I’ve many times posed the following question to groups: “What is a presentation?”. Those that hazard an attempt usually reply that it is the sharing of information. Well, so is an email, a book, a letter or a memo – so I disagree. I’ve always defined a presentation as “a specifically defined period of time to convince an audience of an idea, a concept or a product” with this caveat: You have no 2nd chances.
What this means is that firstly there is always a clear purpose for delivering a presentation. Secondly, if you mess up the presentation, there’s seldom a way back. Some argue that delivering a research paper can be classified as a presentation, and I agree with this assertion. Whether it’s a hard sell or a very soft sell (as in the case of an academic presentation or lecture) there is no point in taking the trouble to deliver a presentation unless there is a clear intended outcome. It also means that whether you blow it in the first 10 seconds or you slow-cook your audience to death for an hour, you won’t be getting a 2nd bite with that audience. So a presentation is a bold advance – it’s where you create a golden opportunity to impress, underwhelm or go down in flames. You only want one of those 3 options and that’s the first one!
To those thinking that some presentations do not involve any persuading at all, I suggest that it’s then not worth the trouble. Rather send them an email and hope they read it. They usually don’t. Unlike email, the significant difference with a presentation is that you have the undivided attention of an audience at the start. It’s your job to keep their attention until the end, then get them to do something.
It is therefore crucial to your success to understand where most presentations finally go down the plug-hole – at the end. Many start failing long before that, with text-laden slides, rambling delivery or non-descript body language – but the end is where any chance you had could finally dissipate if you don’t do it right. The main reason? A poor conclusion or the absence of one.
I most often encounter the feeble petering out conclusion where the presenter finishes without making any strong closing comment. Your conclusion should comprise very simply of 2 components – a summary and a call to action. The reason that they should go in that order is that the summary is a gentle reminder of your main points in order to set up the request for action. Yes, it could be to buy something but it need not be. Often it’s simply to enrol, support, vote, donate, behave differently or very often to simply change ones point of view.
Whichever way you put it, it’s a call to action. Any presentation that doesn’t have one is an opportunity lost. I often wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of preparing and delivering a presentation without a purpose? I wouldn’t.