Separate the wheat from the chaff.

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Separate the wheat from the chaff.

The presenter's time is limited; so is her listeners' time. Once when a popular Korean speaker stood up to make her speech, she asked the chairperson: "How long shall I speak?" The chairperson said: "Take as long as you like – we will leave after thirty minutes." The presenter has a responsibility towards her audience. Cordell while talking about the presenter's responsibility, says, "Consider a 1-hour presentation attended by 20 people. The cost is 20 human hours times the hourly value of each person's time. That's a lot of time and cost, not to mention the effort required for each audience member to travel to the presentation and break up their day to do so. To justify this cost, the presenter must be well prepared and the information thoughtfully presented and pertinent to the listeners' needs." This implies that you cannot present the bagfuls of material you have collected. The simplest guideline here is: Don't be over-ambitious; be pragmatic. It is a good idea to know your constraints. Let me suggest an easy procedure: List your points; cut your points to as few as possible; forget some points – forgetting is a blessing in disguise! Combine minor points under the major ones. Three or four points are easy to remember. One should not bite more than one can chew. One should not spread it too thin either. Let's remember what Plutarch said: "I do not think him a good shoemaker, who makes a great shoe for a small foot."

All this requires you to select your material keeping in mind (i) the time limit, (ii) audience interest, and (iii) purpose of the talk. As a result, you have to separate the wheat from the chaff, the essential from the inessential. You have to sift through your material to distinguish important information from disposable information. It is good to use a three-circle model to arrange your ideas – the inner circle, the outer circle, and the expanding circle. Accordingly, put my ideas into three groups: core ideas, secondary ideas, and disposable ideas. Since a presenter does not have unlimited time, you need to talk about the core ideas from the inner circle first. In case you get extra time, you can discuss ideas from the outer and expanding circles. If you have only a few core ideas and do not have extra ones, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. For example, if you dry up in the middle of your talk or exhaust all your material in half the allotted time, it will be embarrassing for you. Therefore, it is a good idea to have some extra material ready on hand. It is also a good idea to have lots of telling examples, because examples speak louder than statements. It is common observation that a talk without specific examples is ineffective.

In brief, you should choose only a few points to present and keep some points in reserve. If you include too many ideas in your presentation, then your talk will be too dense and you will have to hurry up to cover all these points. This will result in unnatural speed of delivery of an unedited speech. As a result, your audience will lose patience and their attention will fade away, and they may even leave your presentation in the middle. Therefore, it is a wise thing to find out how much time you have and how much you can present during that time.

Organize your ideas.

Knowing how much time you have is a key to selection and organization of your material, which in turn is a key to success. Organizing your speech is one of the most important skills you can learn. First of all, organization is often the key to understanding. The audience is more likely to understand your message if it is organized than if it is not. Second, you are more likely to include the best information, arguments, and evidence if your speech is organized than if it is not. Organizing a speech forces you to select, to prioritize, and to choose the best of the available information. Third, the audience is more likely to evaluate you positively if you sound organized. A well-organized presentation has three main sections: a beginning, middle, and an ending. The introduction must grab the audience attention. It should clearly state what the speaker is about to present and how it will be presented…. The body of the presentation must develop ideas clearly and logically, and connect them by means of appropriate transition…. Finally, the conclusion should be anticipated, never abrupt.

The introductory part of your speech is like the take-off and ascent of a flight. The main body resembles the journey between ascent and descent. The concluding part is similar to the descent and landing of a flight. As you know, the take-off and landing are very crucial stages. Nine of ten aviation accidents take place during these stages. Therefore, the captain has to be very careful. Your presentation is like a flight and you are like the captain of a flight. The introduction to your talk is like the ascent and the conclusion of your speech is like the descent of a flight. You must be extra careful when your speech is taking off and ascending, and equally watchful when it is descending and landing. The first and last impressions are lasting impressions.

Thus, the introductory part of your presentation catches audience attention and provides signposting from which they can extrapolate the direction of the presentation. The audience gets a clear map of how they will travel and what they will encounter on the way. So, how do you go about introducing your speech? Well, several strategies are available. You can start with a quotation, saying, proverb, epigram, joke, anecdote, aphorism, story, folktale, or a dramatic and controversial statement. You can open the talk in any way you like as long as you succeed in arresting the attention of the audience. Let us say, you are talking about the role of women in business and industry, you might start with the following words: (i) "Well, friends, I believe that God cannot be present everywhere. So, he created woman"; or (ii) "Well, friends, let me tell you that I spent the best period of my life in the arms of another man's wife – I mean, my mother!" Or, let us say, being the CEO of a famous car company, you are speaking about road accidents resulting from the poor quality of cars, you might start like this: "Dear customers, life is short. Let's not make it shorter! Use our cars. Your life is safe in our hands when our steering wheel is in your hands."

Having introduced the topic in an interesting way, you then proceed to develop the main body of your presentation. An effective body of a speech can be informative, persuasive, or amusing. An informative speech adds to the listener's knowledge; a persuasive talk presents a problem and proposes solutions. Depending on the type of presentation, you can develop your speech using various strategies: you can advance your arguments, supply the data, and provide examples. You can quote experts to support your argument, because authority, testimony, quotation, and evidence help you sell your ideas effectively. Moreover, it is a good strategy to support every idea with an illustration that is germane to the purpose of the talk. Being specific, definite and clear, a good illustration expresses the meaning forcefully.

Now let’s have a word about the concluding part of a presentation. What do you do to end your talk effectively? You arranged your ideas in a series, and climbed to a 'crescendo' step by step to gradually reach the climax. But this is just one way to reach the conclusion. An alternative way is the reverse of crescendo. In music parlance we call it 'diminuendo'. In the former case, the tempo rises and reaches the climax; in the latter, the tempo diminishes and finally dissolves. Different speakers choose different styles. Whether you select this style or that, you should plan your conclusion in advance, because if you think of it at the last moment, then you might end up projecting a poor image of yourself. Incidentally, once I witnessed a very embarrassing situation where speaker asked a guest sitting beside him how to conclude his speech. Expectedly, the audience giggled.

The foregoing discussion attests to the several advantages the structure of a presentation gives us. First, it draws audience attention and brings things into focus. Secondly, it holds people's interest. Experience tells us that it is difficult to hold human attention and interest for a long time, but structure helps us do that. A speech without organized ideas is boring and may be good for patients of insomnia or sleeplessness. Thirdly, a methodically presented speech helps people understand the message and perceive the links easily. Fourthly, it makes the message stay in public memory for a longer time. In brief, an organized presentation grabs and sustains audience attention, and achieves a lasting impact.

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