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With the end of the year just around the corner, I wanted to look forward at what presenting could mean for 2024 and beyond.
In a word: accessible.
When we hold presenting up as something bigger than it needs to be, we end up doing two things: scaring people off communicating well, and making it all about delivery.
What presentations actually are
When you think about ‘presenting’, you probably imagine a formal talk with anywhere from a dozen people to a few thousand, slideshows or visual aids, a microphone to make sure you’re heard throughout the space. That’s the archetype.
The problem is that that’s exceptionally rare. In fact, the vast majority of presentations you’ll give are going to be far smaller, and far more intimate.
Think back to the last time you were in a business conversation with one or two other people, and you were communicating a message on the way to an outcome.
Did it have some of these hallmarks?
- The planning, messaging and delivery all needed to be in balance
- Your audience, objective and structure formed the basis of your pre-work
- Your content was built out of stories balanced with facts and figures
- You got better engagement after practicing
- You delivered with courage, and connected with your audience
That’s a presentation - which I often call 'structured conversations'.
We’re stuck on all-too-similar ideas about what a presentation “should” be – big, lofty, anxiety-inducing – that we often lose sight of what it means to develop great communication skills and make compelling cases for the change we want to see.
Presenting isn’t a brand
Some people have turned presentation into a brand – often based off big, auditorium-filling personalities, and finely tuned and frequently-repeated stories that leave their audience mesmerised.
But it can be really alienating for most of us if we think our weekly meetings or Teams calls need to be delivered so “big”. This is why, after every course I run, people come up to me and tell me they’re surprised to learn that good presentations are about more than just delivery.
Yes, delivery is important, but it’s definitely not everything. When we have an idea of what a presentation or presenter “should” be, we often exclude ourselves.
While charismatic personalities can be inspiring, we need to see a diverse range of voices and presentation styles that resonate with different audiences. In the end, the power of a presentation should stem from the message itself and the meaningful connections it fosters, transcending the limitations of being reduced to a mere brand.
The majority of what we do is in phone calls, around water coolers, in video meetings. We need to be able to speak with intention, and be compelling when we do.
If we want to see and give better presentations, in all forms, then we need to see more clarity: around who our audience is, the outcomes we want, the insights we want to communicate, and how we expect to get traction and direction based on a message.
In short: purposeful communication – that is, communicating with intention, no matter whether it’s on the phone or in an auditorium.
We need to let go of the idea that big crowds and slideshows are the only, or even the main type of presentation that we’ll give – and embrace the fact that there are plenty of opportunities every day to step into the spotlight.