Developing the ‘why’ of your presentations to ensure you achieve maximum impact

If you have five seconds to spare today, just ask yourself one quick question: How often have you sat through a lecture or public presentation and not known WHY you were there? WHY you were listening? WHAT was the point? Importantly: Did the speaker tell you at the start of the presentation WHY you should listen to their talk?


I would bet that most of the presentations you’ve watched recently will have started with a series of slides that show a title and an outline for the talk, but that the speaker did not actually tell you WHY you should give up your time to listen. This is a basic mistake that is very often made when people give presentations of all kinds: Please remember that if you start your talks by telling people WHY they should listen, and what they can expect to gain, then you will very quickly capture their attention and energise them. Your audience will be much more attentive and will want to be there, as they will understand immediately that they are going to gain some useful information, which will perhaps help to advance their careers or develop their education. This is the point: The reason WHY.


I often used to use this trick when presenting lectures to students as part of university courses. I’d start the presentation with a teaser, something like: ‘Don’t forget you’ve got your exams coming up at the end of the semester. The material in this lecture would make a great exam question and so I’d pay close attention if I were you’. Although it’s easy to give your audience a clear reason to pay attention at the start, I’m sure you’ll also agree with me that actually most presenters don’t: they concentrate on content and structure without engaging with people directly. This is a mistake.


It’s a good idea to structure your talks with a series of slides at the start that (i) give the title of the presentation, (ii) outline the structure of the presentation, and finally (iii) tell the audience WHY they should listen. You could then follow your structure (ii) presenting your core content in the main body of your talk before then repeating slides (ii) and (iii) again at the end to reinforce your learning outcomes. This is a very effective approach. I once watched an interview on TV with a well-known American preacher and he said the same: tell people what you are going to say, then say it, and then tell them again at the end. Audiences appreciate being told at the beginning and end of a presentation what they can expect, and what they should learn. Keep it simple. And don’t forget the WHY of your presentations to make sure you energise people and keep them interested in what you have to say. Frame your message in terms of what they will gain from your talk.


Finally, of course, don’t forget about timing your talk. A golden rule of thumb is one slide per minute for an effective presentation. The content I’ve already outlined in this article makes up five slides – (i), (ii), (iii), (ii), and (iii) again – that’s already five minutes of presenting time, more-or-less, and you haven’t delivered any of your core content. Well worth bearing in mind when putting together talks. We teach effective presentation skills in our Charlesworth Knowledge workshops which can be booked via institutions. Why not get in touch with one of our team for more information?


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