The Boy Scout Fieldbook which I read many years ago advised neophyte campers to empty your pack after your first-ever campout and make three piles. The first pile should contain items you used every day. The second pile was for items used occasionally, and the third was for items that you took but never used. For your next campout, you should leave the first two piles at home. (The only exception is emergency equipment.)
That was excellent advice that carries over into other areas. I actually still follow it in my business travel, which is one reason I can go halfway around the world for two weeks with only carry-on luggage. The ability to travel light makes me more flexible, saves time, and ensures that I never lose my luggage. Just last week I arrived at Bangalore airport one hour before my scheduled class time (after a 26 hour delay—thank you, British Airways); if I had had to wait for luggage I never would have made it in time.
Another area where the advice also applies is in strategic presentations. The average presentation is packed with a lot of unnecessary weight. If you take a look at your first draft, you can actually sort your content into four “I” piles:
Integral: The content is absolutely integral to your theme and logical argument. It may be the one competitive differentiator that sets you apart from competing alternatives. Without it, your sale can fall apart. Items that go into this pile include insights about how to improve their business operations, and clear differentiators that have measurable value to the client.
Important: This is your emergency equipment. You may be able to get by without it, but you might need it if a question comes up from the audience. This is typically best kept in your backup material. Examples include additional differentiators beyond your top 3, and answers to key audience members’ potential concerns or objections.
Interesting: Good stories and interesting factoids that add spice to your presentation and are fun to tell. Because they’re interesting, they may make some of your content easier to remember. But, precisely because they’re easier to remember, they should never be used unless they are absolutely relevant to your integral content. (In which case, by definition they are important, and belong in the second pile.) An example might be a story about how a different client solved a similar issue.
Irrelevant: Any content that is not integral to your theme and main points. Examples include the required first three slides that tout your corporate history and all your locations around the globe, features you offer which everyone else does, or your advantages which don’t add value to your listeners. (Not to mention forgettable stock photography of happy models using your product and corporate logs on every slide.)
Besides making your presentation clearer and more concise, this exercise will provide one more benefit. Stripping out the fluff exposes your integral content to the light of day, and may point out where you need to add more content to strengthen our argument.
As painful as it may be, go through a recent presentation you delivered (or one you plan to deliver soon), and apply this test. Get it down from four I’s to two. If you get into the habit of filtering your content through the four I’s every time, your presentations will quickly become grow in clarity, efficiency, and persuasiveness.