Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Do you over-explain? 5 speaker tricks for using data, details wisely

You're smart--and loaded with facts, numbers, data points and the charts, graphs and diagrams to go with them. But if you haven't thought through how to use data and details sparingly, your audience will just get overwhelmed and miss your message. Try these five useful tactics for taming that tsunami of technical detail in your next presentation:
  1. Save some data for the Q-and-A: You don't need to share every single fact in a speech or presentation.You'll look even smarter if you save some to reveal in response to questions. Do some thinking ahead of time about the questions you get most often, natural questions that might arise from your conclusion, and questions this specific audience might ask--then prepare to answer them after, not during, your formal presentation.
  2. Flip the order for later data: If you're a scientist or engineer (or just have a lot of detail to put across), your default impulse will be to put all the background explanations, detail and data first, then get to your conclusion, result or decision-making issue. Instead, flip the order to put the data later, not first. Start with the bottom line, and use data to support that, instead of the other way around. Public audiences and business decision-makers want the results first, before the detail.
  3. Keep your data off your slides: If you put all your data on slides because you can't recall it all, just remember that if you can't remember it, neither can your audience. (And using your slides as your notes just doesn't work, for you or your audience.) Max Atkinson uses Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's TED talk to point out that you can have a business-data-driven presentation without slides.
  4. Even with a fun analogy, don't make the numbers too big to grasp: The Wall Street Journal's "numbers guy," Carl Bialik, writes here about using analogies to describe very large numbers. He's collected some bizarre examples, like the website that figured every American adult could buy two pairs of Manolo Blahnik pumps for the cost of the war in Iraq. A better approach would be to skip the big numbers (in terms of how many bills would reach the moon, something hard to picture) and go with a smaller number, like the cost per taxpayer. Check out Bialik's blog post on this column, which includes links to all sorts of sites that help us visualize numbers and dollars. 
  5. Use a three-step response if you explain too much when answering a question: If you over-explain in response to a question, an issue for many women, try the three-step response: Pause. Answer. Stop. Think about why you're over-explaining and come up with a briefer approach. You should aim for a back-and-forth with your audience, not a lecture...and if you explain too much, you might be making too many assumptions about what's wanted. Not sure what the question's really about? Ask your questioner a question to narrow down the scope of your response: "Are you referring to the results or the overall approach we took?" 


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