"It's missing something..."

That's all my friend said in his email.

We had been working together to find the perfect opening story for an upcoming presentation about financial independence. We needed a story that illustrated his overall thesis and would draw the audience in.

We found the perfect one: The story of him opening his first bank account as a kid with his grandmother.

My friend sent the draft to his team of editors for a final review. The version they sent back still had the story... but it fell flat. So flat the audience would likely wonder why he told it in the first place. "It's missing something..." he said. He was right.

What was missing? All the details. The meticulous nuances that made the story sticky. The editors had gone through and scrubbed the document clean of the fine points. A once vibrant story was now a generic shell of events.

Boy wants to buy things. Boy opens bank account. Boy understands money. Hollow and forgettable

Our obsession with brevity (140 characters and 15 second clips) means some of the most engaging parts of presentations are hitting the cutting room floor. If you want your presentations to actually matter, don't cut the details. Here's why.

Details create the ever-powerful "ring of truth."

In the original story about the boy opening his first bank account, here are a few of the details we included:

  • The very small, extremely specific amount of money he had in his pocket to open the account.
  • Him eyeballing the little bowl of Werther's candy sitting on the banker's desk.
  • His boyish excitement over the flimsy, plastic-y, fake-leather checkbook case.

Do those details sound familiar to you? Even as you read this, are you imagining the bank you went to as a kid, or recalling how delicious Werther's are, or smiling slightly at the thought of a checkbook case? I will make an educated guess that your answer is yes.

Consider that for a moment: the great mystery for marketers, politicians, sales people is how to get in your head. Billions of dollars, endless hours of focus-grouping, thousands of teams of messaging geniuses are trying to figure out how to do what I just did: guide your thoughts.

I just did it for free.

All it took were a couple of details and I struck that ring-of-truth chord, synchronizing your mind with my message. Cut those details out and you lose that messaging-leverage.

The details create a deeper connection.

There's a story I sometimes tell to open my presentations that involves the amusement park, Valley Fair and where I describe a particular roller coaster called Wild Thing. I name both. Most people don't notice and instead simply imagine a roller coaster relevant to them. However, inevitably someone approaches me after the presentation or sends me an email to share their excitement about being a fellow Minnesotan.

Including this details allows me to make a deeper connection with specific audience members without alienating others. These connections are valuable.

Using specific details is a powerful tool when you know your audience well. If you're speaking to a crowd of mostly Millennials, include details relevant to them. Speaking to a group of techies, what is a detail in their life they share? Use details to get their heads nodding and show you really understand who they are.

The details are fun for the listener.

Details are the tour guide down memory lane. Not only is research showing the measurable value of nostalgia, as listeners we enjoy the trip. Remembering when you opened your first bank account, or thinking of your grandmother, or chuckling about your innocence of how money worked... this is an enjoyable experience. If you want your audience to listen to you, you have to make it interesting and enjoyable. Details do both.

The next time you take your red pen to the presentation, resist the urge to cut the details. As for the banking story, we reinserted the missing details and breathed life back into the story. Yes, it took a few more words, but they were the ones that mattered most.

Published on: Jun 23, 2017