When your audience doesn’t understand

We often hear people say: “That’s not jargon; everyone knows what it means.” But do they really?

One of our clients was giving a presentation recently when he noticed that several of his audience appeared to be distracted by their mobiles. Eventually he caught the eye of one as he looked up from his phone. The person concerned sheepishly confessed that he had been looking up the meaning of one of the terms the presenter had been using.

The presenter subsequently discovered that other members of his audience had been doing exactly the same thing. Everything turned out fine, and he was relieved in one sense, but disconcerted to realise that he hadn’t been getting his message across as clearly as he might have.

Our client was lucky to have a fully engaged audience sufficiently motivated to do their own on-the-spot research. And it prompted me to wonder how often such presentations are given to less committed audiences who simply lose interest as the jargon count builds up.

Less PowerPoint, more power

At a recent Clarity workshop, one of the projects we reviewed was a PowerPoint presentation on a new process which a major financial organisation was about to introduce. The slides were dense, contained many words and had an extremely high bullet-point count.

Some of the group asked the obvious question: why so many words?

The writer answered that the new process was very detailed and the brief had stipulated that the audience should be able to take a print-out of the slides away with them after the presentation.

The next obvious question was: why did the presentation and the hand-out need to be the same?

As a group, we began sketching out a series of much simpler slides which would then give us the structure for a hand-out. By splitting the brief in two, as it were, we ended up with a far simpler and more effective presentation and a clear, detailed and more effective hand-out.

After the workshop, I heard that the writer had indeed rewritten the presentation and the hand-out along the lines developed in the workshop, with great success

Less is always more, especially when it comes to PowerPoint presentations.