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Comprehensive vs Focused

Tom Salinsky writes...

One of the first things I realised about the presentations I was having to watch as a trainer, especially the pitches, was that the creators of the presentation were going to some lengths to ensure that the presentation was comprehensive. These smart people have lots and lots of stuff in their big brains and they wanted to make sure that every scrap of it was included in the presentation. And particularly in the context of a pitch, you can probably see the sense of this. After all, who knows what a buyer might or might not want to hear about? Better to include everything you can think of and let them sort the wheat from their personal chaff? Right?

I don’t believe so. Being focused is also a plus, but it should be apparent that, with limited time, it is impossible to be both, but I believe being focused is vastly more beneficial for presenters and their audiences.

In the first place, if you have a pretty good idea about who you audience consists of, you can now tailor the presentation to their needs. You will be able to identify what they are interested in, and what they don’t find so compelling. You will know where you can take your time and go into extensive detail, and where it is sufficient to mention something and then move on – or what you can eliminate entirely because no-one in this audience will find it relevant.

This is rather an idealised situation, however. More commonly, you will not know as much as you would like to about your audience and so you attempt to include “something for everyone” but there’s only so much you can fit in to a presentation of reasonable length, and so we get a lot of things mentioned, and hardly anything – sometimes literally nothing – actually expounded upon.

This creates a familiar pattern: here’s something I know, here’s something else I know, here’s something else I know and so on and so on – it’s shapeless and to the audience that makes it feel interminable. As well as bored, they may also feel frustrated. With every new idea you mention, you crack open a door, and allow them a tiny peak at the magical garden on the other side. Then you immediately slam that door and sprint on to the next one. It’s absolutely maddening.

Not knowing enough about your audience to make the perfect choices of what to focus on is no excuse for not picking anything. Make your best guess, or pick an arbitrary angle, or pick the thing that interests you the most – few things are more interesting than the presenter’s genuine passion and conviction in any case. It often makes sense to start with the “helicopter shot” in which you describe the general area you want to cover, but rather than swooping a bit lower, but still trying to explore the whole terrain – land once or twice and dig a small number of deep wells. Unpack those ideas thoroughly, add the quirky details that make them compelling and fascinating, and don’t worry about the no doubt dozens of things you have left unsaid. Even if you get the approach wrong for a given audience member, they will still be delighted that you made a strong choice and spared them the slurry of here’s another thing I know.

And if there’s anything they really wanted you to cover, then they can bring that up in the Q&A – often a more effective and useful part of the meeting in any case.

July 1st, 2014 - This post has no comments. -

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