Magazine excerpt: Cut to the chase

Paul Carroll gives us some insight into what makes a good presentation.

It’s easy to think of your next presentation as ‘the quarterly update to the board’ or ‘sharing the training plan with the engineering department’. This can trap you into preparing information to present, rather than focusing on how you can make your point and give your audience added value.

Nobody’s frustrated if a presentation is shorter than expected. However, they’ll be delighted if there is a clearly made point with additional time for a Q&A when the audience can get additional information and explore the benefits – the ‘what’s in it for me?’ element.

So how can you to make the most of your airtime with key stakeholders?

Craft your message

Think about your audience’s interests and needs. If you’re giving a quarterly report, there’s likely to be something which you believe is of overriding importance for this audience. Thus, if HR and training achieve X, the benefit to your department will be Y. That’s what you want your audience to understand and agree with.

Bearing this in mind, you can then decide what to include in your presentation.

Use only key facts and statistics

When presenting to your stakeholders, there’s not time to say everything you know. Too many details risk confusing them instead of informing and persuading. The challenge in getting to the point is deciding which details to leave out. Rather than burdening your audience with a mass of statistics, pick the most relevant figures which will highlight the importance of your message.

You can prepare exhaustive details to email afterwards.

Translate technical information

I recently heard an HR presentation which included: stress, eustress and distress. I got quite confused and afterwards rang a colleague to ask, “Is ‘eustress’ a real word?” “Yes. It’s good stress. Remember when Ed was in the London to Brighton cycle race? He knew it’d be stretch but was 99% sure he’d get through.”

In financial training, if I say to portfolio managers, “The haircut for standard govvy repo is 102” they’ll understand it. For a group of IT recruits training to support those portfolio managers I say, “The initial margin to take when lending money against government bonds is 2%.

That is, for every 100k you lend in cash you should take 102k-worth of government bonds as security.” Everyday language is needed for the recruits. The portfolio managers are fluent in jargon.

Facts made memorable with metaphors

I recently attended a lecture in which an historian discussed how 12th-century raiders like Genghis Khan were able to inflict damage on large kingdoms of Central Asia which were too lumbering to defeat him. In the Q&A, someone asked whether this is the equivalent of today’s agile hackers attacking lumbering ‘digital kingdoms’ at vulnerable switch-points.

The professor said yes, this is indeed a good metaphor for tech-savvy professionals to understand how they relate to broad forces in history. Think about your audience members and what metaphors will resonate with them.


About the author

Paul Carroll is with Toastmasters International, a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. To find out more, visit and follow @Toastmasters and @ToastmastersUKI


This is an abridged version of a feature from September’s TJ Magazine. To get Paul’s full advice on presenting, subscribe to the magazine here


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