Presuppositions in Presentations

I’ve just read the title of an article in Linked-In: How to make education great again. It’s an interesting title and it got my attention.  I even clicked to read it – but then stopped… because it annoyed me… I’d be suckered. Again.

How?  Because implicit in the headline are a number of presuppositions, key amongst which is the idea that education used to be great and isn’t any more. If you’ve not been following the ‘education debate’ you might be forgiven for being suckered as I was.  Even if you have been following relevant debates there’s so much information floating around in the world that it’s entirely possible to believe you’ve missed something and so still be taken in by the headline.

The headline takes for granted that education used to be great, isn’t any more and we’re not just discussing how to improve it, not that it needs improving.

It’s a dirty trick and much beloved of politicians. By making speeches which assume the big point and allow us to argue about the smaller, tactical points the agenda can be controlled quite nicely, thank you very much. We can argue all we like about the things that don’t matter, because the big point has been conceded before we even start to think.

No don’t get me wrong, there are times when this approach is a good idea, but it’s a slippery slope of morality. It behoves presenters to use the technique with a clean conscience. And allow yourself to be challenged all the time – because in my experience a lot of the time presenters and speakers use this kind of trick without thinking about it. They believe the big issue is true, so they talk about the tactics and the audience goes along with them.

I’ve heard it done time and time and time again!

At the risk of getting political, (and not saying how I voted in the recent UK referendum) this is a technique used with devastating effect by the Brexit campaign. By saying we should “Take back control” they slipped nicely passed the question of whether we’d actually lost control in the first place. (The objective answer is “a bit, but not as much as the Brexit campaign pretended/believed”.)

How can you use it?

Well, first of, I’m going to assume you’re using it ethically and that you’re consciously doing so, not slipping it into your presentation design because you’ve not been thorough about checking your facts and figures. (Are you sure about your assumptions?  Really, really sure? What do you mean you’ve not made any assumptions in your presentation?! That just means you’ve not spotted them, which is even worse! ;) )

Using it is easy. Just make a presentation about, for example, your suggested tools for improving X, or Y, or Z. If you do it with enough style no one will question that X, or Y, or Z might not need improving. (Or it might need improving, but not as much as A, B or C, at least.  :) )

  • We’ll be looking at the three key ways to improve our distribution patterns.(Maybe distribution patterns aren’t the problem, but you need people to look at them for the greater good)
  • Good morning. Let’s explore the three ways to improve your face-to-face authority. (Authority might not need improving but … ;) )
  • Let’s discuss how we can take back control over our voting patterns. (Have you actually not got control?  Or are you just side-stepping that question for a good reason?)


Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.

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