Presenter’s Manifesto: Message First

So far we’ve established that our ultimate goal when presenting is to help our audience in some way. We are trying to enable or persuade. It makes sense then that the second tip on making effective presentations has to do with our message. We always keep in mind that:

Writing desk and instruments of Finnnish poet and writer Ilmari Kianto. via Flickr, courtesy Antti Kyllönen

Writing desk and instruments of Finnish poet and writer Ilmari Kianto. via Flickr, courtesy Antti Kyllönen

The message is more important than the technology.


Perhaps you’ve heard someone refer to something as a “means to an end”. In our case, technology is one of our means, and our message is the end. But our message should be able to stand on its own, meaning, we should be able to effectively present our major points using nothing more than our speaking skills. Any technology we happen to use while doing so should only add to the experience.

Highly visual presentations would certainly be an exception. If we happen to be giving a lecture on the different columns styles used in ancient Roman architecture, it would indeed be helpful, if not completely necessary for our audience to see the styles visually displayed.

When preparing for a presentation, the temptation is often present to get our priorities out of order. Rather than spending enough time on the hard work of getting the message right, we may find ourselves fussing over animations, colors, font sizes, and all the rest of the technical details. Attention to the those details does have its place, but getting the “big idea” of our message just right is going to be much more important than anything else we do. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s just more fun to play with Powerpoint or Keynote than it is to carefully plan and write the content. It can become a hiding place where too much precious time is wasted for relatively little return. The technology must serve the message and not the other way around.

Our message is what teaches, motivates, or persuades. So we work on the message first and the technology second. We want to make sure we have the message down pat before worrying about the design of the slides or the details of the presentation technology. Once the message is right, the rest of the details become apparent much more easily and almost automatically.

This post is part of the series “The Presenter’s Manifesto”. You can find the beginning of the series here: Presenter’s Manifesto – Prologue