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What Are You Really Trying to Communicate With Your Presentation?

Updated on: May 8th, 2012
Data Visualization, Presentations
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Collage of clipboard, clock, people, calendar and calculator.

I’ve been asking evaluators and non-evaluators to think about the most potent presentations they’ve seen and heard.

While everyone’s mentioned a bunch of similarities (“Don’t read off your slides” is a given), there have also been some differences. Most recently, my former teammate taught me about the value of text-rich PowerPoint slides for his clients, who want the PowerPoint to resemble an easy-to-read, stand-alone executive summary. Read more here.

That got me thinking… What are we really trying to communicate in our PowerPoint slides? Are we trying to “download” the information into our audience members’ brains? Do we want them to digest as many details about the evaluation project as possible? Or are we trying to introduce an idea or a new way of thinking about that specific evaluation, or even about the field of evaluation more broadly? And how might we need to adjust our presentation styles based on these different purposes and uses of the information?

Here’s what I’m thinking so far. Presenters can choose to communicate either content and knowledge or attitudes and ideas.

  • When you’re trying to teach your audience new content and knowledge, try using:
    • Handouts (Perhaps instead of PowerPoints? Jen Hamilton does this really well.)
    • Slides with a few quick bullet points (or, slides with full paragraphs if the slides are going to be used as a stand-alone executive summary for clients rather than presented verbally to other evaluators)
  • But, when you’re trying to change the audience members’ attitudes and ideas and really influence their way of thinking, try using:
    • Big images on your slides (accompanied by just 1-2 words, or you can even try text-free slides)
    • 1-word slides (Susan Kistler is great with this style)
    • Audience participation
    • Chart paper to summarize main points in a group discussion

What presentation formats would you add to these lists? Are there certain formats and styles that work best for communicating knowledge vs. communicating attitudes?

More about Ann K. Emery
Ann K. Emery is a sought-after speaker who is determined to get your data out of spreadsheets and into stakeholders’ hands. Each year, she leads more than 100 workshops, webinars, and keynotes for thousands of people around the globe. Her design consultancy also overhauls graphs, publications, and slideshows with the goal of making technical information easier to understand for non-technical audiences.

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