The best speakers in the world have varied styles and strategies for presenting, but the vast majority of them to adhere to this rule: give a presentation preview. In other words, tell the audience where you are going.
Can you imagine hopping on a boat or in a car with no knowledge of the destination or the length of the trip? Probably not. But too often we are expected to sit through a presentation without being given the knowledge of where we are headed or how long it will last.
Early in your presentation, you should give the audience an overview of where you are headed. Traditionally, we call this a preview or overview. Quite simply, it’s a verbal map that helps your audience navigate your presentation. Speakers who give the audience a glimpse of the presentation’s structure do so because they know this small, but mighty, presentation strategy reaps some pretty important rewards.
- Clarity: The most obvious reason for using a preview is that it makes your presentation easier to understand and follow because you’ve highlighted the main points you’ll be covering. It’s the verbal equivalent of topical headings in a book or magazine or menus or tabs on a website. It allows the audience to quickly see what matters most and provides the path to get there.
- Retention: When you briefly list what you’ll be addressing, you get the chance to say your key points early on. You’ll then cover them in the presentation in more detail, but at that point, the audience will be hearing them for a second time. This repetition is vital if your audience is going to retain what you are presenting to them. In addition, if the audience knows what points you’ll be stopping at along the way, they are much more likely to stay with you for the entire trip. So not only does the preview help the audience retain the information, it helps you, the speaker, to retain their attention throughout the entirety of the presentation.
- Trust: In his article about how to open a presentation, Gary Genard reminds us that “audiences don’t know where you as the speaker are headed. If you first give your listeners the ‘big picture’ and then talk in specifics, you’ll be the kind of presenter who allows audiences to relax and feel that they’re in good hands.” Humans desire to be in control of their own destiny, and this desire doesn’t disappear when we are members of an audience. In fact, a new study in Psychological Science shows that we much prefer high power to low power positions. When information about presentation structure or length is kept from us, we feel out of control, and that’s a feeling no one likes. By sharing this information with the audience, the speaker has shown that he understands and respects his audience’s need for control, and it allows the speaker to build the trust of his audience.
So the next time you are preparing to present, make sure to include a concise verbal map in your introduction. Use words like first, second, next, and finally to clearly signal to your audience the locations you’ll be stopping at during your presentation. Your preview may only last a few seconds, but it’s a means to these very important ends: increasing audience clarity, retention, and trust.
If you want to learn more about connecting with your audience and leveling up your presentation skills, check out our Presentation Mentor Online Course.