fill them up with far too much data/facts and others go the other way providing lovely images to look at but no words. Neither work. Simplicity is the goal.

Having a framework for translating data/facts into knowledge is an important tool for focusing attention on the outcome. It provides the discipline essential to eliminate extraneous information. And it will result in an outcome that is simple and effective.

If you need help to learn how to craft a great presentation, use your body language and voice to best effect, I recommend Bernadette Schwerdt to help you learn those skills. Find her at bernadetteschwerdt.com.au

For help crafting visuals that will close the gap between you and your audience, sing out, we can help with that.

Experts need expert help. Don’t waste your time going it alone. Get help or donate to charity and stay home with a good book (maybe one on body language!!).

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