What the audience wants to know and what you want to tell them is often two totally different things.

Perhaps the absolute biggest mistakes that people make when they start to design a presentation is to ask themselves, “Okay, so what do I know about this subject?” and then start designing slides based on everything that they know. What happens more often than not is that they end up with too much information and too many slides, so to fit the time-frame allotted, they will likely cut content out. What the presenter ends up with is a Swiss cheese presentation that is both hard to remember (deliver) and hard for the audience to retain.

Too-Much-Data A better way to start is to put yourself in the shoes of the audience member and ask yourself, “If I am in the audience (and not the expert) what content would be most important to me, right now?” For instance, if you are an accountant, you are most concerned about the number balancing, but if you are delivering a financial presentation to the C-Level Executives, they aren’t really concerned about the numbers themselves, they are more concerned about how the numbers relate to the profit and trends. If you are delivering the presentation to the sales team, they are more concerned about revenue and bonuses. If you are delivering the presentation to the board of directors, they are more concerned about shareholder equity and retained earnings. If you are delivering the presentation to front-line managers, they are more concerned with costs and expenses. None of these audiences are concerned with the balance sheet, debits, credits or any of the data that the accountant wants to deliver. They are concerned with how the data affects their day-to-day lives.

Think of designing your presentations like choosing a birthday gift. I love wine. I love to unwind at the end of the day with a glass of fine Pino Grigio. However, my wife, although she likes wine as well, gets a headache if she drinks more than one glass. So a wine-of-the-month club membership is a great gift for me, but it would not be appreciated if I gave the membership to my wife. Think of designing your presentations in the same way. Stop focusing on yourself and what you want and focus more on what the audience really wants.

About ten years ago, I was working with an Architecture firm that was bidding on a contract with the University of Texas in Austin. The university was adding a high-tech microbiology building to their campus, and they were torn between adding something modern and edgy and keeping with the historic culture of the campus. I came in a couple of days before the presentation to the university, and the team assembled had already identified the key concepts that they wanted to cover.

The first point in the presentation was “Our Experience with University Architecture.” It took me the better part of an hour to convince the team that although their experience was important, the university didn’t really care about how successful they had been in the past. The university was more concerned about keeping their historic culture. After a pretty intense discussion, one of the architects decided to take a walk on campus to get some ideas, and while he was walking, he sketched some of the buildings that were already on campus. He made these sketches just so he could get some ideas and really understand the campus. For the next couple of hours, the team went over the sketches and identified what key aspects that they wanted to “copy” and add to the new high-tech building.

When the team spoke to the committee, they began their presentation just like everyone else with a couple of PowerPoint slides. However, after a few traditional slides, they inserted a blank slide that the team used as a spotlight for the sketches that the architect had created. He glued to sketches to a board and placed the boards on a tripod in front of the “spotlight”. He just pointed out the key aspects of the historic culture in the old buildings that he wanted to preserve in the new buildings. With every new board that he showed, the committee members physically moved toward the presenter in their seats. The committee loved the presentation and awarded the contract to our team within 30 minutes of the conclusion of the last presentation (a record).

After the presentation, one of the committee members approached the lead presenter and thanked him. He told us that every other one of the team’s competitors spent most of their time proving how great they were, but his team spent most of our time focusing on what the committee was most interested in. He said, “We all assumed that the people who invited each of the presenting companies did a good job, so if you were invited to present, we all assumed that you were qualified.” The committee liked our company, because the presenters focused on the university, and their wants and needs.

So start with your audience in mind, and designing the presentation gets much, much EASIER!