We tend to think of presentations as speeches. And that old-school thinking has gotten presenters into trouble.
Let’s draw a distinction between a speech and a presentation. First, a speech is a highly structured, rehearsed one-way form of communication. A speech-maker prepares formal slides and is going to stand behind a podium and drone on about it for awhile while his poor audience pretends to pay attention.
On the other hand, a presentation is less formal and more spontaneous & interactive. A presentation is planned but not scripted, and its success depends on the presenter’s ability to genuinely connect with the audience. An effective presenter is deeply engaged in the conversation and is constantly gauging the audience’s comprehension and interest, zigging and zagging when necessary. Just like people do in everyday conversation.
Most business presentations these days need to be more like the latter, a well thought out, Orderly Conversation.
Breaking it Down
Let’s break the Orderly Conversation down into its two parts, orderly and conversation.
Orderly — The orderly part happens when you’re preparing.
Think about your specific audience and what they need to hear from you in order to take action. Keep the big picture in mind. Come up with a quick outline of high-level topics. Don’t go into any detail at all just yet. This quick outline is your agenda.
Title your body slides one per agenda point.
Go back and fill in a little bit of information to flesh out each agenda item. Don’t worry at this point about getting it perfect. Just get your thoughts down.
As you continue fleshing out your slides (or whatever visual aid you may be using) think about how to best set yourself up to launch and conduct a successful conversation. You wouldn’t want to write out full sentences on your slides, that would make it too difficult to deal with during delivery. Instead, think of ways to trigger your memory. A word or two, a picture, a graph. You get the idea.
What I just described is the orderly part of presenting.
Conversation — The conversation part happens once you’re in the room and talking. You’ve already prepared your visual aids to help you launch the conversation, so trust them to keep you on track and organized. Spend your energy connecting with your listeners and engaging them in the conversation. As things progress, check in with them often. Are they with you? Do they have questions? Do you need to go into more detail? Have you said enough and it’s time to move on?
Keep in mind that your job is not to tell them everything you know. Instead, keep your goal in mind and get the conversation going. If they want to know more, they’ll ask, which will get the conversation going even better.