Before you start crafting the first word of your speech, before you start designing the first slide of your visuals, you should be taking the time to explicitly think about what you want to achieve.
There are two sides to that coin, of course. The first is what YOU want to get out of it. This is usually simplistic and obvious:
- I want to get a good grade in class
- I want to attract new customers
- I want people to donate to our non-profit
- I want people to vote for my candidate
- I want people to stop using plastic straws
- I want to become more famous so I can charge higher prices
- I want existing customers to buy more and recommend us
Once you are clear on your ultimate, easily-stated measure of success, you move on to the trickier piece… figuring out how to achieve it with your presentation.
If you look over the examples I jotted down in that bulleted list, you will see that they can be divided into three high-level categories:
That's it. Everything else is a subset.
In the business world, it is quite rare to find education or entertainment as a primary goal for a presentation. School teachers have education as a primary goal. Standup comedians have entertainment as a primary goal. But in 99% of business presentations, the ultimate goal is influence. You want to guide your audience into taking an action that ultimately benefits your business.
This is where so many presentations fall short. The presenter focuses on the education or entertainment aspects and hopes that the influence part will take care of itself.
Consider product training webinars. "Our goal is to better educate our customers about how to use the product more effectively." Hmmm… Doubtful. Your goal is probably to reduce the number of support calls you have to field. Or to encourage greater use so customers will buy more licenses. Or to increase customer retention by making sure they know how to apply the product and understand its competitive differentiators from other offerings that might tempt them.
Of course you are going to USE education as your means to accomplishing the goal. But the education is only important in its role as a facilitator of your primary objective. Which changes WHAT you choose to include in your education and HOW you choose to frame it.
If you are trying to reduce a common type of support call that uses up employee time, you'll highlight training in that area and emphasize how this helps make the listener more self-sufficient. If you are trying to improve customer retention, you pick some areas where you can say "Did you know our product can help you by doing this? It's something you won't find in other products."
The same thing applies to product demos in sales or marketing situations. Your goal in a product demo is not actual training… It's influencing the prospect's perception of your product. Yet sales engineers and product specialists lose track of this objective all the time. They treat the presentation as an education task and go through step-by-step procedural training in their demo: "First you enter your email and your password, which must be 8 characters or more." Instead of linear step-based training demos, work on highlighting the minimum number of features that will positively influence the prospect's appreciation of the product's capabilities and value.
Entertainment as a goal is promoted too frequently by web conferencing software vendors. "You need to be on camera!" "You need to include lots of polls!" It is also a trap that novice slide designers often fall into. "I'll make this text fly in. I'll make this image wiggle and pulse. That'll be entertaining!"
Entertainment as a means to accomplishing business goals typically needs a different definition than the common one. Instead of "providing amusement or enjoyment" in its own right, entertainment can be seen more as a matter of helping people feel that their time is not being wasted and that the presentation is worth paying attention to. The mere presence of a presenter's video feed or an interactive poll is not sufficient. The supplementary materials need to actually support and enhance interest in the presentation. A voice-only monologue can be plenty entertaining, and a poorly-framed, poorly-lit headshot of a nervous presenter on webcam can be useless (or detrimental) to an otherwise good presentation.
A good presentation accomplishes the presenter's goal effectively by zeroing in on the primary objective and matching the structure and delivery style accordingly. A great presentation combines aspects of all three categories to mutually support the objective in a way that brings maximum value to both the presenter and the audience.