There was a lot to unpack from the 45-minute information session. After all, three different governmental units evaluated the issue for over three years. We had not had a debriefing on the issue in a year. And the issue was an emerging one, ripe with complexity and uncertainty.
I was also a little disappointed with the presentation. The presenter was a senior official who was normally very good at presenting complex, complicated information in a manner easily digestible to a broad audience. Today's presentation was an uninspiring B-.
These are a few lessons learned.
Information Sessions Are Invitations to Wander
Technical professionals usually get three to five minutes to address decision makers. Milestone (an action or event marking a significant change or stage) information sessions are common with problems with high levels of complexity and uncertainty because resolution usually takes years. Milestone-type information sessions provide some freedom to roam for 20 to 30 minutes. However, wandering the entire time does not equate to a more effective presentation.
The Fundamentals of Structure Are Always Important
Milestone-type information sessions need a structure. The choice of a topical-based structure for the main body of the presentation is a good one. However, in this case, there was not enough attention paid to the Opening. The entire presentation suffered from early confusion on how everything tied together. More time does mean that the fundamentals of structure are less important.
Provide Relevance to the Target Audience
Milestone-type information can wrongly take a research & development form where the message is 'well, that's the status of our research to date.' Wrong! You are presenting to decision makers because your work fits into their realm of resource allocation. Tell them how your work fits into the context of their future actions and what steps they can take in the interim to help you advise them in the future.
Provide Your Information in Advance
In this case, the information was properly provided in writing before the session. However, the advance information did not provide the key points and overarching linkages. This equated to one missed opportunity in the up-front material and another missed opportunity in the verbal presentation.
The fundamentals of Communicating with FINESSE apply to information sessions. Good structure is important in longer sessions. So is empathy – after all, all decision makers have more than one thing on their plate. And the average attention span of civilized humans is down from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. You have no more than 15 minutes to make your points in an information session, despite whether you are allowed 30, 45, or even 60 minutes.
Communicating with FINESSE is the community of technical professionals dedicated to more effective communication for decisions with high levels of complexity and uncertainty.