A Presentation’s Goal Is Not To Entertain

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Month after month, students in the live class equate effective presentation with entertainment.  They leave out preparation and information because they feel their goal is to merely make the audience laugh.

This month, a student in my online class argued that a presentation’s goal is to entertain.  When I began to explain the goal of a presentation as a cross between entertainment and information, he cut me off and told me we would have to agree to disagree.

When did this myth of presentation as entertainment begin?

From left to right: Images 1, 2, and 3

I do understand that when students learn about presentation and its true nature, it becomes less boring and more fun.  In Professional Communication and Presentation, my students learn about natural, authentic delivery that works to connect a presenter to his or her audience by utilizing Garr Reynolds’ Naked Presenter philosophy.  When it comes to slideshow design, my students learn that death-by-bulletpoint doesn’t work and isn’t actually a visual presentation.  We work to move away from that make-your-audience-shut-down method and work toward glance media by avoiding the 7 Deadly Sins of Visual Design.  As far as content, the third leg of the presentation stool, our goal is to incorporate story as well as information in all presentations.

Upon learning the goal of a strong presentation, I do understand that a student would associate this goal with entertainment over a boring report.  However, if a presentation was merely for entertainment purposes, it would have no value other than to amuse an audience.

Aristotle’s 3 pillars of persuasion have been around for over 2,000 years.  Ethos, pathos, and logos are credibility, appropriate emotion, and logic.  Without that foundation of a logical argument, there can be no fun, no story, no drama, no entertainment in a presentation.  “Aristotle believed that logos should be the most important of the three persuasive appeals” (Source).  I agree with Aristotle; without that base level information (evidence, facts, details, findings), without a thesis, there can be no presentation.  The entertainment factor in a presentation comes from that core information.

Consider TED.  Yes, many presentations are entertaining.  But the ultimate goal is to share “ideas worth spreading,” and TED’s mission is this: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world” (Source).  Ideas worth spreading wouldn’t exist if those ideas weren’t founded in some sort of important information.

Nancy Duarte tells us in Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences that presentation “contain both information and story, so they are called explanations” (Source).  Page 26 of Resonate provides an amazing graphic to explain how and why presentation falls between “report” and “story.”  You can also find this diagram on Duarte’s website:

Source

Why do you think so many students and audience members equate a strong presentation with entertainment?  How can we work to dispel this myth?

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6 thoughts on “A Presentation’s Goal Is Not To Entertain

  1. Most decisions IMO are not based on logic or reason. From what we eat for lunch, to who we choose to marry, to what religion or political philosophy to follow. We all want to think we have good reasons for the things we do; but, then, why do intelligent people disagree on so many things? We don’t *reason* as much as we *rationalize.*

    Comedy definitely has a place in (some forms of) persuasion. However, it’s place is in helping make human connections with your audience. And simply building rapport is not persuasion. You haven’t shown them what they should do, nor have you given them a justification (reason) for doing so.

    • Hey Raymond, You bring up a great point and one that we were just discussing last night in my Modern Communication Theory class! I think Chip and Dan Heath’s books really help us get to the heart of this, too. Have you read Switch?

      I think you may have misunderstood my dilemma… The problem I see in the classroom is that a student believes if his fellow classmates think his speech is funny, that automatically equals a strong speech, a good speech, and an A. I have a hard time explaining that “funny” isn’t necessarily an indicator of a well-crafted, well-organized speech that will resonate with people.

      Knowing my problem, can you offer any advice for my students or for me?

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