Get to the Point

By Heather Baldwin

In the television series The Practice, the judge often asks, “Counselor, where are you going with this line of questioning?” No doubt many audience members ask themselves the same sort of question when presenters ramble on and on without giving any indication about where they are going. To avoid becoming like the rambling counselor, make your point first and then back it up with facts, says G. Michael Campbell, author of Bulletproof Presentations (Career Press, 2002). Failure to do so may leave a frustrated audience wondering where you’re headed or, worse, may lead them to reach an entirely different conclusion than the one toward which you’re heading.

Campbell recalls the time a vice president of a Fortune 500 company gave his first big presentation to the chairman. The VP spent weeks preparing his presentation, then showed up at his allotted time – 4:50 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, the last day of a two-day presentation marathon. Nervous and completely focused on the 40-minute presentation he’d rehearsed, the VP failed to notice senior officers stirring restlessly and looking at their watches.

“Even after the chairman’s curt interruption to request that he speed things up and get to the point, the vice president marched doggedly onward,” says Campbell. “Apparently fired by fear of failure and too rigorously prepared to be flexible, he seemed not to have heard the chairman’s admonition.” Ten minutes later, when he still had not gotten to the point, the chairman put an end to the presentation, the meeting and later to the VP’s career in the company.

Had the presenter simply reversed the order of his presentation by starting with his conclusion, says Campbell, things might have gone much differently. After all, the conclusion was what his audience was waiting for. So state your conclusion up front, then back it up with numbers and anecdotes. That way your audience will never be left wondering where you’re going and when you’re going to get there.