Have you ever entered an elevator, in a hurry to get to one of the higher floors, only to find that some prankster has pushed every button? How did it make you feel?
Now, imagine that the roles are reversed: you are that prankster, and your audience is the frustrated person in a hurry to get to their intended destination. That’s what happens in a lot of presentations that I observe.
For example, yesterday I attended the StartUp Quest Pitch Day at the Broward County Performing Arts Center. Eleven teams competed to present their business plans to a panel of judges made up of venture capitalists and other investors. While it’s true that the situation is artificial (there are no actual dollars riding on the outcome—at least not immediately), it was still obvious that most of the speakers were pushing far more buttons than they needed to get to their destinations.
For example, it’s a good idea to begin with a grabber story that engages attention and interest, and personal stories that bring a problem to life are perfect for that. But the problem with personal stories is that you’re tempted to go into much more detail than the audience needs to get the picture, and going on too long can ruin the effect you’re trying to create. Create the effect and move on.
Next, it’s a good idea to show the huge market potential of your product, but we don’t need two minutes of detailed statistics to prove that there’s a lot of money being invested in alternative energy sources or that our population is aging rapidly—everyone gets that. Make the point and move on. If you have a half dozen competitive advantages, don’t spend equal time on each; hit the one or two strongest and move on.
The problem with pushing too many buttons is not just that you take more time than you need, or that you can frustrate listeners, it’s that every time the door opens at the wrong floor you run the risk that riders will get off.
In real situations, such as in a strategic sales presentation, there is even less excuse for pushing too many buttons, because if you’ve researched, prepared and shaped the conditions for success, you should know precisely which button to push for each of the decision makers and important influencers in the room. Anything more than what you need is wasted or worse.
In military tactics it’s a truism that if you try to attack everywhere you won’t be strong anywhere. You need to find the decisive point and concentrate overwhelming force at just that point of attack. So, when you do get to the main point, go for broke. As Churchill said:
“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack.”
It’s the same way in persuasive communication, beyond just presentations.
My old swimming coach Jack Nelson was a master of motivation. Read this article in the New York Times to see how he applied his talent to engineer one of the greatest upsets in Olympic history. What made him so good was that he knew each of his swimmers intimately; he knew what they would respond to and how they would respond; he knew just which buttons to push and how and when.