In order to find out the type of your presentation, you must answer a few detailed questions.
Question #1: Will the presentation be delivered by the presenter in person or will it be sent via email for the recipients to read on their own on their computer screens?
This is a fundamental issue as it will determine the form of the texts displayed on the slides. A presentation that is given in person should have little text, ideally in the form of single words or short phrases. Some of the best presentations contain no text at all, only photographs and graphic images. Presentations that need to be sent for individual reading or for print call for a different approach. The texts have to be longer and packed with content. If the presenter is not going to be there, the texts will have to tell the whole story.
Question #2: If the presentation is going to be given in person, how big will the room be?
This will determine the size of the text on the slides among other things. A large hall and an auditorium of several hundred requires the font size to be at least 28 points (that with the standard 16:9 PowerPoint format). In a small room, 14-point font will be enough.
Question #3: Will your presentation be formal or relaxed?
A presentation intended for a large conference will be a little different from a presentation to be given at your company’s board meeting.
A conference audience will appreciate valuable content delivered in a form that is light or even entertaining. They will expect to learn something from you but will never forgive you if you bore them with detailed information, displayed in data sets and graphs. They want to be informed and entertained at the same time.
The management board, a potential client or your colleagues at work will expect something different: they come for hard data, figures and graphs and not to see a show. They will want to hear your line of argument, facts and reports. If you are able to give it all to them in a light and funny form, they will surely appreciate it but that is not what they expect.
This all leads us to the key question which is often overlooked while making a presentation: defining the type of the presentation to be created.
Nancy Duarte, author of “Slide:ology” proposes a division into presentations and slidedocs. The introduction of this division was a cleansing revolution for the world of presentations. According to Duarte, presentations are meant to be presented in front of the audience while slidedocs are visual documents developed in presentation software that are intended to be read and referenced instead of projected.
Bruce R Gabrielle, author of “Speaking PowerPoint”, offers an equally valuable division into ballroom-style and boardroom-style presentations.
Both these distinctions have cleared up a lot of confusion in the industry and combining them has brought me to a conclusion that there are actually three main types of presentation:
1) A stage presentation - delivered by the presenter in person, usually on a large stage and in front of a large audience. Such presentations should have as little text on the slides as possible, a lot of visualization, multimedia, ingenious demonstrations, interaction with the audience and most of all a great story that the speaker can use to engage and inspire the audience and convince them of his or her ideas. Slides - if used at all - serve only as a visual aid. The main load here is on the speaker. Ideally, presentations of this type are made to fit the genre of infotainment (a combination of information and entertainment), they are light and informal in style and are meant to present only the general aspects of the subject. Steve Jobs was a master of this type of communication.
2) A business type presentation - given at small meetings to groups of a few, a dozen or several dozen people. This category covers presentations given at board meetings, supervisory boards, meetings with clients or potential business partners, internal trainings and product presentations. Presentations given at teacher meetings at schools or universities as well as online training given via Skype, Zoom, MS Teams, etc. will also fall under this category. They are intended to address issues at a deeper level of detail than stage presentation, they typically contain lots of hard data and the texts tend to be short and compact. The slides and the speaker carry about half of the load of the narrative each.
3) Slidedoc – is a type of presentation which is not meant to be given by the presenter in person but sent via email to the recipient or handed in to them as a printout. It’s a presentation-document, often quite formal in nature. As the speaker’s role here is entirely taken over by the text, it has to be complete and make the content clear enough to the recipients without overwhelming them with an excessive quantity of data. The text and the graphic image size can be much smaller than in the other two types or presentation as the recipients will be viewing the slides at close range: looking at a piece of paper or their computer’s monitor.
A lot of problems with presentations stem from the fact that a stage type presentation is made as if it was meant to be a slidedoc or a business-type presentation. And vice versa: some presentations given at board meetings look as if they were meant for the stage - after all there’s always the temptation to model Steve Jobs’s presentations in a board meeting. Each type of presentation requires a different style. If we go beyond the style that is fit for the situation, our audience will feel as if they were watching a game of baseball when they had actually bought tickets to a football match. This is a game and that is a game but how different the emotions and the expectations of the spectators.
This book has been written to discuss universal principles of creating effective presentations. Most of these principles are common to all three of the above types of presentation. However, there are exceptions to those universal principles. Some of the tools and guidelines presented below will only apply to one or two types of presentation. I will make it clear every time a situation like this appears.
In any case, first make up your mind about which of the above types best fits your presentation situation. The relevant means, tools and techniques will be discussed further down the road.
There are times when it is not at all clear what type of presentation is called for in a given situation. It may be that your presentation will be given during a board meeting and subsequently sent to each of the board members via email. Will that be a business-type of presentation then or a slidedoc?
Well, if the job is to be done really well – you have to prepare two versions of this presentation: for the board room and the other to be sent. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time for such things”. But the question keeps coming back like a boomerang: do you want to do it quickly or do you want to do it well?
And if you want to master your presentation skills, then go check out my online course Professional PowerPoint Presentations HERE>