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Structuring a presentation for the maximum effect
It is well established that what we actually say when we present our ideas is of a lesser importance to our audience that how we say it.
Integral to 'how we say it' is how we structure our presentation — the more organised and logical, the more easily remembered.
That is not to say that we should be so organised and logical that we kill our audience with boredom — your audience needs your spark of creativity to make your presentation memorable for them.
But we presenters need to remember that, for our audience, their perception of our presentation may differ from our own. In other words, we may think that we made a laughingly-brilliant presentation, whereas the audience just things our presentation was laughable (in other words, appalling).
We need to remember that:
Perception is highly selective and we need to factor this into the presentation;
Perception is highly subjective and tied into what they have perceived before;
Perception is highly reflective of the receiver's own thought processes and prior experiences.
So our strategy for organising our material prior to a presentation will need to take into account our audience's previous experiences, viewpoints and concentration spans.
To best meet these three challenges of perception there are six areas we can address that help us organise our presentation:
changes in sensitivity,
initial intensity & change,
perceived threats & ambiguity.
Let's look at each in turn.
1. The need for environmental variation
An environment that stays the same — never changing its texture, colour, or structure — is, as far as the conscious mind is concerned, no environment at all. We become 'blind' to it, in much the same way we have become blind to flashing banner adverts on websites.
So if we wish to arrange our material for greater receptivity we need to vary things, move them around. We could alter the pace of our delivery, or the tone, or change the background colour or the shape and texture of our material.
In order to hold attention we need to carefully control the changes we make — too much change and we risk confusing our audience and straying from our presentation's overarching theme.
2. Changes in sensitivity according to the environment
When speaking you should vary the pace and pitch of your voice; if writing you should vary your sentence and paragraph lengths
Audiences change their levels of perceptual sensitivity in response to their surroundings. So that, for example, they will attend to messages differently in a crowded, noisy conference hall than they would in a hushed boardroom. The audiences in the crowded conference hall will be less likely to pick up on your subtle change of pitch or volume compared to your colleagues in the boardroom.
So any communication must take into account the environment in which the communication will be received. Whispering in a busy call centre is probably not going to get your message across.
3. Stimulus constancy
We perceive what we want to perceive! Consider how you might move your audience emotionally from far to near, from small to large, from subtle to intense
Much like our decreased sensitivity to banner adverts on webpages, when a stimulation is constant, regardless of its intensity, it ceases over time to be noticed.
Much like a headache or backpain — after a few hours/days the pain is less noticeable. It's not gone, but it's less debilitating.
I used to leave near a brewery. Anyone who has lived near a brewery will understand just how overpowering the yeast smell can be. But over time, say months or years, the smell remained just as intense but I noticed it less.
The implication of this is that as communicators we need to organise and present our material with variations in intensity. Thus, when speaking you should vary the pace and pitch of your voice; if writing you should vary your sentence and paragraph lengths.
4. Initial intensity and change
The initial intensity of our presentation must be in relation to our receiver's environment. To stand out in a hushed boardroom you don't need to raise your volume much; attempt to stand out in a crowd at a football match and the effort you'll have to go to will be much greater.
So, if you are writing to someone who receives a lot of written material every day — reports, emails, letters and so on — then you will have to do something visually different to stand out. Use different coloured stock paper, for example, or different size/shapes.
As a speaker you will need to consider one or more of the following tactics:
dress differently from the other speakers, but still appropriately
raise your voice
break up the flow of your material
change the pace of your presentation (still keeping within the bounds of comprehensibility)
And consider how you might move your audience emotionally from far to near, from small to large, from subtle to intense.
5. Anticipation and perception
We are bombarded by so many stimuli that there is no way we can attend to them all. So we use our previous experiences to guide which stimuli we actually do pay attention to.
We call on our previous experiences, the nature of the stimulus, and our current motivations to determine what we attend to.
In other words — we perceive what we want to perceive!
We are far more likely to pay attention to that which we want to pay attention to than material we don't want to pay attention to.
Sounds obvious, of course, but how many of us are guilty of trying to force our passions onto others?
We need to ensure that we present material to our audiences that they actually want to pay attention to. Which means stepping out of our own egos and into their shoes. Not always easy, but something worth attempting.
6. Perceived threats and ambiguity
If we don't want to hear something we very likely won't (ask any parent of a teenager!). The same goes for your audience.
If they don't want to hear about changes in organisational processes or heirarchy, because it threatens their comfort levels, then you need to communicate this threatening material as unambiguously and carefully as possible.
Place the material in context with the supporting reasons why the changes must occur; clearly spell out what new behaviours are required and what processes are going to be put into place to support them.
Any message that is perceived as a threat by the receiver needs to be supported by as much material as possible that anticipates their objections. They must see that you have narrowed down the problem and agree that your proposal makes sense, that it is reasonable, practical, desirable and 'do-able'.
So there it is — six important issues you need to consider when organising your presentation material, whether than presentation is via the written or spoken word, via powerpoint or via multimedia presentation.
One: vary your environment
Two: respond appropriately to your receiver's environment
Three: be inconsistent in your delivery to 'shake things up'
Four: make a strong impact
Five: put yourelf into their heads and think about what they want to hear or read; and
Six: support any threatening material with ample evidence to show that your proposal is the only one that satisfies all their objections.
Reports I have written:
Measuring the impact and ROI of social media - for Ark Group
Making Social Media work for your business - for Ark Group
Social Media: The New Business Communication Landscape - for Ark Group
How to get started with podcasting in your organisation - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to use social media to solve critical internal communication issues - for Melcrum Publishing
Contributing author to How to communicate with hard-to-reach employees - for Melcrum Publishing
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