We use the term “presentation” to describe all sorts of things. But “presentation” is a generic term, which, like “presidential candidate,” can mean a lot of different things. Usually what we mean is that slides are used, and someone is using those slides to talk to an audience. A presentation can be a routine update, a pitch deck to motivate investors, or a “how to” for a new process. It can be live, virtual, projected, or on paper. But no matter what type it is, every presentation must do three things well to hold an audience’s attention. But even more than that, if you do these three things with your presentation, people will want to listen to it, will be glad to get its message, and will remember it.
1.Your presentations need to make life better for the audience – in some way.
When you stand up in front of people, you make a promise to improve their lives in some way. Good presentations fulfill that promise. (As we know from the epidemic of boring presentations, this promise is the frequently broken.) A good presentation tells the audience something they need to hear, helps them understand something worth understanding, suggests a way of thinking or believing that will benefit them. Show the audience right away why and how your presentation solves a problem, answers a questions, or makes their lives better.
2. All presentations must have one big message. And everything in the presentation must support that message.
Audiences are tired, distracted, and a little bit lazy, and if your message doesn’t leap out, they will miss it. Or they will remember the wrong thing. (“Oh, Steven is from Germany!”) To ensure your message drives the presentation, you must answer one question before you even think of slides: “What do I want my audience to know, feel, and do?” Imagine the answer to this question is a bouncer at the door of your presentation. Only elements that help you reach your goal can enter, no matter how hot they look.
3. All presentations need to have an audience-grabbing flow.
Most presentations bore us simply because they are organized in the most boring way possible: the category system. This format feels orderly to the presenter because everything fits into a generic slot like “background,” “issues,” “implications,” “conclusion.” The category system is not only a buzz killer; it also guarantees that the key message of the presentation will be buried on bullet #3, slide 17.What audiences want in a presentation is tension and resolution. (In fact, when people say that your presentation should tell a “story,” that’s really what they mean.) Two great ways of incorporating tension and resolution are to organize your presentation into “problem-solution,” or “proposal-reasons.” These methods not only engage audiences and help them retain information, they help highlight our main message.
Of course there are LOTS of things you can do to have a great presentation, but these are the three musts. Would you add anything?