Your presentation is pointless

Well, to be honest, most presentations are – yours might be wonderful. I like to think mine are.

The title is an over-statement, of course, just to get you to read this – but there’s a serious point behind what I’m saying here, so stay with me! Far, far too many people (that I meet at least) are nervous because they believe their presentation means something in it’s own right. It doesn’t. They’re fearful of the judgement of a good-vs-bad presentation… which is daft in so many ways, because the presentation itself isn’t worth judging…

Your presentation doesn’t mean anything on its own. It’s a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Never judge a report by it's cover... or even the contents... just its effects!

Never judge a report by it’s cover… or even the contents… just its effects!

Ask yourself this. Do you judge the the success of that report you wrote by how pretty it looked? By how well typed it was? By the quality of the font? Or by how nice the binding was? Nope?  Thought not.  You judge the success of your reports by how much action is taken on the back of them. If the boss puts them on a shelf, doesn’t read it and takes no action because of it, you’ve wasted your time, no matter how pretty it is.

On the other hand, if your colleagues jump to take on board your recommendations and act upon what you’ve suggested, you’ve got a success on your hands. Right?

Now, before you get upset, let me point out that this doesn’t mean you can give a crappy presentation any more than you can submit a report that’s splattered with typos, shoddily referenced, and printed on paper with stains from coffee-cups. The point is that these things are important only when (or if) they get in the way of how well your report works.

Your presentation should be judged the same way. Slick sides and so on are only important if they help you get your points over to your audience. Stunning visuals are just eye-candy if they don’t take your audience somewhere. You need to get you technical stuff and delivery right, because if you don’t, your audience can’t get to the content and can’t act on your words of wisdom…

… but pretty technology and stunning graphics aren’t the point of your presentation. They aren’t what your presentation exists for.

And as soon as you take that on board, you realise a number of helpful things are true:

  • before you start to design your presentation you need to know what it’s for; what are you trying to do… that’s potentially quite different from what it’s about
  • you need to get the technicals right, so they don’t get in the way – or at least you need to get them right enough
  • your don’t need to be perfect, just good enough to get the job done.  There’s a cost benefit of any presentation just like there is for anything else at work: if you’re building a bridge for pedestrians and cycles, you’d not engineer it to be strong enough to take tanks and busses, so why fret so much about over-engineering your presentation?!

And with those realisations, you’ll change the whole way you think about what you say and how you say it (as well as how hung up you get on the presentation itself!).

Everything boils down to two big steps.

What exactly am I trying to change, and how will I know I’ve changed it enough to be worthwhile. If you can answer those questions, you’re half way to having got your presentation sorted!

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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