Key Targets (and being willing to let go of “The Precious”)
by Claudia Brogan
Not long ago, I helped a talented scientist prepare to deliver an important presentation. He had compiled numerous pages of data, research, and facts about the selected topic. The biggest problem was that the overload of information was dense and cloudy. After I read the prepared pages, I met with him to discuss preparations and ways to design a presentation that would be useful for the listeners.
As we discussed demographics about the audience that he would be meeting with, I broached the question of how we could trim down what was most essential to share with them. I asked him to tell me the three main points that he wanted the attendees to glean by the end of the talk.
For a quiet moment, he was baffled as to how to answer that question. Then, together, he and I went back through the considerable amount of information and summarized the three most essential “take-aways.” Once we had determined those key targets upon which to focus, we were able to trim the data and select just the most useful facts and explanations for him to include in his presentation.
We were then crystal clear about how to go back through the original draft together, asking along the way “Does this fact support any of the three key target ideas?” Though they were interesting, several terms and descriptions were removed because they created tributaries and side roads: the more we shaped the contents of the presentation, the more crisp the three target messages became.
For any of us speakers, this can be a difficult exercise. As speakers, we may have put together a savvy collection of our favorite anecdotes, or a list of opening jokes which tickle audiences and consistently yield chuckles. We may have a favorite author, or even a favorite quote that we like to try to work into our presentations. But we need to be faithful to the specific purpose of each individual presentation: we need to cut and trim, even to delete plans to include our “Old Faithful” speech ingredients when needed.
This very thing happened, as the presentation plans with this scientist were nearly complete. I asked him about a section near the end of the notes for the upcoming speech; the terms and definitions there were not as clear to me as the rest of the selected concepts. I suggested to him that these secondary concepts might be removed from the presentation. Because these terms related to special research that he is enthusiastic about, the scientist hesitated to remove them. It wasn’t until several days later that he was finally able to concede that though the minor points were of great interest to him, they really did not support or contribute to the three selected key targets. He himself made a reference to “The Precious” (from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books). He humbly stated then that he understood he’d been hanging on to a few concepts that could certainly be removed.
This scientist and I had a very successful time collaborating on his speech preparation. What started out as a packet of thick pages of dense concepts became a clearly-designed, informative presentation. Audience members were pleased and grateful to walk away afterwards with useful information they had acquired. By choosing and sharpening three key targets — and agreeing to let go of ideas like “The Precious”— this intelligent speaker delivered a presentation with panache.
Is there a topic or favorite joke that you might rely on too often, a quote that you use no matter what the topic is? Perhaps we can each learn to choose our words with fresh eyes — to focus on a few essential key targets. And, whenever it’s time to do so, we can each learn the wisdom of letting go of “The Precious.”
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.