presentation delivery vs content vs structure

1,2,3 - theee levels of impact in a presentation

I often find myself metaphorically banging my head on my desk…

Perhaps it’s because actually giving presentations is what scares most people most, but I’m continually asked to deliver training courses which concentrate on “giving presentations”. (Side note, you might want to check out the three levels of impact for your presentation because this post goes hand in had with that.) But it’s not all about what you do in the room.

It’s not just about how you deliver your presentation

You might have heard the adage “Train hard, fight easy”. It’s used as a military motivation but there’s a lot of truth in it. If you’re preparation is as good as it needs to be, the actual presentation will be easier (but not necessarily actually easy).

So if it’s not about the delivery alone, what is it?

The three pillars of better presentations

It’s a Venn Diagram

Without the right content your presentation is pointless. Without structure no one can understand it. And without the right delivery no one will pay attention anyway.

Let’s do a brief run-through of those three components to your presentation

Content is pretty obvious, right? It’s your material. Well yeah, but it’s also what you don’t say. Its your references and your background research. It’s your preparation of answer to questions – even the ones that never get asked… but yeah, it’s the easiest of the three

Delivery is also obvious – it must be, because that’s how people see what you give them in a presentation. It’s also the bit they tend to talk to you about and it’s what most people want me to help them with.

Structure etc is the forgotten hero. I’m including not just the order of what you say, but things like signposting here – breaking things up into chapters – and having the chapters in the right order. I’m including things like making sure you use jargon only when it’s appropriate and eve things like how long your presentation is.

What about the intersections of the diagram?

Pretty obviously the intersection of all three is the golden slot, right?

So how about content and delivery together? It’s chaos. It’s an engaging delivery but no one can take much in, because material is just thrown at the audience. At worst they can’t cope with it at all and at best they spend more and more of their mental energy figuring out the structure – which leaves them less headspace to remember things.

Next is cool content and the right structure. It’s boring. It might be massively worthy and important but no one cares because the delivery makes them want eat their own elbows in frustration.

Then there’s the intersection of design and delivery. Wooo-hooo… What a ride.. but what a pointless ride!

Is there a silver bullet for the perfect presentation?

Probably not, to be honest. But what definitely exists is the need for all three to be part of your process. And because everyone has a tendency to find different parts of the presentation-process easier than others, I’ve got a few questions to help you think about getting the balance right.

  1. Do you design your presentation at a computer? Chances are you’re messing up on the structure/design. It’s not going to help your delivery but it’s definitely going to mess with your head. Why? Because as soon as you start to work digitally you put a nail through your creativity – you start to think in the way the software things. You’ve got no other choice.
  2. Do you start thinking about your presentation a looooong way in advance, jotting things down as they occur to you, ready to be put together later? Nope? Well then your content is probably going to suffer. Collating your thoughts in one go is a recipe for missing out the things that (by definition) aren’t obviously necessary to you. But what if they are from the audience’s perspective?!
  3. Do you get plaudits on how well you delivered and how engaging your presentation was? Great. But if what they’re complimenting you on is your presentation and not talking about how they’re going to use it, your presentation might as well have been a song and dance routing. (Sorry about that!)
  4. Do you find your audience either not doing things they “obviously should” if they’ve understood your presentation? Could be your delivery wasn’t up to snuff!
  5. Do you find your audience come back to you with questions you think you answered? This can be either at the time or later. Either way, it’s likely that your structure was letting you down and they couldn’t find the information in the, well… in the other information.

I know it’s partially going to be my bias but have you noticed how often the issue is delivery, rather than content or structure/design?

Summing up

I’m not saying delivery doesn’t matter! I’m saying there are other things that matter as much but that we don’t pay as much attention to them.

The solution is, at least in part, to schedule the proper amount of time to sort out your content and structure before you even begin to think about delivery. For all that I’ve drawn the three things as an overlapping Venn diagram, that’s for looking at importance. In terms of timetables there’s a very clear order:

Inspiration Cards from the Presentation Design Pack
  • get your content clear in your head – or better yet, clear outside of your head on paper or something
  • find the best structure and design for that content
  • once you’ve sorted out what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it, look to your delivery skills

It’s not rocket science! (To do it absolutely right and to do it using very structured tools to help if you struggle with this, with the discipline for this or just want to get the absolute best, look at the Presentation Design Pack.)

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