Do you ramble, go on and on, or give more detail than you’d like? Then this article is for you. At times, you might be like Sheldon from the Big Bang theory. Sheldon can go into so much detail that it is overwhelming for many of us.
If you are too detailed, you can be doomed in front of senior executives because they have the attention span of a nat, not to mention they pick things up quickly. Your goal when speaking to senior execs is to look sharp and providing too much detail can do the opposite. It communicates that you are not prepared, cannot read your audience and don’t know how to focus on the most important details. Not a great recipe for success in front of senior execs.
First, we are going to cover why we are too detailed and then 5 tips on how to practice brevity.
Why are we detailed?
Chances are expertise makes us feel really good. Who doesn't want to be a subject matter expert and know their stuff? Not to mention, you put a lot of time into what you're presenting and sharing it in 30 seconds can feel like an insult to your effort. Doesn’t mean it’s right, it’s just the reality we live in today. Attention spans are short.
We have to be honest with ourselves that we have a deep need to look smart and that details make us feel comfortable. Key word is "US." We are focusing on ourselves rather than how our audience feels. Ask yourself the question: are you sharing this information so you feel comfortable or are you sharing this because it is the best thing for your audience?
Here are 5 practical tips on how to be more concise.
1. Long or short option: Imagine someone asks you to give them an update on a project. Instead of going into stream of consciousness, ask them if they want the long or short answer. Just by asking this question what does it say about you? I can flex, I am adaptable, I can explain it quickly or I can go into detail. On the other hand, if you go into too much detail your audience might fall asleep.
2. Speak no longer than 30 seconds: In the movie Mission Impossible, the main character will receive secret intel and at the end of the message it says "this message will self destruct in 5 seconds?" You need to have the same mindset when presenting to others, especially senior executives. You need to remember, "their attention span will blow up in 30 seconds." If you want to keep talking after 30 seconds, pause and ask what can I go into more detail on? What can I elaborate on? What can I explain further? If the audience asks for more detail then you know you can speak for longer than 30 seconds but if they don’t want more detail, keep it short. By asking this simple question after 30 seconds we are getting a better understanding of what our audience prefers and we are calibrating accordingly. If you speak too long, how do I say this, you may blow up people's attention spans.
3. Prep a 90 second version: If you have a 60, 30, or even 15 minute presentation, make sure to prepare a 90 second version. Why? Most meetings start late or end early. You’ve probably been in a situation where someone said you have 30 minutes to present and then they change the plan and say, "sorry Steve you only have 5 minutes." What do most people do? They start rushing through their presentation by frenetically turning the pages or speaking a mile a minute. Who looks bad? You or the meeting leader? You look bad because you are rushing. And this is not fair. The person running the meeting should look bad since they can’t keep the meeting on time. How do you do turn the tables and make yourself look good? The tip here is to think of a movie preview. What does a great movie preview make you want to do? Go see the movie! What does a bad movie preview make you want to do? Not see the movie. When you rush and scramble, it is a bad movie preview and the audience thinks, "good thing we didn't give Steve more time because that presentation was not very worthwhile." This can be disastrous, especially if you don't have many opportunities to interact with senior executives. You don't see tomatoes but after a rushed presentation you sure feel as if someone threw tomatoes.
Solution: have a 90 second version of what you are going to say. Deliver the message in a calm relaxed manner and highlight the most important aspects whether it is revenue, cost, opportunity, risk, etc. What are the words that will get senior executives heads to turn? Being concise is delivering a great movie preview and today if you can't grab people immediately or keep it pithy then you may be in trouble. This is an essential skill to have for many of the audiences you will be speaking to.
4. Comfort with discomfort. When you provide less information you are going to feel uncomfortable. You must get used to this feeling. After all, what is more important: how you feel or how your audience feels? If you provide too much detail, then your audience may feel overwhelmed, annoyed, or irritated, all so you can feel comfortable.
5. Only speak if you can improve upon silence. Let that one sink in.
If you don’t want to ramble it all starts with understanding why you have a need to say more. The second part is to practice using the techniques provided. Pick a strategy such as the long or short answer and practice using it for an entire week. Once it is built into muscle memory then implement another strategy.
We hope you enjoyed this article and we promise we made this as short as possible.