Managing the Brainstorm: The Framework Form
When you start to brainstorm about your very important presentation to your very important client, do you want to start by thinking about what you'll wear? I doubt it. Do you want to start by thinking about the rest of your schedule on the day of your important presentation? I don't think so. Attire and calendar are related to the presentation, but only peripherally. You needn't include them in your brainstorm.
...start with the objective in sight and work toward it.
Before you begin the brainstorming process, you must first tighten your focus past the peripheral. To do this, begin with the tool I call the Framework Form.
Think of your presentation as a blank canvas within a frame. This is where you will do your brainstorming. To tighten the focus, you need to set the outer limits, the parameters, of your presentation. They include the following elements.
Because most presentations lack a clear point (the first of the Five Cardinal Sins), why not start with it? In other words, start with the objective in sight and work toward it. Once again, this rule incorporates the wisdom of Aristotle and Stephen Covey.
Now that you appreciate the importance of Audience Advocacy, you must analyze what your intended audience knows and what they need to know to understand, believe, or act on what you're asking. Use the following three metrics to analyze your audience.
Who will be in the audience? What are their roles?
Remember that one of the Five Cardinal Sins is being too technical. You cannot be an effective audience advocate unless you know your audience and are prepared to communicate with them in language they understand. Therefore, it's important to spend time during your preparation process analyzing your audience and anticipating what they know and what they don't know.
You cannot be an effective audience advocate unless you know your audience and are prepared to communicate with them in language they understand.
As a tool for assessing your audience's knowledge level, I've developed a simple chart, called the comprehension graph. It measures knowledge along the vertical axis, from zero (no background knowledge about the presentation topic at all) to the maximum (knowledge that usually only the presenter would have). The horizontal axis measures the number of people in the audience.
To use this graph, mark points along it that represent what fraction of your audience will be located at each knowledge level along the vertical axis. Thus, for a presentation about a new high-tech product to an audience that includes a large number of relatively unsophisticated listeners along with a handful of engineers and other knowledgeable experts, the graph might look like Figure 4.1.
Figure 4.1 The audience comprehension graph.
The specific shape of the line you draw should be constantly in your mind as you prepare and present your material. If only a few members of your audience share your level of technical or industry knowledge (as is often the case), you can't fly too high too long. You'll need to put significant effort into translating your technical information using language, examples, and analogies that everyone can understand.
When technical terms are unavoidable, you can raise the audience's knowledge level through the use of parenthetical expansion. Simply stop your forward progress and explain your complex concepts and terminology by parenthetically adding, "By that I mean...," and then going on to offer a clear and simple definition.
"What's in it for you?" This is undoubtedly the most important factor in analyzing your audience. Remember that another of the Five Cardinal Sins is no clear benefit to the audience. Ask yourself: What does your audience want? How does the subject of your presentation offer it to them? How can you make the benefits to your audience crystal clear?
These are conditions "out there," in the world, independent of you and your audience, which can impact your message and how it might be received. Some external factors will be positive, some negative. For instance, when making a pitch for investment dollars for your company, a rapidly expanding market for your product would be a positive external factor, whereas the emergence of powerful new competitors would be a negative external factor. You must consider all the external factors as you prepare your presentation. In some cases, you might need to change the content of your presentation or alter its structure to respond to unusually powerful factors.
You must consider all the external factors as you prepare your presentation.
Throughout the preparation process, keep in mind the physical setting for your presentation. These factors, too, can affect the content of your presentation. You can analyze the setting by asking and then answering these classic journalistic questions.
Will you be the only presenter? If not, how many others will be presenting before and after you? How will you distribute the parts of the story among the presenters?
When will you be making the presentation? How much time will you be allotted? Will you have time for audience interaction? Will there be a question-and-answer period?
Will you be meeting in your company's offices, on your audience's turf, or in some neutral setting? How will the room be arranged? Will it be an intimate or massive setting? In a larger setting, where only you will have a microphone, it's likely you'll give the entire presentation uninterrupted. In a smaller setting, interruptions are inevitable. If so, allow time for discussion.
What kind of audiovisual aids will you be using? Will you be doing a demonstration to show your product in action? If so, will there be room and visibility to perform the demo? When will you do the demo: before, during, or after the presentation?
A Form for the Framework
You need to ascertain all these factors and define them in writing before you start your brainstorming. Use the Framework Form shown in Figure 4.2 to assemble and capture all the previously mentioned information as you develop it.
Figure 4.2 The Framework Form worksheet.
Define all these factors as clearly and as specifically as possible. There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all presentation. The idea is to build a presentation tailored to one audience, on one occasion, presented by one set of presenters, conveying one story, with one purpose. A presentation that is less than custom-built will inevitably be less effective and less likely to persuade. Why bother with presenting at all if you are not prepared to invest the time needed to make your presentation all it can be?
Does that mean you need to start every presentation from scratch? Not necessarily. After you've done the process once, the second time will be much shorter, and shorter still for each succeeding iteration. In the nearly 15 years I've been in business, the process has never taken me more than an hour and a half the first time, regardless of the subject, from the most complex biotech company to the simplest retail story. It usually takes 15 minutes the second time, and less each time thereafter.
Eventually, you'll be able to click and drag parts of one presentation into another. The secret is to consider each presentation by starting with the basic concepts of the Framework Form. This initializing process will help ensure that your presentation, rather than becoming generic, is effectively focused on the specific persuasive situation you face.
There's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all presentation.
Resist any temptation to skip or short-circuit the Framework Form process. Don't take it for granted that everyone in your group knows and understands the mundane who-what-when-where-why details of your presentation. Lay out these facts in black and white; they will have a positive impact on what should and should not appear in your presentation, and in what form.
Now that you've set the context and focus, you're ready to begin developing potential concepts. Now your right brain output, instead of considering attire or schedule, can focus on more relevant ideas. You'll want to capture those ideas as they emerge, and that's where we turn to brainstorming.