Most presentation text books talk about the importance of having a single purpose for your presentation. While I understand the logic, the fact is presentations, like life, are messy. Rarely as a presenter are we trying to satisfy just one need. There are several important priorities we need to consider and for that reason, I encourage you to consider the five purposes of your speech.
The Five Purposes
1 – General Purpose
This is just a word that generally describes what your presentation is meant to accomplish. Is the purpose to inform? To educate? To persuade? To inspire? What, in a word, is the overall purpose of the presentation?
2 – Specific Purpose
The specific purpose describes what the presentation will be about. This is the “one purpose” that other speech books talk about. Think of the specific purpose as the description that will appear in the conference program or in an email describing the meeting where you’ll present. The specific purpose is how you will describe for the audience what to expect.
3 – The Meeting Planner’s Purpose
Assuming you were asked by someone to speak, consider what that person’s motives are for asking you to make a speech. The meeting planner could be a conference coordinator who is hoping to get as many attendees to the conference as possible. The meeting planner could be your boss who wants you to present to a group of executives because you’re the expert on the topic. It could be a friend who wants you to share your experience about a non-profit organization that you benefited from.
The meeting planner’s purpose describes what the person who called the meeting is hoping to accomplish. If you’re not sure of the meeting planner’s intentions, ask him or her. A good place to start is to ask, “What were you hoping the audience will walk away with from this presentation?” Or ask “What do you want the audience to see, feel or do differently as a result of this meeting and/or my presentation?”
4 – The Audience’s Purpose
The audience’s purpose is the reason that members of this group are coming to see you. Now you might assume that it’s because they read the specific purpose in a program description and thought the subject matter seemed interesting or helpful. But not so fast! Don’t assume that you know or understand their purpose. Also don’t assume that the meeting planner had fully explained what the audience will want to get out of your presentation. Good meeting planners will have a real sense about what the attendees want to get out of a presentation. But there may be additional motives that the meeting planner doesn’t or can’t articulate. Don’t assume that the combination of your program description and the meeting planner knowledge will tell the whole picture. Instead, ask the audience.
How do you do that? Consider the following strategies.
Get a list of names and contact information for people who will be attending your presentation. If it’s a company meeting, look at the names of those invited on the meeting invitation. If it’s for an organization, ask the meeting planner for names and contact information for people he or she believes will be at the event. Ten is a good number to ask for. Chances are, there will be some people who are out of the office, or too busy to speak, so having ten names gives you plenty of opportunity to reach several people in the organization.
Interview as many people from the list as you can. Find out what these people believe the audience has an interest in. Are the participants willing participants who want to learn particular information from you? Or are they being required to be there? Also ask the individuals you interview what they personally want to know about the subject. Be sure you understand how what you have to talk about will be used within the audience members’ worlds.
Use websites and social media tools to connect with your audience. Work with the group to see if they’re willing to use their Twitter account, Facebook page, LinkedIn group, email list, website or other electronic sources to engage their members and to get feedback on their views of your topic. While collecting information electronically is helpful, it should not serve as a substitute for having live conversations. We present rather than just deliver information in written form because there is much that to be learned from listening and interacting with a presenter. The same is true when learning from our audiences before we present.
Greet meeting attendees as they come in the door. Smile. Introduce yourself. Let them know that you are the person presenting the material. If you have time, ask more of your questions to see how they feel about your topic.
All these efforts to meet the audience needs will pay off as you develop content. It will also pay off with regards to having people “on your side” when you start to speak. The audience members that you’ve greeted or spoken to will feel more connected to you as a person and more likely to be supportive and engaged during the presentation.
5 – Your Purpose
You agreed to do a presentation at a meeting or event. Why? Why did you say yes? Was it because your boss made you? Did you volunteer? How do you personally want benefit as a result of giving the presentation? Are you hoping for respect and recognition? Is the presentation a pathway to additional responsibilities and promotion?
Whether you volunteered, were asked or forced to give the presentation, the presentation will come to represent who you are. If you present, you’re going to make an impression. How important is it to you to make a good impression? What do you want that impression to be?
As you consider the five purposes, remember, they don’t have to be in conflict with one another. Ideally, you want to factor in each of the five factors in a way that they reinforce each other. If your boss asked you to present because of your subject matter expertise, then the boss could be wanting to get the funding for a new project, you could want executive management to know about your technical capabilities, the audience could want to know the bottom line of the impact of the change, and all of those purposes can support one another. When they don’t, then you have to make some tough decisions. If the meeting planner’s goal is for you to deliver a message that is contrary to what you stand for, will you be willing to say no? Presentations, like life, can be messy. Think through your five purposes to help make your next presentation a little cleaner!