Who is your audience? What do you want them to do?

These are the first questions I ask my clients when we are preparing a presentation.

They are obvious questions. It is so easy to answer them quickly, forget the answers, and continue on, unthinking, unchanged, uninspired.

The other day I was meeting with a client. Some months before, he had gone to an international training session in Europe attended by his colleagues from the company’s other subsidiaries in other countries. He told me he had been asked to give a presentation at that training.

I asked him what the point of the presentation was. What did he want his audience to do?

He gave me an answer that made me proud. He said he wanted his audience to think of him as the expert on XYZ.

But then he showed me his presentation. It was filled with facts and figures and charts and graphs that just cluttered his message. They did not say, “I am the expert on XYZ.” They said, “I am the expert on XYZ, AND OH, BY THE WAY, HERE’S A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF.”

I could tell that when he began preparing his presentation he was thinking, “I want these people to think of me as the expert on XYZ.” But then, as he opened PowerPoint and began designing his slides, his thinking switched. He started thinking, “…And this is what goes into a presentation. I’ve got to put this in there too.”

At every point in your preparation, from the beginning right through to the end, ask yourself, “What do I want them to do?” If a sentence, or a word, or a chart, or a graph, if any piece of information, doesn’t directly serve that purpose, don’t put it in. It doesn’t matter how standard you think it is. Don’t put it in.

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