How to feed your audience

Often a keynote speech has to be adapted for different audiences and for different time constraints. If the presentation requires shortening, the temptation is to simply include the most sexy bits of your speech to keep it as punchy as possible. This can sometimes work against you.

The best way to look at preparing a speech is to imagine you are serving a meal to a hungry audience. No matter how short or long your presentation is, the demands of hunger remain the same.

Here are a couple of starter incidents to whet your appetite.

The first was when I was showing Paul Thomas, a friend of mine, my latest slide show presentation. I described a visual trick I do with a cup and spoon to demonstrate how inept we are at predicting outcomes. I then showed him a couple of slides which basically illustrated similar illusions. Paul warned me to be careful about overwhelming my audience with too much stuff, they only have a limited capacity for new information. Good point.

The second incident involved a conversation I had with David Hyner earlier today. We were talking about a presentation he had made to a school a couple of weeks back and which I had attended. The only real criticism I could find with his excellent content and delivery was the lack of some gravitas, some profound bit of meat to chew over. David acknowledged this feedback as valid and described the scenario as mentioned in my first paragraph.

This set me thinking about how to avoid this seductive trap. If you always think of the meal analogy, it should help you give a balanced presentation.

You are feeding the audience

It’s about them, they’re hungry, not you, so don’t feed your own ego.

They have limited appetites

Their stomachs can only hold so much food and they are probably used to particular foods so presenting them with a huge banquet, no matter how tempting it looks, is just wasteful and some people will subconsciously feel frustrated that they couldn’t taste it all. Also, exotic spicy foods can upset delicate stomachs so if your ideas are radical and challenging they may need to be watered down a bit with a suitable sauce.

They need sustenance

Remember it’s the food they need, not the wrapper.

They need quality

A lot of presentations try to appeal to the immediate demands of hunger and are full of sugar and saturated fats – in effect fast food. This gives a quick sugar rush of energy but it is not long before the audience will require another quick fix and their health in the long term will decline.

They need a varied diet

Give them a tasty starter or two, serve the main dish somewhere in the middle or near the end, garnished with suitable examples and anecdotes then finish with something sweet or minty.

Your audience will feel satisfied and probably come back again to enjoy another fabulous meal.

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