What the President Ate For Lunch

We’ll get to the U.S. President’s lunch—and what it means for your next presentation—in a second. But first, let’s talk about something more important: breakfast.

Suppose I say, “This morning I ate
. . .
a) food.
b) a bowl of cereal.
c) 2 fried eggs, sunny side up, some crisp bacon, and a cup of black coffee.

Which is best? By best we’re not talking nutrition, but audience attention.

Notice the list moves from abstract (“food”) to concrete (“two fried eggs”).
And concrete wins. Why? Because you can see the eggs, taste the bacon, smell the coffee. Your senses are engaged.


And that’s the challenge with most biz info—it’s abstract.

If your audience can’t see anything, taste anything, or smell anything, they’re less engaged. And the minute any food is wheeled in—whoops, I meant to say when the coffee, croissants and blueberry muffins arrive—you, the speaker, are in trouble.

So spice your info with analogies and stories.

For example, suppose you want to warn speakers, as I often do, about the danger of providing too much detail.

Detail, you could say, is like salt. You can always add it, but you can’t subtract it. So use detail sparingly, and then, as needed, elaborate later in response to questions.


Of course not all detail is the same. Some detail adds color. And that brings us to the President’s recent lunch with congressional leaders.

What did they eat? “Herb-crusted sea-bass and pumpkin tarts,” reported the NY Times (11/8/14). And each guest left with a six-pack of Honey Ale beer, brewed right at the White House. Otherwise, not much happened re gridlock.

There’s a “bitterness,” said Garrett Oliver, and “it’s not without complexity.”

Mr. Oliver wasn’t commenting on the politics, but on the White House beer. He’s a brewmaster. And to engage your audience, you need to be a bit of a brewmaster too. (“From the White House, Beer We Can Believe In,” NY Times, 10/16/12).


Tip: Add detail carefully, for color.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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