Decide when to get to the point and when to expand your presentation


In the main, presentations benefit from brevity and clarity.

When time is limited you need to decide what’s essential for your clients or colleagues to know.  Too much information may confuse them about what’s most important.  Sometimes, however, you’ll find that your audience wants to know more about something you’ve said and you need to expand the point.

Paul Carroll from Toastmasters International has tips for getting the level of information right and creating a successful presentation:

Understand your audience

When addressing new people (e.g. potential clients) do your research. Learn what they want. Learn about their capacity: what can they realistically afford to buy from you? What regulatory constraints have they? Find out which of your competitors they already do business with.

Have a clear message

You must understand what you want to get across so you can remove unnecessary details. How much detail is necessary for people to get your point? When Apple introduced the original iPod, electrical engineers were excited about the technology. Customers were excited when Steve Jobs summarised the offer in seven words: “It’s a thousand songs in your pocket.”  He knew how to grab his audience with a clear message.

Use active language

When you listen to people who are trying to persuade you how often do they use active language?  Do they say “I’ll do this and you do that”? Or do they say “This should be done” and leave unclear who is the doer?  If something needs fixing do they own up and say “We got this wrong” or do they say “Mistakes were made”? In each case, the first is clearer.

Leave it out

In the opening of your presentation give an outline for your audience to follow. As you prepare the body of the talk, keep asking yourself: is this fact necessary for understanding what follows? If not leave it out!

Last year I attended a business-forum debate on the EU referendum. The pro-Leave speaker used much of his time trying to explain how the Codex Alimentarius commission (an arm of the U.N. relating to agricultural trade) establishes protocols incumbent upon the World Trade Organisation for implementation by the European Commissioner for Agriculture blah, blah, blah…Zzzz…

The flow of his speech slowed to a trickle.

It’s not that the Codex Alimentarius is unimportant. If you’ve never heard of it, google it. But all the speaker needed to say in the body of his talk was “There are international bodies above the E.U., like the World Trade Organisation, which impose regulations with which the EU complies.” Simple. Understandable. Clear and brief.


Metaphors are tools to explain new or abstract ideas in familiar terms. Take the example: Time is money.  Time is an abstract concept. But when you equate it with money, business people have a reason to take notice.

When to add information

Some details are not superfluous. How can you tell which are and aren’t? In the Q&A after you presentation, the specific questions asked are your guide to where you should use more details.

For instance, during the Audience Questions in the EU debate, I asked about the authority of the Codex. He explained—more clearly than in his speech– that The Codex is a set of standards maintained by the UN via its Food & Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation; and that it’s adopted by the WTO, which has rule-making authority with which the EU, as a member, complies.

Directness aids clarity and minimises the distractions facing your audience. Take cues from your audience on where to expand.  When is a detail necessary? When somebody asks about it.