A platform piece by Paul Carroll, Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations, including Enniskillen.

When we are specialists in our subject there is a danger that we will fill our presentation with details which appear important to us.  Getting to the point during a business presentation means avoiding such self-indulgence and introducing some discipline. 

Every fact has to earn its place in your presentation. It should be there only if it contributes to the logic of your argument and helps to build your audience’s interest and understanding.  We don’t want to bore or confuse, we want to energise and engage.

To get your message across effectively and know when to say more, here are some tips.

Getting the balance right

Know your audience: 
If it’s a new audience you will have to research. However, if you are addressing a large diverse group how to do this may not seem obvious. I recommend getting to the venue as early and mingling with the meeters-and-greeters. Chat up those who arrive early. Look for those you already know. You can get information (or confirmation) from them regarding what they are expecting to get out of your presentation. You can use this swiftly to edit your presentation if necessary.

Use the active voice:
It’s more straightforward. A classic trick people use to avoid taking responsibility is to use the passive voice. You will hear: “Mistakes were made” rather than: “I was wrong”. But when you need action you must use active language. If you say: “This should be done” there’s a question about the doer.  “You need to do this” is unambiguous. 

Use a metaphor:
The role of metaphor is to explain the abstract in terms of the concrete and the new in terms of the familiar. 
l once attended a talk on the spread of disease and the rapid evolution of germs. My question was why some germs are devastating but harder to catch while others are mild but easier to catch. The speaker was a biologist, I’m not. When she said: “Nature is a ruthless economist” it made the point clear to me immediately. Germs are tiny and have limited energy and so must evolve and develop one capacity or another in order to reproduce. Since I was working in finance, the metaphor of nature being an economist seeking to make efficient decisions made sense to me. 

Most importantly...
Have a clear message so you can cut extraneous detail:
Consider how much detail is necessary for people to understand your message. In a public speaking workshop l asked an accountant for an example of a personal accounting achievement. He said he saved his own building (a co-operative) $40,000 on a $250,000 renovation job. But before telling me about that saving, he spoke at length about the characters of various builders, how some of the tenants had squabbled - some wanting one kind of garden entrance and some wanted another, and the fight over paint colours!
I asked him to rewrite this example and, as he came to each tangent, to ask himself: “How important is this background-detail? Is this detail about the garden entrance necessary for the audience to understand how I saved 16 per cent on this contract?” 
The details had all felt important to him when he first told the story. It’s likely that these were the things which led his thinking to certain conclusions. But most of them did not add to our understanding of where he made his savings. Having cut most of the particulars, when the accountant presented his example, the point was clear to an audience of non-accountants. 

The vexing question is this: When does a detail cease to be extraneous?

Answer: when someone asks you to expand on a point.

Of course, the opening of a presentation will have an outline so that the audience knows where you are heading. 

Even in the body of the talk, leaving out extraneous detail is important for clarity. That’s a judgement call for the presenter. Ask yourself: Is this fact necessary for understanding what follows?

But when someone asks you a question, the question as it is put to you should indicate which details are necessary for your answer. This allows you to tailor your response whilst achieving maximum impact from what you say. Knowing your audience means anticipating some lines of questioning.

For instance, let’s assume you’re a food producer selling a seasonal line to retailers. In giving your presentation, one of the things you might say is: “All our ingredients are ethically sourced.” Your audience of retailers should already have an idea of what that means, so you won’t need to go into depth. But someone may want clarification or confirmation and ask: “Could you expand on that point?”

This question does not indicate which details your customer wants to hear but you can clarify it. Do they mean ‘How do we choose suppliers’? or ‘How do we guarantee that the goods meet certain standards?’
If the answer is the latter you could say: “We get certification from Fair Trade International that the producers of ingredients farmed in the developing world received fair payment. We get certification from the Soil Association that the ingredients are organically grown and processed. We get certification from the Marine Stewardship Council that all our fish, like smoked salmon, is ‘line caught’.”

In the main body of your talk you probably couldn’t go into detail on your full product range but since someone asked about ethical sourcing you had the details to back up your point. If further details are sought: who are the producers?  How long they’ve been certified? you should have access to that information. But you don’t need to supply it unless further questions are asked.

In summary, these days, there is a lot of competition for audience’s attention. 
What I recommend you do is:
• Make it as easy as possible for them to see the point. 
• Remember what is important to them (rather than to me) is what matters.
• Clearly offer an improvement for their current situation: “Am I solving your problem?” “Am I meeting your needs?” 
• Give them additional information to satisfy any questions they have.