Probably every professional has been at the receiving end of a poor presentation. Think of the conversations we have afterwards around the water cooler. “Wasn’t that just awful” we whine, often talking about all the mistakes the presenter made.

The most common mistake of all is when the presenters yield to the temptation to tell the listeners everything they know about a particular topic. That is the number one reason why people show PowerPoint slide decks that seem interminable to the audience. The presenter fires bullet after bullet, each containing a nugget of information gathered through years of experience, research, and observation. Sometimes, before presenters finalize the deck, they ask other experts to review the deck to make sure that nothing has been omitted.

That is why most presentations become excruciatingly boring. It’s also why presenters dash through the last fifteen slides, talking at breakneck speed. Sometimes, they make a last-minute decision to omit the last few slides, assuring the audience that these points are really interesting, “but I just don’t have time!”

Once, a trainer who, quite frankly, had no clue about how to present told me very earnestly that “the biggest mistake we can make is to leave something out. Nothing is more important to a presentation than making sure a presentation is complete.”

Actually, nothing can be further than the truth. Good presentations begin with analysis. The most important part of analysis is all about your audience. You should consider the following questions:

  • Who is the primary audience? (Is there a secondary audience?)
  • What do you know about them? (What is their age, background, and educational level?)
  • How do they prefer to become educated anyway? Is the “slides and bullets” method the most effective instructional technique available? (Show me any research that supports that idea!)
  • How much time do you have? And how much can the average human being absorb in the time you have?
  • How much do they already know about the topic? How much of your material will be new to them?

After that, you can get to the most important question of all. What is this presentation for anyway? Are you looking for support? Are you teaching them a new skill? Are you providing information that your audience needs to know to do their jobs better? Is there something you hope they will be able to do at the end of your presentation? Perhaps your presentation is a warning — there are sometimes serious consequences if people don’t have the information that you have at your finger tips.

Finally, polish your presentation with this goal. Instead of asking if it’s complete, approach the task by asking what you can remove without reducing the possibility of accomplishing the goal you’ve established for yourself. In other words, ask how you can make your presentation shorter — not longer.