17 September 2014

The Real Purpose of Any Presentation


Sometimes you think you know something, but you don’t. You think you know it until an event happens—an event as simple as buying a book. You still think you know it until you actually read the book. And finally, you find out you didn’t really know it. This article is for presentation lovers. 

In Resonate, Nancy Duarte reveals the answer to the mother of all questions: what’s the purpose of a presentation? That’s the most important concept to know if you want to transform the way you make presentations. Because everything else, every design and communication tip, every piece of advice you might have been given, anything that’s written in this blog comes from an understanding of what the purpose of a presentation is. 

There is always one goal and one only, regardless of which kind of presentation we are talking about. First of all, let me tell you that the purpose of a presentation is never to inform. Even the most informative presentation—the one you might make next week to update your colleagues on a project you are working on—is not meant to inform. The purpose of any presentation is to change your audience. Yes, change.

By that I don’t mean you necessarily have to get emotional. You can include touchy feeling moments if you think it’s appropriate, but that’s not the point. Your goal as a presenter is to change your audience from a state in which they don’t know about your idea (or your project, your business, etc.) to a state in which they do—from a state in which they don’t believe in your idea to a state in which they do. Even with your presentation to your colleagues, your purpose is not to inform them. You want to change them from a state in which they don’t know about the information you are sharing with them to a state in which they do. This is the big difference between an amateur and a pro and something you can accomplish only by learning about presentation design and delivery. 

Informing vs. Changing  

If you just want to inform someone, why would you make a presentation? Wouldn’t it be enough to create a document (or a slidedoc if you prefer) and email it? Or, if your material requires your presence, can’t you print it out and go through it together with your colleagues (or your boss, your customer, etc.)? Doesn’t that make more sense?

But if you do choose to make a presentation—a 21-century presentation—it’s because your purpose is no longer to inform. Therefore, following the usual bullet point style will no longer be effective. You can certainly inform people with bullet points, but you won’t change anything and anybody with them. That’s why presentation design experts like Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte tell us that less is more. That’s why communication coach Carmine Gallo tells us that “the rule of three is one of the most important concepts in communication theory”. That’s why Apple’s keynotes include photos, images and words, but no bullet points. That’s why in this blog you find specific advice on how to prepare, design and deliver effective presentations. Tips like how to work with colour, how to open and close a presentation, how to combine images and text and why it matters. It all comes from an understanding that the purpose of any presentation is to change your listeners from a state in which they don’t know about your message to a state in which they do. And you can only do this if you follow certain design and communication principles.  

If you inform your audience about your fantastic idea, most likely nothing special will happen as a consequence of your presentation. After all, you’ve just informed them. But if you aim to change them through your presentation, you are one step closer towards making them believe in what you believe. Understanding the purpose of a presentation is the most important concept to be familiar with. Everything that follows wouldn’t make sense without it. This blog wouldn’t make sense without it.

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IMAGE: YouTube