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How to Develop Audience-Interesting Content

1. Details: Am I including just the right amount of detail? 

You want a resounding “YES, ABSOLUTELY” on this. This is PRIORITY NUMBER 1, right behind getting to your messages.

2. Why does it matter how much detail I include? The MORE the better, right? 

People today are overwhelmed with too much to do and not enough time to do it. You should give only the information th

at supports your messages and your ASK. The ASK is a recommendation you need approved, a decision you need made—anything your listeners have to agree to.  

3. What is the right amount of detail? How do I decide?

There is only one way to decide. YOU MUST FILL OUT A PRESENTATION ROADMAP, then add the details that help you reach your objective, clarify your key messages and make your ASK easy to understand. If you have not done the Presentation Roadmap DOWNLOAD, then you have no way of deciding what to leave in or take out.

“It’s paramount that we be ruthless editors of our own material… The hardest thing can be deciding to cut and even abandon material altogether, but it must be done.” —Garr Reynolds, Author, Presentation Zen

4. Help me more! I still add too many details.

a. Objective: Refer to your presentation objective and ask, “Do I need to include this data to reach my presentation objective?” “Have I left out something crucial?”
b. Key messages: Look at your key messages and ask, “Is this information essential to explain my three key messages?”
c. ASK: “What information will enable the audience to make a decision regarding my ASK?” “What should I add in?” or “What is something crucial I left out?” (Costs, timeline, benefits, risks, resources.)
d. Story: “Do I need a story or example to influence the ASK?”



Here’s an image to help you look at the details and see the big picture. First, look at the mountaintop. When you present you usually start with a perspective, high-level message view that sets the context. This is usually an executive summary—but NOT the PowerPoint 2-page, 14-font, all-over-the-place executive summary. It’s the short, to-the-point executive summary. If your audience is a group of executives, you may always speak from the mountaintop, except for adding certain key numbers the executives may want and need to know in order to make a decision. 

Second, you skim the surface to add a few details that add to your key messages. You may already have added those details in your executive summary.

Third, you “scuba dive” into certain details—MAYBE you scuba dive. Here is the tricky part: how much detailed scuba diving can your audience take in? Are you going to drown them in detail? Many presenters take their audience from the mountaintop overview to scuba diving in the same sentence. Because you haven’t warned them, they haven’t put on their scuba gear and are drowning in information they cannot understand. Don’t fall into the trap of telling yourself, “I want them to know all I’ve been doing to prove to them that I’m performing well.” “I’m not going to leave anything out so they won’t question me.” Or, “I have an hour and I’ll use every moment to cram in everything I know.” 

Want more feedback from your listeners?

You are too close to the information and need someone else to help you. Review your presentation with a colleague, mentor or manager to help you answer the following questions.

  1. What information is on the mountaintop? Do I need all this?
  2. What information is skimming the surface? Do I need all this?
  3. What information is scuba diving? Do I need all this?
  4. Does this information answer the questions my listeners will have? (Cost, timeline, resources, benefits, risks.) 


  1. Ruthlessly cut out unnecessary details. Go through your slides and delete all the unnecessary information. 
  2. Ask one or two colleagues to review your slides and cut out all the information they feel is not necessary to get across your key messages. 
  3. (Depending on length of presentation.) When you rehearse, be sure you don’t start adding unnecessary details. Don’t get sidetracked. Be disciplined and remember that your audience has a lot on their mind. Ask someone to listen and tell you the details to take out.

Article: Streamline Information. This is your key to eliminating unnecessary details. Learn techniques to reduce text, images and tables on your slides. 

Article: Presenting Upward in the Organization: Who’s in Charge

Compare Using the Same Criteria

I frequently see slides that compare vendors, products or systems. The presenter is trying to make it easy for the audience to compare features and then discuss a decision. Here are 3 slides listing certain real estate features. The features on each slide are not in order, nor are all the same features on each slide. It is impossible for an audience to make a decision with these types of slides.

Your audience needs clear guidance, like the slide below, to make a decision. First of all, this slide has all three choices on one slide. Second, the slide uses criteria to evaluate each choice. The “MUST” criteria are essential. If the choice does not have all the “MUSTS,” then it should not be considered.

Then there are the “WANT” criteria. These are nice to have, but not totally essential. With this slide the audience can easily compare features and have a real discussion.

Use this type of analysis to help your audience make a decision.

Here is another analysis about choosing a job offer. For situations that require a more complex analysis, you can see how to weight the “WANTS”:

Give a Second Conclusion

Don’t let your presentation be the victim of the last question that was asked. Be prepared to close again with a second conclusion once the questioning has stopped.

Here’s a true-life example: At the end of my presenting a very important proposal to a company, the audience was arguing among themselves about an issue. Someone told me, “Thank you very much. Dave will escort you out.” But the atmosphere felt a bit aggravated and it felt like a dark cloud was now hanging over the group so I asked, “Before I leave can I tell you a brief story?” They couldn’t really say no. I told them a story, they laughed and then I left the room full of light and positive energy.

Why do this? I wanted their experience with me to end on a positive note, so I decided to finish the meeting in an upbeat manner—ending with the message and tone that I was in control of.

Why should you think about this idea? You give a presentation. The audience asks questions. You say, “Any more questions?” No one responds so you say, “Thank you” and leave or sit down. What if the last question did not set the best tone? Now all the work you did for that presentation is a bit lost due to the way it ended.

Every presenter should have a second conclusion prepared—just in case you need it. A second conclusion can include:

  • Vision for the future
  • Recap of key actions that have been done
  • Recap of key actions to be done in the future
  • Challenge for the group

Create your second conclusion with the focus on ending your presentation with an upbeat, positive and can-do attitude. Your second conclusion sheds light one more time on your messages.

When you add a second conclusion, you end the presentation—or meeting—on the emotional note and focused message of your choosing, not on an audience member’s last question or comment.

PS: Be aware that many meetings do need this second conclusion, whether the questioning was negative or not! It also allows you to have the last and best word on the subject matter.

The Best Communicators Follow a Roadmap

Do you want to get ahead? Be seen as someone who is clear, concise and organized when communicating? Then you must identify your Presentation Roadmap. I recently coached someone for a meeting with her Board. She had lots of data and several attractive pictures. But as I was listening to her on the phone, I got lost in all of the information. Also, I found myself wanting to ask her all sorts of detailed questions. Why? Since I was not getting the big picture, I focused on the details. How can you avoid this type of situation? The answer is to know where you are going before you start. In other words, create a Presentation Roadmap. By filling out this Presentation Roadmap before you create any slides, you will save time and gain focus. When you are clear about your roadmap, you will be able to create a communication or presentation that is focused, engaging and concise. Your audience will perceive you as clear, organized and competent. An added benefit: you will be viewed as a high-potential executive candidate. So get ahead by clearly knowing where you are going—and take your audience with you!

Eye Contact is Important for You and Your Audience

Why does everyone talk about eye contact? And does it even matter when you’re on virtual meetings and no one can see your face? EFFECTIVE EYE CONTACT is looking at one person for three to five seconds at the beginning and end of most sentences. Your Goal: Many presenters are so anxious and concerned with getting through their talk that they cannot stop their speech for three to five seconds. If this is you, then read about breathing here. Other Cultures: Some cultures avoid direct eye contact because it is considered disrespectful or confrontational. Even if you feel you should not look your listeners in the eye, you should still pause—it will have some of the same effects as eye contact.

What Eye Contact Does For You As A Presenter

  • You slow down at the end of your sentence and sound confident. When you train yourself to end a sentence looking at someone, you pause longer, and this pause relaxes you and gives you time to take a breath.
  • You have time to consider what’s important to say. When you pause, you have time to edit out unnecessary details. Otherwise you may just go on and on about information that is boring and irrelevant to your audience.
  • You can calm your nerves and concentrate. Try it. When you really focus on each listener, your brain will calm down and you can stay on track.

How You Are Perceived By Your Listeners When You Make Eye Contact

Confident: They think you are confident and knowledgeable. Respectful: They feel you are respecting them by actually talking to them and acknowledging their existence. Trustworthy: They perceive you as trustworthy and sincere as you are willing to “look them in the eye.” They feel that they can be more honest about their opinions and feelings.

What Eye Contact Means For Your Listeners

Interaction: They have space to ask a question or make a comment, so they relax as they feel there is room for them to participate. Time: They feel they have time to finish taking notes and/or digesting what you just said.

Convinced? Here Are Some Techniques to Practice

  1. Sit in a chair and read something. After the period at the end of each sentence, pause and tap your hand three times. This will feel contrived, but do it anyway. You want to feel the rhythm of pausing.
  2. Practice your talk and at the end of each sentence pause, tap your hand or foot, or count 1, 2, 3. Again, you will get the rhythm of pausing and having silence.
  3. Practice your presentation or just have a conversation with a partner. Have your partner raise his or her hand when you end the sentence. Then stop talking, count to three, and start again. This will help you learn to pause and leave some silence and breathing room between your sentences.
  4. Ask someone to watch you as you present and tell you if you finish your sentences looking at a listener or at the slide or your notes.
  5. Have someone watch your presentation and, for three minutes, count how many times you really pause. Ask this person, did you feel I gave you enough silence so you could break into my presentation to ask a question?
Warning: This is an exercise to retrain nonstop talking. Of course, you are not going to do this for every sentence with the same rhythm. When  you just accomplish this half the time, your audience can relax and feel more comfortable asking questions and making comments.

What About Webinars and Virtual Meetings?

You may not have another person in the room when you are talking—everyone may be online. I have been taking a webinar series and it is so frustrating. The speakers talk nonstop with no pauses. I don’t have time to finish writing down an idea. I have to interrupt the speaker to ask a question. It makes me anxious, and I’m a presenter! It would be so much better if the speaker paused and included some silence during the webinar. When a speaker does pause, he or she says non-verbally: “I’m giving you space to make a comment or ask a question, or just finish a note you are writing.” Where are your eyes in a webinar? If your listeners can see you on the webinar, then you should be doing what you do in front of a live audience. End a sentence looking at the camera. Even if you’re not on screen, don’t end your sentences looking down or your voice will drop. Imagine people on the other end of the phone and end looking at them. Be aware, at the end of every sentence that someone out there is listening to you. Sometimes, your voice is all they have. For tips on enhancing your voice, go here. You can do these exercises in the car.

Make A Connection with Your Audience Through Questions

At least four out of ten people in every Get to the Message Presentations Workshop say: “I want to ENGAGE my audience.” “ENGAGE” may not be the right word choice as its definition includes charming, appealing, agreeable, dazzling, arresting, captivating, enchanting and bewitching. It seems like the word CONNECT makes more sense in business: A connection is a link, logical relation, something that joins, entwines, unites. “I want to CONNECT with my listeners” is a worthy goal. Now it is about finding links to connect two parts—you and the listeners. You can establish a link to your audience with the questions you ask. What better way to connect than by asking people to share their comments and ideas? Ask questions so you learn, listen respectfully and prove you understand all points of view. To get you going, look through The Book of Beautiful Questions by Warren Berger. Meetings are frequently held in order to make decisions. To reach agreement and buy-in, ask some of these questions during your next in-person or virtual meeting. Agreement Questions
  1. Who else do you need to hear from in order to make a decision?
  2. What critical information is missing that will help you make a decision?
  3. What would need to be different so you can agree to this?
  4. What else would you add or change in this recommendation?
Disagreement Questions
  1. Will you share if you disagree with this and why?
  2. Will you “pretend” to oppose this and give reasons?
  3. Can you share where the logic does not make sense?
  4. What will make this fail?
Open-Ended Questions
  1. When does this decision need to be made? Today? Next week?
  2. What’s missing from your perspective?
  3. What risks/challenges/benefits do you see?
  4. Are we going to regret this in six months? One year? Five years?
Hint: When given a 20-minute meeting slot with executives, only talk for five to ten. Be ready with questions so you can find out what your listeners think. They will probably ask you questions but be prepared to ask your own as well. Your questions and answers to executives should also be focused on how they see the world.  Read this or 6 Rules for Communicating with Executives to know how to focus your questions.

5 Ways to Improve Your Virtual Meetings

Let’s face it, virtual meetings are very difficult to make interesting. Many business people who communicate mostly through phone conversations cannot even use the teleconference so at least everyone can see everyone else. What are the key skills you need to get people to actually listen to you on the other end of the phone line? Here are some strategies for responding to your listeners’ concerns.

#1 SOUND ENGAGED: Liven up your voice!

Listener concern: You sound exhausted and not at all interested in this topic. Why should I listen? I’ve got lots to do. Plus, you ramble on and on and I have no idea what you’re really talking about. Advice: You must sound enthusiastic about your topic. You have to pause, speak in short sentences and change your voice inflection. Smile while you are talking. Tell a story that gets people laughing. Tape one of your calls and ask yourself, “Would I want to listen to this person, or would I start multitasking?”

#2 KEEP ME ENGAGED: Keep stating transition phrases!

Listener concern: I cannot always follow your logic. Did you just change the topic from the problem to a solution? I’m lost. I’m going to answer emails. This is too frustrating. Advice: You must use transition phrases like:
  • “Here are the 3 options to consider.”
  • “You heard the high risk of this project and here is my suggestion.”
  • “As you just heard, we must reduce our costs, and now I’ll offer suggestions so we can share the pros and cons of each for our business areas.”

#3 LET ME PARTICIPATE: Tell your listeners how long you will talk before letting them speak.

Listener concern:  What am I going to do? This is going on and on. I already know all this. I have work to do; I can’t just sit here for one hour. I do have some ideas, but it sounds like you are going to talk the whole time. Why am I on this call? Advice: You can say, “I will set the stage for the issue we need to discuss. This will take me 10 minutes. Then we need only 15 minutes to brainstorm ideas.” You really make friends when you cut your phone meeting by 10-15 minutes. Better yet—only have 20-minute phone calls.

#4 TELL ME HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Tell your listeners what you want from them.

Listener concern: What do you want from me? This is not worth my time if you just want to talk for 40 minutes and then hang up. I’m bored. I am going to interrupt you and point out how you are wrong in your thinking. Advice: Tell your listeners what type of participation you want. You might say:
  • “My goal is for each of you to agree to take this recommendation and implement it in your department. Today please share what resources you will need to do this.”
  • “I want to share an idea and hear why each of you think this may or may not work.”

#5 TELL ME WHERE YOU ARE ON THE VISUAL: If using PowerPoint, tell your listeners where you are on the slide.

Listener concern:  I am looking at this slide and have no idea where you are on it. Maybe I’ll just read all these sentences instead of listening to you. You are confusing me as the slide seems to have nothing to do with what you are saying. Advice: When you use slides, you have to use phrases like:
  • “As you look in the upper right at the chart…”
  • “The key message here is that we are ahead of schedule and on budget.”
It should go without saying: Do not read all the words on the slide. How can you change your next virtual meeting for your listeners and for yourself as well? Improve your meetings by implementing these ideas. Better yet, stop having these kind of  “presentation-oriented” meetings.  Making Meetings More Interactive asks you to consider changing the meeting format.  Their ideas will really enable you to connect even more with your listeners.