Three Ideas On Communications And Engagement From A Presentation

I am the minority for this session.

The presenter asked the audience in this Zoom session to answer a poll on their ages. He showed the results and I found out that more than 60 percent are above 50.

Probably apt, I thought. After all, this is a talk focusing on how people can plan how to use the Central Provident Fund (CPF) for retirement. Many in the older age brackets will be interested to plan for their retirement compared to those in their 20s and 30s.

For those unfamiliar with CPF, this is a national scheme in Singapore designed to help citizens save a regular amount of their salaries mainly for retirement purposes. It is like the 401k in the US or EPF in Malaysia. CPF can also be used for other purposes, subject to approval from the CPF Board, such as to pay for your housing loan, for investments or to take out a loan for education fees in selected courses of study.

As I listened to the presenter and the questions that followed, my mind began to focus on how the presentation was done, and how the audience received the information. The presenter was skilful in using pictures and text to highlight key points that the audience should take away. He also used specific techniques (such as repeating key points and emphasising selected figures) to get the attention of the audience.

I learnt a few points about communication that day. If you want someone to grasp the matter well, you need to know how to put the points through.

1. Be as clear as you can

The presenter shared with the audience that if you make additional cash contributions of up to $7000 in a single year, that amount is tax deductible. Sounds straightforward enough.

One lady asked why she was not allowed to put more than $7000 into her own account. She said that she had called the CPF helpline to ask, and was told that she cannot contribute more than $7000 in cash in a year.

Apparently the officer manning the helpline forgot the important condition that came with $7k: you can put in any amount of cash you want, but you only get $7k deduction for tax purposes.

The presenter realised the issue, and clarified that point with the lady. He realised that what the audience saw on the slides may not gel with their experiences and knowledge. Not only did the presenter help the lady to clarify the doubt, he also made the effort to elaborate his points and repeated them in different ways so that the audience can grasp them.

2. Give people time and space to process the details

You have a policy you think is comprehensive and caters to everyone. You think people will be satisfied and appreciate this. There are brochures, helpline and outreach efforts to create awareness about the policy. All these should be sufficient.

Apparently no. A few in the audience were surprised by some of the details shared in the webinar. Some thought the minimum sum should be a certain figure, until the presenter clarified that this is the figure for the enhanced retirement sum, not the full retirement sum. That got people even more confused about the terms – basic full and enhanced retirement sums.

The presenter was skillful though. He decided to use an illustration to show what happens when a person turns 55 years old, and what happens when the person turns 60. The illustration is helpful, but what I find even more helpful is that he stayed on that slide for a long time, while encouraging people to ask questions.

We have a term in education to describe this action – wait time. The presenter gave people the time and space to absorb and process the information. He didn’t assume that the audience will understand the slide within a fixed amount of time.

3. Have a call to action

Communications need not be focused on making yourself heard. It can also be about nudging one to act. Again, this sounds obvious, but maybe not.

The presenter could run through the information he has to deliver and close the session by addressing queries from the audience. He would have done his job. His supervisor will not mark him down for performance, if he was present.

The point of holding such a session is to engage the audience on the topic. If the presenter had done the above only, he would have failed in the whole purpose of the exercise, which is to engage the minds of the audience on how to prepare for their retirement through the CPF.

Hence it is important for the presenter to create a call to action for the audience, the motivation to want to act as a result of hearing the message. He achieved this in different ways, through a summary of actions they can take now (such as estimating the amount of monthly income people need upon retirement, topping up their Special Accounts to the maximum and making annual cash contributions to maximise tax deductions). The presenter also tried to identify different sets of actions based on age groups. For instance, those who are above 55 should plan to top up the retirement accounts and consider the annuity plans available based on the estimated monthly income they wish to have.


These three ideas may seem easy to enact when engaging anybody. The truth is far from it. Having taught and organised workshops before, I know a lot of effort and awareness must go into creating sessions that are engaging and meaningful for participants.

In today’s day and age, it becomes more important for deliberate engagement, particularly if you want to create the intrinsic motivation to work on a specific area. Do not treat the audience as passive listeners. Work towards having them be active contributors. The dividends that may come will be rewarding.

How do you engage people? What frameworks work for you in this aspect?

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