facts are enough

There is a belief among some presenters that the truth and import of a message will speak for itself. This is incorrect. Through history there have been many important and model changing messages that have failed due to the nature of their delivery. Prime examples in medicine include Semmelweiss, and Lister. The impact of a message is not simply about its facts; construction of the message (p1), its illustration (p2) and delivery (p3) are all important. Facts alone are enough in a document. A presentation is not a document.

Ignatz Semmelweis is regarded as the father of modern infection control. He identified the cause of sepsis in postnatal wards. He died, perversely of sepsis, in a lunatic asylum, his message unheard, not because of the data but because of the nature of the delivery. Similarly, Joseph Lister, the father of surgical asepsis, preached to deaf ears of his advances for nearly a decade. These discoveries, central to modern medical practice, went effectively unheard for years despite their truth, due to many reasons, none of them being the facts. Current medical practice takes 17 years to change. This is not because the facts are enough.

Simply listing facts is not enough. A great presentation needs to engage the audience with questions and answer them, with needs that can be met and with challenges. Facts are not enough. The skill of a presenter is in determining the needs of the audience of the information, not simply delivering information. It is about persuasion with facts not simply delivery of them. It is about addressing the current and offering the future using facts as the vehicle.

The supportive media can obscure facts. Reams of text are known to inhibit learning and an audience simply reading text do not have cognitive bandwidth to process information. This is cognitive load. Adding volume or complexity to such presentations further obscures the message. This is the science of fail. Beyond this, cluttered slides, complex data slides or unconnected images and clip art will detract from the spoken message and affect retention of the message.

It is naive to believe that facts are enough for a presentation to be successful; the delivery significantly affects this. A speaker with their shirt hanging out, or one who cannot be heard or one who appears insincere will influence the message retained by the audience. Delivery plays a pivotal role. This must be maximised to offer the best chance for a message to be accepted.

Facts are enough in a document, although the best documents seek to convince an audience as in a presentation. A presentation is not a document. For a message to be accepted it needs to persuade, the media needs to support and the delivery needs to be effective. Facts are not enough in a presentation.


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