Numbers and figures. Love them or hate them, they can provide the results and proof your presentation needs to illustrate a point. This numbers can be especially difficult for an audience to understand when they are complex. Scientists, healthcare experts and technology developers can find themselves in a tough spot with it comes to sending a message to the mass public. There are ways to simplify complex message with these presentation tips from Melissa Marshall.

Marshall is known for her public speaking coaching services and her TED talk “Talk Nerdy to Me.” In this short interview, she shares some valuable communication skills that can help data heavy presentations become easier to understand. Here’s how you can apply her strategies to simplify complex messages in your presentation.

simplify complex messages

Audience Centric Approach

Marshall calls on presenters to ask themselves, “How will an audience view my work?” This is an important question for every public speaker to consider. Often we get so attached to our content that we forget to put ourselves in the audience’s’ shoes. One effective way to make your your content is understood is to share your presentation with a group of friends or family members. Ask them if they understood what all your data means and describe it in their own words. Their descriptions may help you simplify complex messages to better share their value with the world.

Clear Content Strategy

We are in full agreement with Marshall’s suggestion to use stories, analogies and examples in presentations. Before you begin writing your presentation, consider building your content around a theme or metaphor. Being able to relate a complex idea to a simple one that is familiar to your audience will clarify the message. If you need help developing a theme or metaphor, check out these resources on our blog:

A Quick Guide to Using Metaphors in Your Presentations

The Power of a Visual Metaphor

The Importance of Theme Development in Presentations

Make Numbers Meaningful

Numbers lose their impact if there’s not context for what they mean. Marshall recommends using comparisons to provide a scale of measure. This can be done through language and visuals. Using a story or analogy like in the content strategy can help you create a well-rounded context for the data. Visuals are an effective way to simplify complex messages because our brains process them faster than words. If you are wanting your number to click with your audience, use visual data representations in your presentation.

simplify complex messages

Two other important takeaways from Marshall’s interview are about design and passion. If your presentation design is boring or messy, you will lose your audience’s concentration within seconds. Marshall best advice is, “think about your slide doing something for you that your words cannot.” This will help you elevate your design and stay away from content heavy slides. Marshall also says the best way to show your passion for your presentation topic is to prepare and practice. We recommend practicing your presentation at least 7 to 8 times the day before you present it. Your passion will shine once you feel the energy of the audience.

For more presentation tips and tricks, check out these posts:

How to Simplify Your Presentation

Simple Communication Skills from a TED Talk

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