What is the most important aspect of your Presentation?

Your ideas?
Your arguments?
Your PowerPoint?

I ask this question at the beginning of every workshop I give on Presenting Powerfully. The answers are always varied. No one group ever agrees on what is the most important thing. However, I believe that the most important thing in every presentation is the audience, not you or your ideas. Why? Because a presenter is there to serve the audience, to help them solve a problem. When writing a text, it could be argued that you can focus on your own ideas. Readers can move around a text, go to the part that interests them, that answers a question they have. However, the audience has to follow your presentation from beginning to end, they have no remote control to skip ahead or rewind. And people are generally only interested in things that can be of use to them. How many times has someone told you about a new app or software that they are using and which they find extremely useful? They talk to you at length about it, even show it to you and give you a demo. And maybe you are interested in it at the time. And you think, I should try that app out. It could be useful. But you never do. You forget all about it. Why? Because your friend has explained how the app has solved a problem for them. They haven’t (perhaps) thought about what problems or needs you have and how that app could be of benefit to you.

If you want to make an impactful presentation, you need to think how you can help solve a problem, an important pressing problem, that the audience has. So, you are not the Karate Kid, you are not the hero of the presentation, even though it feels like that with everyone looking and listening to you as you stand on stage. If you are not the Karate Kid, then who are you? You are Mr Miyagi. Granted, not so young, good looking or exciting, but a key figure nonetheless. You are the mentor to the hero. You help the hero overcome a problem they have.

Your audience is the hero of your presentation, not you. You are the mentor and your role is to help them, guide them, offer them a convincing solution to a specific problem they have. If you start your presentation talking about them and their needs they will give you the utmost attention. So, don’t start your presentation by immediately launching into how much experience you have and your authority to speak on this subject (which is how 99% of presentations begin). Instead, begin first by grabbing their attention, then outline the Big Question (their problem) that you are going to speak about and only THEN establish your authority to talk about this question/problem. After you’ve established your authority, tell them what your argument is i.e. the answer you are going to propose to that question.

If you see the audience as the most important thing in your presentation you will also be less nervous and more enthusiastic. Your focus will be on them, on helping them. It is much easier to get enthusiastic about solving someone else’s problem than it is to speak about your own ideas, which can be egotistical. Also, it is unfeasible to use a presentation to speak about your ideas on a topic. Why? Because as a (presumed) expert on the topic, you should have many, many things to say about it, far too many to fit them all into a 15 minute presentation. How do you choose what to say? Should you choose the things you deem most important? The things that are easiest to explain in 15 minutes? The things that are the most visual to stick in a PowerPoint? No, tell them the things they need to know in order to solve their specific problem.

If we all approached our presentations, meetings, classes this way we’d save a lot of time and leave our heroes champions of the Karate competition every time.