There is so much you want to cover and only so much time to do it. Subconsciously, you want your audience to fall as deeply in love with your topic as you are already in love with it. This tends to cause a problem.
But just a second … this is not to suggest there is something wrong with wanting your audience to find the same value in your content as you find in it. The challenge lies in this desire propelling you to share and share and share to the point you end up rambling, rambling, and rambling. By going off on tangents or losing your train of thought, you also lose your effectiveness and diminish your power with all of the spins and twirls and ups and downs and twists and turns you put in your message.
First, keep in mind that you are not there to create experts out of your listeners.
Would that be awesome if you could? Absolutely! Is that realistic? Absolutely not.
Think of the number of hours, days, weeks, months, and even years or decades it took you to get to the point you are with your knowledge of the topic on which you are presenting. As such, remember the time you have to present is limited; hence, the material you provide must be limited in quantity but not - you guessed it - quality. Give your audience the three biggest components that will spark a curiosity and give them just enough information so they can understand why you are so passionate.
Second, with those three big components, remember who is in your audience. Ask yourself ...
Commit to answer only those questions, and you stay on topic.
(More practice with these three questions is available in Master Your Message: The Workbook.)
Next, rely on presentation software to keep you on track. Use slides with as few words as possible because there can never be anything on a slide more interesting or exciting than the words you speak. And as you design your slides, consider my personal preference, which is a more minimalistic approach where I provide a high-quality, high-impact graphic with only a few words or one or two bullets of information on a slide. *When you get off track, you can glance at your laptop or computer screen, and the image will get you back on track, and remind you of the topic you are supposed to be discussing. (Two of my current favorite sites for amazing and free to use for kinds of purposes are pexels.com and unsplash.com; for more on effective presentation design, see this post.)
Additionally, stop and listen to how much you're talking. If you have been talking for more than 10 to 15 minutes without getting input from the audience, then you've been talking too much and possibly rambling as a result. Provide opportunities for the audience to chime in so the sound of your voice is not the only one filling the space and so you don't feel the need to have your voice be the only one filling the space. Additionally, strategically place pauses in your message. Your message is more digestible by the audience when you do this, and it forces you to slow down and hear just how much you're speaking. (In this blog post are options for involving the audience.)
Finally, pay attention to the audience's body language. Do you see the glazed doughnut look? Is the audience mentally and even physically checking out by looking at watches, shifting in seats, thumbing through the handout you gave, engaging with phones or sidebar conversations? All of these can be telltale signs that you're rambling, and when you ramble, the audience is no longer interested in what you have to say.
*Read this post if you're wondering why I specifically write you are to look at your laptop or computer screen.
Be seen. Be heard. Be great!
Did you ever wish you could get personal and helpful guidance on improving your presentation skills? Get on the phone with Bridgett for a complimentary 20-minute call to learn how to start making your presentations amazing once and for all! Schedule your call here. It will be the best 20 minutes you have ever spent working on your presentation skills. I guarantee it!
Photograph credit: Jason Chen