Focus on content.

Share this

A successful presentation, like a successful story, theatre performance, TV series or concert is all about the audience. The latter is defined as a group of people that sit and watch the presenter deliver. They may have turned up in order to be educated, informed or simply to be entertained. They usually come from different backgrounds, with different expectations, at the end of a tiresome day at work, possibly preoccupied with their own problems. Nevertheless, they are there. It is the presenter’s duty to make it a worthwhile experience for them, and for him.

This is not always the case.

We’ve all been there – sitting through an excruciatingly boring, dry, scripted presentation with nothing to look at on the screen except bullet points, full sentences and lousy clip-art.Jon Thomas

Making it even worse, the presenter has made no effort to keep you interested, help you understand the material, or create anything worth looking at. You’re in agony, and you’re counting down the minutes until you can leave.

It does not need to be this way. In this second part of this series we are going to look closely at the points the presenter needs to consider to make the presentation a pleasant and effective experience.

Attention to Goal.

First and foremost, you need to consider the point you are making. If a member of your audience were to summarise your presentation in one sentence, what would it be? If your message cannot be expressed in a few words, then, you need to think again.

The most effective campaigns, stories and even jokes, evolve around a limited combination of words that linger on in the audience’s minds long after the presentation has finished.  A Red Cross campaign ends with the following slogan: “The greatest tragedy is indifference.” The need to care and be involved is what the presenters had in mind. This was their goal. They achieved that using five words. Can your presentation be summarized in a similar way?

 Attention to SMART Goals.

The most widespread criteria used when selecting a goal – or, as in our case, the end message for your presentation- is that it needs to be specific, manageable, acceptable, relevant and timed.

More specifically, your message needs to be specific: i.e., focus on a particular idea which would be immediately identifiable. It needs to be manageable: i.e., your audience can process it in the time they have available within the physical constraints of your talk. It needs to be acceptable: i.e., it matches the educational, cultural or social expectations and background of your listeners. It needs to be relevant: i.e., it needs to take into account the “here and now” of the participants. It needs to be timed: i.e., you need to make your point within the time you have available for your presentation with time to spare at the end.

Attention to Audience.

Depending on the circumstances, gathering information about your audience is equally important to preparing your presentation.

There are at least four key questions to ask:

  1. How old are they? You can expect younger participants to be more proficient with technology or more flexible in their ways than older ones.
  2. What do they do and where? Their roles, duties and working conditions, physical and temporal, for instance, may be different from yours. In this case, your message may be interpreted in pleasantly unexpected ways.
  3. How long have they been at this particular job or how many different jobs have they had? Their knowledge of the world and of a variety of working contexts and conditions may be an advantage: they could be asked to share different perspectives and approaches.
  4. Why do they care about what you have to say? They have taken a seat in front of you for a variety of reasons: genuine interest, obligation, peer pressure or, in the worst case scenario, lack of anything better to do.

 Attention to Structure.

Now is the right time to revisit your storyboard. This is the blueprint of your presentation. You are still working with pen and paper. This may sound rather technophobic, however, it is the safest way to think about what matters, i.e., the content and the structure of what you want to talk about, rather than the possibilities offered by technology.

Three basic questions are paramount:

  1. How many points do I need to make my message clear? In the words of Edahn Small[ii]: “Make certain that your presentation follows a chronological or a logical sequence”. Each slide should build on what has appeared or mentioned beforehand and prepare the audience for what is to follow. Each slide should be as economical as possible in terms of word load and as explicit as possible in terms of visual content.
  2. How much detail is required? At the same time you should ask yourself: How much detail is really necessary? To quote Edahn Small[iii] again: “If you try to tell them everything, they will not remember anything”. Be as economical as possible. If you can draw it, then use a picture. If you cannot, then use only five to seven words. This will help your audience process your message as you are delivering it. In addition, they will have the time to consider what is not there, which is equally important to what appears on your slide.
  3. How many slides? This can be a trick question. The rule of thumb should be: one point per slide followed by one slide for each example or explanation. The total number is subject to the restrictions mentioned in the previous two questions. Avoid cramming too much information on each slide or you run the risk of confusing your audience and losing focus. It is always a good idea to reintroduce a point if you want to approach it from a different angle.

 Attention to Components.

This is the time you would like to start work on your presentation software. Look at your goal – in the storyboard, that would be your last drawing or set of words – and think of a suitable title. Then proceed to build your presentation following the following steps:

  1. First, introduce your topic and yourself. Paraphrase your title for your audience and tell them a couple of things about yourself, your context of work and your experience.
  2. Then, in your next slide, show them an outline of the main points you want to cover. This will give your audience an idea of what to expect and how you have structured your talk. You may not want to reveal your conclusion-main point yet.
  3. Make sure that each main point appears on a separate slide with similar fonts and background. This will help your audience identify them for what they are. It will also make them stand out from your examples or your supporting evidence. Furthermore, you may want to number them, i.e., 1 of 4, to guide your audience and focus their attention.
  4. Similarly, present your main points with similar fonts and backgrounds. Again, this will help your audience identify them for what they are. It will also make them stand out from your main points. As a rule of thumb, you can use a dark blue back ground with a white font for your main point and a white background with dark blue fonts for your examples or your supporting evidence.
  5. Finally, present your conclusion-main point using the same layout, fonts and background, you used for your introduction.
  6. Do not forget to add a “thank you” slide and contact information.

 Attention to Content.

At this point and while you are still looking at the presentation software slide sorter, it is time to consider how much what you see in the slides reflects your own experience. Personalise it as much as possible.

Your audience may be more or less familiar with what you have to say. In the first case, you are confirming what they already know, in the second case, you are helping them find out something new. In both cases, however, your personal experience is what makes a difference.

For instance, what difficulties did you come across, how did you manage them, how did you feel during the process, did it have an impact on your personal, professional, or even social, life? For the people in your audience who have had similar experiences, your personal point of view will help them relate to your points and add credibility to your arguments. For those in your audience who are not very familiar with your topic, your experiences will help them identify aspects of their own lives they can relate to.

[i] Thomas, Jon, 10 Tips and Techniques for More Effective Presentations,, retrieved from on September 12, 2012.

[ii] Small, Edahn: 10 Tips for Making Beautiful Slideshow Presentations, retrieved from on October 13th, 2012.

[iii] ibid.