We can fall into a trap when we use speaking to attract clients and referrals. Or when we’re out to highlight our contribution to the company and position ourselves for advancement. Or when we’re hoping someone in the room will hear us and hire us.
Naturally, we want the audience to think we know our stuff. We have deep knowledge about our subject. We’re brilliant at sharing our expertise so they can trust us. Oh, and we want them to like us too.
The trap is this: we think the path to that perception is to give them a lot of information.
We’re feeling generous. We want to share our expertise. Our listeners need to know this stuff, or they wouldn’t be sitting there.
And, truth to tell, there’s an element of ego here too. It’s important to us that these people think highly of us—the more information we give them the more they’ll know how much we know. And the more they’ll appreciate us, right?
So we talk quickly to get it all in, we’re racing against the clock. And we might even lose the race, so our 30-minute talk goes 37-minutes but that’s okay because there’s so much to say and it’s really, really important to say it and I’m important too and surely they’ll see how brilliant I am and they’ll be grateful for all I’ve given them …
And it backfires.
Instead of believing I’m brilliant and generous, and they need me … they wind up thinking I’m scattered and undisciplined and overwhelming.
And I’m so caught up in my own head that I don’t understand, or even notice, how they’re feeling about the onslaught of information. Preoccupied with my own good intentions, I’m not focused on my audience.
If this is sounding familiar, you’re not alone. Just the other day I had a conversation with an extremely enthusiastic young woman about a too-long, too-fast, too-much presentation. You know what she said: “But I have so much to tell them!!!!”
Here’s another way to think about so-much-to-tell-them.
Imagine yourself hosting Thanksgiving dinner.
Your family and friends gather at your beautifully-decorated table. You’ve labored in the kitchen for days getting ready for this meal. Not to mention all that time you spent searching for recipes, shopping for the perfect produce, and choosing just the right turkey.
Even before that, you developed your cooking skills. Maybe you took a culinary class or maybe spent hours in your mother’s kitchen. Either way, you’ve invested a lot in perfecting your ability to prepare this delicious dinner. You just can’t wait to share it with your guests.
You’re delighted when it goes well. The turkey and stuffing and Brussels sprouts couldn’t be better. The pumpkin pie? It’s perfect. Your guests are so happy as they savor the last bite.
So you serve them a second dinner.
You’re sure they liked what they already ate. And you have so much food on hand. And you worked so hard learning how to cook. Doesn’t it just make sense to keep feeding them?
Okay, they’re glancing at each other, shuffling in their chairs, and looking a little uncomfortable. You may not even notice. But if you do, you’re sure those signals don’t mean a thing. You have so much delicious food to serve them! You’re feeling generous. You want them to think you’re a superb cook. And you want them to like you.
You get so caught up in the excitement … you might even go for Dinner Number Three.
Even though, by this time, your guests want to escape, you’re high on the attention and the compliments and the feeling-smart-and-generous. So you just feed them more and insist that they keep eating.
Now put yourself in the guest’s chair.
That first fabulous dinner? You enjoyed every bite. The second one, not so much. By the third meal, you’re nauseous. It’s too much food, too fast. You don’t like being stuffed and you really don’t like someone forcefully stuffing you.
It’s enough already. In fact, it’s more than enough. Whatever positive thoughts you had about your host, they’re evaporating in your discomfort. All you want now is…out of there.
Don’t overstuff your audience.
When you’re speaking (or when you’re serving Thanksgiving dinner) give them just enough.
A few questions will help you figure out how much information they can take in.
- Who’s your audience? Are they familiar with the subject matter, or are they starting from scratch? Do they already know you and like you or are you starting from scratch?
- What is your objective? What do you want them to walk away with after you speak?
- How much time do you have? Is it a 20-minute talk or a half-day workshop?
- Are there other speakers before or after you?
A good jumping-off point is to come up with the three main things your listeners need to know. Build your talk around those three points. And resist the temptation to make it four.
The best speakers keep their listeners in mind always. They tailor what they say… and how much of it they say…to meet the audience’s needs instead of their own.
Maybe you’ve overserved an audience? Or maybe you’ve sat there wishing some speaker would stop, for cryin’ out loud.
Post a comment below to share your experience. (Or your favorite Thanksgiving recipe … )