• Scott Stiefvater

In a presentation, "covering" topics is a bad idea.

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

It's common to view presentation content as a series of topics and the presenter's job as covering them. But when a speaker covers content, they put the work of finding relevance on the listener.

The listening mind's search for relevance.

A few years ago, a solar panel vendor visited my home to give me his pitch. He presented me with a folder of sales materials including my specific potential financial savings over time. I was both impressed and particularly interested in the financial data. He then proceeded to talk for 45 minutes covering product features and benefits, installation process, warranty, price and payment options, etc. I went from being interested into bored out of my mind.

The listener's mind is constantly searching for ideas that really matter to them in the moment as an individual. When it thinks it hears one, it perks up and pays attention. When it doesn't, it is apt to wander or look for relevance elsewhere.

The best speakers take ownership of relevance.

You can't cover a canned script of ideas and expect to capture and keep your listeners' attention. Relevance is elusive. It is subjective and ever-changing. Doing the work to figure out what really matters to your listeners in the moment is an ongoing endeavor. Had my solar panel vendor put that effort in with me, he would have won the sale more convincingly, saved us both a lot of time and made better use of his sales materials (everything he covered could be found in the materials).

Write to cover topics. Speak to create a relevant conversation.

Use written materials to cover ideas that are generally relevant to your general audience. And make sure those materials are easy for readers to navigate.

When you speak, though, do so to create a conversation. Do so in constant search of relevance for the listener(s) in front of you. Don't waste their time and yours on fluff. Pay close attention to them. Pivot and improvise with them. Give them the generous gift of ideas that really matter to them.


© 2021 by Scott Stiefvater,

(anti) Presentation Coach


Tel: 925-586-3517

San Francisco Bay Area


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