PodiumWise | Tips for advanced presentation skills

I recently had a return engagement as the speaker at a business association’s monthly meeting.  Since the attendees were expected to be people who had only recently joined the association, I was asked to deliver the same message I had delivered before.

As it turned out, one person in attendance had heard me speak the previous time.  He assured me during the pre-meeting coffee time that he had not accidently signed up, but was, in fact, interested in hearing the topic again.

Afterward, this repeat listener told me that my talk was “completely different.”  I assured him that I had delivered the same message, but he was adamant.

It occurred to me on the train ride home that I have experienced this phenomenon before with people who have repeated one of the presentation skills workshops I teach.  I’ll go over the same material and they will say afterward that they appreciated all the “new” things they learned.

I’m sure part of the explanation is that I say things differently from one engagement to the next.  But I’m also convinced that people hear “new” and “completely different” things because different material stands out to them from one hearing to the next.  It’s much like the experience we get when we reread a book.  It can seem like the author secretly exchanged our old copy with a new, revised version.

A close cousin of this phenomenon is the wide disparity you find in what members of the same audience recall from a speech or presentation.  They report hearing such different things, you wonder if they were even in the same room.

This would all be nothing more than interesting observations about the way people process information if it weren’t for the serious implications it has when it’s critical everyone in an audience hears, understands, and recalls specific pieces of information (e.g., a safety presentation at a dangerous work facility).

It tells me that there are times when it’s essential that points get repeated multiple times; that multiple media are used (e.g., voice and visuals); that the audience’s understanding is continuously checked; that creative, attention-getting devices are used (e.g., props, demonstrations); that the power of stories is harnessed; that there is scheduled follow-up with reinforecement.  Etcetera.  Etcetera.

Just because you said it doesn’t mean it was successfully communicated.

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