Don't Inform, Transform

by Phil Waknell

Too many presentations aim only to inform, yet this is one thing oral presentations are particularly bad at – we forget most of what we hear within 30 seconds.

If you want people to remember information, give them a document and a coffee, and time to read. Then you can answer their questions, discuss, agree on the next steps, and leave.

This is what happens in meetings at companies like Amazon and LinkedIn, where not only do meetings never have slides - they never have presentations. Meetings begin with a period of silence, during which participants read a document that tells them everything they need to know, and the subjects up for discussion in the meeting.

After reading, everybody is literally on the same page. They ask questions, they check understanding, they discuss, they agree - and nobody gets up to present. Meetings take half as long as they did before. And anyone who missed the meeting can easily read the document to get a far better briefing than they would have got by reading a bunch of bullet points.

Presentations are very bad at informing people - but they can be great at transforming them.

What is your transformational objective?

Your aim as a presenter is to change your audience in some way. If, after your presentation, they neither believe, feel, nor do anything new or different, then you’ve wasted your time.

What’s worse is that you’ve wasted theirs.

To work out a transformational objective, simply complete this sentence:

After this presentation, my audience will _______________________.

Make sure the verb in the last part of the sentence is a feeling or doing verb. If you find yourself with the verb “know”, ask yourself why they need to know this – and then complete the sentence again with the real objective.

Bad: “After my presentation, my audience will know our corporate presentation style.”

Good: “After my presentation, my audience will successfully use our corporate presentation style every time.”

Remember, if you haven’t got a clear objective, you’re certain not to achieve it.

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