You Don't Say
What we exclude will determine what to include in a presentation.
As presenters, we are concerned with saying the right words, but what we don't say can be just as important. What we exclude will determine what to include in a presentation. Here are some suggestions to help you omit material to strengthen your presentation:
- Leave out material the audience already knows. This requires knowing your audience well. For example, if I'm training a group of experienced speakers, I may leave out material on how to cope with stage fright; they already know how to do that. Ask yourself, "What does my audience already know about my topic?" An easy way to quickly lose your audience is to share information they already have.
Leave out information that is not based on your personal experience, experiences of others or specific research you've conducted. Before delivering your message, look for content that has no specific referent. Cut it out; it's unnecessary and irrelevant.
- Leave out extraneous material. Everything you include should relate either to the point just made or to the key idea of the presentation. Whether it's a manuscript speech or an extemporaneous one, outline it and make sure everything fits. If it doesn't fit into a section of the skeleton outline, eliminate it. Making an outline for each presentation will, in addition, help you tighten the structure and make it easier for the audience to follow you.
Excuses about your lack of preparation for the presentation are good examples of irrelevant material. No one wants to waste valuable time listening to your excuses! Just give them your best and leave out the excuses.
- Leave out offensive material. Read through your script or outline and look for any material that might be considered sexist, biased, patronizing, prejudiced, insulting or profane and leave it out. No matter how similar your audience may look to you, it's still diverse. If you are unsure about any material, leave it out.
- Leave out complicated sentences and words. Oral speech is different from writing. In written script, you can have long complicated sentences and the reader can easily follow your train of thought. In speaking, however, you want to have succinct sentences. Words for the car are short, active, alive and instantly clear. We remember excerpts from speeches that follow these criteria: "Give me liberty or give me death!" "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." "I have a dream." Patrick Henry, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., are remembered for their brief, incisive words.
- Leave out the best material – until late in the presentation. Don't put your best ideas or evidence in the speech too early. People take a little while to get into the rhythm of your delivery and content, so they may miss the best "pearl" if you put it at the beginning. People remember best what you say last (assuming that you don't drone on forever), so you want to save your best until late in the presentation. Certainly you want to have interesting content throughout, but the early part of the speech is primarily to make the audience want to listen for more. Like a good mystery novel, the opening part whets our appetite to read further, but the author doesn't give the best clue until the end. The content of a speech should build to the climax near the end. Begin with an attention-getting device, but leave your most significant material until the end.
A speaker has many techniques to ensure great content in a speech; in addition, use these tips on how to omit material to make a more powerful presentation. What remains should then be relevant, informative and well-adapted to a particular audience. Remember, it's not just what you say that counts, but also what you don't say.