Presentation PurposeOne of the first questions we ask during our workshops on developing and delivering presentations is “What’s the purpose of your presentation?” 

Most participants will usually respond “To inform people about (your topic here.)” 

That’s a start, but from where I sit, it’s not enough.  I find it hard to justify my time (or yours) delivering a presentation where I only share information. It’s unlikely to provide lasting value to an audience. My hope is that you’ll  want to take action as a result of the information I provide.

That’s not to say that providing information doesn’t have value, just that a presentation might not be the best medium to do so.

Here’s an example:

Let’s assume that I have to share information about progress on a particular project, for example development of a new park in theneighbourhood:

I want to inform residents of the upcoming development. I’m not asking them to do anything, I just want them to know about the park. For this, a newsletter, mass mail, or website posting should do the trick.

Because I can be relatively assured my constituents might have questions or want some input, I can provide contact information, post an FAQ (frequently asked questions) or provide notice of a meeting at a future date to provide more details, respond to questions and concerns, ask for input, etc.

This approach has an additional benefit – it allows me to get the lay of the land by reviewing comments and questions, helping me make sure any subsequent meetings or presentations are focused on matters that are important to the audience.

I want to inform the project team so that they can take appropriate action. In this case, my audience might be key stakeholders and my presentation will provide important information that requires their input and action. A presentation is probably the best approach. I’ll focus my presentation in a way that provides information that sets out the action I need stakeholders to take, while answering questions and resolving concerns. In this case the purpose of my presentation will be to inform so that I can obtain a commitment to action.

Why present?

The easiest way to think about this when starting to plan a presentation is to answer the question “Why do I want to inform you?” phrasing your answer along the lines of “I want to inform you so that you will…

  • be able to do something new, or improve on something you already do,
  • commit to take action,
  • be persuaded to see something from a particular perspective,
  • see me as knowledgeable and creditable and use me as a resource, and/or
  • be entertained and engaged.”

The idea here is to focus your presentation on what your audience needs to achieve, rather than what you want to tell them. You’ll get more attention and buy-in if you plan and deliver your presentation with this in mind.