The Context Epidemic

I listened to an incredibly smart speaker yesterday and he spent the first 15 minutes of his 1-hour talk contextualizing what he was going to say…Which was a waste of time. Everyone in the audience had plunked down cash to learn what he had to say; no set-up necessary. Literally, he said at one moment, “Let me give you some stats on why this is important even though I probably don’t have to,” at which point I said to myself, “then DON’T.” I started getting antsy and wondered if I could get a refund. He kept saying, “I’m going to show you a system. This system is really going to help you.” Etc. etc. "Argh, then tell us the system already!" I didn't want to know the journey; just where he ended up!

All right, all right, I understand that as a speaker you want to frame up your content and make sure we are all on the same page. But when we come in on the same page, it’s not necessary to keep reiterating it. Maybe just one moment: “We all agree that we need a new marketing plan. Here’s my thoughts about how to do that.” Not, “Marketing plans are crucial to our company’s success. We need one. Study, x, y and z have shown that by…” Argh!!

IF we are not on the same page and/or you want to re-confirm your goals for the talk, establish them, yes. Do it. IF you have some complex and far-reaching ideas, yes, please, contextualize them. Show us how it relates to us. Tell us why we need this. Link it to something we already know and set it up. But also; quickly please.

IF your audience is being forced to listen because it’s their job, (especially one of those day-long conferences) then having some fun in the opening to connect your content to something that they are interested in, is a perfect way to go! Get them primed. Tell them how you will solve whatever problem they have. Or what they will get out of the presentation. Promise them something good. And then just get right in there and give it to them.

I’ve watched and listened to over 10,000 presentations. Over-contextualizing is a bit of an epidemic and a great way to lull your audiences into apathy. If you have an hour, fill up the talk with tons of concrete takeaways and content to take up about 45 minutes. Save the rest of the time for questions, or to poll the audience and find out what they are interested in. Don’t fill it up with boring talk about how you came to your conclusions…unless, again, this a scientific talk in which the process is key. But then that is the talk. Talk the process and lead up to the conclusion. For all the rest,

Bottom line it. Please, for the love of people everywhere, get to the point already.