The audience wants the conclusion; Issue #250 December 6, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: The audience wants the conclusion

In my survey this fall of what annoys audiences about bad PowerPoint presentations, the clear message you sent was that too many presentations suffer from information overload. Whether it is text, numbers, or a combination of both, the excessive information causes confusion and lack of action by the audience. Today I want to address the issue of whether to present a little or a lot of your work in a presentation.

It is likely that you have done a lot of analysis and many calculations in order to come up with the conclusions that you want to present. The common view is that it is important for the audience to hear about all the assumptions, steps in the process, formulas, and calculations. You may also be tempted to include who did each step, how long it took, when it was done and even what office location helped out. While all of this information may be important to you, the truth is that the audience doesn’t need to hear it all.

What your audience needs to hear is the conclusion you reached. What does your work mean to them. How will your work help them make an important decision they are facing. They want to know the bottom line, not all the lines in between. The focus of your presentation should be on the conclusion of your work, not the details of your work. They trust that you did the work properly, that’s why they asked you to do this analysis.

But what about all the details? Shouldn’t we include some details? Only include those few details that, if changed, would significantly impact the conclusion. Talk about a key assumption you used that, if not correct, would change the whole outcome. Review the source of an input that some may want to question. When you review these areas of possible contention, also discuss how you verified the decisions you made so that further questions don’t need to arise. Other than those key details that impact the conclusion, leave out the rest of the details.

But what if someone asks about one of the steps or a formula we used, shouldn’t I include everything just in case? No. You should anticipate possible questions and prepare answers for them. If you want to include a slide that will help answer the question, create a hidden slide that you can jump to if the question gets asked. You can include a hyperlink on the slide that will likely trigger that question, or use the ability of PowerPoint to jump to any slide to access the hidden slide from any point in the presentation.

In your next presentation, step back and focus on the conclusions that will impact the audience instead of listing every detail of your work. Your presentation will be more effective, your discussion with the audience will be more insightful, and decisions will get made faster.