How to Make Complex Ideas Easily Understood

There’s no reason presentations, even highly technical presentations, have to put
audiences to sleep or leave them utterly confused. Strategically placing examples
throughout your presentation both reinforces your key messages and adds life to the
material. Statistics and technical data are often the first choice for supporting materials,
but their use in presentations is like adding spice to food. Some adds flavor, but too
much is overwhelming. You don’t want your presentation to become a mere
“infodump.” The next time you’re designing a presentation, consider using one of these
five “proof points” that add a human touch and help complex ideas be more easily

  1. Factual example or narrative. You might think of this proof point as a “mini case
    study.” It could come from a newspaper or magazine article, something that’s been in
    the news or even personal experience. Its purpose is to illustrate the truth of what
    you’re saying by pointing to a similar factual case. An insurance agent might relate the
    story of how one of his clients was saved from financial disaster by wisely purchasing
    health or disability insurance. An attorney might refer to previous cases, or a real estate
    agent might point to successful transactions she’s brokered in particular geographic
  2. Historical example. This proof point relies on an historical fact or anecdote.
    You’ll create a great connection if you can link the date of your presentation to some
    event of historical significance. Research this by searching Google™ for “on this day in
    history.” You’ll find several Websites where you can enter a specific date and discover
    what happened on that day historically. You can also use historical analogies or lessons
    learned from historical events. In a presentation warning of the dangers of an avian flu
    outbreak, the speaker referred to the great influenza pandemic of 1918 to illustrate the
    widespread health and public safety effects such an outbreak could have in modern
  3. Hypothetical example. This proof makes the theoretical practical. It’s useful for
    financial planners to illustrate the differences among various retirement plans, to explain
    differences in contracts or for a CPA to show the implications of tax code changes. To
    be most effective, a hypothetical example should resemble the audience’s characteristics
    and experiences as closely as possible. That means researching your audience’s knowledge, belief, attitudes and values before the presentation and adapting your
    hypothetical example to align with their frame of reference.
  4. Humorous example. Humorous proof points can increase audience retention of
    the key messages and lighten the mood. It’s important to note that humor has two
    parts; writing and delivery. Unless you’re good at both, you probably shouldn’t attempt
    it. Self-deprecating humor usually works best in a presentation. Like factual examples,
    the best humor will come from your own personal experience. Be cautious about using
    any humor that could appear to insult or belittle anyone or that audiences could judge
    to be in bad taste. Finally, remember that humor doesn’t necessarily mean telling a
    joke. Jokes are only one type of humor, and one of the most difficult forms to pull off
  5. Instantiation. This proof point takes a hard-to-understand figure and uses an
    analogy to make it clear. Astronomers working with the Search For Extraterrestrial
    Intelligence (S.E.T.I.) Project once described their efforts as the same as looking for an
    inch long fish in all the world’s oceans by straining one quart of water at a time. It’s
    useful for making sense of very large numbers, as well as the unfamiliar. For example, a
    Web page at Berkeley University explains that a gigabyte of information is equal to a
    pickup truck full of paper.

Examples help your presentation because they create a connection with the audience.
They help explain the abstract, obscure and theoretical through language and
experiences the audience understands and can relate to. When you use concrete
examples and specific instances to buttress your key messages, you’ll be that much
closer to achieving the goal of your presentation.

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