What is your biggest pet peeve when sitting through a webinar or online presentation? Studies show that some of the biggest problems stem from a similar problem: how the content is organized.

Some of the biggest complaints about web presentations are:

  • Not getting to the point.
  • Taking too long.
  • Too much irrelevant detail.

There have been books and lectures and courses on public speaking since the dawn of civilization. Demosthenes gave the first public speaking course about 360 BCE. The rules haven’t changed much since (mostly because people haven’t changed). If Ancient Greece isn’t your style, think about TV shows that feature courtroom drama. You want to think more like the prosecuting attorney than the policeman.

Why thinking like the investigators isn’t always a great idea.

Think about it. If you’re the cop, you find a body and follow the trail. You discover some dead ends and red herrings along the way until you finally arrest somebody and say, “There. He did it.” Eventually, you get to the point.

But if you’re an audience, you don’t want to go through a lot of detail to understand “What’s the point?” Too much detail may cause you to tune out. Or get fixated on a point that doesn’t help the presenter prove their point. Or stray off on an irrelevant tangent taking you too far off course. Often, you have to look at every possible scenario, which can become confusing for your audience. Too much detail can have the opposite of your intended effect. Sleeping people don’t take action.

Why thinking like the prosecutor is (usually) more effective.

Remember your favorite courtroom drama? The prosecutor makes their opening argument: “Bob did it. He’s guilty and should go to jail. We have proof. Convict him.”

Now, put that in the context of a presentation to your senior executives.

Bob did it.

Nobody has to wonder what the point is, or where you’re going with your presentation. Right or wrong, we know what your point is. Now you have to prove it.

He’s guilty and should go to jail.

The purpose and outcome of your presentation is not in doubt. No matter how short the audience’s attention span is, they know what you’re saying and what you want. How often does that happen in the presentations you sit through?

We have proof. 

Notice that in the courtroom, you introduce only the evidence that supports your argument or call to action. The police (or your engineers or analysts) have to track down every clue. Even if it leads to a dead-end or doesn’t get the results you want. In court, you want the jury to convict. You don’t want them confused by alternative theories that might not pan out. This doesn’t mean you don’t anticipate objections or have answers to questions that will inevitably come up. But don’t confuse things or make your opponents’ jobs easier. Address the questions and challenges as they arise and prove you have done your homework. Also, only introduce as much as you think you’ll need to make your case.

Convict him.

Tell them what you expect from them once your presentation is over. They should have no doubts of the action you want them to take or the decision they should reach.

People have short attention spans, especially online. Police-like presentations with too many details and confusing alternatives will bore your audience before you get to the point.

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High Impact Leadership: The #1 Fastest Way to Accelerate Your Organization’s Success

February 22, 2024  1:00pm ET

Wayne Turmel has been writing about how to develop communication and leadership skills for almost 26 years. He has taught and consulted at Fortune 500 companies and startups around the world. For the last 18 years, he’s focused on the growing need to communicate effectively in remote and virtual environments.

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