What is a Presentation?

See also: Personal Presentation.

The formal presentation of information is divided into two broad categories: Presentation Skills and Personal Presentation.

These two aspects are interwoven and can be described as the preparation, presentation and practice of verbal and non-verbal communication. 

This article describes what a presentation is and defines some of the key terms associated with presentation skills.

Many people feel terrified when asked to make their first public talk.  Some of these initial fears can be reduced by good preparation that also lays the groundwork for making an effective presentation.


A Presentation Is...

A presentation is a means of communication that can be adapted to various speaking situations, such as talking to a group, addressing a meeting or briefing a team.

A presentation can also be used as a broad term that encompasses other ‘speaking engagements’ such as making a speech at a wedding, or getting a point across in a video conference.

To be effective, step-by-step preparation and the method and means of presenting the information should be carefully considered. 

A presentation requires you to get a message across to the listeners and will often contain a 'persuasive' element. It may, for example, be a talk about the positive work of your organisation, what you could offer an employer, or why you should receive additional funding for a project.


The Key Elements of a Presentation

Making a presentation is a way of communicating your thoughts and ideas to an audience and many of our articles on communication are also relevant here, see: What is Communication? for more. 


Consider the following key components of a presentation:

Context

Ask yourself the following questions to develop a full understanding of the context of the presentation.

  • When and where will you deliver your presentation?

    There is a world of difference between a small room with natural light and an informal setting, and a huge lecture room, lit with stage lights. The two require quite different presentations, and different techniques.

  • Will it be in a setting you are familiar with, or somewhere new?

    If somewhere new, it would be worth trying to visit it in advance, or at least arriving early, to familiarise yourself with the room.

  • Will the presentation be within a formal or less formal setting?

    A work setting will, more or less by definition, be more formal, but there are also various degrees of formality within that.

  • Will the presentation be to a small group or a large crowd?

  • Are you already familiar with the audience?

    With a new audience, you will have to build rapport quickly and effectively, to get them on your side.

  • What equipment and technology will be available to you, and what will you be expected to use?

    In particular, you will need to ask about microphones and whether you will be expected to stand in one place, or move around.

  • What is the audience expecting to learn from you and your presentation?

    Check how you will be ‘billed’ to give you clues as to what information needs to be included in your presentation.

All these aspects will change the presentation. For more on this, see our page on Deciding the Presentation Method.


Presenter

The role of the presenter is to communicate with the audience and control the presentation.

Remember, though, that this may also include handing over the control to your audience, especially if you want some kind of interaction.

You may wish to have a look at our page on Facilitation Skills for more.

Audience

The audience receives the presenter’s message(s).

However, this reception will be filtered through and affected by such things as the listener’s own experience, knowledge and personal sense of values.

See our page: Barriers to Effective Communication to learn why communication can fail.

Message

The message or messages are delivered by the presenter to the audience. 

The message is delivered not just by the spoken word (verbal communication) but can be augmented by techniques such as voice projection, body language, gestures, eye contact (non-verbal communication), and visual aids.

The message will also be affected by the audience’s expectations. For example, if you have been billed as speaking on one particular topic, and you choose to speak on another, the audience is unlikely to take your message on board even if you present very well. They will judge your presentation a failure, because you have not met their expectations.


Reaction

The audience’s reaction and therefore the success of the presentation will largely depend upon whether you, as presenter, effectively communicated your message, and whether it met their expectations.

As a presenter, you don’t control the audience’s expectations. What you can do is find out what they have been told about you by the conference organisers, and what they are expecting to hear. Only if you know that can you be confident of delivering something that will meet expectations.

See our page: Effective Speaking for more information.

Method

How will the presentation be delivered?

Presentations are usually delivered direct to an audience.  However, there may be occasions where they are delivered from a distance over the Internet using video conferencing systems, such as Skype.

It is also important to remember that if your talk is recorded and posted on the internet, then people may be able to access it for several years. This will mean that your contemporaneous references should be kept to a minimum.


Impediments

Many factors can influence the effectiveness of how your message is communicated to the audience.

For example background noise or other distractions, an overly warm or cool room, or the time of day and state of audience alertness can all influence your audience’s level of concentration.

As presenter, you have to be prepared to cope with any such problems and try to keep your audience focussed on your message.   

Our page: Barriers to Communication explains these factors in more depth.

Continue to read through our Presentation Skills articles for an overview of how to prepare and structure a presentation, and how to manage notes and/or illustrations at any speaking event.

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