We Speak to Help, Not to Get Credit For Our Work

When I was in high school, my math teachers’ tests always included the following instructions: “Show your work if you want full credit.” And so we would all do our best to show the teacher all the steps we took to get to the answer.

The idea, I suppose, was that the teacher wanted to examine our thought process and not just check that we got the right answer.  A good practice for growing young minds.

Unfortunately, many people have taken that “show your work” policy to heart when it comes to presentations. And it’s killing their audiences.

The goal in a presentation is not to get credit for your work.  The goal is to give your audience direction and help them achieve their goals.

I worked with the associate of a law firm who had planned to give a presentation to a client on recommendations regarding a litigation strategy.

His presentation amounted to a detailed recitation of the legal analysis he did in reaching his strategy.

I stopped him in the middle of his presentation. 

“Why are you telling me all of this?”

He paused for a moment and then said, “I want people to know everything I’ve done in preparing this strategy.”

Oh dear, I thought. He wants credit for his work.

Once you’re out of high school, people don’t care about how much work you’ve done. At least not when they’re listening to your presentations.  They care about how you can help them.

With that in mind, focus your presentations on the key things that will help your audience do their jobs better.

I asked the associate, “What are the three things your client absolutely needs to know about the litigation strategy?”

He thought for a moment then said, “They need to know the basic strategy, the risks, and the costs.”

“Then make those points and stop.”

A presentation is not your chance to impress the audience with how much work you’ve done. It’s your chance to help your audience by giving them what they need to know to do their job successfully. Do that, and people will love your presentations.

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