As soon as a new visual is revealed, everyone in the audience immediately looks at the visual because it is new news to them. They have seen and heard the speaker for a while, now they have something new to focus on. The visual is new news, the speaker is old news and new news will trump old news for the audience’s attention every time.
Problem: Since the speaker has either created the visuals or has rehearsed the content several times of visuals created by others; the tendency is for the speaker to go directly to the meaning of each visual. However, the audience is seeing the visuals for the very first time, they do not know the content in depth.
While the audience is trying to read the words, figure out the axis, trends, bars, lines of a graph or slices of a pie chart, or the intricacies of a complex visual, the speaker forges ahead, droning on about the significance of each visual. The chances of a disconnect are greatly increased because the speaker is giving explanation while the audience is still trying to discern what they are seeing. Thus, the audience misses a great deal of what the speaker is saying while they are trying to absorb what is on the visual.
Solution: Clear the visuals before explaining them. “Clearing” has a dual meaning. First, since each visual is new news to the audience, remove the newness by telling the audience what they are looking at before explaining what it means. If it’s words, tell them the gist of what is written on the visual. If it’s a graph or chart, what is being measured or compared? If it’s a complex visual, what’s the overview of what it’s about? This will satisfy the audience’s curiosity about what they are seeing and make them ready to hear the explanation of what it means for them.
The first part of clearing is making it clear to the audience what they are seeing before going into a deep explanation of meaning. This should be done in 10-15 seconds or less. If it takes longer than 15 seconds to make it clear what they’re looking at, there is either too much on the visual or the speaker is trying to say too much about the content.
The second part of clearing begins after the speaker has told the audience what they are looking at in 15 seconds or less. He or she can then take as much time as necessary to tell them what the visual means. Thus, you’re making it “clear” as to what the audience is seeing, then you’re making it “clear” as to what it means. Too many speakers make the mistake of going directly to the meaning while the audience is trying to figure out what they are seeing.
Benefits: Using the clearing method with any visual will keep everyone together. The audience is less likely to miss any valuable explanation. It also reduces the chance of misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the content. The audience will tend to stay engaged and be willing to listen to the explanation when they first know what is being explained.
Often the presentations will become shorter in duration because after a speaker clears their visual, they don’t have to say too much more other than the point for the audience to take away. Shorter presentations are usually a plus for the speaker and the audience. The speaker stays focused on the need-to-know information and the audience doesn’t get lost in a deluge of data.
For more information on the concept of clearing your visuals and other presentation tips, please check out our courses on presentation skills.