One of the easiest mistakes for a presenter to make is to use language that your audience does not understand. Two of the most common ways to do this are using specialized jargon and using sports analogies. However, there is another problem which was brought home to me during today’s presentations class: the use of terms that only your generation understands.
I was telling the group that a good way to keep their presentations concise is to front-load their message by giving the headline and then the key points first, patient and then adding additional detail as necessary—just as a newspaper article is written. One of the participants said, “What’s a newspaper?” Of course, she said it tongue-in-cheek, but then she added seriously that many of her peers do not read newspapers, and haven’t for a long time. So, my analogy did not have the effect I thought it would have.
One of my clients once told me that when he asks someone what time it is, they tell him how to build a watch, and I use that story to illustrate the value of being brief and to the point. I’m now starting to question that example as well, because when I asked for a volunteer to time today’s presentations, I realized that almost no one under the age of 30 wears a watch anymore.
I used to use Columbo as a positive example for the value of asking questions until I figured out that fewer and fewer of my students knew who he was. I’ve also used a picture of George Costanza on one slide, but I’m starting to get quizzical looks.
Dated references such as these are easy to overlook because we don’t realize we’re using them. Time seems to pass quicker nowadays, and it’s a bit startling to realize that the last Seinfeld episode aired 13 years ago, when some of today’s workers were too young to stay up and watch it.
So, I guess I have to concede that I’m probably starting to sound like an old fogy, but before those of you on the south side of the generational divide start feeling smug, look at it from the reverse point of view. A lot of the people you’re trying to convince or impress with your presentations are senior level executives, who are, quite frankly, in the older age group. Are you using terms that they don’t understand? Have you made a reference to a musical group or actor they’ve never heard of, and how did it work out for you?
The point of all this is that you have to know your audience and put your arguments not only in terms they will understand, but that will resonate with them. Do your audience analysis before going in, and if you’re unsure about a reference, test it out on someone first. Otherwise, your audience might miss some of your words—just like a scratched record.
 If you need to Google either of these references, I’ve made my point. Sadly, Peter Falk passed away June 24th, 2011.