My educational background is in journalism. And throughout my career – no matter what field I am in – and personal life, I have found that thinking like a journalist has significantly improved my writing. Beyond the relentless pursuit of who, what, where, when, and why, various tenets of journalism have the ability to aid people in all disciplines and industries in creating compelling content.
In Journalism 101, the professor will tell you that one of the main qualities that will separate you from your fellow journalism peers is attention to detail. This means more than knowing an interview subject’s first and last name. It means knowing the color of their eyes, the type of shirt they were wearing, or the way they clutched a coffee cup when they talked about a certain person, place, or thing. It’s the tiny details that most people would miss that make a story unique. That makes it personal. For a presenter, focusing on the little details of your topic will not only add another level of description to enthrall your audience, but it will also enhance your credibility in the eyes of audience members. Projecting credibility is much more than touting your position status or yammering about your high-profile clients. Focus on the people-centric details of your presentation to form a stronger connection with your audience.
Before a journalist even considers pitching a story to an editor, they identify the publication’s audience and determines what topic would be of interest to them. A presenter should always approach their presentation this way because if your audience isn’t going to care about it, then why should you talk about it?
In the same vein as understanding your audience is offering appropriate content to your audience. Today’s 24-hour news cycle has cultivated a culture that demands constant updates on the ever-changing social, political, environmental, national, and global landscapes. Whether you like it or not, event-goers will hold presenters to similar standards of precise and speedy distribution of content. If you provide content that your audience craves, your presentation will be more effective and your audience will be more impressed.
The average American reads at an eighth grade level. According to a recent study, businessman turned presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks below a sixth grade level, which could explain why he continues to perform well in primary elections across the country, recently snatching another victory in New York. Another study by Contently’s Shane Snow found that a Buzzfeed article written at a third grade reading level was shared more than more taxing reads from the Huffington Post, New York Times, and Economist. This all goes to show that, when possible, limit the use of technical terms in a presentation, especially if the goal is audience comprehension.
The average individual’s attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 in the past decade with the increasing popularity of social media sites and quick reference resources. Journalists have understood this well before this recent decrease in attention. During the Civil War era, journalists encountered issues of telegraph lines falling down. To ensure the meat of their story would make it through, they developed a method of writing the most important information first. Nowadays, however, this strategy has become less and less necessary – allowing for more creativity in story openings. Presenters don’t have to worry about this either, but they do have to worry about audience attention spans. It is paramount that presenters craft a compelling presentation opening.
In nearly every newsroom, a journalist cannot simply get away with merely writing a story. Most every editor will expect a visual component – like a graph, poll, map, infographic, photo, etc. – in conjunction with the text. With approximately three out of every four people identifying as visual learners, it’s no mystery why this would be a requirement. As a presenter, simply telling your audience a piece of information will only garner 10% recall three days after your presentation. But, if you place a relevant, supporting image on your slide, your audience will remember 65% of the content a few days later. Bottom line: include visuals.
If you have ever perused our blog before, you probably know that bullet points break our hearts. It also breaks the hearts of many researchers, with studies indicating that 10-15% of audience members will remember particular bullet pointed information a few minutes after a presentation, compared to the 80% who will recall story-driven, narrative elements and supporting images. Researchers have discovered that character-focused narratives elevate empathy in listeners as a result of increased oxytocin levels, which rise when people feel like they are bonding socially. Sam Sanders of NPR asks himself how he feels about certain moments during an interview to capture the emotion in a scene so that he can accurately relay it to listeners.
Perhaps the most crucial lesson my journalism studies taught me was the constant pursuit of accuracy in everything you do – from writing an article to participating in an interview and even giving a presentation. Never purposely mislead your audiences. Always conduct enough research to support your insights and utilize reputable sources to increase trust between you and others. Check out this lengthy list of research resources for presenters so you can approach the stage with full confidence in your product.
Pair these tactics with an intense passion for your topic and boundless curiosity and you will have the perfect combination for a powerful presentation. To learn more about a journalist’s mindset and how presenters can harness it, read the following articles and resources.
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