What happens? There is a huge splash. Ripples spread across the pond. The rock quickly sinks to the bottom.
Now, imagine you’re standing next to that same pond, and you pick up a small, flat stone, and toss it across the surface. If you do it right, what should happen? The stone skips several times. There are some tiny ripples at each point the stone contacts the water. The stone either skips to the other side of the pond or slowly drifts to the pond bottom.
In this example, the pond represents the minds and hearts of your audience. Most speakers present so many ideas to an audience it’s akin to tossing a bunch of small stones across the pond surface. They ‘skip’ right over the heads of the audience, and nothing sinks in.
Conversely, the best speakers present one or two ideas, and tell them in such a manner that they penetrate the minds of their audience and reach their hearts.
Imagine the following scene: You’re sitting in an auditorium, waiting to hear about a subject you’re really interested in. A speaker stands at the front of the room, and proceeds to bombard you with a plethora of information. At one point, you wonder if the speaker is going to take a breath.
When the presentation ends, you feel tense, your head hurts, and you can’t remember a word that you just heard.
Have you ever had that experience? The person threw everything he had at you. Can you remember what the person said? Why not? Too much information.
Another problem created by presenting too many ideas is that people have little, if any, time for reflection. Inspiring ideas or interesting concepts are useless if people don’t have time to consider their implication, and think about how those ideas may help them. When this occurs, your story becomes a lot of background noise, and people tune out.
It’s important to note that in order to avoid overloading your audience, you will have to cut out parts of your speech that you love. Many times, reluctantly, with a heavy heart and a tear in my eye, I’ve cut parts from a story.
What makes this less painful is the reminder that my story and my message are not for me, they’re for the audience. It’s my job to be crystal clear about each. To paraphrase the late attorney Johnny Cochran, “If the story doesn’t fit, you must omit”.
As prepare your story, keep this concept in mind. Resist the temptation to give your audience everything you know. Give them one or two key ideas, and they’ll be better off than they were before they heard you. This can only happen if you stop skipping stones over their heads, and start dropping rocks into their hearts.
What experiences have you had with presenting too much too an audience? Feel free to leave your thoughts below:
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