Planning a presentation? WHY?

In the last 20 years I’ve given presentations to tens of thousands of people from all over the world. Now I’m coaching other leaders in confident public speaking, I’m increasingly asking WHY. Perhaps you should too.

Giving talks or presentations is a bread-and-butter part of being a leader these days. I see more and more managers and leaders – and aspiring leaders – who are more familiar with advanced features in Microsoft PowerPoint than almost any other app on their computer. The appetite for learning about how to give a good presentation is absolutely vast – at the time of writing, Google can direct you to 816 million sites offering to help with “presentation skills”.

0 million
pages on Google for "presentation skills"

…but do we think enough about WHY?

Don’t get me wrong – a poorly presented talk, or poorly designed slides are a real problem. They blight way too many talks, even with all the tips and templates available these days. So it’s right that all of us who give presentations spend time and effort (and get feedback) on the mechanics – the HOW.

But even the most beautiful slides and engaging style aren’t enough. It’s still possible to miss the PURPOSE of the presentation. Like me, you’ve probably been in some great presentations; uplifting, entertaining or just very clear – but which haven’t really achieved a purpose particularly well. I’ve been in many where I’d have to conclude the main purpose was just for the audience to think the speaker was clever. Does that really warrant you committing your time, as an audience member?

Pausing to think about the WHY questions will help you put your presentation techniques to good use. 

  • Why is this meeting happening? 
  • Why are these attendees here?
  • Why is this presentation being given?
  • Why me?

If you’re clear about what could be achieved by you giving this presentation at this time to these people in this meeting, then you’re onto a winner. If not, please don’t even start any other preparation.

Be warned, though – asking WHY can have some significant consequences for your presentation, and even for your meeting.

  • If your purpose is to encourage others to try something that’s worked for you, have you included enough detail about how you succeeded, alongside the impressive evidence that you succeeded? What’s going to serve the purpose best?
  • If your purpose is to explain a concept, do you need to include much more than just information in the presentation? Would a Q&A style group coaching session be more effective?
  • If your purpose is to change people’s perspective, would a story serve better than a traditional information-based presentation? Are you clear on the values and ‘killer stats’ that need to stand out?
  • If your purpose is to pass on information, is a presentation the best method? People read faster than you speak, so they could cover more ground if the information was written. Should you be giving this presentation at all?


This thread from Tessa Davis is a brilliant list of tips for the technicalities of planning a presentation (once you’re clear on the WHY!)…

…and personally I love Nancy Duarte’s work and books – well worth checking out if you want to freshen up your presentations

PS I am very much still on the learning curve myself here. If you’ve recently heard me speak, please don’t hesitate to let me know what you took away from it. Specific feedback really helps!


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