3 types of presentations – the one thing you need to know before creating first PowerPoint slide

Have you ever searched the Internet for tips on how to create a great presentation? I am sure you found tons of different sites giving you lists of ‘what to do’ and ‘what definitely not to do’. And I can bet that almost all of them were tips specifically on one type of presentation. They were tips on how to prepare a stage presentation: “Using bullet points is a crime”. “No agenda slide”. “Only big pictures”. “Make it very emotional”. “No sentences, just headlines”, etc.

All of this is ok, but only for one specific type of presentation. And if you stick with this kind of advice whenever you prepare a presentation, you may fall into a big trap. And I see this mistake again and again and again.

So here’s what you need to know about presentations.

There are (at least) 3 main types of presentation:

  • Stage presentations
  • Business presentations
  • Slidedocs

1. Stage presentations

As the name suggests – it is a type of presentation for singers… No, just kidding. Stage presentations are presentations meant to be delivered on conferences, in front of large audiences. And the main characteristic of this type of presentation is that slides are just/basically visual aids. The audience must not focus on your slides, but on you – the presenter. And many such presentations are delivered even without slides.

Have a look at the best TED speech ever made – Do schools kill creativity? By sir Ken Robinson. It’s a 20-minute brilliant speech, with lots of valuable content, lots of interesting stories, lots of humour, and zero slides.

The main focus in stage presentations is on building close rapport with the audience. Telling stories, making an eye contact and entertaining them – are the key things. Yeah, entertaining. The worst thing we can do delivering a stage presentation is to bore the audience. It’s an unpardonable sin. Your recipients expect you not only to give them valuable information, but also to deliver it in a funny, casual and entertaining manner.

Your audience can easily get distracted from your presentation so you have to keep it engaged throughout the whole speech.

Stage presentations should have as little text on the slides as possible, a lot of visualisation, multi­media, demonstrations, interaction with the audience and a great (framework) story. To put it short, it must be a kind of a show.

What should such a presentation look like?

Large pictures. Lots of visuals. Not much text. Big fonts so that the audience at the back row can read it without effort. No details. Preferably no charts … no tables. It all must be visually appealing. Nice. Smooth. And visual. Very visual.

Do you want to know who were the masters of stage presentations? Definitely Steve Jobs with his famous and absolutely ingenious 2007 presentation revealing iPhone. Or Ken Robinson with his TED speech “Do schools kill creativity”, which I mentioned before. A speech without slides.

If you want to master the skills that will allow you to create a great stage presentation, you must watch both these videos.

2. Business presentations

It is most frequently made type of presentations , I guess. They are given at small meetings to groups of a few to a dozen people. They are given at board meetings, supervisory boards, meetings with clients or business partners, internal trainings and product presenta­tions. They are even given at schools or universi­ties.

They are intended to address issues at a deeper level of detail than stage presentations. While stage presentations are about informing and inspiring with a bit of entertainment, the business presentations are about transferring knowledge, hard data and much more detailed information.

Suppose you are going to deliver a presentation at a board meeting, with your company’s CEO being present. Would you go there with a slide deck full of pictures and a funny story? Or would you rather go with charts, tables, calculations? Well, the second option is much safer. And better. Don’t you think?

The audience of a business presentation has different expectations than the audience of a stage presentation. They expect a very precise and detailed information. They expect evidence and solid arguments. They are much more motivated to listen and to ask questions. So there is no room for long inspirational stories. No room for too much fun. No beating about the bush (?)…

I use this division into stage presentations and business presentations although in literature you may come across a number of different names for them. Professor Andrew Abdela in his book Advanced Presentations by Design introduced the term ballroom-style presentations. And Bruce R. Gabrielle in his marvellous though somewhat underestimated book Speaking PowerPoint coined the term boardroom-style presentations, which I call just business presentations.

But the first who recognized that presentations aren’t all the same was Garr Reynolds, I guess. In 2006 he wrote on his blog Presentation Zen: Slides are slides. Documents are documents. They aren’t the same thing. Attempts to merge them result in what I call the “slideument”.

Slideuments are a compromise between a visually appealing presentation and a handout which is given out to attendees of a conference.

The trap with slideuments is that they contain lots of textual information which the presenter explains to the audience in his own words while the audience is trying to read every word on the slide.

A way to avoid it – Reynolds suggests – is to make two versions of the slide deck – one version to be presented on stage and the other one – with more text as a handout. I know it is a lot more work, but the thing is – do you want your presentation to be done quickly or to be great?

Garr Reynolds was a man who made quite a revolution in the presentation industry.

3. Slidedocs

But it was Nancy Duarte, who proposed a division into pre­sentations and slidedocs – which is the third type of presentation in my list.

The introduction of this division – presentations and slidedocs – was a cleansing revolution for the world of presentations.

And what’s the difference between slideuments and slidedocs?

Slideuments are evil. They don’t work well – neither as a presentation, nor as a handout.

Slidedocs are meant to be well designed slidedecks delivered directly to the recipient via email or printed out. They are visual documents created in PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides or similar application. They are meant to be read by the recipient without any presenter around. And if there is no presenter, slidedocs need to have more text which will guide the recipient along the whole story from the beginning to the end. The text and the images can be much smaller than in the other two types of presentation because the recipients will be viewing the slides at close range: looking at a piece of paper or their com­puter screen.

Summary

So here’s these 3 types of presentations:

  • Stage presentations
  • Business presentations
  • And Slidedocs.

Whenever you do a presentation, one of the first things you need to do, is to decide which type of presentation you are going to prepare. This will let you choose the right tools to make the best presentation possible.

Now you may be wondering what type of presentations is an online presentation delivered via Zoom, Skype or Teams? Well, it can be both – a stage presentation or a business presentation, depending on what audience you’re targeting. If it is a large audience hoping to be entertained – then you have a stage presentation delivered online. If you are delivering a presentation to a smaller group and your core goal is to share detailed information about a specific topic – then you have a business presentation.

Good luck with your presentations!

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