When I was in college, I was required to take a class in business law. While it wasn’t my area of study, I was interested in the legal system and excited about the class.
I went to one of those large, public universities where it’s not unusual to have hundreds of people in an introductory class. To give some personal attention, everyone was also assigned to a weekly discussion section where a graduate assistant would answer questions about the course, engage the students in dialogue, and do most of the grading.
I’ll never forget how the graduate assistant started off the first discussion section of the course. He said:
The one thing you need to know about this course is that the professor doesn’t care about you.
That got everyone’s attention.
He went on to explain that while the professor was an expert in his field and passionate about the law, he cared very little about the teaching part of his job and put in minimal effort. He encouraged us to stick with him during the course and that he would help get us through.
He was right about both. I barely remember the professor and the graduate assistant ended up being the best instructor I had in college.
Setting aside the problems in higher education instruction, this experience taught me an early lesson that I refer to often when coaching clients on their presentation skills.
Many assume that it’s enough as a presenter to be an expert in your subject matter and to be excited about your material. Both of those things are essential components of presenting effectively; woe to the presenter who ignores either and thinks they can slide by.
And, most people I’ve worked with get so caught up with the content and their own confidence level that they miss the third and final component of an effective presentation:
Desire for the audience to get value.
Expertise and excitement about the material, while essential, is still mostly about you.
When we have the opportunity to present, we aren’t there for ourselves. The real goal is to convey something of value to whoever the audience is. Presenters who focus only on how they feel, what their slides say, how nervous they are, or getting the presentation over with miss the central point of an effective presentation.
The best presenters spend extensive time thinking about what people really need to know to do their jobs well, how they will ensure folks get that message, what stories or analogies they can use that will connect with a particular audience, and what mental obstacles the people they’ll be speaking to are likely to have. They work as hard to address those areas as they do on content and confidence.
It’s not enough to know a lot about what you’re talking about and to have passion for it. You owe it to the audience to be asking yourself, “If I was attending my presentation and knew little about this topic, what would be most helpful to me?”
If the answer to that question inspires you to change how you prepare and deliver a presentation, you’ve successfully bridged a gap most presenters never do:
An appreciation that when we have the opportunity to present, we aren’t there for ourselves.
[reminder]What have you seen an effective presenter do to ensure their audience received value?[/reminder]