Reasons your audience wants to fast forward your presentation

Don’t waste time telling your audience how useful your talk will be. Get to the meat of your presentation as soon as possible—before everyone tunes out.

Maybe my TV has spoiled me, but in so many of the presentations I’ve attended recently, I’ve wanted a remote control with a fast-forward button.

You know what I mean. You want to hear the speaker’s useful and valuable information, but he’ll drag out the trivial, low-value material, and then run out of time before he gets to the important stuff.

When you present, how do you make sure your audience doesn’t want to press the fast-forward button?

Avoid these three danger areas:

1. Delivering too much background

If you find yourself saying, “Before I start,” take stock. You have started! Get on with it.

Another dangerous phrase—among many—is, “Let me give you some background. Presenters often overestimate how much background an audience actually needs.

I cringe when I attend a seminar and the speaker spends ages telling me how useful the material is going to be. I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think it was going to be useful. Please move on. Telling me that it’s going to be useful is not useful. Stop selling and start telling!

This phrase is also common: “To start, let me tell you something about my company.”

Quick! Where’s the remote?

2. Laboring over the easy and obvious

If something is complex, difficult or new, then it makes sense to take time explaining with examples, analogies and a visual aid.

But if it’s not rocket science, pick up the pace. Simply deliver a brief explanation, and observe your audience members to see whether they’ve got it or not. It’s better to have an audience member ask a clarifying question than to labor over the obvious and treat your listeners like idiots.

3. Not providing value

If your audience members are looking for a solution to a problem, spending a lot of time talking about the problem will make them want to fast forward you.

If your audience wants to know why something is happening, they’ll get frustrated hearing you talk about what is going on.

And if they want to know what action they should take, move through your research and fascinating analysis as quickly as possible—if it’s even necessary—so you can tell them what they should do.

Audiences want value. They want material they can use—not just something that is new or interesting. They want practical. Deliver that, and you’ll engage them. Get that wrong, and they’ll hit fast forward by interrupting you with questions to try to get some value before time and attention runs out.

Planning matters

The time to get this right is during the planning stage.

Think about your audience. What do they already know about this topic? How much background do they need to understand your recommendations? Most audiences are smarter than we give them credit for. Get to the value as soon as possible.

In most presentations, the time wasting happens at the beginning, and the good stuff comes near the end. Savagely edit your beginning sections and cut back on the slides. When you deliver the presentation, stick to your plan and don’t add more content on the fly.

If you follow these tips, you’ll get a reputation for being sharp. When audiences know you’re the presenter, they won’t bring their remotes!

A version of this article originally appeared on Speaking About Presenting.

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