Formal presentations are characterised by small or larger groups with little, if any, audience interaction. Conferences, board meetings, project reports are examples. They have one thing in common: the presenter speaks and the audience listens, and then (sometimes) a Q&A session kicks off at the conclusion of the presentation at the behest of the presenter. In short, the majority of the presentation is a broadcast rather than a conversation.
Communication – the primary goal of most presentations – is, ironically, the first casualty of over formalizing.
Informal presentations are generally characterised by small group settings with a high degree of audience interaction and a relaxed manner of delivery and dress. Online seminars, exhibitions, demonstrations are examples. When we embrace the Informal approach, we must rethink the rules and allow a presentation to become more about discussion than broadcast. This apparent lack of control demands that the presenter has a much greater grasp of the presentation story and message and an awareness of the audience and how and when to react to their engagement.
There is also a third type of presentation – the casual. These are the face to face “chats” you might have with an interviewer, podcaster or team member. Paradoxically, this is both the most natural form of communication but also the most difficult presentation approach to get right. The Casual presentation still requires sufficient structure to guide the presenter and their audience from A to B. However, you must do so in such a way that does not impact the ‘cozy/non-threatening’ environment that both
parties enjoy. It’s essential to know that using a Casual approach only works if the presenter really knows their subject. This is more than a meandering story; it’s about recognizing that the engagement with the audience demands a more relaxed approach, while still delivering a focused and powerful message.
In any of these approaches you still need to prepare and practise your presentation. Think about the audience and the occasion, answer these questions to help you determine the right format for your presentation:
Who is the speech for?
Who is in the audience?
Why are they there?
Does this audience know you?
Are they there by choice?
What are they expecting from this occasion?
Why are YOU making the speech?
What is the occasion?
Is this a formal or informal occasion?
What is the topic?
Where are you making the speech?
Do you know the location well, can you have a practice run, will there be other distractions?
How well do you know the subject ?
Are there people who don’t know about it?
Do you want the audience to take any action?
Answering these questions will give you an idea of how much topic research you need to do. It is also related to how well the audience know the subject.
Regardless of whether you decide on a formal, informal or casual presentation, you must think about the audience so that your speech includes them or they will lose interest.