05 Aug

Help Your Audience Climb the “Mountain” of Complexity

Cropped shot of hikers helping each other climb up a rock in nature.

As a presenter, think about leading your audience on a hike up a mountain. Begin your talk at a low level of complexity, using plenty of demonstrations and illustrations. As you proceed, participants’ comfort level will increase, allowing you to delve deeper and deeper into the topic at hand.

In order to have your audience “buy into” the “hike” in the first place, lay out the goals you hope to meet – what do your listeners have to gain from paying attention? Particularly in a business setting, you might begin by “selling the problem”, establishing the “why” of your talk. Your implied promise to them – in the course of “hiking the mountain”, you’ll be exploring solutions to a specific workplace issue. As this promise, in fact, plays out, you want audience members to feel a rising sense of accomplishment as you lead them up the trail.

While the topic may be complex, the language you use need not be. To the extent possible, avoid acronyms and jargon, carefully defining essential terminology. The idea is not to “dumb down” essential concepts, but to help the audience understand and remember them. It helps to choose, ahead of your presentation, just one to three important concepts you want to communicate, planning to paint a vivid verbal picture to “cement” each of those as you continue leading the “climb”.  

Chunking is a communication techniques that splits large amounts of information into small, manageable pieces. Just as, on a hike, there will be places to rest, take stock of your progress up the mountain, your audience needs you to allow for short silences in between the sections, or “chunks” of your talk. As you resume the “climb”, offer a ‘bridge that helps participants see the connection between the ground already covered and the next part of the “trail”.

Just as the path becomes steeper and more challenging, it might be time to introduce an element of surprise, perhaps in the form of a statement that appears in direct contradiction to established ways of doing things.  Or, spring a thought-provoking, open-ended question: “Has today’s discussion begun to change your mind in any way about the topic? How?

 You’ve prepared your audience for the most complex segment of your presentation, the “capstone of your climb”. As leader, take the opportunity to relate a powerful anecdote,  encouraging audience members to analyze the situation in the story, using the relevant terminology with which they are now familiar, and applying the principles they’ve learned.

Now at the highest and most complex level of the journey, you’ve enabled participants not only to summarize, but to analyze information.

As a presenter, nothing is more satisfying than helping your audiences climb the “mountain” of complexity!

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