This is a question that we always, always ask participants of our Presenting intelligence workshops. The reason that we put in the time and effort into preparing presentations at work is so that we can be successful – isn’t it? We want to be successful. So, ‘How do you know that your presentation is successful?’
In fact, just last week I was doing a workshop on presentation skills and I asked this question. Here are the responses that I got:
Now these are all good answers – I would have given these answers a few years ago. I wish I had known all those years ago that – while these answers may tell you how ENGAGING your presentation is, they do not tell you if your presentation was successful. We do want to make our presentations engaging – make them interactive, get the audience to interact and ask questions. Having an engaging presentation would raise the chance that it is successful. But I know, from personal experience, that presentations can be engaging but not successful. These are the ones where afterwards the presenter and audience is asking themselves ‘…and what was the point of that presentation again?’
Here’s another set of answers:
Again, these are excellent answers. We hope that if you have done a presentation then it is tailored to your audience and to their needs. When you have understood your audience and catered to them, then you have the key to your audience – they’re going to be more engaged, more willing to be influenced by you and more likely to remember what I said. The challenge lies is in knowing if they are truly satisfied at the end of your presentation – most of the time they walk away without giving you this feedback. They are much more likely to tell you if they are NOT satisfied than if they are.
AND, it still does not answer my question. Even if you know for sure that your audience is satisfied and that you have met their needs, your presentation may still not be successful.
– if you had one
In all the presentation skills workshops I have trained and observed – I know that this is where a lot of presenters haven’t put enough thought. They know their topic, not their objective. And a lack of clarity around their own objective leads to a lack of clarity in the presentation and to the presentation not being successful.
So this is what I would like to invite you to do. The next time you are asked to do a presentation, ask yourself.
This is different from the audience’s objective this is the Presenter’s Objective – what I want as a presenter. This is my WHY – why I am doing the presentation.
(I might also have an objective to simply express myself and that is fine – as long as I’m clear that that’s what I’m doing – this very rarely happens in a corporate setting though)
Let’s go a bit deeper into the ‘KNOW, DO or AGREE to’
My objective would start with the ‘Know’ if I am doing an FYI presentation – for your information only. It could be that I am presenting the results of work that has been completed or what our team has done, changes to processes, decisions that have been made – information that my audience needs to know.
This is the easiest one, this is the one that most of our participants use right off the bat ‘I want my audience to know …’
However, in real life very, very rarely do we have an objective which is simply to provide information. Which becomes clear when we ask ourselves an additional question:
‘Why do I need my audience to know this information?’
Let me give you an example, in my previous job, I used to be presenting Quality Management processes. If you had asked me what my objective was, I would have said ‘for my audience to know <xyz> process’. However, why did they need to know that information? I needed them to know about the process so that they would follow it. So, what I really need is for them to DO something. (Of course, it was also a requirement for all staff to attend QMS training – that objective was met once they signed the attendance sheet :-).)
A participant, who worked in a pharmaceutical company, once told me that her objective was ‘for my audience to know about <xyz> disease’. She had 30+ slides explaining different aspects of the disease and her research. However, when she thought about ‘Why do I need them to know about this information?’ – She realized that she wanted to showcase her research and she wanted for them to know that if they needed more information, they could come to her. Her objective was simply to make them aware, and that enabled her to shorten her presentation and make it much more impactful. As long as the audience had the big picture of what her research covered, and her contact details, her objective was met.
If after thinking about it, you still feel that your objective is for your audience to know something – then you need to check in with them at the end of your presentation – do they now know it? Your objective would be met only if they actually do, and remember and/or understand it. This is something you can gauge with interactive Q&A, running a fun quiz, creating discussion groups – there are many ways.
As I said before, in the workplace there are rarely FYI presentations and there’s another reason for that, because we have intangible objectives – more on those later.
If you need your audience to take some action, any action at all, after your presentation – your objective would start with the ‘I want my audience to <DO> …. ’.
Your objective is met only when they actually take that action – whether it is immediate or an action they take later.
This one is similar to the ‘DO’, if you need your audience to agree to something, then your presentation is successful only if they do agree to it – they need to sign on the dotted line!
One of the reasons that we rarely have FYI presentations in the workplace is that we often have objectives that are not stated. And in fact, cannot be stated. However, its always good to have them clear in your own mind while you design your presentation. These are objectives like:
These are just some examples, I am sure you can come up with many more.
With that, I hope that I’ve met my objective with writing this article – to inspire you to get clear on your objective from your presentation by asking yourself a few simple questions.
Please do put any additional questions that you may have in the comments below and I will make sure I will answer them.