The most common mistake people make when preparing what they want to say is turning inward. Their focus is on themselves. What do I want to say? How many slides should I use? How much time do I have? We become hyper focused on what we want to say, and we forget to think very deeply about who is listening. Respect your audience enough to do better than that.
Driven by Fear and Doubt
In some cases, this tendency is driven by fear or self-doubt. I had this happen early on in my career. I was asked to give a workshop to a group of experienced community leaders. I was nervous even while preparing. I know my tendency to forget important details when I’m nervous, so I focused on that. I paid close attention to not leaving anything out. And I mean anything. At the first break, a colleague observing me told me I’d lost the interest of more than half the room. I was getting all the details out there, sure. But I was totally disconnected from the audience. I was concentrating so much on not forgetting anything that I didn’t even notice.
Driven by Arrogance
I watched another facilitator once try to lead a large group through an exercise. Let’s call him Greg. He thought very highly of his storytelling abilities. Rather than just getting to the actual exercise, Greg took three times longer than he should have to set it up. He included so many stories from his own experience that his points were lost. He felt his stories and experience were the most important thing to share. People started talking to each other and stopped paying attention. He spoke louder and so did they. He lost them. When it came time to get them into the actual exercise, they were confused and uninterested. He was angry that they hadn’t listened to his stories. It went downhill from there.
Driven by Your Audience
When you prepare for any kind of communication, think about who will be listening. Is it a formal presentation with an audience of colleagues and others from your company? Are you preparing for a meeting? Maybe you’re preparing for a 1-1 conversation with a team member or your boss. Whatever the scenario, look at things from their perspective. Use that to guide your preparations.
No one wants to sit through a bad presentation or meeting. Not the person speaking and not the people listening. One simple way to dramatically increase your effectiveness is to prepare your part by thinking about who’s listening. What do they need to know? What do you want them to do by the end? What kind of reaction do you want? Simple questions can lead to important answers. Use that insight to show respect to your audience. They’ll thank you for it.