The art (or the science?) of the business presentation

The audience almost groaned as the presenter clicked over to another slide in what was turning out to be a professional yet very dreary presentation. A large number of people in the audience had already reverted to the heads-down pose, namely fiddling with smartphones or tablets pretending to be attending those urgent emails.

Yet it did not really have to come to this. Perhaps the presenter misjudged the audience or the timing or the number of slides needed on the day. But a more fundamental level, perhaps the presenter just did not understand the difference between the art and the science of business presentations.

The business presentation is somewhat binary in its nature, and is a bit like a shot in golf. That is, if you hit the spot well, it will exceed expectations about impact and delivery, but conversely if you do not hit the mark, the outcome can be frustrating and possibly quite costly.

In my view, the business presentation is far more about art than science. Indeed, both facets are needed, but the balance almost always comes down to the art. How much art vs science will of course depend on the individual circumstances, but I have never seen a situation where the art portion is in the minority.

The art of the presentation is about the three Es, namely –

Engagement – connecting with the audience

Energy – showing enthusiasm and passion about the subject

Empathy – showing some feeling towards the audience.

On the other hand, the science of the presentation is more about the process, namely –

Purpose – being clear about why the audience should be listening to the presentation

Structure – having a clear roadmap for the presentation and how it will be delivered

Content – shaping compelling material that will be credible and convincing.

As already stated, it is essential to have some blend of both. A business presentation built with only one side of the ledger is likely to be doomed. The presenter cited at the start of this piece has most likely focused too heavily on the science side of the ledger, and ignored the key elements of the art.

Think about your next business presentation either large or small. What will be your split between art and science? How will you shape and drive the right balance? Or will your audience be focused more on their tablets or phones?

The famous architect and designer Charles Eames summed it up well when he stated that “Art resides in the quality of doing – process is not magic”.

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