Before we go any further, check out the Bible – book of Mark, Chapter 4; verses 1 to 20. It’s the parable of the farmer who casts seed onto the land. Some of it lands on the path and gets eaten by birds; some lands on thin soil where it sprouts quickly but then dies back; some lands amongst weeds where it gets choked. Some of it, of course, lands on good soil.
I’m fairly sure the analogy for presentations is obvious but I’ll go through it anyway! 😉
- The seed that gets eaten by the birds are those times when you give people something in your presentation and they just don’t ‘get it’. There are other things that are more important to them that distract them, take their attention and so they never try out or apply your ideas.
- The seed that sprouts then dies back are those people who take your ideas enthusiastically at the time, try ’em out at first but give up quickly – often because they rushed into things without thinking, planning or understanding.
- The seed that gets choked by weeds are those people who try your ideas out but get swamped by distractions – perhaps they even go back to their old ways – because the day to day is too much for them to change.
- And the good soil seed are those people who take your ideas, run with them and apply them in the long term.
I’m sure you can find different ways of interpreting the analogy but that’s what I’m going to work with for now. After all, the original story is a parable in itself, so we’re working quite hard here already! 🙂
The question is how we make our presentations work for these different kinds of people in the audience.
Eaten by the birds
The important thing for these people is to reduce the distractions. It’s easier said than done, but you might want to consider things like
- making sure they turn off their phones and laptops during the presentation itself
- give them a ‘cheat-sheet’ at the end of the presentation with exact, specific steps they need to take next – that way it’s less likely they’ll get distracted once they leave
- set them some kind of timed limit for follow-up – put a tiny bit of pressure on them
- keep the presentation high-energy and focussed; skip the details
The challenge here is getting them engaged in the first place, so all the usual ‘rules’ for making your presentations interesting and valuable apply doubly here!
Sprouts and dies
These people need a bit of longer-term support. After all, they’ve rushed at your ideas enthusiastically but they’ve dropped away – long-term support is how to stop the drop-off. I’ve tried a number of things in the past, including
- follow-up emails at regular, agreed intervals – maybe even on an auto-responder
- phone calls are even more effective, for some people
- subsequent meetings of attendees
- buddy systems or small groups to co-support each other (Action Learning Sets, in the jargon)
Nothing works all the time, so try a combination!
Swamped by weeds
The weeds here are the minutiae of people’s daily lives and the way they did things before your presentation. A lot of the ideas for the last group are worth trying here, too. Other things to think about are
- giving your presentation when workloads are lighter
- arranging with people’s bosses that they’ll get some bed-in time after your presentation
- taking up some of their slack yourself!
I know this last one won’t be popular with presenters, but it’s made me very popular indeed as a presenter!
And don’t forget the good soil
These are the people you love – but who it’s easy to forget! Nurture them. Turn them into evangelists and get them to support the other groups for you and with you! Drop them a line every now and again. And ask if there’s anything else you can do for them – just don’t forget them!
It’s not a perfect analogy. I know it isn’t. But it’s a start!
What ways would you support your different little seeds?