Public Speaking
Credit: United States Government Works

How many times have you been to “professional development” courses at your workplace and walked away wishing you hadn’t just lost two or three hours of your life? Maybe it was the barrage of technical jargon, maybe it was the distracting animated PowerPoint slides, or maybe it was just 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon and not even the presenter could hide their longing for the bell. There are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to presenting to groups, but communicating effectively doesn’t have to be rocket science. There is one key ingredient however that makes the difference between a presentation that engages an audience, and a person who stands out the front merely spouting words. Whether you are a confident speaker or suffer from stage fright, the most important thing to know is your purpose.

Know Your Purpose

Have you been given the task of presenting a topic to your staff, colleagues, sporting team, or community group? Or maybe there’s just something you’re incredibly interested in and want to share with others. Clearly there was a point to this topic, yet when people deliver presentations many jump into “what” the topic is before knowing or articulating “why” it matters.

It’s important to articulate the purpose of your presentation from the start. This provides context and links the relevance of your topic to the audience. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek often talks about the importance of starting with the question: “Why?” Using his “golden circle” model, Sinek argues that successful leaders know and understand their reason, purpose, or belief for doing something, whether it’s running a company, selling a product, or starting a movement. His ideas of inspirational leadership can also be applied to help your presentation be as engaging as it should be.

To identify your presentation’s purpose, you can ask a few simple questions like:

Why does your audience need to know about your topic? What do you want your audience or participants to gain from your presentation? By the end of your presentation, what should your audience walk away with?

The answers to these questions can then help you identify the objectives of your presentation. Your objectives dictate the information that’s important, what you will cover, and how you will cover them. For example, say you’ve been asked to teach your staff team how to use a new software tool. If your team needs training because they have lower levels of computer literacy, maybe you want to ease their worry in using this new tool and help them gain confidence to perform basic functions. By the end of the presentation, staff will have walked away with some new found skills and confidence to use your new software tool. The information you provide will be framed in terms of how the presentation will support your staff, rather than purely as a means to get the job done in a different IT program.

Alternatively, the new software tool might be introduced to improve efficiencies and beat market sales of your competitors. In this case, the purpose of the presentation is to provide your staff with knowledge on how to use the software to best increase their sales and commissions. Plenty of incentive there!

Highlighting objectives will set the scene both for yourself and your audience. Without understanding the presentation’s purpose, your audience can easily slip into a disinterested slumber. Once you introduce the presentation’s purpose at the beginning, remember to return to it at the end. By doing so, you can reiterate (and hopefully prove) why participants were in the room in the first place. Knowing your purpose is a simple yet powerful key, and sets apart engaging speakers from the mediocre ones. Know your purpose, and your presentation will be one step closer to reaching the audience’s ears, eyes, and minds.