You hold it in your hands, neatly typed and bound. It weights as much as an unpublished novel, but anyone leafing through it can see the graphics and the process charts. It represents months of research and analysis -- your ideas distilled and reported thoroughly and logically.

What's the next step? You must get the decision makers to buy in to your conclusion. But there's a common mistake that can reduce your impact -- presenting all the details!

If you found this article useful, sign up for Speak Previews®, our current communication e-zine.

Generally, people do this for two reasons: (1) There just wasn't enough time to prepare a first-rate presentation, or (2) you think you must present all the details to give your clients or customers their "money's worth." The latter is usually a myth, and the former is just plain poor planning.

Here's a method to help you manage a large volume of information at a presentation:

  • Design a presentation based on the report. Do not present the report. The report is a written document. A presentation is spoken communication. They are two different things. If you frequently find yourself working up to the last minute on the report, get someone involved from the start who can concentrate on writing the presentation.
  • Think of your presentation as an advertisement for your ideas, which your audience can the study in depth by reading your report. Point out to your listeners that you'll concentrate on main issues and ideas during the presentation; however, remind them to ask questions whenever they want.
  • Jump right in and get to the point. Grab people's interest with your conclusion-what all your data means. Working backwards from your conclusion helps keep your audience focused on your agenda.
  • Stick to the key concepts. Choose three or four of the most important, general points that support your conclusion and prioritize them. This will make it easier for your audience to understand why you reached your conclusion.
  • Make connections between key concepts and your conclusion. The more understandable you make your presentation for your audience-the more you blatantly point out to them-the more they'll learn and remember.
  • Use clear, simple visuals. This is not the time to dump all your data on an overhead projection screen. Your audience will not follow it. Graphics should make a key concept clearer. They shouldn't attempt to prove your theory with columns and rows of numbers.
  • Be prepared to go with the gory details. Have back-up material in reserve that supports your key concepts in case you are challenged-but only use it if you need to. A good rule of thumb is to have about three times more material (all of which supports your key concepts) than you plan to present.
  • Address questions and concerns as they come up. Don't tell them that you'll get to that issue later, unless addressing it immediately disrupts the logic of your presentation. Addressing their questions will keep them involved and defuse reserved judgements that may damage your effectiveness.
  • Concisely summarize your key concepts, your conclusion, and your goal. Your listeners should leave the room able to repeat the thrust of your presentation and the key concepts that support it in one or two breaths.

People rely on you to present your information clearly and concisely. You can save time and confusion by starting at the end-at your conclusion-and then covering each main point. This provides a mental path for your audience to follow. Remember, if you let them know up front what they should be looking for, there is a greater chance that they'll find it.

Reprinted from PS for Business Communicators®, ECG's client newsletter.