great presentations

Great presentations are in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone agrees on what makes a great presentation any more than they agree on the best film (Gregory’s Girl), best alt-folk/modern-Americana band (The Barr Brothers) or best Paediatric Surgical Department (Sheffield Children’s Hospital). It is helpful to consider a presentation as the product of its constituent parts; a clear, memorable message (p1), supportive and non distracting media (p2) and engaging media (p3). There is however no accepted, verifiable or consistent assessment of what makes a great presentation.

great presentations

Great presentations should be the aim of every presenter. There is no value to an audience of a speaker who does not aspire to this. If the message means little to the speaker, it will mean less to the audience. What constitutes great however is very difficult to quantify as this is entirely a personal view. One audience member may already have knowledge of the topic, another distracted by the media and another engaged by the delivery. Each will report the value of the presentation differently. Other factors such as the previous speakers, time of day, even the quality of an imminent lunch will all affect the perceived value of what may or may not be a great presentation.

Formal conference feedback is not always a good indication of the quality of a presentation. This is due to the bluntness of the tool used, the huge variation of interpretation and, unfortunately, the difficulty involved in an audience giving negative feedback. Consequently the number of great presentations according to such feedback outstrips the opinion shared in the coffee lounge afterwards. Nor should a presenter rely on the comments from the floor during questions, “Thank you for your excellent presentation, I very much enjoyed it,” is as sincerely and valuable as the server at a fast food outlet advising you your choice of meal was “awesome”.

The best feedback comes from a trusted colleague in the audience. Immediate personal reflection is seldom accurate and importantly reflects the speaker’s level of anxiety and reflection on their preparation not the received delivery. A great presentation is the view of the audience and even a story that is complex, a media that fails and a delivery that stumbles may connect perfectly with an audience for reasons that are unclear. Great presentations are all about the audience.

1 Comment

  1. Andy Tagg

    Thanks, Ross. I think I need to come back to this post every time I give a talk.

    For me the key line is “Immediate personal reflection is seldom accurate”. It is hard to judge if you have made a great presentation, unless, I guess, you get a standing ovation. We sent out a survey of the talks after DFTB17. Though the feedback was universally positive from my talk, it was not the aim of my presentation. My aim was to change behaviour. Having had a number of conversations with delegates during the event affirmed that that had taken place. Only a couple of weeks later can I take a step back and make a more objective view of things.


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