What is a Presentation? Part 1

What is a Presentation

What is a presentation? That’s probably not a question you’ve ever asked yourself. We make presentations all the time for work. We make them to sell potential customers, onboard new employees, present data to students in our classroom, make pitches to our Board, fill in our investors on financial updates, and for a million other reasons. They’re so ubiquitous these days that we don’t even think about what they are. When really pressed, many people define a presentation as a series of slides to support an oral delivery of content.

Let’s take a moment to think about what a presentation actually is. Here’s my definition…

What Is a Presentation?

A presentation is a purposeful story that you tell to elicit a specific behavior from your audience.

What do you notice about my definition? Did I mention a medium, like PowerPoint, Keynote, slides? Did I mention a delivery method, like oral report, email delivery, podcast? Nope! I firmly believe that presentations are more than PowerPoints and TED Talks. A lot of corporate documentation falls into this category – like sales materials, investment decks, and even project summaries. Of course, that’s not to say that any piece of designed collateral is a presentation. Book reports or academic essays are typically written to educate or inform, not drive audience behavior.

I believe any document or interaction you undertake to try and spawn audience action is a presentation.

The Building Blocks of a Great Presentation

At its core, presentations are so much more simple, and versatile, than what we’ve come to think of them as. Thinking narrowly (or maybe not thinking about them at all) is why there are so many mediocre to bad presentations out there. When we broaden the definition of a presentation we see both its potential power and the essential components to a great presentation. These include:

  1. Purpose
  2. Story
  3. Desired Behavior (call-to-action)
  4. Audience

Many of us might think about these things quickly when we develop a new presentation, but don’t often pause to give them the weight they deserve. Sometimes we skip one of these essential elements altogether, like failing to consider who we’re presenting to, or not thinking through the exact behavior we hope to elicit. It’s time to give presentations the attention they deserve. After all, there is often a lot riding on them. Whether it’s a round of funding from a VC, a potential promotion/raise, or a new client, they deserve to be treated as thoughtful tools for accomplishing our goals. That means we have to stop taking them for granted and really understand how to use them effectively.

This series is all about doing just that – breaking down great presentations to figure out why so many are mediocre or worse. By understanding the building blocks and why we need them, I guarantee you’ll kick your presentations up a notch. You’ll notice that your results will be more inline with what you set out to accomplish. I’d even bet that you start to get some compliments on your work.

In “What is a Presentation: Part 2” we’ll start to dive into Purpose and how to define your purpose to build the right presentation for the job.


Photo credit: ID 37628425 © Lightpoet | Dreamstime.com


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