10 Feb 2012

Back-to-Basics: 1 - What is a Presentation?

Back-to-Basics is a series of posts where I am going to revisit the basics of making a presentation. The outcome of this series is a step by step guide of making any presentation.


What is a Presentation?
At first I felt weird asking such a question. Then I realised it was not a bad place to start. When you talk of basics, this a great place to begin. So what is a presentation? Think for a while...A presentation is a person talking to a group of people? A presentation is a bunch of slides?


In my view, "a presentation is a communication with an objective." Note the following in my definition: 1. There is no mention of slides. A presentation can be made with or without slides. 2. Presentation is a form of communication. This basically means a presentation is an exchange of information (communication) between two sides. 3. There has to be an objective. Any exchange of information is not a presentation.


A teacher taking a class is a presentation. Giving a speech is a presentation. Pitching to a venture capitalist in the boardroom is also a presentation. Every form of communication wherein two sides are involved and there is a purpose is a 'presentation'.


Are all Presentations similar?
All kinds of presentations are similar. Their goals may differ, their settings might differ but there is a common DNA which runs through every presentation. I had mentioned about it sometime before on the blog. Here is a new and revised version of the same.


There are 7 elements of every presentation. 
  1. You (the presenter)
  2. You have a goal (for example, you want to sell a flat to prospective customers)
  3. To achieve the goal you go to your audience (customers)
  4. You give them what they want/expect. You solve a problem or address an issue.
  5. You want the audience to do something (action). In the first meeting you want them to get interested in the project. In the second or third meeting, your goal can be to get them give you the money.
  6. In order to achieve the goal, you need to say something to your audience. This is your content. You talk about the great location and a reputed builder. Not to forget the lake view from the balcony.
  7. How you say is the style. Do you use slides or not? Do you personally go and talk or just email the slides? How do you take the audience through the content? Do you share a handout? This is called the design (slide design) and delivery stage.
That's about it. Every presentation you come across will need you to look at these 7 elements. Spend time figuring each of these out and you will do a better job of the presentation. To summarise, you have to answer these questions before you start preparing for any presentation.

  1. Who is the presenter?
  2. What is your goal?
  3. Who is your audience? (understand them in detail)
  4. What does your audience want? What problem are you solving?
  5. What do you want the audience to do after your presentation?
  6. What will you say to the audience? (so that they do what you want them to do)*
  7. How will you say what you want to say?**
* This is your content and ** this is your design (slide design) and delivery

I call this THE CONTEXT of a presentation.


Since this concept is new I will cover it in a bit more detail. Go back to your last presentation and figure out the 7 elements. My last presentation was a workshop I conducted for under-graduate students. Let me present to you the 7 elements:

  1. Who is the presenter? Vivek Singh, the presentations blogger. I was there because I am a presentations expert. I was not there as a marketing manager (which is my full time role). I had only one image to portray to the audience.
  2. What is your goal? My goal was very simple. First, make students realise the importance of presentations in their career. Second, teach them a step-by-step guide to making any presentation and also share with them common mistakes which most presenters make.
  3. Who is your audience? My audience was under-graduate students who are studying commerce and management. I spent a lot of time understanding how many presentations the students make. I even interacted with their teacher to find out how good they are at making presentations and what mistakes they commit. What to say and how to say depends on who your audience is.
  4. What does the audience want/expect? What problem are you solving? I knew that every student wanted to become better at presentations but most of them do not have the time or interest to research and study on their own. So I taught them something useful and easy to apply within two and a half hours.
  5. What do you want the audience to do after your presentation? They must feel motivated to use the techniques taught in the workshop. They must use the checklist I gave them (as a handout) and apply it to the next presentation they make. I gave the handout because it makes their job of remembering and applying what I taught easier.
  6. What will you say to the audience? (Content) I was clear on what my goal was. I understood what my audience needs were; "give us useful stuff but do not bore us." It should be easy to remember and easy to apply. This helped me shape the content. What to say and what to ignore. Since I wanted to teach less and make my content memorable and understandable, I chose to use lots of examples. I also kept summarizing as I went along.
  7. How will you say? (Design and Delivery) I decided to use slides as I needed to show them examples of good and bad slides. I also decided to give a handout. The handout captures the basic lesson of the entire workshop. They can use it the next time they present. I also rehearsed many times so that I feel confident and finish my content well within the time allocated.

In the next post, I will discuss why these 7 elements make you a better presenter. Why you must spend time and figure out answers to these 7 questions and then jump onto the computer and start making your slides. As of now, just remember one thing. The first step to making your presentation is to answer these 7 questions.

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