Finding True North
I confess that I don’t truly understand the meaning of geodetic north – aka true north – or that I even know how to use a compass, but I do understand that being off by even a few degrees when plotting your course can put you very far off course at the end. It is an important concept to understand as a presenter: find the place where you want to start and end your presentation and the direction in which you want to go to get there or risk ending up in the woods. What may seem to be only a minor deviation at the start will leave you miles from your intended goal at the end.
Take a moment to think about where you want to be at the end of your journey before you begin to reach for your compass. Think deeply about what you want your audience to feel, think or do when you are finished. Now aim for this target with every slide, every point. Think of every deviation from this goal as a point off the path you are charting. Often a veer off course starts a meander that leads you and your audience further from your true north. While it is a presenting cliché that slides are free and to use as many as you need to tell your story, this does not mean that you should start tossing slides into your presentation that aren’t directly on your path.
It is surprisingly difficult to keep to the narrow path especially if you are passionate about your topic. Every aspect of it seems essential to you. If you’re like me, your ideas are like beloved children – hard to leave out. But be respectful of your audience who is trying to follow you. Whether they know it consciously, as they listen, they are trying to understand the logic behind your choices in order to grasp your advice, remember your ideas, feel the way you told them they would. If you’ve told them you are taking them from A to B, why are we now at M? Is it important? Can you see how quickly this will first confuse, then frustrate and finally defeat your audience?
This honing process is not the same as getting rid of the extraneous information, of eliminating the chaff from your presentation. This is different. You must question your choices in a different way to be certain that you’ve kept to your true north. You must ask whether each slide, each point you make in your presentation delivers your audience closer to the outcome you’ve selected. Ask yourself: what does this slide deliver that makes it indispensable, what part of the goal does this deliver, do I make it clear that this an important step along the path?
So what do you think? Do think that finding a true north for your presentations would help you connect with your audience? Do you have a technique for finding your path through a presentation? Do any presentations come to mind where a lack of distinct and clear direction made it difficult to follow the presenter? I’d be grateful to hear your ideas.