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You can’t (and shouldn’t) put everything you know about a subject into any presentation, ever.

Trying to put everything you know about something into your next speech is one of the most common presentation mistakes you can make. Instead, figure out what your audience wants most and save the rest for next time or never.

If you’ve been asked to speak to a group of people, it’s because someone believes that you know something about a topic that’s useful to them. Whether it’s a five minute speech on how to use the office coffee maker, a thirty-minute summary of the company’s financials for last quarter, or an all-day seminar on knitting, the chances are good that you know more about your subject than will fit into your allotted time. While at first this may seem daunting it’s actually a blessing.

You know a lot about your topic because it interests you. You can’t get enough of it. You love it. And that’s good. But trying to say everything you know about a topic in one presentation isn’t just impossible, it’s not helpful to your audience.

Just the good stuff.

Instead of succumbing to the temptation to tell your audience every little detail, you need to decide on the main ideas you want to get across. The number of main ideas will vary for each speech you give based on the length of time you have to speak and the complexity of the ideas you want to cover. You might have time for 10 points or you may only have time for one or two. But deciding up front which ideas are most important to your audience will help you decide what facts, figures, and stories stay or go.

Just enough to convince them.

Once you have your main ideas in place, only add enough supporting information or evidence to make the case. You probably could go on all day about why each point in your speech is a good idea. But once you’ve convinced your audience, you should stop talking about it and move on. Saying more may lead your audience to stop listening, and could even undermine your credibility. Giving too much evidence can actually make you seem defensive, like you might be hiding something.

Feeling the need to say everything can be daunting, and knowing that you can’t fit everything you know into any speech ever can actually be comforting. No one expects to hear everything you know, and frankly, no one wants or is able to hear it all at once anyway. By taking the time to organize and edit your thoughts into an order and size your audience can handle, you’ll save yourself a lot of mental anguish. And your audience will appreciate it as well.

Image courtesy of Flickr – wagaboodlemuum.

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