How to Avoid a Rambling Presentation at Work
September 9, 2019

How to Avoid a Rambling Presentation at Work

by Brian de Haaff

“Can you get to the point?” The senior executive who asked this was clearly annoyed. It was early in my career and my colleague was presenting quarterly marketing results to a group of company leaders. But instead of summarizing the key metrics and takeaways, he gave a long-winded description of each step the team had taken along the way. Although he clearly was attuned to the details of the work, the meandering explanation left everyone feeling lost.

It is imperative to go deep — but you also must be able to communicate the most salient points quickly and concisely.

So how do you do both? It can be daunting to take disparate concepts or unstructured data and try to synthesize it all into a few insights — especially when you will be presenting to a sophisticated audience. You need to simplify the information as much as possible. But before I get into the suggestions for how you can do this, let’s set a baseline.

It is highly unlikely that you will be able to mine and refine data into actionable takeaways if you do not understand the core business goals of your company, if you are working at cross-purposes with other teams (usually a symptom of an organization lacking strategy), or if you do not truly understand the work you are doing. Worse yet, if you have not done any of the work at all. All of these are common causes of a rambling presentation.

So let’s assume the baseline that those are not your issues and that you just need to flex your critical thinking skills. You want to sum up your message in a few brief bullet points, support those points with data, and include the payoff — the essence of what you will do next is based on the information you shared.

You understand that the whole team is busy and time is not something we can get more of.

We have all experienced the scenario where one person eats up a status meeting with a disorganized update — it puts the entire group behind. If you tend to get caught up in the details, the process of summarizing can be valuable in and of itself. It forces you to distill any research and lessons learned from the results into a few main points. Here is how to get started:

Clarify intent Start by thinking about the fundamental purpose of the meeting or presentation. This primes you to focus on the top-level information you want to convey. Whether you are sharing a progress update with teammates or reporting on a larger program, ask yourself, “Who is my audience and why do they need to hear and understand from what I will share?”

Follow curiosity Numbers, dates, and deliverables are not a full story. This is especially true when you are tasked with evaluating data. You also need to dig into the meaning behind the metrics — look for patterns. If you do not see a pattern, ask yourself why not. Cultivate your own curiosity. Go past the most obvious answers so you can mine for real insights.

Create structure Now you are ready to tell your story — it just needs a beginning, middle, and end. Set up a sequential structure so that you can communicate all the high-level information in a logical way that is easy for others to follow. Be sure to consider how your story fits within the overall universe of your organization and highlight any impact to what the company is trying to achieve overall.

Explain assumptions The big picture is key, but how you arrived there also matters. Make sure you explain the basic background information behind your assumptions. Do your best to include these assumptions in a brief list that you can reference before sharing your message. This will give your audience valuable context and help them understand how you reached your conclusions.

Be concise Brevity is essential. After you have gathered everything into a logical flow, see what you can cut. Ideally, you cut any writing in half (and then in half again). Try to capture your message in the fewest words possible — this helps you concentrate on the essence. You can always use any extra time to go into more detail and answer questions.

It takes diligence to hone in on the essence of what you should share — but it is a worthy exercise.

Learning to quickly distill information, summarize it, and then add important details when necessary is an important skill to have. When you can organize and condense your work in this way, it helps people quickly absorb information and draw meaningful conclusions.

And if they have questions, they can always ask. After all, you know how to get to the point quickly — but you also know every detail.

How do you suggest people present complex information?

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Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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