Presentation Perfection

I came across a quotation the other day from Antoine de Saint Exupery, a French aviator and writer, he said:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

This seems like the ideal quotation to apply to your presentations. The best presentations, or for that matter, demonstrations are the ones that say what needs to be said and no more.

There are three types of presentation, informative, influential and entertaining. In business, purely entertaining presentations are rare, except for after dinner speeches. So let us look at the other two types, informative and influential.

Influential presentations usually have a single goal, to get you audience to do something or feel something differently at the end than they did at the outset. To change their behaviour. If all that was required was to tell them to do it and they would capitulate then there is no need for the presentation, just the final call to action.

Where there is some reluctance to change the presentation needs to overcome this inertia by stating the case for change. Another article I read recently “How facts backfire”, discusses how if someone has a view on a subject and you set out very clear, indisputable facts that they were wrong, you might think that they would change their mind. Well research shows that many of us don’t! In fact, we often became even more strongly set in our beliefs.

Here are a few quotes from the article:

  • Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds.
  • And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we chose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information.
  • But instead, it appears that misinformed people often have some of the strongest political opinions.

My thanks to David Gurteen for highlighting this article, in his January newsletter, and to The Boston Globe for publishing it.

So, facts are not enough to overcome this inertia, you need to gain an emotional buy in to that change which is strong enough to overcome each individual’s pre-held beliefs.

Once you have written your presentation go back through it and ask yourself the question “Do I need this bit? Does it directly help to sustain the call to action at the end?” and of course the better you understand the pre-held beliefs of your audience the more likely you are to be able to address those beliefs and overcome them.

For purely informational presentations, where you are educating your audience but are not concerned by what the do with this new found knowledge, then you will have no call to action at the end of the presentation. In this case perfection, is achieved by only telling them what they need/want to know and nothing else. Don’t teach them things they already know or dive in to too much unnecessary detail. This means you need to have a good understanding of what you audience already know, and the level of knowledge they would like to reach.

Which brings us back to one of the prime principles of a good presentation: “Know thy audience”.

 All the best with your presentations.

Graham Young


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