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