Have you ever given a presentation, then part way through you start rambling and you have no idea where you’re going with it? It’s almost this outer body experience where you know that you have no idea what you’re saying, but you can’t stop yourself. You’re out of control and you hope that somehow it just comes back to what you should be talking about.
Rambling is not necessarily the end of the world, but it can greatly detract from your presentation.
Rambling during a presentation is incredibly common and one of the major reasons why so many researchers fall into this pitfall is because we want to talk about so many things. We know so much about our fields and often we’ve done so much work that we want to talk about it. But, that’s not the goal of a presentation.
The goal of a presentation is to impart specific information to the audience. By going off topic, you risk not making your message clear – everything in a presentation should work together. If you say something that doesn’t relate direct to what your presentation is about, then that’s additional information taking up the audience’s concentration. There’s only so much information we can absorb in a given time.
A great way of stopping yourself from rambling is before you even make your presentation, ask yourself, “What do I want the audience to understand by the end?”
By answering this question, you now have a very clear goal and you will naturally work toward it. What’s more, any time you feel like you’re starting to ramble, just quickly think about what the goal of your presentation is and how you can bring your talk back to that.
All too often we jump into making a presentation but forget to really think what we want the audience to get out of it – “we want them to understand our work! Isn’t it obvious??” But what about your work do you want them to understand? There is so much and not even 10% of it can be effectively covered in one presentation. That’s why having a very clear idea about what you want them to get out your presentation is so important.
Before you even make one slide, before you even come up with the title, ask yourself, “What do I want the audience to understand by the end?” Then use that as your guiding light. This will dramatically reduce your chances of rambling.
Sometimes you might feel like you really want to say something but it shouldn’t be included in the presentation. In those situations, you can omit it, or you can always briefly mention it during your presentation and say that you won’t go into it, but if the audience likes, they can ask you about it during question time. That way, you satisfy your desire to cover this topic, but you don’t fall into endless rambling about side topics. What’s more, you also help direct the question time to topics you’d like to talk about, instead of letting any and all manner of questions pop up.
The other major reason why we succumb to rambling during presentations is that we don’t know exactly what we want to say. We haven’t teased out where we want to go with our talk so we just keep talking until we find our way. Having a clearly defined goal for the presentation greatly helps with that, but also adequate preparation is necessary. Obviously, running through your slides a few times before the presentation is a good idea. For each slide, think about what you want to get across and how it fits into your overall goal of the presentation. If something on a slide doesn’t work to that end, then delete it. Be merciless. You can always cover it in a different presentation. The best presentations focus on one message.
To overcome the habit of rambling during a presentation, make sure to have a very clear goal of what you want the audience to understand by the end of it. When you practice your presentation, go through each element and ask yourself whether it is helping you achieve that goal or whether it’s not really well-aligned. If it helps you achieve that goal, keep it. If it doesn’t, delete it.
This is a sponsored article, written by Dr John Hockey. Dr John Hockey is a widely published author and has written numerous books to help PhD students during their degree. His books can be found here and here, including his well-known “PhD 101” book.
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