Presentation planning basics

Known for his Dale Carnegie training expertise, Terry Siebert is writing to inspire leaders to reach their greatest potential. Leadership, today more than ever, may mean the difference between closing the doors or opening new markets. Every month, he'll post help with mindset, business tools and more. Read Full Bio

With the widespread use of PowerPoint and other software programs today, one would think that the quality of presenting ideas in business meetings and other professional forums would be at an all-time high. If you thought that, my guess is that you have not been on the receiving end of many presentations recently. Believe it or not, ideas can be just as boring or interesting whether presented through a software program, overheads, flipcharts, or without any tools at all.

As an example, I was at a seminar recently that was focused on marketing your company, products, and services. One of the first presenters took five minutes to figure out how to use the mouse for his PowerPoint program and NEVER got in sync with his slides. Listening to the apologies throughout was even uncomfortable for the audience. But that’s not all. The presentation, as poor as it was mechanically, was not even about marketing! It concentrated on corporate leadership, with a very weak attempt to connect good leadership to effective marketing. Rather than apologize about the slides, he should have apologized about the presentation itself.

With this backdrop, our purpose here is to cover the three basic questions that serve as the cornerstones of any effective, audience-focused presentation. The questions follow.

1. Who Is My Audience?
It is as difficult to satisfy the unknown expectations of an audience as it is to hit an unseen target. It can be done, but it is a risky way to seek success. Part of the process of preparation involves researching the following information about the audience.

Knowledge: The most obvious consideration about the knowledge level of the audience that concerns most presenters is: "Is the audience better informed than I am?" This is probably the less serious of the presenter’s concerns because the concern itself will stimulate adequate preparation. Therefore, the greater problem is the danger of assuming the knowledge level of the audience. Never face a group unprepared, but also never fall into the trap of assuming listener ignorance and talking down to the audience.

Expertise and Experience: The skill level and experience of the audience may determine the perspective you want to take. Also be aware whether the group has field or laboratory experience. The difference can be huge.

Prejudice: Be keenly aware of your audience’s prejudices, if any, so you can avoid certain pitfalls. I will never forget being at a General Motors seminar when a superb presenter started talking about the great leadership of Lee Iacocca, then chairman of Chrysler. His credibility hit the wall.

Needs, Wants, and Goals: If all presenters put themselves into the point of view of their listeners, what they wanted, what their goals would be for the presentation, what they would like to walk away with, the reception would almost always go up a notch!

2. What Is My Purpose?
When you boil it down, there are only a few purposes for a presentation. Sometimes they can be combined. Often presenters do not put as much thought into this basic question as they should. Following are the most common ones.

Convince: The challenge here is to get the audience to make a decision or take action. Sound evidence and a strategy/plan to win over the audience are critical.

Inform: Another purpose is to present information for the enlightenment of your group. The format focuses on clarity and understanding.

Entertain: In one sense, every presentation should entertain. For the audience members to be in a favorable frame of mind and open to being convinced, enlightened or motivated, they need to be entertained. Entertainment is not necessarily based on humor, although that can be a part of it. In the broadest sense, to entertain people is to make them glad you were the presenter.

3. What Is My Message?
It hardly seems necessary to address the importance of having a message, but unfortunately, sometimes presentations have no message or at least no easily discovered message. They are either scheduled to fill time or there are so many messages woven into the presentation that it is impossible to identify anything significant. Keep your audience on track by keeping your message on track.

In summary, no matter how high-tech one can be in front of an audience today, you need to get these basics down first.

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