It doesn’t matter what your career is, sooner or later you are going to be responsible for giving presentations. If you are moving up the ladder in your profession, at some point, you will be managing a team, giving project updates, speaking before a management meeting, training clients or colleagues, or giving any number of other business presentations.
As a business professional, you likely spent the first years of your career as a team member performing tasks. As a result, you probably had little or no opportunity to give presentations early in your career. Then, upon receiving a promotion or being given a wider range of responsibility, you may transition abruptly into giving presentations on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. By planning thoroughly and thoughtfully, you can take much of the anxiety out of giving business presentations and have a powerful impact on your listeners.
In order to plan an effective presentation, you must first address:
- Who is the audience?
- What is the purpose?
- What is the message?
Who is the 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 chancy way to seek success. Part of the process of preparation is the research that gathers the following information about the audience.
- Knowledge: Most presenters are concerned about their audience’s knowledge level: “Is the audience better informed than I am?” This is a less serious concern because a presenter who is concerned about this will be driven to be adequately prepared. Therefore, the greater problem is the danger of overestimating the audience’s knowledge level. Never face an audience unprepared, but also never fall into the trap of assuming listener ignorance and talking down to them.
- Expertise: The audience’s skill level is also important because that may determine the position on the issue that you want to take.
- Experience: This consideration asks not only how much experience the audience has but at what level and in what environment. Experience in a laboratory is significantly different from experience in the field.
- Bias: If you can identify your audience’s biases, you can ascertain where they are starting from and avoid some key presentation pitfalls.
What is the Purpose?
There are only a few purposes for a presentation. The following are the most accepted ones.
- Inform: One logical purpose for communicating is to present information for the enlightenment of our listeners. This format focuses on clarity and understanding. It answers the questions “What is it?” or “How do you do it?”
- Convince or Impress: A speaker often has the job of convincing or impressing on others the importance of something. I need to be impressed with the value or importance of something before I will ever be convinced to do anything differently than I am doing right now. It answers the questions “Why should I be interested?” or “Why should I do it?”
- Persuade to Action: Once convinced that something is true or has value, I may be persuaded to take a specific action. Convincing usually precedes persuading. As a leader today, it is important to be effective in motivating others to take action. It answers the questions “When do I get started?” or “How do I begin?”
- Entertain: In one sense, every presentation should entertain. For the audience to be in a favorable frame of mind and for them to be open to being convinced, enlightened, or motivated, they need to be entertained. Entertainment is not necessarily based on humor, although that can be a big part of it. In the broadest sense, to entertain an audience is to make them glad they were there and glad that you were the presenter.
What is the Message?
It hardly seems necessary to address the importance of having a message, but unfortunately sometimes presentations seem to lack a clear 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. Know what your message is and keep it in mind throughout the preparation so that the presentation stays on track.
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