The Seven Deadly Sins of Making Presentations
1. The goal of the presentation is not defined
Where does any work we do start from? No, not from a plan! What goes before it? A goal. It starts from a goal which you set for yourself. In general, goal setting is a separate and rather interesting theme on which a lot of books have been written and a lot can be said. Here I focus on only one aspect of goal setting which will help you in preparing a successful presentation. Before starting the preparation think why you need to deliver the presentation and what you want to transmit to your audience. To “sell” something, engage the audience or convince them to do something? If you want to “sell” something, then what differentiating advantages will you show to the audience (I deliberately put quotes, as by selling I mean the process of delivering the strong and weak points of the subject of your presentation)? If you want to engage the audience, then what is the key point of your offer? If you want to convince them to do something, then what is it?
Ideally, there should be only one goal. But generally you can pursue several goals. The main thing is that they are all relevant. Thinking about and systematizing your goals will help you answer those additional questions. First, you should define your key goal, and try out other goals with such questions as “How can this or that goal help me achieve the key goal?”, “How can I achieve the key goal without fulfilling some additional subgoal?” Goals that are not relevant should be ruthlessly rejected. Reading my recommendations, you may object that I mix up the notions of goals and points of the presentation. Yes and no. In the theory of requirements gathering there is a notion called “What versus How dilemma.” It means that the requirements declared by the customer always tell us WHAT they want to get, and it is our responsibility to answer HOW we are going to implement them. In other words, the properly defined goals answer the question “What do I want to reach?” And the presentation structure will be the answer to the question “How?” or “In what way shall I do that?”.
2. Wrong perception of the presentation as a PPT document
Remember that any presentation is not so much a PPT document as a process of communicating certain information. A PPT document is just an auxiliary tool which can help you communicate the information more effectively. And if you deliver a face-to-face presentation, the PPT document might not be the right one to use. It could be a whiteboard and/or handouts. It all depends on which tool is more effective at a given moment.
Quite often, employees do not correctly understand the manager’s words, “Is it necessary to make a presentation of our offer” (or maybe managers deliberately use incorrect terms), and start to prepare a PPT document as a basis for the presentation which can then be read, distributed, or demonstrated. Is there any difference? There is, and a big one too. When we immediately start restricting our thinking to a PPT document, we cannot see the other possibilities available to deliver information. And we tend to focus more on the information element rather than on the presentation element. We forget that a presentation is a kind of “show,” if you like, where you sell your goods, thoughts, idea... Otherwise, why not write a book or an article and give it to the target audience?
3. There is no structure to the presentation
Where do people usually start from when preparing a presentation? Strange as it may seem, but they often start from drafting slides in PPT (as a consequence of the previous point). Thus, without seeing the whole picture, they restrict themselves to one tool and go into details. But one should start from a blank sheet of paper. I put such a great emphasis on using a sheet of paper because it gives you clarity and visibility of the entire structure on a single page. All available information should be reflected, but in compressed form. While drafting the structure, pay attention to the sequence of statements—don’t forget about the law of composition, and distribute the information in accordance with it. When applied to presentations, this law supports the following logic when presenting information: introduction, main part, climax, and conclusion. You should start from stating the problem, why it is raised (what you’re going to tell, why, etc.). Then you go into details of problem resolution, with the emotional tension growing to the climax. The climax and conclusion should provide a call to action and details of how to act. If you don’t know how to put all the points into the structure, write them down in any sequence and sort them later.
And yet another tip how to get a comprehensible structure. We have already mentioned goals and “What versus How dilemma.” Now that we have the defined goals we should answer the question, “How to achieve these goals?” Similarly, we use the goals to check the presentation structure whether there is anything not covered by the goals.
In the second part of the article we will continue with the other 4 principles of a presentation.