Two Hands Holding A Level
When it comes to information-heavy presentations, I find that speakers often skip the crucial step of level-setting the audience. This is especially true if the speaker has a finite time to speak on a very technical topic. They want to get to the meat of the presentation and spend most of their precious time there, so they skip the pleasantries of explaining the basics.
 
But if the audience has no idea what you’re talking about, the entire presentation is a wash.
 

A Sticky Example

 
Last week, two of my friends – who are also business consultants – visited me at my home. I admire both of these individuals and often seek their sage advice as they have many more years of experience than I do. The conversation turned to personal matters. One of them mentioned they wanted to hang some cherished artwork on the walls of their home, but the property was a short-term rental. She didn’t want to invest time later in filling and repainting nail holes. I said, “Why not use a Command strip?”
 
They both stared back at me blankly. After a long pause, one of them spoke.
 
“…A what?”
 
I spoke louder, “A Command strip.”
 
I could see there were no light bulbs turning on in their brain.
 
I ushered them over to a wall where I had some hooks still on my wall from holiday decorations. I gently pulled the tab behind the hook, removing the adhesive and leaving a smooth surface on the wall where the hook just been.
 
Their eyes went wide. “Wow!” they exclaimed together. A flurry of questions about how the hooks work, what other kinds of products they offer, and where to buy them flooded in.
 
I was beside myself! The 3M Command products have been a staple in my apartment-dwelling life. I have used them for as long as I can remember. I even avoid using nails to hang things when possible in favor of the ease and flexibility of using the removable adhesives. I thought Command strips were ubiquitous. It had never occurred to me that someone may not know what one was!
 

Provide Baseline Knowledge – Every Time

 
This encounter reminded me of one of my core beliefs as a presenter: it is always worthwhile to level-set your audience on your topic.
 
Had I been giving a presentation on home decorating and using the term “Command Strips” throughout my presentation without having defined it, my friends would have been completely lost. My presentation would have been of no value.
 
So for the sake of your audience, invest some time into creating a baseline level of knowledge before diving into the details. Use the most basic terms and graphics you can to explain the concept. But, be sure to keep your explanation brief so you don’t lose your audience members that are already aware of the baseline information.
 
This advice applies not just to speaking, but to business meetings as well. A short recap of previous meetings, recent developments, and decisions that have already been made will reduce confusion, limit directional changes, and make for a more efficient meeting.