A Full Teacup

A client asked me to stop by a one-off speech he was giving and provide feedback. If you have not heard the term “one-off speech” before, it is a talk you will do once with no intention of ever doing the speech again.

His speech was well constructed. He used very moving, personal stories to make his points. You could feel his passion for the topic and the audience looked very attentive. I emphasize looked because of the mistake he made. The amount of information was huge and he never paused to allow the information to be processed by the audience. The attentive look could have been the glazed look of being overwhelmed. I’m sure there were both those who actually were attentive and those who were overwhelmed. An optimal delivery ensures that everyone receives the message.

To paraphrase an old Zen story, once you have completely filled a teacup you must stop pouring and allow your guest to drink from the cup. If you continue to pour, the tea runs over the brim and is wasted. Information in a presentation is the same way. If you do not allow your audience time to process, they will only remember a small percentage of your message.

A pause is the simplest way to allow your audience time to process. In a small group, a short pause of around a second will help the audience process your message. As the size of the audience increases so must the length of the pauses. An audience of several hundred will require a pause of four to five seconds to allow everyone to process the information. Stop panicking, four to five seconds may feel like an eternity to you but to the audience it’s two blinks of the eye. Because they are processing the information, the time feels shorter to the audience.

If the environment allows it, a “pair and share” is a great tool to allow the audience to process. For a “pair and share” have audience members turn to their neighbor and share what they got out of the story or example. This gives audience members a minimal of three perspectives to help them process the information, yours, theirs and their neighbor’s.