Success ≠ Perfection

“I want my presentation to be perfect.” This is something we hear from our course participants now and then, and I reckon more people think it than actually say it. Most of the time, when people talk about a “perfect” presentation, they seem to mean that their presentation goes exactly the way they envision it in their heads before they do it. Usually, this includes being letter-perfect, absolutely fluid and fluent, starting as planned and getting all the way to the end without interruption, and fielding a few softball questions during Q & A while everyone looks on admiringly.

Effective Works Better Than Perfect

This is not a bad vision to have, it’s just kind of boring, and it can sell you short as a presenter. Instead of thinking about “perfect” presentations, consider what goes into a successful, effective presentation. To me, that would look more like this:

  • You have a solid grasp of your subject matter.
  • You know your audience’s pain points and key concerns, and you have crafted your presentation to address them with appropriate audience-facing organization and language.
  • You have an introduction that will make clear your plans for the presentation and what the audience will get from it.
  • You know how to engage the audience using eye contact and remembering to pause for their sake and your own.
  • You are flexible and engaged enough that if a question or comment changes your direction, you can flow with it and return to your planned content when you’re done.
  • You will field questions with respect for everyone, including yourself—allowing yourself time to think before you speak.
  • You look forward to the hard, “curve-ball” questions because you welcome the challenge and the chance to prove yourself.
  • People walk out knowing what they need to do next and feeling empowered to get started.

Set a Bigger Goal Than Perfect

A successful presentation is one in which the needed information is imparted, and the important conversation takes place to the satisfaction of all involved. This is, if you think about it, a much bigger goal than the “perfect” presentation I described in the first paragraph. There is a sweet spot between preparation and the ability to roll with whatever comes during your Orderly Conversation. Managing that leads to successful—not overprepared, inflexible, boringly perfect—presentations.

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About the Author: Barbara Egel

Barbara Egel is an experienced trainer and presenter who has worked in a variety of fields from qualitative consumer research to children’s multimedia publishing. In each of her roles, Barbara has specialized in helping people get comfortable in situations that, at least at first, are uncomfortable. This includes helping fiction writers get comfortable writing code and enabling marketers and product developers to talk directly with their customers. Most recently, Barbara was Vice President at Primary Insights, Inc., a boutique qualitative research consultancy. She currently is on the faculty of Harold Washington College in Chicago, where she teaches writing. At Turpin Communication, Barbara is a workshop coach and was the developmental editor of The Orderly Conversation. She has degrees from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University.

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