I was once asked to work with a team of engineers who were slated to deliver presentations at an upcoming conference. I asked to see their existing slide decks before I showed up and was dismayed to see that they averaged 863 words per presentation for a 30 minute talk. Every presentation contained tons of information but very little explanation, and almost no persuasion.
So when they showed up for the workshop, expecting to deliver their presentations and get a few cosmetic suggestions for changes, I made them start from scratch and do a complete makeover. I told them to craft a 3-minute version of their 30-minute presentations. Although they almost mutinied, they finally agreed to humor me and set to work. They struggled, but the exercise got them to strip out everything that was not central to their message, and clearly exposed the structure of their logic. At the end of that exercise, they were feeling pretty good about themselves—until they heard their next assignment: to craft a 30-second version.
If you’re remodeling an existing structure, occasionally “a little putty and paint will make it what it ain’t”. But sometimes the existing structure is so flawed that your only hope is to tear it down to its foundation and frame and start over. What’s the best way to do this? Envision a scenario where you show up for your presentation and the key decision maker tells you that he unexpectedly has to leave for the airport, so could you please give him the two minute version? What would you say and how would you say it?
The core message is not that hard if you look at it as the answer to two questions in the listener’s mind:
If you can get it down to a crisp, hard core, building it back to a much longer presentation is easier to do, as you add stories, compelling evidence, and “nice-to-knows”. But this time, everything fits, and everything you add is in support of the one simple message.
What if you can’t get it down to a hard core message? Call in sick.