What is a Presentation?

September 04, 2008 | Pat Kelly
What is a Presentation?
My trusty Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines presentation as: "something set forth for the attention of the mind: a descriptive or persuasive account (as by a salesman of a product)". Of course it has other definitions, but these do not apply to our conversation and so I will ignore them completely. The key to understanding how to build a great presentation is in understanding the purpose of a presentation. A slight reorganization of the above definition reveals the purpose to us. A presentation is a persuasive account for the attention of the mind.

Let's break this down some more. The definition of persuasive is ‘tending to persuade', and not much help in our analysis, so we look at the word persuade. This is defined as: "to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action". So now we have added action to our definition. The action needs an object which we know is the audience or in singular a viewer. When I put it all together I have a definition that reveals the true powerful nature and purpose of the presentation. A presentation is a persuasive account for the attention of the mind to move the viewer to action.

How many of us think of presentations in this way? My guess is not many. Most business people get assigned the task of creating a presentation to communicate some knowledge to some group of employees or partners or prospects and then dump a bunch of data onto a bunch of slides (usually too much of both). We meet the deadline, but have persuaded no one to do anything. If, instead, we set out to construct a communication that moves the viewer to action and we keep this in mind with every image, word, animation and font we add to the slides, and then we will be on the path to creating a great presentation. Of course this is no guarantee that the presentation will be persuasive or will hold anyone's attention, but those are topics for another day.

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