Mondegreens, Pizza, and Pie Charts: 3 Ways to be a Better Presenter by Leaving Nothing to Interpretation

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As Mick Jagger once famously sang, I’ll never leave your pizza burning.”

You see, not only was Jagger committed to bringing rock and roll to America in the 60’s and 70’s, but he clearly also believed in the power of kitchen timers during The Rolling Stones’ frozen pizza adventures…

…only that’s not what Mick Jagger really sings. As most probably know, the lyric is actually, “I’ll never be your beast of burden.” This phenomenon of misheard song lyrics, sometimes referred to as “mondegreens,” is certainly not a new one.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s lyric, “there’s a bad moon on the rise” is often mistaken for, “there’s a bathroom on the right” in “Bad Moon Rising.” In Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” the lyric “excuse me while I kiss the sky” is frequently misheard as “kiss this guy.” You get the idea.

What it all boils down to is a very similar problem people face when giving presentations. To (accurately) quote one of our favorite authors in Frank Luntz, “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.”

In any presentation—whether it’s a keynote address, sales pitch, or a conversation with a potential customer—any moment of communication is riddled with these land mines of potential misinterpretation. If your message isn’t loud and crystal clear, your words can be misconstrued; your message misheard.

So, to protect yourself against your own message presentation mondegreens, here are three ways you can be a more clear and effective presenter by leaving no room for interpretation in your audience.


1. Don’t pin your audience’s eyes against their ears.

It’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is, it’s not fair and in the end nobody wins. When your slides are overrun with text and bullet points, you’ve presented your audience with a choice you never intended. They can either:

  1. listen to what you’re saying, or
  2. read the words.

They’re human. Don’t expect them to do both at the same time.

When you word-vomit all over your slides, typically your audience will be too busy trying to make sense of the mess, rather than focusing on the message you’re delivering verbally. This is when part of your message can be left for interpretation. Instead, create simple slides that reinforce and illustrate your verbal delivery, rather than compete with it. That way, you’ll eliminate any gray area about exactly what it is you’re there to say.


2. Boil graphs and charts down to simple ideas.

Visually represented data can play a critical role in your message, but don’t expect your audience to make sense of graphs and charts simply because they appear on a slide. Use them to tell a story, not take up space.

If you can extract real meaning from data driven visual elements, you’ll illustrate their importance much more effectively. Don’t just tell your audience what the numbers say, though. Rather, consider what the consequences of these figures are. How do they fit into your overall narrative? If you couldn’t use visual aids, how would you convey your message?

Interpreting and conveying pieces of data is your job, not your audience’s. #PresentationSkills Click To Tweet

Interpreting and conveying these pieces of data is your job, not your audience’s.  If you leave it it up to your audience, you’ll run the risk of your message getting lost in translation.


3. Make it clear what you want your audience to DO.

Chances are, you won’t have any mind readers in your audience. When you’re laying out the crux of your message, make sure you include some sort of “call to action.” In any presentation, whether you’re giving a make-or-break sales pitch or asking for a raise, leave absolutely no doubt about what you want your audience to DO next.

And be specific! Looking for investors in your new tech startup? Talk in dollar amounts, not vague visions of growth. While reading between the lines is a valuable skill, hand holding can often prove to be the safest way to get from point A to point B.


The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that the most effective types of communication are the ones that leave absolutely no doubt in an audience’s mind about what is being said. Just like in Mick Jagger’s case, anyone who thinks “Beast of Burden” is actually about the perfect DiGiorno pizza is missing the meaning of the song. If you can keep your message simple and clear, not only will you be a better presenter, but you’ll have your audience singing your tune in no time.


If you have any mondegreens of your own that you’d like to share, or if you’re feeling like you could use some help making your message more clear, leave a commet below, we’d love to hear from you. Also, if you have any DiGiorno pizzas laying around, let us know. We can help you finish those as well. 


Who Wrote This Masterpiece?

Maxx Parcell

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As SquarePlanet's resident Content Cartographer + Wordscribe, Maxx puts his imagination to work developing compelling, evocative and effective content for clients. He's also a skilled musician and home brewer.