Determining the goal of your presentation is hard; Issue #270 September 18, 2012

Presentation Tip: Determining the goal of your presentation is hard

The foundation of every presentation should be a clear statement of the goal of the presentation. While I am sure you would agree with this, stating a clear goal is much harder than it seems. Don’t always assume that the first goal you come up with is the correct goal for the presentation.

A few years ago a client who owns a boutique insurance agency came to me for help on an important upcoming presentation. He was pitching a policy to an organization and his competition was a large national insurance agency. When I asked Bruce what the goal of his presentation was, he quickly answered that it was for the Board of Directors to buy the policy from him instead of the competition. I questioned him on this goal because the other agency would be presenting after Bruce and it was not realistic for the Board to make a decision before seeing both presentations. The quick answer was not a realistic goal. After further discussion, we decided that the true goal of the presentation was to convince the Board of the best criteria for making the decision. If we could convince them of the criteria, we knew Bruce’s proposal would win in the end. We created a presentation that was focused on helping the Board understand why they should use certain criteria to make the decision. The day after the presentations, Bruce won the $175,000 contract.

When you are deciding on your goal, you must be realistic and specific. The goal is like the destination for the audience. It is much like using a GPS device. When you start using a GPS, the first thing it asks you is what destination you are going to. If you input an address that does not exist, like setting an unrealistic goal for your presentation, it gives you an error and asks you to re-enter the destination. If you are not specific enough with the address, it asks you for more detailed information, like the exact house number on the street instead of just the name of the street. Your presentation goal can’t be generic, it needs to be detailed and specific.

I was recently speaking with someone who was helping a senior HR executive prepare for a presentation to their Board of Directors. I started by asking what the goal of the presentation was. She quickly said that it was to update the Board on changes to the compensation system. Any time I hear that the goal of a presentation is to update the audience, it raises a flag for me. Having an audience just understand what you are saying is rarely the true destination. In this case, I asked whether the real goal should be for the Board to not only understand the new system, but to give their support to it. She paused and now saw the presentation in a different way.

The goal drives everything else you do for that presentation. That is why it is so important to be clear and specific about the goal. Don’t take the first easy answer that comes to mind. Take that quick response and step back. Ask yourself whether that is realistic or actually achievable in that presentation. If not, come up with a more realistic goal. Take the first response and ask if it goes far enough. Just sharing information is usually not a specific enough goal. What do you want the audience to do with the information? Do you want support for moving forward? Do you need a decision on which direction to go? Or is it something else you need them to do.

Without a well stated goal, you can waste a lot of time in creating and preparing a presentation that has no hope of achieving what you really need it to achieve. For your next presentation, invest ten minutes in thinking about the goal. Use the ideas above to help create a realistic and specific goal that will focus your preparation.

By Dave Paradi

Dave Paradi has over twenty-two years of experience delivering customized training workshops to help business professionals improve their presentations. He has written ten books and over 600 articles on the topic of effective presentations and his ideas have appeared in publications around the world. His focus is on helping corporate professionals visually communicate the messages in their data so they don't overwhelm and confuse executives. Dave is one of fewer than ten people in North America recognized by Microsoft with the Most Valuable Professional Award for his contributions to the Excel, PowerPoint, and Teams communities. His articles and videos on virtual presenting have been viewed over 4.8 million times and liked over 17,000 times on YouTube.