2. Why should people listen to you?

Have you ever left a presentation and thought: What was that all about? What was the presenter trying to say? Was there anything in it that was relevant for me?


What about the presentations you give? If I was to stand at the door and ask people what they got out of the presentation, do you think that they would all be able to give the same clear and concise summary of your central message or your top three points? Could they all tell me what the goal of your presentation was?

As I said in my previous article, for a long time my strategy for presentations was simply to “data dump” everything I knew on a particular topic. I did not know any better – I had never had any presentation skills training.

Nowadays I would never give a prepared presentation in front of a group without having a clear goal: what do I want people to remember after they leave the room? Bear in mind that, by the time people reach the door, they will have forgotten about 90% of your presentation – if it is a good presentation! For a lousy presentation, they won’t remember any of it. Or they will only remember that you’ve taken away an hour of their lives that they’ll never get back… 🙂


But I don’t start my preparation with my goal. I start with what the audience will get out of it. What follows is the most important piece of presentation advice I have ever heard. When I first discovered this simple truth, it changed forever the way I would think of, prepare for and deliver presentations. The simple fact is this:

  • Every audience member in every presentation has one unspoken question in their minds which the presenter needs to answer. And that question is this: WII4ME? That is, “What’s In It For Me?”

When you give a presentation to your colleagues, they will all be thinking the same thing: what can I do with this information? They will be thinking it at different levels. Some will be thinking this consciously: “How can I implement this?” or “How will this benefit my career?” Many will be thinking about this only subconsciously: “Is this topic relevant for me?” or “Is this more interesting than me checking out my smartphone?” By the way, smartphones and other mobile devices seriously compete for the attention of your audience members, particularly with the younger generation. If you want people to listen you must use techniques to keep their attention!

So I start preparing by considering how my presentation topic can benefit my audience. Often, in a work environment, I will speak with members of the audience in advance and ask them what they really want to get out of my presentation: What do they want to hear? What do they want to learn? And then I ask myself: is a presentation the best format for them to learn this information? If you’ve read my previous article, you’ll know we want to get away from the “data dump” format of speaking to a group. But maybe the audience needs a lot of content. In that case, I would use a presentation to “sell” the subject and explain a few key concepts. I would save the deep details for one-on-one coaching or documentation.

Three points

Only then would I start to prepare my goal. What do I want people to know after attending my presentation? Or what do I want them to do as a result of hearing my talk? Here there is a tendency for all presenters to make the Number One Presentation Mistake. What is the mistake that all learner presenters make? It is to imagine that the audience will remember more than about five points at the end of your presentation.

This is a painful fact for all presenters, especially technical people. We (yes, I absolutely include myself in this) care so much about our topic that we want to tell people everything about it. But that never works. And this is easy to verify. At the next presentation you attend, stand at the door and ask random people who leave what they remember about the presentation they just attended. Sadly they may only remember just a few points… often they won’t even remember the title!

So when you’re preparing your presentation, dial back the content. Aim for your audience to remember three points – the crucial facts they need to know. Occasionally you may be able to get them to remember four points, maybe even five – but no more than that. Again, if you want proof just consider the last presentation you attended. What do you remember about it?

Often, and let’s just be really honest here, what we will remember a week later is only anything that stood out: possibly an unusual image on a slide, the speaker’s shirt (if it was a bit strange) or any big mistakes a presenter made. Oh, and the feeling you had at the end (which is often “relief – it’s finally over!”).

For example, in my TEDx talk I only really made two points (you’ll have to watch it to see what they were!).

At this point some of you will be thinking: if I only say three things, how will I fill up the time? The answer is that you need to communicate your three points in a way that people will remember them months or even years after your presentation. But how can you do that? I’ll be answering that in upcoming articles.

– Mark Robinson is a senior software engineer at TMC. In addition, he has his own business, Mark Robinson Training, via which he gives workshops, presentations and coaching to help people communicate more effectively to groups. With his engineering background, he is particularly suited to supporting the international, technology community of Eindhoven. He has spoken at TEDxEindhoven in 2016 and is now a TEDxEindhoven speaker coach. – 

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