The Art of Summarization

At Google I/O, the CEO conveys an entire years worth of work of over 50,000 employees, and also hints at future developments. All in less than half an hour.

At a TED talk, the speaker conveys years, if not decades worth of research, their journey and enlightenments. An entire summary keeping the audience as engaged and as attentive as possible in a span of under 20 minutes.


An entire semester is dedicated to doing a project in our University - most students do internships during this period. At the end of the project we go back to college to present what we did in the 4 months. Every year students complain professors shamelessly thrash students, especially those who do their internships outside of University.

They do so rightly. Having sat through 15 such presentations of my batchmates, students just don't know how to put their point through!

Presenting what you've done for 4 months in 10 minutes is an art. You have to give them a background of where you're working and what the company does, which project team you're in, specifically what you did and finally how it affected the company. All in 10 minutes.

Here's what I learnt.

1. The ELI5 principle.
Know your audience. They're people. Don't assume level of knowledge. In the simplest words, Explain to me Like I'm 5 years old (ELI5), what you did. Its the lack of ability to say in simple words what you did that causes disconnect between you and your audience.

2. Demo. Demo, demo, demo!
Let your work do the talking - they'll ask you questions based on what they make of your demonstration. Here's an example.

Say you make this astonishing discovery about this phenomenon called rainbows. So, naturally you go ahead and explain to your audience, a rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky, caused by sunlight appearing in the section of sky directly opposite the sun - they really won't care. Show them a rainbow and they'll stand jaw dropped clapping in appreciation.

3. Loud, clear, simple words. They'll lose their attention cuz they've been doing this all day. Its in the first 2 minutes of any talk that the audience decides whether they want to continue listening or not.

4. Listen. Indians, if not all people are inherently terrible listeners. We jump to conclusions and argue at the instant we see anything going against us. Listen very carefully when you're asked a question. Don't jump to answering immediately. Let the question sink in, take a second or two, and then answer.

5. Show them the best, don't talk about the rest. Only you know what you've done and only you know what's wrong with your work. It's a very human thing for you to assume others may figure out what's wrong with your work. Show them the best of what you've done - the moment you tell them you hacked your way through, or give them a hint at what may not work because of so and so, you've lost your audience - honesty does not always work. They won't know a thing until you tell them!


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