Understanding the Presentation Spectrum

When it comes to presentations, most people look at TED talks as the gold standard, the ‘right way’ to do it. Except, often, it’s not.

Here’s another way to think about it.

Presentations live on a spectrum.

At one end there’s the conference talk, the motivational speech, the keynote. We could call these ‘Performative’. As with many performances, the goal is to keep you engaged from start to finish. They’re designed primarily to spark an emotion. Usually this is feeling of inspiration, but the feels can range from wonder to downright indignation.

At the other end is ‘Decision Driven’. This is your quarterly budget review, or the results of a research report. It’s designed to help the audience make a decision… or perhaps present the decision itself. You likely want to convince the audience of your point as quickly and clearly as possible.

By now you may have noticed two things:

1. Very few presentations are purely ‘P’ or ‘D’. Instead, they’re somewhere along the spectrum. Somewhere in the (50?) shades.

2. The majority of presentations made at work lean closer to ‘D’.

And here’s the kicker - most of these ‘work’ presentations are invisible. They ain’t on YouTube for all to see. They're hidden inside companies. So we miss them. Confirmation bias instead pushes us towards ‘P’, or we default directly to ‘D’.

How to design for the full spectrum? That's for another post, but for now it’s worth thinking about where your next presentation lands on this simple axis. It’s a great start point to avoid building the wrong thing.

P.S. Yes, like many other things in our world, this topic is not binary - even if a lot of people want you to think it is…

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