When Sergey Brin and Larry Page set about to secure early funding for Google, they initiated a presentation at Sequoia Capital, one of the world’s premier venture capital firms, with the logline “Google organizes the world’s information and makes it universally accessible.”
Most busy executives don’t want to sit through a 50-slide presentation. They don’t have the patience to wait for the punchline.
Begin with the conclusion and then go through the rest of your slide deck: your proposals, theses, assumptions, your line of thinking, and the arguments, pro and con.
Meaning, Then Details
Cognitive psychologists have argued that the brain pays more attention to the core of an idea than to its details.
According to the University of Washington molecular biologist John Medina, the human brain craves meaning before details. In Brain Rules (2014,) Medina notes, “Normally, if we don’t know the gist–the meaning–of information, we are unlikely to pay attention to its details. The brain selects meaning-laden information for further processing and leaves the rest alone.”
When listeners comprehend the overarching idea of a pitch, they’ll find it easier to synthesize and digest the information.
Begin Your Next Executive Presentation with the Final Summary Slide First
Most executives have limited willpower and suffer “decision fatigue.” Don’t overload them with less-important details before asking them to decide in your favor. Your “executive summary” slide may be the only one that will get full attention. So make it perfect!
- Practice, practice, practice. Few people, if any, have the rhetorical ability to make a persuasive 15-second speech about their significant ideas. The best speakers are the best because they rehearse and get feedback.
- Less is more. After getting prized facetime with executives, many talented young professionals produce large slide decks to dazzle the executives with their intelligence and ingenuity. Don’t.
- Simplify your “executive summary” message. Perceptive executives tend to be somewhat skeptical of things that ought to be simple but have become too complicated.
- Meaning, then detail. The brain processes meaning before detail, and the brain likes hierarchy. Start with the general idea and then present information in a structured, hierarchical approach. Make sure that each detail you communicate traces back to the core concept of your presentation.
Idea for Impact: Get to the Point
Tell busy people what they need to know upfront. Communicate like a newsperson: What’s the number one thing your audience needs to know? Say that first. Then build out from there, keeping the most essential particulars up top.
There’s another smart—if devious—benefit of putting the cart before the horse: delivering your “punchline” first can hook your audience with a compelling proposal first, and then cash in on the confirmation bias to sway them to your case.
Spy thriller novelist Graeme Shimmin offers this excellent guide to writing a killer punchline, logline, or elevator speech.
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