What Separates a Great Presentation from One That Is Quickly Forgotten

In my profession, I give a lot of speeches on change management tools and techniques as well as longer roll-up-your-sleeves presentation/workshops. Over the years it occurred to me that there were three things that distinguished presentations that truly stand out. I am talking about presentations in which you expect people to take something useful away. You hired a speaker because you believed he or she would offer something important to your organization.

The Audience Needs to Believe That This Topic is Critically Important to Them

When people are forced to attend a session or you bring in a speaker just to fill a slot in the agenda, you risk wasting people’s time and your money.

If you expect people to learn something, then they need to come to the meeting with high expectations. They need to be hungry to hear what’s being said. When that occurs, people are engaged, they ask probing and challenging questions, and they start connecting what the speaker is saying to what they need to learn. And if the speaker fails to deliver, they will challenge him or her.

I did a presentation once to some of the top 100 executives and managers in a large company in the Midwest. Many did not understand why they were there. “They muttered, why do we need to learn about change?” For a number of reasons they didn’t see themselves as leaders. In contrast, I have given many presentations where the people in the room know that the success of their organization rested on their ability to lead change well. They were hungry and not only wanted to learn – they had to learn.

The Presentation Needs to Be Clear and Compelling

Obviously, you need a speaker who knows his or her craft. He or she needs to understand your organization and the challenges and opportunities facing you. A one-size-fits-all speech just insults the audience. The speaker needs to offer stories and anecdotes that bring concepts to life. You want the audience to be saying to themselves, “I see. That’s how its done.”

There Must Be an Immediate Call to Action

A presentation works best when people know that they will need to apply what they just learned very soon. It’s even better if they can begin to turn knowledge into action during the presentation itself. Giving people information that might be helpful someday in a distant future, ignores how people learn. (I am still waiting for my need to apply 9th grade algebra.) We learn best when we need to know something to help us solve a problem or respond to an opportunity today. We forget what we don’t apply quickly.

As you can see, the skill of the speaker is only one piece of puzzle. It takes a “need to know” coupled with a “need to put knowledge into action” to make a presentation truly great.


© 2010 Rick Maurer.

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