Your presentation’s three levels of impact

Bored by your presentation?

Let’s talk about your presentation’s impact. (Oh, and if you’d rather watch video than read, skip to the bottom of this blog – I’ve recorded to very short ones for you.)

I wanna differentiate between first, second and third-order impacts – so let’s start with some definitions. Stay with me – it gets interesting later!

First order presentation impact

What is a first-order impact in a presentation? (Actually it’s for anything you do, in principle, but let’s stick to presentations for now!) It’s the stuff that you do, in short.

Presentation Skills Training

How do you measure it? It’s measured in things like did I fall off the back of the podium? Did I operate my slides okay? Did I say everything that I wanted to say? So, in other words, you’re kind of measuring broadcast, you’re measuring what goes out there towards your audience and you going, “Okay, have I successfully “had an impact in the sense that I have given people some stuff?”.

It’s pretty straightforward as a concept and it’s “necessary but not sufficient”. If you get it right, you’ve got a chance to getting to second-order impact. So, what is second-order impact? Why isn’t it sufficient on its own? Read on!

What’s your presentation’s second order impact?

Well, this is what your audience receives. Kind of obvious isn’t it? It’s the impact on your audience.

So, first order is about what you give them, second order is about what they receive. It’s kind of blindingly obvious.

The word sorry

It follows on from first-order impact and you’d measure it by asking yourself questions such as:

  • did they understand it?
  • did they get it?
  • did they emotionally engage with your presentation?
  • did they buy into it?
  • do they remember your content?
  • how did it make them feel

So, if they understand it, it’s second order impact, if they’re engaged with you as you present, it’s second order impact… If they’re fascinated by it? Second order impact. If they laugh at it? Second order impact… But then as soon as your audience leave the presentation venue and do nothing with your content, it has no third-order impact.

…and presentation third-order impact?

Third-order impact is measuring what your audience does with that information. It’s as simple as that.

Third-order impact is about measuring the application of your presentation and pretty obviously I think what you should be doing is measuring and aiming for and designing your presentation for third-order impact.

A presentation is designed to get people to do stuff, right?

So where do presentations go wrong?

Based on my experience, so much of the time what we do is if we’re nervous and anxious is this… We concentrate on first-order impact. As the presentation progresses and immediately after it’s finished we ask ourselves: how do I feel, how did it go? What was the applause like when I walked off the stage? Was there any?

It’s only as we become confident that we start to measure second-order impact and we start asking ourselves questions like: did the audience get it, did they engage, did they care, did they understand?

But here’s the rub… None of that matters. What matters is third order impact. Obviously.

presentation progress in three stages

And here’s the problem of course, because in order to have a massive third-order impact, sometimes you have to sacrifice your first and second order impact. For example, in order to get your audience to act upon what you say, sometimes you have to risk looking bad. In the jargon I’ve been introducing here, sometimes to increase your third order impact, you have to risk reducing your presentation’s first-order impact.

Even more upsetting is when this principle (that your presentation should be designed for third-order impact) can reduce your second order impact, too. Maybe the audience just don’t like it as much but it might mean more they go away and do more.

How do I use that in my presentation?

A couple of examples might help…

Conventional rules for presentations suggest that your presentations should be slick – to go smoothly from A to B, to not look amateur, so that people can trust you.

And that’s great as far as it goes.

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

But if you want people to remember stuff, one really good tool is to go back to things you finished talking about a little while ago. You might lead in with something like “Do you remember 10 minutes ago, when I talked about so and so?” and then you go back to something you talked about 10 minutes ago. The bad news is that it looks dodgy, and it can alienate your audience if you do it too much. It reduces your first order impact.

But what it also does is make your audience work harder as they try to remember things. That, in turn means they’re more likely to learn things, and that increases your second order impact.

You’re sacrificing how cool you look, (your first order impact) in order to increase the chances of your audience remembering stuff, that is increase your second order impact.

Here’s another example about third order impact. Second order impact can be increased by cool handouts or workbooks, etc. But third order impact might be boosted if you send them those things after the event, so that your audience are reminded (let’s say) a week after the event.

“Oh yeah, I remember, “I’m supposed to be doing something along these lines…”

You’re sacrificing some first order impact boost third order impact.

Recommendations about my presentation, Simon?

smiley face

I’m not falling for that trick! I’m not making any recommendations, because only you know the circumstances in which you’re making your presentations. But what I am urging you to do, is at least consider whether you want maximum first, second and third order impact, and think about those three as different options.

All right, have fun. And don’t blame me if it all goes horribly wrong.



The three orders of impact for your presentation in two short videos!

A bit of a post-script… If you want to take this further, have a look at my last blog, looking at a blog on the Visme sight that gave 100+ ideas to make your presentation look cool. https://presentationgenius.info/100-creative-presentation-ideas-a-review/

Looking cool isn’t helpful if it gets in the way of your audience’s experience. I’d argue that by using overly-flashy slides (boosting level one), you risk screwing up the audience’s experience (level two) and therefore you automatically mess up level three of your presentation

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