The Difference between a Presentation and a Speech

Christopher Witt —  April 16, 2015 — Leave a comment

I distinguish, somewhat arbitrarily, between a presentation and a speech.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they deserve to be handled differently.

Presentations Are Informative

In the business world most people make presentations.

A presentation communicates information so that people understand it and can do something with or about it.

A presentation’s goal is to educate or inform audiences to take action.

Check out The 25 Best Slideshare Presentations of 2013 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

The top-rated presentation is titled Internet Trends. It is, according to the description, “filled with over 100 charts, stats and trends on digital, technology and economic issues that affect us all.”

An effective presentation is clear, accurate, and detailed. You want everyone in the audience to understand exactly what you mean.

A presentation is persuasive, if it is any good. You want people to do something — preferably what you want them to do — as a result of listening to you.

PowerPoint can be an effective presentation aid, because it allows you to display information…even “over 100 charts, stats and trends.”

Presentations tend to be matter-of-fact, prosaic, somewhat unimaginative almost by default. The title Internet Trends, for example, seems designed to elicit yawns.

Speeches are Influential and Inspirational

Few people these days give speeches.

Preachers, politicians, coaches at half-time, military leaders before a battle, and motivational speakers are the main practitioners of speeches today.

A speech shapes how people think and feel about an issue or topic, and changes their behavior as a result.

Churchill’s wartime speeches portrayed the war not as a doomed effort on the part of the British, but as a life-or-death contest between civilization (the British empire and way of life) and evil incarnate (Nazi Germany). His speeches steeled people’s resistance and gave them courage and hope to carry on.

An effective speech is evocative. It uses words and phrases to activate people’s imaginations, to call forth their memories, and to elicit the feelings associated with them.

Speakers don’t — or shouldn’t — project pictures for the audience to look at.

Speakers tell stories and create images that people picture in their minds.

Words — the right words — without pictures or external visual stimuli force the mind to supply its own images. On their own, words trigger the imagination, which in turn calls forth a flood of memories and emotions.

PowerPoint is not the friend of a speech. It keeps people in their heads, in their rational, conscious minds, divorced from their imaginations, emotions, and memories.

That’s why I titled my book Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint. What I really meant to say is that real leaders don’t make presentations (which use and should use PowerPoint); they give speeches.

Speakers play with words, the way a poet or playwright does. They’re not interested in pinning a concept down to a single meaning that is the same for each person in the audience. They know — and they are pleased by the fact — that each individual hears a different message (shaped by his or her experience, wisdom, and needs), draws his or her own conclusions, and resolves to take his or her own action as a result.

Presentations and speeches both serve a purpose, but a different purpose. They are different beasts, and they need to be handled differently.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree?

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

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